For the basics, see
- Website & Privacy Policies
- How To Get Involved
- The Role of the Park

Search options:

up to a month to index new postings
web search

Search Newsletter:
local & up to date but simpler
See Search Page

Department Site Map

July 2012

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


Volume 12, Nr.2, July 2012: Ward 18 Parks Conservancy


Hot weather relief (and fun!) in Ward 18 parks

Ward 18 has six parks with wading pools and one splash pad. Wading pools are great places to get cool and find friends, both for kids and for their caregivers. But not all the pools get the same amount of use.

For example: on Friday June 29, the official citywide opening day of wading pools, it was 32 degrees without a cloud in the sky. In mid-afternoon, there were 3 kids in the wading pool at Campbell Park, 2 at Carlton Park, 6 at the Perth Park splash pad, 6 at Dovercourt Park, 10 at MacGregor Park, 8 at McCormick Park, and 41 at Dufferin Grove'''. Dufferin Grove had over 50 kids in the water later that afternoon, and it’s pretty crowded most days.

Dufferin Grove has more shade than most wading pools, and on hot days that’s important. But the crowds can be too much at times, so maybe it’s time to spread out a bit! And in Ward 18, Dufferin Grove is not the only wading pool with other kinds of fun going on too.

Take MacGregor Park – its wading pool is just as big, and it has water toys, board games, washrooms (much closer and handier than those at Dufferin Grove), wholesome snacks and good coffee available. Plus there some fun at MacGregor Park that’s not available at any of the other neighbourhood wading pools – a well-supplied crafts table, a dress-up area, a story area with lots of kids’ books, a drop-in kids’ cooking club on Wednesdays, and a drop-in kids’ garden club on Saturdays and Sundays. Some of the same staff who make Dufferin Grove so friendly also put on the programs at MacGregor wading pool.

And on Mondays and Fridays on the long summer evenings, there’s often a campfire at MacGregor Park – with hot dogs and marshmallows on Mondays at 7 and a pay-by-donation campfire cookout on Fridays at 6.30. On hot days the wading pool stays open until 7, so the kids can keep on playing until they’re ready to go home and fall into bed.

Campbell Park wading pool is pretty conventional on weekdays, but on Saturdays there’s a tasty park supper at tables set out between the playground and the park clubhouse. Supper is cooked by park staff in the new park clubhouse kitchen, sometime with help from the cooking club kids.

The supper starts at 5.30, and during that time the sprinklers are on at the wading pool, there’s a sandpit with a hose for water play and lots of shovels for digging, and there are old-fashioned games like marbles and hula hoops available.

In Ward 18, nobody needs to stay cooped up inside, hot and grouchy: come on out to the park, soak your feet in a cool wading pool while you chat with your neighbours and watch your kids play – everyone welcome!


Short-staffed at Dufferin Grove Park – most bake-oven pizza days/bake oven birthday parties cancelled.

Since last year, city management has allowed no new part-time recreation staff to be hired for the Dufferin Grove Park programs, nor for the related programs at other Ward 18 parks (e.g. Campbell and Wallace Rinks in winter, MacGregor Park in summer). That means that when staff leave to go on to other occupations, there are no replacements, so that the pool of talented staff is steadily shrinking. This summer there are not enough staff to run the ovens and work with families for bake-oven pizza days, so most have had to be cancelled. It now looks like there will have to be some days when the wading pool cafe is closed and Friday Night Supper is cancelled.

Why the City is not allowing more hiring of part-time recreation program staff: the position of Recreation management is that in parks there should be no more locally-based part-time recreation program staff working with kids, youth, or families – only inside community centres. In Ward 18, the old ways (i.e. when recreation programs were common in parks as well as in community centres) have survived until now, thanks in part to strong lobbying by park users and some push from Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailao. But citywide, the only approved recreation programs in parks are at wading pools and outdoor rinks, both administered centrally (except in a few remaining holdouts like the three rinks in Ward 18).

This approach to recreation has resulted from institutional drift, rather than public discussion. It’s a radical change for the downtown area, but not so much of a change for the parks in Etobicoke and North York. Many managers nowadays live in the more suburban areas of Toronto, or in neighbouring cities like Pickering or Brampton – much like the members of Toronto’s police force. So their thinking about public spaces is different. What works well in Etobicoke is not necessarily good for downtown, though, and that’s why a “Ward 18 parks Conservancy” is an alternative worth trying, in one part of downtown.

Why the Conservancy is needed for good staffing of Ward 18 parks: The conservancy can restore the part-time hiring process to include some local, mature, and staff with special talents who can only work flexible hours. Part-time staff hours can be increased or decreased depending on the level of activity and donations – easier to do when the scale is small enough, i.e. looking at one ward at a time. Part-time wages can once again be tied to actual job responsibilities and to the best use of the actual Ward 18 budget, instead of being reduced across the board by central policy as at present. But time is running out. If you want to build on what we have at our neighbourhood parks, this is the summer to get into the discussion.

Conservancy News

What would a Ward 18 Parks Conservancy look like?

The details need to be worked out by park users and program staff together with city management and our City Councillor. The idea is NOT to secede and set up a shadow bureaucracy, but to have a pilot project within the municipal government, using existing tax funds together with existing donations being raised, to build on what we already have through an active, friendly collaboration between park users and park staff. Some of the Ward 18 parks are halfway there already. The guiding principles are local, transparent, and based on trust. Those can open the way to making good use of the talents of many people.

The Budget: To understand how a Ward 18 parks Conservancy can work, we need to understand the details of City spending for Ward 18 parks and recreation. So on April 10, CELOS (our little research group, the “Centre for Local Research into Public Space) submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for all the Ward 18 parks and recreation budget details. On June 23, 16 pages of detailed “SAP accounting system” information arrived. This document is a good start, although there are a lot of things missing from the SAP system – no wading pool numbers, no maintenance and repair details available (may be available in 2013 with a new system), no link between staff costs and the specific activity.

Those gaps can be filled in, though. Here's one example of a gap that’s not currently in the city’s line item accounting: every spring/summer/fall evening around 7 pm, two park maintenance staff drive a truck into Dufferin Grove Park, to check the field house washrooms and lock them for the night. Most days there are recreation program staff already working in the park at those times, and until a few years ago, they used to walk over and close the washrooms before they left. It’s simple to calculate how much it costs to have the two additional staff, with a truck, come in as well.

Now that the first 16-page batch of SAP Ward 18 budget numbers have arrived, they can be organized into clear categories and made public. That way we can being to test the hypothesis: can a local, smaller-scale approach like the Ward 18 parks Conservancy do better with the same allocation of our tax money?

Wading pools:

The city’s one-size-fits-all aquatics structure continues to undermine the popular locally-based wading pool programs that have grown up in Dufferin Grove and MacGregor Park over many years. In addition, funds that used to be available for extended wading pool openings during heat alert days have been made scarcer because of the cost of numerous, citywide, redundant training sessions with little practical relation to summer programs or wading pools. Funds are also diverted to buy over-the-top “safety” equipment. All wading pool staff are required to put on whole-body hazard suits, with face-guard helmets and steel-toed boots, to add a dose of chlorine to the wading pool eight times a day. The money spent to buy such needless heavy-duty equipment further reduces the amount available for keeping the pools open longer during very hot weather.

The traditional staff-run poolside kids’ activities have disappeared from most wading pools, as young staff are directed to focus entirely on risk – risk of chlorine explosions, risk of abusive parents who must be observed and reported to Children’s Aid, risk of possible pedophiles taking photos.

Councillor Ana Bailao attempted to get Aquatics management to restore some local integration of Ward 18 wading pool staffing with the other park programs. There were a number of meetings, which took a lot of time. But in the end, Aquatics management decided that one size fits all and the Ward 18 wading pools would operate exactly like all the others.

Why the Conservancy is needed for the Ward 18 parks in summer: wading pools have no legal requirements for certified supervision with a predominantly “compliance” focus. In some places wading pools are even run by parent volunteers. That leaves room for the Conservancy to return the five Ward 18 wading pools to being lively family meeting places, with wading pool staffing integrated into other park activities, and some mature staff as well as younger ones, all summer long. The wading pools can also return to being reliable cooling stations extending into the evening on hot-weather days.

Starting now: with lots of pressure from park users and also from Councillor Ana Bailao, the wading pools at Dufferin Grove and at MacGregor Park have been allowed to stay open an hour later on days when the temperature is 29 or hotter. The timers at the Perth splash pad have been reset to keep the water on longer. Good progress! The new “Friends of McCormick Park” group has asked if their pool can have heat extensions too. Why not?


From the website:

“If you want to have a campfire at Dufferin Grove Park, we're hoping you'll be willing to donate $20. That's a lot less than the fee at other City campfire sites, and there’s a reason for that: if you and your friends make a campfire at the park, you’ve taken on a park volunteer job. You’ll be helping with park oversight while you’re at the fire.

The campfires started in 1994, to increase the night-time liveliness of the park and therefore make the park safer and friendlier. The two fire-sites are intentionally located right by the main park thoroughfare. Everyone can pass nearby and enjoy the beautiful light of the fire, and the smell of food roasting on the grill. This works wonders on other park users. Campfire cooks often share the food they cook, if someone comes along hungry or just curious.

A city is a place of many strangers, and it can be scary – a dark park even more so. But a campfire is a reassuring circle of light and activity. So the campfire participants contribute the neighbourliness of the park. A few times (very few) there has been trouble elsewhere in the park, and the campfire participants have gone to help. The trouble was quickly defused. Safety in numbers! This is exactly the point of a lively park – trouble goes somewhere else. So if you want to have a campfire, don’t forget: you’ll have an important job. If you like that task, you can book a time with And if you can't donate the $20, tell the staff, and they won't insist.”

Why campfires need the protection of the Conservancy: One day in May, the City Parks manager and his staff walked around Dufferin Grove Park with the District Fire Chief to look at the campfire sites. They made no attempt to talk to the onsite recreation program staff who run the campfire program, and who were in the park at the time. The Fire Chief was unhappy with what he saw, and ordered major tree trimming and campfire relocation, or even cancelling of campfires. Councillor Ana Bailao later arranged a meeting in her office, between the Parks manager and a conservancy advocate. Enough questions came up that a repeat walkabout was scheduled for June 25, this time including both staff and park users who know about the campfires, and about trees. The fire chief sent a fire captain in his stead. When the captain found out that the campfires are actually cooking fires instead of bonfires, he said that as long as city’s cooking-fire policy is followed as before, Fire Services has no concerns that such small fires would cause trees to ignite. The Forestry staff said he felt the same.

The main remaining problem is the name. When Fire Services approves the existing campfire pits they will be renamed “designated campfire sites.” If the city’s new procedure rules are applied to Ward 18, that would mean these sites must be centrally booked by City Hall Permits staff, at $90 plus insurance each time, and there would no longer be onsite recreation staff support. At the June 25 meeting, the recreation supervisor explained that the reason why neither Ward 18 campfire users nor campfire program staff were consulted was because this was a “procedure,” not a new “policy.”

The new rule has not yet been applied in Dufferin Grove Park. In the past year, campfires at Dufferin Grove have brought almost $5000 back to the city in voluntary donations, more than covering the extra staff cost. We’ve asked the area Recreation supervisor to set up a meeting with campfire users to discuss the imminent changes – no answer yet. But the Parks manager sent over two interesting charts from the Permits department, about campfires citywide. It shows again how hard it is for staff to administer small neighbourhood events centrally. The chart gives wrong information for almost every neighborhood park that has campfires.

Local and small-scale is easier and works better! And for anyone who wants to book a “campfire volunteer” spot, you can now look up the calendar yourself: click on “schedule” at the top of the campfire page on the website. It’s updated every day.

Why a Conservancy will work better for campfires and other local community uses: community campfire can be under the same rules at all the larger Ward 18 parks – when park users ask for a campfire location at their neighbourhood park, park staff can help them to settle on a designated site that is safe and at a sufficient distance from houses to cause less smoke than backyard barbecues. There can be recreation staff support and free access to the city’s existing volunteer insurance. When these additional local campfire sites become available, the demand at Dufferin Grove will lessen, spreading the wealth (in terms of local neighbourhood sociability and night-time park safety). With fewer departments involved administratively, the voluntary $20 campfire donations will cover the campfire staffing costs at all the designated sites.

September “everyone welcome” Ward 18 Conservancy workshop – exact date to be determined. CELOS will seek to work with Councillor Bailao’s office to gather Ward 18 park users and find out if there is a widespread public support to shape a locally-based alternative to the central model – and if so, to see what the steps are.

The Big Picture: since the last restructuring six years ago, the operating budget of Parks, Forestry and Recreation has gone up by over $90 million, to $375 million for 2012. Despite this alarming increase, management staff say that the silo structure is saving the city money. The results that park users see, though, are more layers of non-communicating bureaucracy and less actual service. This has become an issue all over the city, as parks management seeks desperately to extract more permit fees to cover the budget shortfall, but with less value for money.

Sports field users, citywide, rebelled in the spring, saying that the new permit fees for kids’ and youth sports leagues make no sense when the league volunteer coaches are also doing most of the field maintenance. Community Health Centres that formerly partnered with Parks and Recreation to run programs say that they are now being priced out of access to public spaces. At the same time, unused public spaces stay empty and locked. The groups and agencies are beginning to push back. A group called “Community Recreation for All” (CRFA) has become a voice for agencies, board-of-management centres and groups working with low-income families. A research topic of interest to everyone is: how much of our taxes are spent NOT on direct programs but on administering program fees and permit fees and “welcome policy” eligibility, and assigning staff to monitor compliance? If you like numbers and want to help research this intriguing question, we want to talk to you:

Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market: Every Thursday 3 to 7 pm:

Market manager Anne Freeman sends weekly market news to market list subscribers every Wednesday. Some excerpts, from three of the farmers: "Well we got some rain the other day so we have a wonderful load of sweet red raspberries ready for freezing or jam. Peaches are coming in the next two weeks, hope for a sweet, delicious harvest like last year.”....“This week sweet cherries are at their best of the season! A few sour cherries will make their once-a-year appearance too. Berries in abundance: red raspberries, dark almost black saskatoon berries (higher antioxidant value) and wild blueberries”....“Ben's digging New Potatoes first thing Thursday morning fresh for Dufferin! We won't be washing them as their skins are very delicate.... we're cutting Broccoli, bunching Swiss Chard, Beets, and Kale, picking Peas, and bringing fresh dug Garlic too! Next week our bunches of Sweet Onions will begin”

To sign up for this newsletter, visit the market page at


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:


hosted by | powered by pmwiki-2.2.83. Content last modified on July 06, 2012, at 06:36 PM EST