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Newsletter December 2018

Dufferin Rink construction 1993

This newsletter is put out by CELOS, the Centre for Local Research into Public Space. Since 2000, when this little organization began at Dufferin Grove Park, we’ve been doing what we call “theoretical and practical research” into what makes public spaces – like parks – more hospitable and more lively. We’ve been researching what works and what doesn’t, and we’ve documented a lot of what we’ve seen and done, in this newsletter and on our four websites.

A guest baker

Len and Shauna

Len Senator owns the one-of-a-kind community restaurant The Depanneur, on College Street at Havelock. On the first Tuesday of the month he offers "Table Talk," a meal and a talk/conversation.

At the beginning of November, Shauna Kearns from Pittsburgh was the speaker. She works with bricklayer apprentices at the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh (TIP) to help people coming out of prison to build bake ovens for sale. Shauna said she first met the people at TIP when she wanted to build a big community bake oven in Braddock PA, to replace a smaller oven that was crumbling. What happened next? See the Braddock Community Oven website.

On the morning of her Table Talk, Shauna came to Dufferin Grove to bake bread in one of the park bake ovens for her table talk, and Len came to roast the vegetables for the dinner. At dinnertime, the tables at the Depanneur were full, the food was super-tasty, the story was engrossing, and so was the conversation before and after -- strangers didn't act like strangers anymore. As Shauna said, bread ovens can be powerful.

Community meeting about a DOLA (Dogs off-leash area) in the park: Monday Dec.10 at St.Mary’s High School:

It seems to be a municipal requirement to put a DOLA in every ward. There’s $300,000 in the budget to put a DOLA into the southwest corner of Dufferin Grove Park this coming spring. However the space is small, and most owners of large dogs said they’ll continue to walk their dogs elsewhere in the park. The DOLA is on low ground that turns into a lake in late winter. And parents were unhappy that it would mean tobogganing on the hillside is over.

About 60 people came to the meeting. Two designs were offered to choose from, but few people at the meeting showed interest in either alternative. City Councillor Ana Bailao and city capital projects staff explained that the dog park is mandated by city policy, and that the alternative of having designated early-morning and late-evening off-leash hours would require a new decision by city council.

Capital projects staff also said that the children’s tobogganing activity, where the hill runs up against the proposed dog park, is undocumented (not officially a toboggan area), and therefore could not be taken into consideration.

However, as the meeting went on, it became evident that public opinion was strongly against the designs. It now seems that the DOLA plan is not going to happen.

From Carol Kidd: “Many of us hope that there may be an opportunity to have dedicated hours for dog owners to be able to run their dogs throughout the Park, but at all times avoiding specific, noted areas, e.g. the playground and wading pool, and the soccer field when in use by soccer teams. With general attendance in the park dropping drastically as soon as the weather turns cold, it would have been unfortunate to relegate all dogs to a small off-leash site when the majority of Dufferin Grove Park would be deserted. I think there are one or two areas in the East end that follow this practice, thus the precedent has been established for some time now.”

Rink troubles: why Dufferin Rink opened two and a half weeks late

Nov.24: no more information than that

Two days before Dufferin Rink was scheduled to open, on Nov.22, a sign went up on the front door of the rink clubhouse: “Opening delayed due to mechanical issues.” The rink program staff, all part-time, suddenly found out their shifts were cancelled and so were their paychecks. (Later they were able to get some shifts at other rinks or community centres.) Full-time staff had paychecks but no ice to maintain and no program staff to supervise. None of the staff, nor the rink friends, were told what the “mechanical issues” were.

Some of the other rinks had the same experience, or worse. A sign went up two days before opening day at popular Ramsden Rink, saying that the entire season was cancelled due to "unanticipated critical mechanical issues." Several other rinks that had been scheduled to open on time were suddenly posted as “under construction.” Some others were listed as closed day after day with no explanation at all.

At Dufferin Rink, all requests for details about the nature of the “mechanical issues” were refused. (Why?) On Dec.6, the compressors were finally turned on. The rink finally opened for the season on Dec.11.

Why this happened:the mechanical problems were not discovered until a few days before the scheduled opening because the city Purchasing Department did not approve CIMCO Refrigeration Company’s citywide rink maintenance contract until one week before 47 rinks were due to open.

The last minute scramble meant that an obvious rust problem with Dufferin Rink’s condenser was noticed too late. Then when the condenser was replaced, a brine leak collapsed a pipe, and that took another week to replace. Then for two more days the rink clubhouse had to be made ready by rec staff (really?).

What is shinny hockey?

no hockey rink at Wallace

During the November 28 meeting mentioned above, one of the architects’ proposals was to take down the chain-link fence around the pleasure-skating pad. Several of the “community resource group” (CRG) members said that the fence is needed to keep the pucks in during the shinny games that go on after 9 pm when the permits take over the hockey pad and the rink house is closed. Peter Didiano, the Capital Projects supervisor, objected that a fence is not necessary for shinny hockey. He described the official rules of the game – shinny hockey is played on a pond-shaped surface, he said, no nets, only pylons or boots, and no raising of the puck.

Maybe that idea of shinny hockey explains the new skating area planned for the upcoming Wallace-Emerson development, at Dufferin and Dupont. There is to be a long skating trail, with only a little half-circle at one bend in the trail, no separate rink pad with boards. On the map it’s called a shinny area, presumably with Peter Didiano’s rules in mind.

That’s not, however, how shinny hockey is played in Toronto.

Rink maintenance

Parks admin staff are still assembling the rink refrigeration maintenance records from the last 5 years, for an overdue September Freedom of Information request from CELOS. It’s possible that some of the records were lost or mislaid. One reason for a conservancy (a city-community partnership) for Dufferin Grove is to have accurate local book-keeping and no last-minute scrambles.


Parks and Recreation has two main categories for what people do in parks: active recreation (mainly sports, from frisbee to bike polo to organized soccer tourneys) and passive recreation (strolling, relaxing on a park bench, smelling the flowers or, maybe, attending an outdoor concert or product show).

‘Passive’ is a strange word, though. The strangeness becomes more obvious when, for example, some of the city’s 53 outdoor rinks, Dufferin Rink and half a dozen others, suddenly have a “delayed opening” or “closed for the whole season” sign on the front door, on the day before the scheduled opening date. City staff seldom give more specific reasons. When pressed, the answer is most likely to be “health and safety” or “mechanical issues.” The message is like a little pat on the head, “don’t worry, dear, we’ll take care of it and let you know as soon as the problem is over.” In other words, be passive.

If a garage mechanic said that to a car owner whose car had stopped running, the owner would most likely find a different mechanic, who could explain the problem, the cost of fixing it, and how to keep it from happening again, if possible.

The thing about a rink or a park is, people own those too, only we all own them together. Taxes are a brilliant device to pool some funds so that we can take good care of our public places. The more we know about how our neighbourhood parks work and what needs to be done to look after them, the better we’ll be able to partner with the city staff to make sure the parks are in good order. But that means that city staff have to stop it with the secrecy and the pat on the head when something goes wrong. The less city staff treat park friends like dummies instead of active collaborators, the more likely that park friends will know they can trust city staff not to be careless about maintenance. A win-win.

Design all around

It seems like there’s a lot of designing going on all around us these days. At Dufferin Grove Park, there’s the proposed redesign of the rink clubhouse and the rink surfaces. Up at the corner of Dufferin and Bloor, the Bloor Dufferin Development Limited Partnership proposes adding lots of high rise apartments and even a new street. The Dufferin Mall owners have now added their proposals for a piece across the street from the park. Further up the street at Dufferin and Dupont, even more and higher buildings are planned, plus a lower-height development at Bloor and Dovercourt.

Beyond that, there’s Google’s Sidewalk Labs, down on the lakeshore but being discussed all over town. Some people feel that the Sidewalk Labs proposals will turn us all into objects useful for data-mining. Others think that it would be better to be governed by Google than by the city’s bureaucracy.

Sidewalk Labs is funneling a lot of money to a lot of groups. The Toronto group Park People got a contract from them for a Public Life Protocol.” The aim is to “create benchmarks and performance metrics” for “urban policies and programs for making people more visible to policymakers, designers, and planners in public space.” One of the tours sponsored under this project was in Dufferin Grove Park, looping Sidewalk Labs right back to where we’re standing.

Correction: Our mistake: It turns out that Park People’s visit to Dufferin Grove was not for the city’s “Public Space, Public Life” study, which was done by city staff plus two Toronto planning and consultation firms and two New York/San Francisco/Copenhagen firms. Nor for the Sidewalk Labs-funded accompanying data collection app, called CommonSpace. Park People trained our friends the "Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee" to gather data at their park with that app.

A different report, which does include a visit to Dufferin Grove brokered by Park People, was headed by Doblin, a “global innovation firm” that partners with Google to research belonging, and to find out "where opportunity lies." – Our local park, seen through the lens of international planners, oh my.

Build a better Bloor-Dufferin (BBBD)

From the BBBD website: On 5 November Build a Better Bloor Dufferin was given “standing” before the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT, the successor to the OMB). The next hearing is April 18, 2019.

“We got what we came for,” said Maggie Hutcheson, co-chair of the BBBD. She was one of a dozen neighbourhood residents and interested citizens at the session at the LPAT offices on Bay Street.

BBBD now has the right to speak before the adjudicators, call expert witnesses, and cross-examine witnesses testifying in the hearings. BBBD also seeks to understand the City Planning Department’s issues with the development and other factors surrounding the development. Andrea Adams, who represented BBBD, said the group needs adequate time to review the issues coming before the LPAT. The BBBD already shared a list of the issues about the development with the developer and city planning. But LPAT Adjudicator Lori Bruce said it might be two years before the developer’s appeal reaches a full hearing.

The second and third "Northwest Corner Revitalization" meetings: October 17 and November 28

Rink clubhouse: a serviceable, plain brick structure, built 1993

Community volunteers who are members of the city’s “Community Resource Group” (CRG) were invited to meet with the city’s planners and the design consultant DTAH to discuss the “revitalization of the Northwest Corner” project. At the November meeting, Parks and Rec Capital Projects supervisor Peter Didiano gave a bit of the history of the Dufferin Grove project. He said it began when the managers at city hall decided to move the zamboni out of the rink clubhouse garage and put it in the metal shed instead. Consultants were hired to advise Capital Projects how to turn the former garage into a commercial kitchen. Then it occurred to the Capital Projects staff that they might as well renovate or rebuild the whole rink house and redo the rink itself – get everything done at once. The budget went from $250,000 to $4 million, including a $700,000 contract with the design firm DTAH.

Dufferin Grove Park is sometimes called a "community centre without walls" -- so much happens outdoors, under the sky, not in a building. But the budget line in the city’s 2018 Capital Budget calls for a "Dufferin Grove new community centre." That’s a brand new thing, no longer a park clubhouse -- a top-down decision that highlights the need for a park conservancy.

The fourth "Northwest Corner Revitalization" meeting: Dec.11, 2018

The volunteer group that was assembled in 2017 by the city’s consultant for community consultation (LURA) now includes two farmers’ market reps, two Clay and Paper Theatre reps, three skate-boarding reps, two bike polo reps, one garden rep, one tree advocate, one CELOS rep, two design professionals who use Dufferin Grove Park, two general-interest reps from Havelock, two from Gladstone, and the host of the main community e-list. Several shinny hockey players came to the Dec.11 meeting and were allowed to speak even though they’re not in the group.

This time Megan Torza from DTAH presented five possible options for the clubhouse. All include a hallway for skate-changing, one or two separate multi-function rooms, two gender-neutral washrooms, and an additional “universal” washroom (this means fewer toilets). Three options involve demolishing the existing rink clubhouse and repositioning it to the east or the north of the rink.

The next meeting will be for the public, on Wednesday February 6, 2019 at St.Wenceslaus Church Hall. More news about this in the January newsletter.

Six more “community resource group” (CRG) meetings about the project are planned over the next 13 months, as well as four larger public meetings. The renovations/rebuilding are scheduled from 2020 to 2022.

DTAH design proposals presented so far

At the November 28 CRG meeting, Megan Torza, DTAH lead designer, presented four possible “site improvement strategies.”

1. Renovate the rink clubhouse with more storage areas and accessibility improvements inside and out but keeping existing layout of the building or

2. renovate the rink clubhouse, including removing the mechanical refrigeration room to the opposite (east) side of the rink, so as to add indoor program space and/or rentable space in the rink clubhouse or

3. demolish the current rink clubhouse and put a new building with more indoor program space and/or rentable space on the east side of the rink or

4. demolish the current rink clubhouse and put a new building with more indoor program space and/or rentable space where the hockey pad is now, putting that hockey pad on the west side where the clubhouse is now.

An alternative suggestion: fix the whole park, not only one corner.

City Capital Projects staff have found $4 million in the budget for "revitalizing" (i.e. fixing up) Dufferin Grove Park.

Great news. Over the years when the park became a “community centre without walls,” there have been many requests by park users and local program staff, for small-to-medium improvements. Now there may be enough funds to address the accumulated wish list:

A new, clean washroom building nearer the playground: Park users have been asking for this for decades, but were always told it's too expensive. Now we can afford it.

Accessible paths: Now there’s enough money to pave the muddy-or-crumbling-asphalt-or-bumpy-wood-chips paths in the park so that they give smooth access for wheels (strollers, wheelchairs, bikes). More suggestions for the city:

Storage: After the new washroom is built, change the old fieldhouse washroom spaces into one storage room for the skateboarders and one storage room for Clay and Paper. Replace the old storage sheds near the clubhouse with new ones for farmers’ market tables and tents, garden supplies, the wood supply for the ovens, and (down by the playground) put in a new program supplies area for the sandpit activities.

Farmers’ Market: enlarge the concrete "apron" at the front of the rinkhouse (could it be a wooden verandah?) so it’s better for wheelchairs and everybody during the market. Repave and widen the market path to the west of the rinkhouse.

Rink clubhouse:; enlarge the “zamboni café” kitchen and add windows and better cupboards and vertical storage. Scrub and paint the changeroom including the washrooms. Add a glass door near the northeast changeroom corner for a second exit from that room. Add ceiling fans. Make a mezzanine over half of the change room to make a long-term between-seasons storage area with fold-away steps. Buy better moveable benches. Build a better lockable computer cupboard, but no separate office. (Message: staff work together with the community.)

Skate lending room: remove the two redundant water heaters. Put in better shelves and a door in two sections, with a sliding opening in the top half. Add heating.

Zamboni garage kitchen: clean and paint it, add new shelving, add better fridges and freezers, add two large steel or wood prep tables, everything moveable. Buy a better mixer with a safety guard. But keep it as a community kitchen, everyone welcome.

Wading pool: remove the slippery layer to get back to the plain concrete underneath.

Sandpit: Split the water supply so that the sandpit tap doesn’t stop running when the pool is being refilled many times during the day. Find a way to save the water for the trees, from both the wading pool and the sandpit.

Playground: redo the rain shelter floor so it's level (barrier-free). Install a better fence between the south laneway and the playground so the kids are not in danger from cars.

The outdoor ovens: Reroof the big oven. Put accessible flooring at the Dan's table sitting area. Add better prep tables at each oven. Basketball: add a second basketball court beside the first one, to accommodate the crowds of youth. .....etc.....

A community-and-staff cleaning bee for the rink clubhouse

It sounds like nothing much will happen to fix the rink until the big decisions are made, in time for the 2020 construction start date. Volunteer gardener Skylar Hill-Jackson suggested that some fixups could and should occur for the kitchens sooner, since food will continue to be prepared and served in the meantime.

time to clean and fix the park kitchens

CELOS has asked Nigel Dean, who put in the zamboni garage kitchen in 2003, and Silvie Varone, who made the moveable kitchen cupboards in 2006, to come and take a look and see what they think could be fixed in the short run.

Recreation supervisor Keith Storey said he’s willing to discuss a proposal for three or four rotating cleaning-and-fixing bees that include de-greasing the walls and shelving, repairing drawers and cupboard doors, re-lining corroded shelving, etc.

These kinds of joint work bees were once customary at the park and they worked well.

Update: The community-staff cleaning bee for the rink clubhouse kitchens may not happen, because recreation supervisor Keith Storey says he’s really too busy to talk about it. And no wonder – Keith says he’s looking after 15 rinks/arenas in the west part of Toronto. Besides that, the city’s Parks and Rec capital projects web page lists 23 major park construction projects (including Dufferin Grove) plus 11 Park master plans being worked on. Supervisors like Keith have to attend so many planning meetings that it’s amazing they have any time left for the day-to-day.

The good news is that Mary Sylwester, the park’s admired vegan-soup-and-chili cook, hosed down the dirty window screens and scrubbed cobwebs off walls, fitting in some deep-cleaning between her normal cooking tasks. “Not my job” seems not to be in Mary’s rule book.

The Bloorcourt Heritage Calendar

From Ann Ball: The Bloorcourt BIA, which covers Bloor Street West between Dufferin Street and Montrose Avenue, turns forty next year. In celebration, Bloorcourt BIA commissioned a Heritage Calendar with rare, archival photographs and historical commentary. All proceeds from this calendar's sale will be donated to Working Women Community Centre. It’s a lovely calendar, costs $20, and is available from Alicia, Carlos and Alex at the Bloorcourt Village Market, 868 Bloor Street West (near Carling), Chris at The Maker Bean Cafe, 1052 Bloor Street West (at Havelock), Batiste at Mediterrania Food and Market, 3 Bartlett Avenue (north of 1062 Bloor Street West), or sending an email to


A way to describe the role of the park conservancy that CELOS proposes is householding -- an old-time word that that means competent care of a specific place (could be a park). It includes a kind of book-keeping or continuous inventory -- keeping track of the supplies in the metaphorical park "pantry." (Rink/buildings/arts/farmers' market/cash-box/gardens/talent pool of staff/ of neighbours etc.)

But googling the meaning of “householding” get this definition as the first item: “householding. the process in which all of the members of a household are grouped together for promotional purposes in order to send a single mail piece or package per mailing address.” That’s not what we mean!

Editor: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer,,,

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