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October 2010

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


Volume 11, Nr.8, October 2010

Hungarian goulash at the campfire


Saturday October 30, 6 to 9 pm

From organizer David Anderson (director of Clay and Paper Theatre):

Join us for the eleventh annual Night of Dread, Clay & Paper Theatre’s invitation to the community to parade our private and collective fears through the darkened streets of Toronto. The hour-long procession returns to Dufferin Grove Park for an evening of ceremonial festivities that compel us to call on, mock and banish the fears that unite and divide us in these tumultuous times. Night of Dread is an unforgettable evening of pageantry, music and masquerade incorporating towering puppets, stilt dancers, fire-spinners and fearful masks in a daring exploration of dread.

This community celebration incorporates international folk and theatrical traditions, drawing inspiration from festivals of death and remembrance around the world. Come dance in the streets with musicians, puppeteers, dancers and stilt walkers; together we’ll laugh at our fears, waltz with death, eat the “bread of the dead,” and remember those who have gone from our midst.

Clay & Paper has many costumes and puppets available for the public to wear in the parade; come early to the Dufferin Rink clubhouse to avoid disappointment!

4 PM: Parade begins assembling at Dufferin Grove Park
6 PM: Parade departs
Dress Code: Black & White
Pay-What-You-Can (to cover expenses): suggested donation $10
More information: (416) 708-3332 

This event is a partnership with Parks, Forestry and Recreation – park staff will have hearty winter soup and other tasty fall specialties available at the zamboni garage cafe. Hot chocolate too!

OCTOBER 25 IS ELECTION DAY: who will get your vote?

Ward 18 candidates: Ward 18 has twelve people running for city councillor, the position held by Adam Giambrone for the last two terms. Who will replace him in this election?

It’s pretty important for the park and the neighbourhood. Councillors can help with smaller details as well as big ward projects. When half the playground swings were removed in 2009 to conform to a manufacturers’ standard, parents called the councillor’s office on behalf of their unhappy children. The councillor asked city staff to re-instal the swings and the fun resumed. For some years before that, park users wanted curb cuts that would allow smooth entry and exit for the cyclists riding through. The farmers wanted the cuts too -- coming to the weekly market they had to hop the high curb with their trucks to get in, and some small trucks were damaged. The park supervisor wasn’t very interested, but with lots of push from the councillor the curb cuts were finally put in – creating easier stroller and wheelchair access too.

So details are important! And the extent to which our councillor listens to Ward 18 residents is important too, since small details like the examples above can make a big difference. Jutta Mason interviewed six of the Ward 18 candidates about their approach to community consultation and park improvements: Ana Bailao, Kevin Beaulieu, Doug Carroll, Frank DeJong, Joe MacDonald and Hema Vyas. They had lots to say, and it’s posted on the website (home page). Or you can read what they had to say on the display that’s posted on the playground bulletin board (side of the pool shed) and inside the rink clubhouse on the main bulletin board there. The same questions were e-mailed to the other six candidates, and their responses will be posted as they come in. Have a look, it may help you decide who to vote for on October 25. And whoever is elected, call them and e-mail them a lot. They really need to hear from you.

Candidates for mayor:

The only mayoral candidate with a significant amount of Parks-and-Recreation-related policy material on his website is George Smitherman. It seemed like a good idea to talk to one of his policy staff about broadening his public-space ideas. Getting an appointment took a few months, but eventually his assistant John Willis agreed to a conversation. The talk had barely begun, when another campaign staffer summoned Mr.Willis “you have to come to a meeting with George.” Mr.Willis said he couldn’t come, since he was having another meeting. The colleague persisted, so Mr.Willis said he’d just go and explain, and headed two doors down into Mr.Smitherman’s office. We waited for a loud noise from the man nicknamed “Furious George.” But all was peaceful, and in a moment Mr.Willis came back to resume the conversation. We said, “we were expecting at least a small explosion...” Mr.Willis laughed, and said there had been none of that for months, “he’s been working on it.” And there followed a pretty interesting exchange about parks as social spaces and how they can knit cities together, how to avoid enlarging the bureaucracy, and how politicians and municipal staff could “share power” with park users. Find out more on the CELOS/election.

“Fertile Ground for New Thinking: Improving Toronto’s Parks” – by David Harvey

The Metcalf Foundation, which has been helpful to Dufferin Grove Park and many other public spaces, this year gave David Harvey a “Metcalf Innovation Fellowship.” His project was to take a close look at Toronto’s parks, to talk to lots of park users and park staff, and propose remedies for problems, if any. Mr. Harvey was most recently a policy advisor to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, and he knows the ropes of government.

The report, when it came out on September 30, created a stir. Mr.Harvey wrote that the city’s parks management is perceived by many of the people he interviewed as having “a culture of no.” He called for a loosening of permit restrictions on picnics and neighbourhood park activities, and much greater local collaboration between park staff and park users. Music to our ears!

Mr.Harvey proposed five general ways of improving parks, all of them set out with enough specifics to provide plenty of talking points. The report is linked on the home page of the website. It’s a lively read. Here are some favourite quotes:

- All five recommendations centre on one theme: that parks management and decision-makers at City Hall need to unleash the creativity of our parks staff and embrace the communities that are home to Toronto’s parks.
- assign a parks “animator” or “facilitator” to assist with and encourage the development of new “Friends of” parks groups and productive City/community relationships.
- Move from a Culture of No to a Culture of Yes. The City needs to:

  • ''Experiment and embrace differences in parks through new pilot projects

– “different is better than perfect.”''

  • Stop insisting on the need for a citywide policy before allowing new activities in parks. Say yes to pizza and bake ovens, barbeques, and other new ideas.
  • Overhaul the permit system, reduce the number of activities that require permits, and make the process for obtaining permits more user-friendly.

- Toronto is a winter city – cafés, bars, and food stands could be used to draw the public into parks in the off-season and ensure key pathways in parks are cleared of snow and ice.

- Implement a practical approach to park liability issues. The City’s chief argument against community involvement and investment in parks is liability. Challenge City legal staff to work with the community and develop a reasonable solution.

- [From one of the people Mr.Harvey interviewed]... the City should scrap work on the new Parks Plan and instead agree to a two-word new strategic plan – “Say yes.”

Editorial: Follow-up to David Harvey’s Metcalf paper

“Improving Toronto’s Parks” has lots of suggestions, including some that we’d like to argue with. For example, the paper proposes corporate sponsorships as a way to get more funds for parks. But in our observation, that has not always worked well for parks or their neighborhoods. The paper repeats the City Auditor’s suggestion of selling naming rights (“Tim Horton Dufferin Park”?). But it seems to us that corporate donations often give the false impression of great corporate largesse when most of the financial support continues to come through taxes (Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment is a good example). Such “partnerships” are held up as a remedy for the sky-high cost estimate of the city’s often-cited backlog of repairs. But that backlog needs much closer examination before MacDonald’s and Telus get a multi-year cheap-advertising deal. Is it really true that community centres built only forty years ago are on the critical list? Must all wooden playgrounds over 15 years old be demolished and replaced by plastic? And corporate donours are given lots of choice how they’d like their money to be used. They can shape the landscape of a neighborhood, not always with good results.

The disagreements bound to arise from David Harvey’s strongly worded proposals can help to spark some really interesting discussions. He says that’s what he’s hoping for. So are we. We want to take part in the discussions that David Harvey’s paper invites – how can our parks be livelier public spaces? What specific approaches works better than “one size fits all”? How can park users draft front-line parks-and-recreation staff into collaborating on rinks and gardens and cafés and small open-air concerts? Can park uses join their voices to persuade councillors that management’s centralizing, policy-bound approach needs to be re-routed? What are the most promising alternatives?

“Fertile Ground for New Thinking: Improving Toronto’s Parks” is a wonderful starting point for public discussion. There’s a David Harvey folder on the website which has the link. We’ll also have a page with a contact list of groups and people interested in parks. Have a look, add your name if you want, and tell other groups and park friends – soccer groups, clean-up groups, landless gardeners, playground users, dog walkers, shinny hockey players, teachers who take their students to the parks. Why the urgency? Read on....

The candidates for mayor, and what they think about parks

From their campaign websites, it’s not that easy to tell. Joe Pantalone is a well-know tree planter and ravine protector, but says little more on his site. Rocco Rossi (the only candidate who took the time to talk to us about parks) says he had “the freedom of the ravines” as a youngster, and cherishes them. Rob Ford says nothing about parks, but he does say that he’ll want an accounting of every dime spent in the city’s $8 billion budget, so no city staff will have time to do any park work beyond itemizing all those dimes. George Smitherman has several pages on parks, with some interesting ideas – showers on Cherry Beach – but on the whole the web text is pretty high-level and flashy. His policy advisor, on the other hand, seemed to have a real interest in how parks work (see p.2), and said that Mr.Smitherman prizes power-sharing with the citizens.

Whoever is elected on October 25, as mayor or as councillor, will have to figure out how Toronto can shrink its costs. The temptation will be to shutter some public amenities and raise the fees for others, keeping the bureaucracy the same. But if park friends, singly and in groups citywide, are talking to each other, better ways can be found. David Harvey’s Parks paper is very timely – let the conversations begin.

October 2010: The animators of Dufferin Grove Park: a culture of “yes”

The word “animator” shows up in many electoral presentations when public space is discussed. If parks need animators, Dufferin Grove is in luck – they’ve been here for years already. The hobby of the recreation program staff – to remove the blocks to people’s gifts – is the reason why there’s so much going on. The fall so far has shown what happens when park staff have a culture of “yes.” On Labour Day weekend the Morris dancers gathered by the oven and ate and danced and made music. The following market day, a Ukrainian band entertained the farmers. Two days later, the Abrigo Centre celebrated its twentieth anniversary of newcomer counselling, with a giant blow-up clown and candy floss machines and sardines, a rummage sale, and a stage with music and ethnic dancing. As soon as they had finished, a group of jazz musicians took their place and made sophisticated (difficult!) music near the marsh fountain. The weekend after, a group of environmentalist/cyclist/musicians set up special bikes hooked up to amplifiers and gave a concert beside the field house. The organizers said they hadn’t been sure they could pull it off, so they put up no posters for this event – only a facebook event notice. It turned out that the music was beautiful, the pedal-power amplification clear and steady but not over the top, and the facebook-summoned audience sizeable and appreciative. The weekend after that, the annual Havelock Street Fair organizers held the usual potluck supper by the park ovens. After supper, there was music on Havelock Street. But it had begun to rain, so the park staff lent the band two of the park tents, and the show went on.

The last weekend of September had the annual pow wow, with tipis, drums, dancers in fantastic costumes, buffalo burgers, and many vending tents. Lots of people came, and it was clearly an occasion when friends from all over the city could catch up with each other. Then, as soon as October began, the rain started. No matter – on the first Saturday, a group of refugee Hungarian Roma (Gypsy) families came to cook goulash over an open fire. Their support workers, from St. Christopher House, translated. The group, they said, wanted to cook outside because their traditional goulash tastes much better if it’s cooked over a campfire. It must be true. The park program staff had brought over two of the market tents and set them up over some picnic tables, to give shelter from the rain. The big cookpot of goulash served not only the newcomer families, but everyone else in the rainy park as well – and it was beyond delicious.

Campfires in the park

The “culture of yes” that animates the park’s program staff doesn’t only pertain to groups and public events, of course. The park offers many pleasing sights of sociability at picnics, both morning and afternoon. At night-time the fun carries on, with staff booking campfires in the central area or nearer the playground (sometimes at both). Having a cookout or a marshmallow roast means going to some trouble. People have to bring firewood and kindling and supplies and blankets for chilly nights. The park’s program staff make it a bit less cumbersome by lending out trivets, and a big pot for cider, and metal skewers for marshmallows or hot dogs. Despite the fuss it takes people to organize such an occasion, they often call to book another one. Fire, as the Roma families said, makes everything taste so good. And incidentally, it puts people into the park at night, when it would otherwise be deserted. Safer for everybody, cheaper and more fun than police patrols. To book a campfire: 416 392-0913, or

Can the Dufferin Grove snack bars and skate lending programs be adopted by the City?

For almost a year now, Dufferin Grove program staff, CELOS, and city management have been in talks about park programs that involve staff in handling cash. CELOS has been partnering with the city in running the food programs, but CELOS needs to step back now. CELOS stands for Centre for Local Research into Public Space,” and the food and skate lending programs were part of that research. That research is done and the results are in – it turns out that year-round food and winter skate-lending in parks both work well. On top of that, the small extra income generated can enrich the broader park programming.

The logistics for integrating that research with City programs are tough, though. At a meeting with Parks, Forestry and Recreation general manager Brenda Patterson in September, she said she’d have to bring the issue to the new city council in 2011. Meantime, two recreation supervisors (Tino DeCastro and Dave Hains) and the Toronto/East York recreation manager (Kelvin Seow) have been meeting with park program staff Mayssan Shuja Uddin and Sarah Cormier, all of them trying to fit what goes on at Dufferin Grove into the city’s template. (The city used to run lots of snack bars directly, but they got out of that after amalgamation.) One of the few remaining models in the city is the East York Curling Club, where recreation staff run the bar that goes along with any curling club. Last year the club was audited by the City Auditor, not because there was any suspicion of misappropriation but just because city staff were handling cash and serving alcoholic drinks. A three-month audit resulted in many detailed suggestions, so complicated that a year after the audit began, the new cash handling measures are still being finalized. When Dufferin Grove staff visited the curling club, a new cash register system was just being set up. The system costs about $5000, and it does inventory, gives receipts, and even includes categories for “spillage” and “complimentary” – when VIPs are invited to an event.

The checking of inventory is one of the obstacles for Dufferin Grove programs – if park staff have to enter every slice of bread and every mini-pizza into they system, there won’t be time left to make the food. It’s an example of a City policy direction that may not work in the long run – turning the program staff into bean counters, or – more accurately – toilet paper roll counters and pen counters. Already, every City roll and every City pen will soon have to be recorded and submitted for checking. CELOS would welcome any information from our readers, about studies done elsewhere that include a detailed cost accounting of such measures. What is the real cost for City staff having to do all that investigating, recording, re-checking, and analyzing of toilet paper or bread slice dispensing? What is the benefit?

An interesting and timely question, and another good topic for CELOS research. To follow these negotiations, go to CELOS/cash handling.


Winter is coming and soon the rinks will open. Thanks to City Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s Council motion in February 2009, Dufferin Rink and twelve others will again open two weeks earlier than the rest this year: on Saturday November 20. Thanks to negotiations with former Parks Director Andy Koropeski, Wallace Rink will get a zamboni garage (and better ice maintenance). And thanks to many neighborhood requests, Campbell Rink will have more family-skate times, with hot chocolate over a campfire. The joy of winter, coming soon.

Progress on park maintenance

Some 2010 Parks maintenance staff changes are starting to bear fruit in the Ward 18 parks. At Dufferin Grove Park, the sandpit water outlet has been made much better and the accumulated sand of ten years, in the laneway storm sewer, has been removed. Lots of work has been done on the gardens and more is planned, including removal of two of the beds along the Dufferin Street foot path to reduce the mud-run-off on the path (for more information, see Felisa Shizgal’s good old wildflower sign beside that path, which has lasted for 15 years, will come down now that it’s so weathered that the Garrison Creek map is unreadable. Meantime, there’s a plan for fixing picnic tables. Five better-condition tables were already delivered to the oven area to replace the ones that broke most recently.

At MacGregor Park, the field house renovations are almost done and a re-opening party is planned for the end of October -- more news at At Wallace-Emerson, the zamboni is finally getting a garage – a pre-fab that’s being erected in mid-October. It’s a new day for collaboration, with the new Parks staff – very heartening.

The annual YIMBY festival at the Gladstone Hotel, Saturday October 16, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This “yes in my backyard” festival is now in its fourth year. It’s family-friendly and in fact, the Dufferin Grove information table is being staffed by Belinda Cole and her kids Davey White and Nick White. (Davey also got to ask a “cutbacks-and-the-rinks” question at the City TV mayor’s debate.) This family would welcome help in staffing the tables, from other Dufferin Grove kids and their parents -- if you’re interested, call the park at 416 392-0913 and they’ll pass the message to Belinda. This is a fun day of swapping stories between all sorts of neighbourhood groups. Free admission.


The market will be on the rink pad every Thursday in October, to take advantage of the rink lights now that it’s getting dark before the end of the market time. After the sensational growing season, the farmer’s tables are groaning with produce. One great new addition for cooks is the Exact Edge knife sharpening table. Denzil not only does knives but also garden shears, chain saw chains, and pretty well anything that needs a sharp edge. Watching him at work is a treat – solid old tools and the shiny water wheel, and then a kitchen knife that’s twice as useful as before. The Dufferin Grove cooks have been taking all their knives in, and they love the results.


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:


October Newsletter sponsored by: Edward Cayley

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