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February 2010

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


Volume 11, Nr.1, February 2010

Snow Lanterns, Dufferin Park, January 30

For an independent community email list service and discussion group, see dufferingrovefriends

EVENTS in February:

Friday and Saturday February 5 and 6 (championship game at 6 pm): The Women of Winter Fifth Annual Shinny Hockey Tourney.

Convener Deirdre Norman puts together six teams composed of women from all over the city. This year Deirdre was told that she would have to pay for the permit and buy her own insurance, although she does all the organizing as a volunteer (and long-time crusader for women’s open shinny times at outdoor rinks). After many meetings and e-mails from shinny players, and an intervention by City Councillor Adam Giambrone, the tourney was allowed to be a partnership with recreation – but just this year.

Saturday February 13, 7 to 10 pm: Icycle: the ninth annual bikes-on-ice race.

This event was also under threat, as was every winter event this year. Although Icycle was already listed in the city’s own Bike Month calendar, Parks and Recreation required the volunteer organizer (park friend Derek Chadbourne, who runs the Bike Joint repair shop at Harbord and Manning) to buy his own insurance for $350. Of note: there has been only one injury, non-serious, in all those years – bike couriers ride on snow and ice for a living, and they’re careful.

The city also required $380 as a permit fee, for the city’s extra staff, although no extra staff are needed. But the City’s bicycle transportation office arranged to pay that fee itself – inter-office transfer payments! Derek writes: “For more information, or to register, contact Puffy the Penguin at or call 416-532-6392.”

Monday February 15: Family Day Holiday

Most outdoor rinks are on reduced change room hours on that day (9am to 5 pm), with the exception of the following five double-pad rinks: Greenwood, Hodgson, Dufferin, Wallace, and Rennie rinks, which will be open from 9am until 9pm. Those exceptions came after park friend Jane LowBeer offered to donate enough funds to cover the cost of some rinks staying open for normal hours on Family Day (about $70 per rink). The City doesn’t want the donation but they did extend the hours for five rinks.

Friday evening snow-lanterns:

On January 30, the coldest night of year (minus 19), Ontario College of Art and Design student Chris Parker brought some friends to the park to build snow lanterns, using the zamboni snow. The lanterns (lit with candles) looked magical and the lantern-builders survived. In fact, Chris wants to return to show others how to build the lanterns (not at minus 19, though). He says that after next Friday Night Supper, if there’s snow, he’s ready to work with kids or grownups to make more lanterns. Watch for posters at the rink and on the website. There will be a campfire nearby, to warm up and drink hot chocolate.


Arenas: The general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation dropped a bombshell recently. Brenda Patterson announced that from now on, the arenas run by Boards of Management would lose their right to program their own rink time. The community boards of management were set up in the 1980s as part of a widespread revolt against the heavy hand of city bureaucrats. Since 2001, the current bureaucracy has been suggesting that the eight community-run rinks really ought to be put back under central control. The complaint by the Leaside Girls’ Hockey Association seemed to provide an equity reason for carrying out this plan.

But the idea hasn’t played too well with rink users, including many women. Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford gave voice to a suspicion that many rink users, male and female, were already expressing to each other. She wrote that this was not a issue of fairness for women citywide, it was a power grab by the city administration. Blatchford’s two articles are linked on the website on the media page. Her general verdict on the current administration’s policies goes like this: “Let us fix what is not broken and ruin what is working well; let us contrive to create a crisis where none exists; let us engage in a bogus "consultation" process when the fix is in; let us decry a lack of transparency in the enemy while working behind the scenes ourselves and, above all, let us give nary a thought to the poor, beleaguered taxpayer.”

Compressor-cooled outdoor Rinks: Another one of Toronto’s civic treasures is also in trouble – our extraordinary resource of 49 outdoor compressor-cooled ice rinks (we have more such rinks than any other city in the world). Blatchford’s description applies to the city’s management of these rinks (and of many of its other public spaces). Last week the troubles increased again, with General Manager Brenda Patterson’s decision to move almost every recreation supervisor in the city to a different ward. This abolishes the existing recreation staff relationships with users of parks/rinks/rec centers (and with our elected representatives). Our own Ward 18 Recreation supervisor, without whose skilful support most of what works well here would not be happening, has been given a special assignment. Tino DeCastro is to be put in an office at Metro Hall, doing a non-job supervising cleaners.

First response from Ward 18 City Councillor (and mayoral candidate) Adam Giambrone: “I believe strongly in nurturing community engagement in our parks and I was concerned to find out this week about Parks and Recreation's decision to reassign many Recreation staff around the city to new locations. In particular, the decision to move our local Recreation Supervisor would be a loss for our community.... I have requested that the decision to reassign our local Supervisor be postponed until I have had a chance to meet with the General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation and her senior management team about these issues.”


Just before the city workers’ strike last summer, Parks, Forestry and Recreation General Manager Brenda Patterson asked the Executive Committee of City Council to approve the development a new “Recreation Service Plan,” based on four principles: equitable access, quality, inclusion, and capacity building. Unsurprisingly, the councillors voted yes. So the city staff got ready to work on a new way to shape our public spaces.

The work plan for making the Service Plan was to include a bit of community involvement. The staff report said: “A strategy to engage staff, key stakeholders, and the broader community in the development of the Service Plan will take place over the next several months.”

But then the strike began, and lasted for six weeks. Recently, a good six months after the community consultation was supposed to begin, I asked city staff about the timing. A Service Planner wrote back that it might happen in late fall of this year (i.e. around city election time). In the meantime, he wrote, “ the project team is making steady progress on developing a data base to house information that will be gathered from stakeholders and the community. Once the foundation has been laid and the project is fully back on schedule, residents will be given opportunities to provide their input to the service planning process.“

Making the blueprint and laying the foundation first, then asking the people who have to live with the structure, what they want? That certainly seems like a “bogus consultation process.” And it raises a question. Is this plan a structure built on the four pillars of equitable, access, quality, and inclusion, and capacity building – or are these four principles more like the four legs of a Trojan Horse, entering the city’s public spaces via the sleeping sentries of City Council.?

Verdict: a Trojan Horse. Reading the rationale of the Recreation Service Plan, you can begin to make out the rest of the horse. Parks, Forestry and Recreation management staff want to shape our public spaces centrally, all of them, in one grandiose plan. They intend to “articulate the diverse recreation and leisure needs of the City’s many communities; provide a basis for decision-making; and establish priorities and principles for investments.” In their report they see themselves as scientists, ready to “establish consistent processes and methodologies.” It’s no wonder that they haven’t got time until much later to ask ordinary people, or even their own field staff, for advice. Their project is too big for that, and inside their own bubble, too important. They will speak for everyone.

It’s not surprising that the councillors didn’t take note of the grandiosity of the Service Plan last June. The Neighbourhoods Committee was once one of the most active committees of Council. Now most of what counts comes through the Executive Committee. Sitting on that central committee, it’s no wonder the councillors didn’t object to the city staff’s power grab. But now that so many people have spoken up to counter the arena takeover, the councillors will have to begin paying attention. There will be lots more troubles to come, and this is an election year....

CENTRAL CONTROL: If the City’s recreation management wants a new level of central control over all public spaces, how well equipped are they for this self-appointed task? The verdict: not very.

Problem #1: No continuity of leadership: since the last election, there have been three different general managers and an unstable number of directors varying between 4 and 8 in number, some of them with uncertain portfolios. The most experienced of the directors was declared redundant in 2004 and forced into early retirement. Another director was escorted out of his office in 2009, after a surprise dismissal. Two more have recently taken retirement.

Problem #2: No continuity of structure: in the past 15 years there have been four major restructurings of this department, with the fifth now in the planning stages. In 2003, City Council directed staff to hold off on the restructuring of that year. Staff brought in virtually the same plan two years later, without resistance, or much interest, from city council.

Problem #3: Little direct experience: Many Parks and Recreation management staff have spent little or no time working at the front lines of any public spaces. Therefore they often can’t give helpful direction to the supervisory or front-line staff.

Example: the effects of these problems on the outdoor rinks: Parks and Recreation management often doesn’t seem to know how to make outdoor rinks work well, or how to figure out what’s not working, and why. The staff don’t remember, or never knew, how outdoor ice-making works. They don’t know how to structure the work of ice rink maintenance or rink supervision in a fiscally workable way. They don’t know what ice resurfacing equipment they have (a recent freedom of information request asking that question has been extended to 60 days, to allow more search time). They don’t know how to turn rink clubhouses into neighbourhood social spaces, only into locker rooms. They don’t know how to rescue faltering skate-instruction programs. They don’t know how to get rink information out into the community, or even how to correct schedule mistakes on the city website. They don’t know how to set up programs like kids’ hockey, so they rely on volunteers who know how. (They make them buy permits, and then they turn these permits into cash cows. For instance, the Swansea Hockey League has to pay the city $12,000 to run the kids’ hockey program, with no extra help from city staff.)

The management staff also have trouble making and evaluating policies – for example, the special events permit policy, for which the Permits office shows only 6 outdoor rink events in the past 5 years, among 49 rinks. Another example: the mandatory helmets policy for non-contact-shinny, which has led to so much friction and declining outdoor rink use, as well as to higher risk of lawsuits for an unenforceable policy. Management staff don’t seem to understand risk analysis. They don’t know how to foster their field staff’s talents, or how to magnify existing resources even when they are cheap or free. Instead, much of their energy is applied to prohibition. An example: Grenadier Pond, a vast natural rink in cold weather if there’s not much snow, is ringed by signs: “No Access. No skating.”

Jane Jacobs said: “those who can, do. Those who can’t, plan.” Or (we say) they prohibit. PROHIBITION is the default position for Parks and Recreation. It threatens almost everything that can turn outdoor rinks into wonderful winter social spaces for their neighbourhoods. Here’s the back story. Dufferin Rink, and then Wallace and Campbell rinks, became neighbourhood places before the big prohibition wave hit. At Dufferin Rink, neighbours removed two non-functional interior walls that restricted the space, after checking with the city to make sure they were not load-bearing. The City said – “raise $15,000 and we can remove those walls.” But the neighbours wanted to skate, not hold months of fundraisers. So in two days they took down the concrete blocks themselves, for free.

Then they lobbied their city councillor to have some eye-level windows installed, so the room would look like a clubhouse and not a prison. That only cost the city $6000. Light and a view onto the rink!

Someone donated a stove, and the rink guards started baking cookies and making mini-pizzas. The teenage shinny hockey players started behaving better, no longer grouchy from being hungry. Then the recreation supervisor made the rink friends aware of a city grant program for installing community kitchens in city-owned buildings. The rink users got a city grant of $8,000 to turn the rink slop room into a little kitchen and the office into the Zamboni Cafe, selling cheap food – good soups made at the rink, fresh bread, and endless cookies and mini-pizzas. They got up the nerve to ask Home Depot for a donation of better lighting. The Home Depot manager said, “no, we don’t do that” – and then on Valentine’s Day, he changed his mind, and said, “here’s a coupon for $1,000 of track lighting.” What a good guy.

Someone brought in a photo of a woodstove at a ski club, and the rink friends asked if they could try to get one for the rink. Recreation Director Mario Zanetti said “hot stove league? Sure.” (He’s the one who was later squeezed out.) So the rink friends got $3000 from the Maytree Foundation to buy an energy-efficient woodstove. Maytree mainly uses its funds for refugee newcomers, and newcomers from warmer countries can get chilly in winter. So the woodstove went in, and the money from the zamboni cafe paid for firewood. Neighbours donated kids’ books and a bench for parents to read stories in front of the fire.

The recreation supervisor heard about some equipment donations available from the NHL Players Association. So he told the rink friends, and they applied for 50 set of skates, sticks, gloves, and helmets. They got them, and that was a thrill. The rink staff spray-painted the skates and helmets yellow and the gloves and sticks red, and started lending them out, $2 for skate rental, $1 for a stick or gloves, helmets no charge. The rink filled up with so many newcomers wanting to try skating, and so many families who couldn’t afford to buy new skates every year for their growing children, and so many neighbours wanting fresh air in friendly surroundings, that it got too full. The rink staff made a campfire beside the rink on the busiest days, with hot chocolate, for the overflow.

City Councillor Giambrone helped get windows put in and a wall taken down at nearby Wallace Rink, and the recreation supervisor got another fifty sets of skates from the NHL Players’ Association. He let the rink staff turn this rink into a family place too, and then he let them do the same thing at the third neighbourhood rink in his area. That brought in even more skaters, from across the city. Those skaters said: “how can we make our dreary local rinks more like these ones?” The rink staff said: “we can help.” And that’s when PROHIBITION struck.

Parks and Recreation management is making it move to homogenize its offerings. Management says: No community boards of management for arenas. And in the case of outdoor rinks, the message this year has been getting ever more insistent: No campfires. No skate lending. No mini-pizzas. No woodstoves. No zamboni cafes with cheap food. No easy collaboration between rink staff and rink friends. Rink staff are cautioned: “you are in conflict of interest. Your responsibility is to the Corporation of the City of Toronto.” No visits to other rinks to give those other rink-friends suggestions, or answer their questions. Stay in your zone, and in your assigned place in the city hierarchy.

Lines of communication are strictly laid down. The recreation supervisor is told to stop working with his on-site rink staff directly. On-site staff are told to work only with the “recreation programmer.” If rink users ask the rink staff when the zamboni crew is coming to resurface the ice, rink staff are not allowed to ask the crew directly -- they must call the Recreation Programmer, who calls the Recreation Supervisor, who calls the Parks Supervisor, who calls the Zamboni Foreperson, who radios the crew and then calls the Parks Supervisor back, who calls the Recreation Supervisor, who calls the Recreation Programmer, who calls the rink staff. Yes, really. Every time.

The supervisor himself is cautioned about being in conflict of interest. His job is: to follow policies laid down by management, sometimes backed up by council vote, often not. If he wants to support special activities put on by rink friends, he has to ask the Permit Office, which asks for permission from the Parks Supervisor. If permission is given, Customer Service enters the information into the central permit system. If the rink supervisor is seen to be helping rink volunteers avoid paying a permit fee or insurance for community events, he is warned.

Over the past two years, the Ward 18 recreation supervisor has not managed to completely cut his community ties, or completely forget his “let’s make it work” approach to his rink staff. So at the end of January, management let him know he was leaving Ward 18. He’s not the only recreation supervisor being moved away from the communities where they have relations with the neighbourhood and the local councillor – almost all of them have been transferred to new wards. But Tino DeCastro is not reassigned to another ward. For his “let’s make it work” experience at the Ward 18 rinks (and all year round), he is to be sent to an office in Metro Hall, liaising with building cleaners.

Dufferin Grove Park has approximately the same budget for its recreation program activities as the salary of the general manager – about $180,000 a year. Indoor recreation centres cost between $500,000 and $1 million a year to operate. Under the current management culture, the centres have been shrinking in their offerings, so Dufferin Grove may have more going on there year-round than most community centres. The extra helpers needed to support all the activities are paid for by the snack bar donation money (called “cookie money”). After you subtract the grocery money and the website support and the posters and schedules and basketball nets and bandaids for first aid, that leaves about $50,000 for contracts, for people to enrich the offerings, to make more fun and try things. It’s an interesting ecology, and one that we’ve urged the city to apply elsewhere, on a smaller scale, to see if it will work. But that will require a different culture, one of small-scale curiosity and experimentation. Prohibition lets nothing grow.

Lots can be done, and this municipal election year is the right time to do it. The first thing is to spread the word. The current culture of prohibition at Parks and Recreation is damaging our public spaces. This newsletter is available online, at and also at (see below). Send the link to your friends, to your city councillor, to the head of the Parks Committee (Councillor Paula Fletcher, who got our first big report on the chaos at the outdoor rinks in 2005, but declined to act). Send it to the head of the Community Development and Recreation Committee (Councillor Janet Davis, who says she has worked on projects with Brenda Patterson for twenty years). Send it to the ombudsman’s office. And drop a note to your journalist friends. Christie Blatchford is right when she says there is a culture of “Let us fix what is not broken and ruin what is working well.” In response, another revolt may grow..

Live music in rink clubhouses:

After the grim news came that the Ward 18 recreation supervisor, Tino DeCastro, is to be removed from this area, it seemed like rink users need something to hearten them for the battle ahead. The call went out, to the many musicians who use the Ward 18 rinks: musicians, please come and jam at the rinks for an hour or two, neutralize the bad news with some good tunes! Within two days the following musicians signed on: Marie Perry and Emilyn Stam, Andrew Cash, David Buchbinder, Dave Bidini, Don Kerr, and Alex Lukashevsky, with more coming. If you’re a musician and you want to help, get in touch: Or pass on a message via the rink staff. Some musicians will be jamming at Dufferin Rink, some at Wallace Rink, maybe even some at Campbell Rink. Look for them by the big signs that say: IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT!

Hands across the water: Greenwood Park

Sally Bliss is an ESL teacher who used to bring her adult newcomer students all the way across town from the east end, to skate and drink hot chocolate in the rink house. She brought them because of the loaner skates, the clubhouse, and because of the ice maintenance, which was much more reliable than at Monarch Rink, near their school. They always had a lot of fun.

But now Sally has two small children of her own, and she takes them to Greenwood Rink to skate, near where she lives. She and a friend, Deborah Day, both love the Dufferin Grove campfires, so they decided to try and set up a public everyone-welcome rink-side campfire at Greenwood, on a Friday evening when lots of people normally come the rink.

They were told that campfires are illegal, and if not illegal, being phased out, and if not being phased out everywhere, then at least impossible at Greenwood Park because homeless people or youth might do copycat campfires and damage the park. They were told that campfires were not in the park’s new master plan, and besides, there were waterlines and hydro lines in the ground, and something might explode if there was a campfire. When they still persisted, they were told they’d have to pay a permit fee and get insurance.

But they kept trying, and they ended up having the campfire without paying a fee, between the rink and a big zamboni-snow hill. They brought marshmallows and hot chocolate, and Anna Bekerman from Dufferin Grove brought soup and bread. They got the word out in the neighbourhood, and almost two hundred people came to skate and enjoy the campfire. Nothing blew up and the onsite rink staff helped in lots of ways. Persistence pays!


Newsletter prepared by: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer

Published by: CELOS

Web sites: Henrik Bechmann, Aseel Al Najim,

Park phone: 416 392-0913

Park web site:


City Staff at the park: Catarina Cardoso,Andrew DeSousa, Maria (Pia) Perez, Mayssan Shuja, Sarah Cormier, Amy Withers, Anna GalatiAnna Bekerman, Michael Monastyrskyj, Laura Macdonald, Dakota Vine, Daniel Watson, Ben Lander, Rachel Weston, Heidrun Gabel Koepff, Jenny Cook, Hollis Pearson, Lea Ambros, Alain Hesse Boutin, Mary Sylwester, Leslie Lindsay, Carole Ferrari, Marina DeLuca-Howard, Greg Kirk, Ava Lightbody, Lily Weston, Maricela Valdez- Hernandez, Matt Leitold

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