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Dufferin Grove Park September 2019 Newsletter (Week One)

Dufferin Rink reconstruction starting Feb.2020

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.


Sunday Sept.1, sometime after 3 p.m.: The Toronto Morris Ale dancers

Morris dancers

This is the 15th year when the Morris dancers will finish their annual Labour Day weekend dancing (which they do in public squares all over the city) by picnicking at Dufferin Grove Park. Morris dancing dates back to farm labourers’ resistance to early industrial conditions in Great Britain in the eighteenth century. Some of the dancers wear bells strapped to their legs while others dance with swords. It’s very energetic, and exhilarating to watch. Groups from other parts of Ontario, Massachusetts and sometimes Britain, have been coming to this park for years on the Sunday of Labour Day weekend, after they give their free dance performances in other public outdoor spaces. At Dufferin Grove these teams dance for one another in a friendly competition to show off their latest dances, and they eat masses of fresh park bread and herb butter and samosas, and make pizza at the bake oven.

Everyone is welcome to come and watch the dances and cheer on the dancers.

Thursday September 5th, 6 pm:

A “Back to School Campfire” with MPP Marit Stiles, everyone welcome.

Thursday Sept.19, 6.30 p.m.: final public meeting about the rink/clubhouse renovation

At St.Wenceslaus Church, 496 Gladstone. Story p.6 – 7

Saturday Sept.21 and Sunday 22, all day: The Figment festival of Interactive Art

From the organizers: It's the festival’s 7th year in Toronto, and our 3rd year in Dufferin Grove. Do you have artwork, a performance or any project that uses the audience's participation to bring it to life? Do you love interactive art? If so, we'd love to showcase it at Figment! All artists receive an honorarium… We accept work from established artists, students, adults, youth, individuals and teams, in all disciplines and media (as long as it's interactive). More information here. We're also looking for *volunteers* of all ages - please contact us at



Many programs at this park (the adventure playground, basketball, extended shinny hockey, theatre and music, gardening) began as a community/CELOS/city staff partnerships. Food-related programs (snack bars, pizza days, Friday Night Supper, etc.) were a relatively small part of the overall social programming. The income from food covered the food costs and generated a surplus that could be used for the park as a whole. Since 2011, though, when the partnership ended and the city’s Recreation managers took over completely, the food programs seem to have become a much larger focus of park staffing. The food also seems to require a very large subsidy from the city’s operating budget -- an anomaly not seen at any other park.

With the help of some Freedom of Information requests and a calculator, CELOS recently did the math for a sample year. The total food-related income in 2018 was $97,517 (2018 “income-by-day”). But the cost of the materials (groceries) alone was more than was earned: $113,581 (materials, i.e. groceries). A much bigger cost was the food-related staffing (part-time staff only, not counting full-time): $194,834. But that doesn’t include staff benefits, wages of the food-related supervisory staff, admin staff (e.g. central financial services, food ordering etc.) These add between $50,000 and $100,000 to the subsidy total. The calculations are posted here. So: in 2018 the city’s operating-budget subsidy for Dufferin Grove’s Friday Night Suppers, park snack bars, pizza making, market bread baking, etc. – was more than $250,000.

After weeks of unsuccessful efforts to find out more from city management, CELOS was told to contact Jane Arbour, Parks, Forestry and Recreation’s manager of Public Relations and Issues Management. We asked her whether our calculations match those of the Parks and Rec Finance staff, and if not, which details are different.

She said she’d get back to us. But so far, she hasn’t.

Why would it cost so much more to have food in the park than formerly? Some answers: groceries for making food are ordered centrally, which costs more than groceries bought locally by the cooks (as they formerly were). There are many more staff now, and – unlike before 2011 – they are assigned to one program at a time rather than each staff person helping to take care of the park as a whole. When those narrow program duties run out, the staff often sit and chat. Or it can go the other way around: if not enough staff are assigned to pizza day, for instance, the oven staff are swamped and people eventually give up and leave. The cafe staff stay at the cob cafe where they were scheduled instead of coming to help. (The park's food program staff, by the way, are mysteriously classified as “arts and crafts” – not as cooks or servers.) Meantime, as the social (and arts, and performance) programs have shrunk, fewer people are coming to the park. The income from the food is about half of that in the partnership days.

The immediate question is: do the people in this neighbourhood really need their food to be subsidized?

Most of them don’t.

Just raising the prices won’t fix it, though. Learning from the park’s past might.



Antonietta (Toni) Corrado, who is 71 and uses an electric wheelchair, has been living in Dufferin Grove Park since the beginning of August. When we were arranging a time for this newsletter interview, she sent an email from her cell phone: “l am here enjoying the view....l can look up at the trees and the sky... daytime planetarium.”

There followed three hours of talk with Toni, spread over three days, under the canopy of the trees, with her two little Shih Tzu dogs playing nearby. Sometimes children wandered up to say hi and pet the dogs, or a new park friend came by to offer a bag of grapes or an ice cream bar. In between, Toni had a lot of stories. She grew up as part of an Italian immigrant community in Windsor. As a young woman she worked in a Windsor bar and got to know some of the legendary musicians who performed there (Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Junior). Then for many years she was a flight attendant who flew all over the world and met all sorts of people. So she has some lively tales of those adventures.

In 1990 Toni had a fall during work that began a different story. The injury had consequences which worsened over time. “The path to disability is a long one,” Toni says, “and along the way you can’t see where it’s going.” In her case, she sold her house to buy a condo, for wheelchair access. But as other problems came up, she lost the condo and eventually went back and forth between stays in hospital and a couple of shelters. She ended up at the Sistering 24-hour women’s drop-in on Bloor at Dovercourt, and that was also, she said, the end of the shelter/drop-in system for her.


The Sistering 24-hour women’s drop-in, which until a few years ago was a daytime-only drop-in, is in some trouble now, as is evident to anyone walking by that stretch of Bloor. Toni says it was a dangerous place for her and for other residents (and that even her dogs were tense), because of the violence that’s a daily part of the experience inside. Concerns expressed by small store owners nearby, and by neighbours, have so far resulted mainly in a neighbourhood flyer. The flyer asks for volunteers and donations, and offers information sessions and training in “de-escalation tips.” There are many suggestions in the flyer for kindness and empathy, but at the moment, Sistering’s goal of creating a safe space for its residents seems to be overwhelmed by difficulties. So Toni moved into the park instead, and says she’ll never go back.

How to live in a park if you have a wheelchair and two dogs

Toni says you need certain supplies: WD40 and Gorrilla tape for the wheelchair, plus an electrical outlet to charge the battery (and an indoor/outdoor extension cord). It’s good to have some kitty litter to provide extra traction in case the wheelchair gets stuck in mud or (in winter) on ice. A lined umbrella, available for $15 at Wal-mart, protects from both rain and sun. Apple cider vinegar and coconut water or oil are good for the skin for sunburn and wind. Tarps are important, not only for Toni but also for the dogs, when the weather is bad.

The Dufferin Mall across the street is a big help. Toni says the security people and many of the shop owners are friendly and helpful, and she can often take shelter there if it rains. At the park, Toni has come to know many of the other dog owners (and dogs) who come there regularly. She says she has the best time with kids who come over to her and talk to her (”they like it that I’m at eye level with them”), and play with the dogs. People having campfires share their food, and the park staff won’t let her pay when they have their snack bar set up by the wading pool.

If you have to carry all your belongings with you, it’s hard, and things often get stolen. This has happened to Toni twice in the park. So Donna Densmore, the new Ward 9 recreation supervisor, has let CELOS reclaim its former adventure-playground storage shed, which had been turned into a wading-pool-and-cob-café storage shed. The staff cleared out much of their stuff and now Toni has a temporary place for keeping her things. She says that’s a relief.

A gift

Toni’s presence in the park has made an interesting difference. People overcome their shyness and talk to her, and enjoy her friendliness. She’s a kind of park welcomer. People also talk to each other more, maybe while walking their dogs in the park, or on Erella Gagnon’s dufferingrovefriends listserv – for instance, about where Toni (or anyone) might find good rental housing. Toni gives the gift of her enjoyment – telling people that the freedom of living in the park is often fun, that even her asthma has improved hugely since she spends so much time outdoors. She watches the moon rise. She knows the life of the park at all hours.

If there was a little apartment in the park where she could live, Toni would make a terrific park steward. But there isn’t such a little park apartment, and the cold weather is coming. So, dear neighbours: Toni has a pension. But the rental cost in this part of the city is too high for many people, and rent-geared-to-income apartments have a huge waiting list. Where can our new park friend find a small accessible apartment for not more than $1400 a month -- ??

If everyone asks a few people, someone will know of a place. PASS IT ON.


Clay and Paper Theatre news: Pigeon Pie and Night of Dread

Night of Dread costumes, 2009

From Tamara Romanchuk and David Anderson: “This summer we had one week performing our new play Pigeon Pie at Dufferin Grove and two more weeks at parks in Etobicoke. We also had really hot weather, sudden torrential rains that almost flooded the field house (we had to put out sand bags to block the water), and an actor injury (an actor twisted her ankle severely on a tree root in our performance area). But our troupe was marvelous and the show was really strong. People loved it. It’s a dream journey quest to save the last passenger pigeon. It’s a parable for our climate chaos times.

“The other news is that all Ontario Arts Council funding has been cut by 10%, including ours. And because we had such a short run, our revenue/donations at shows are not near where they need to be at this time of year. Therefore, we will have to, for the first time ever, hold a GoFundMe campaign for Night of Dread. We will have to raise $10,000 if Night of Dread is to happen this year.”

From the Build a Better Bloor Dufferin (BBBD) Coalition:

A possible City Council resolution will let the high rise project go ahead before the OMB/LPAT inquiry is due in October. Really? The BBBD website tells the story: here.

Macgregor Park and Field House renovation

This $700,000 renovation is now complete. The wading pool was replaced by a splash pad (meaning no more staff) and the building has a new main entrance (at the back) plus a very nice new kitchen. The laneway just north of the park has been renamed “Kristen Fahrig Lane,” for the much-missed Botanicus Arts Ensemble founder. Kristen’s ardent wish in her final days was that the archway she designed would be erected. Her friends and family have raised the money for it, Parks management has approved it, and the installation will be sometime in the fall.

In the meantime, the renovated building has been open only once a week, 5.30 to 7 pm, for three Saturday in August (for a community supper). In the fall, it will be used as a replacement location for the McCormick after-school program while McCormick Centre is closed for its $3.07 million renovation.

Dufferin Grove gardening

The park gardens are down to two volunteers – more are needed. There are lots of beds to work on, including a kale garden, accessible raised beds, a green roof, vegetable and flower and native species gardens. Staff often prepare snacks for the volunteers. Ask the staff, or ask Skylar (the volunteer gardener), or come by and take a look on a Wednesday or Sunday afternoon.


Disagreements about the $4.5 million Northwest Corner “revitalization project”

Pro: --The strongest supporters of the project, including the replacement of the current east-west rink pads with north-south rink pads and the reorientation of the basketball court have been skateboarders, bike polo participants, the farmers’ market board, and some of the long-time shinny permit holders. Representatives of each group were part of the Community Resource Group set up by LURA, the city’s public engagement consultant.

The city’s capital project construction schedule for Dufferin Grove is linked here


to be removed

Con: trees in the park The city’s planned rink reconstruction will see a fence going up in February of next year (2020). One of the elements of the plan is the removal of trees near the rink, both to the east and the south. There is some unhappiness about the destruction of the trees, despite the plan to plant more new trees.

Leena Raudvee: “The new row of uniform replacement trees look lovely on the plan but will not provide the shade, the habitat, the environmental benefits of the mature trees for many many years.”

Andrea Holtslander: “More trees will be planted, however, it will take many years for them to reach the same size. Younger trees also do not absorb as much carbon. From the CBC, reporting on a tree study: The study found that the older a tree is, the better it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. In fact, the research suggests that almost 70 per cent of all the carbon stored in trees is accumulated in the last half of their lives."

Con: environmental damage:

Belinda Cole: “Demolishing the rinks to replace them with new ones poses a huge problem for me. I'm guessing lots of us saw the Anthropocene exhibit at the AGO. The city insists we tear out, then replace 2 rinks that are apparently working fine, the replacement based on an assumed lifespan. Isn't this is a pivotal Anthropocene question in our own back (park)? I can’t help wondering what the effects of the proposed rink demolition and replacement look like right here. The energy to tear up cement surfaces, move it, add it to landfill, mine and transport the materials needed to make it, produce the greenhouse gases and use huge amounts of water to make more concrete, transport that concrete here….I can’t help wondering when the whole community gets to have an open vote about this project.”

See also: The Dufferin Grove Park Northwest Corner Revitalization – A Critical look.


Skylar Hill-Jackson, who lives just north of the rink, who takes her little grandson to play at the park, and who is a longtime volunteer gardener at Dufferin Grove, has asked to have this community petition included in the newsletter:

Dufferin Grove Park Petition regarding the proposed north/west corner renovation.

We, the undersigned, are NOT in favor of Option 2, which is to switch the Dufferin Grove Park ice rinks from the current east/west direction to a north/south direction.

Following are Davenport residents’ and park users’ reasons AGAINST this proposal.

  • A May 2019 Freedom of Information response from the City of Toronto showed that the current rinks are not violating any bylaws or building codes and do not need to be replaced. Changing the two rinks direction will incur unnecessary costs, long rink service disruption & will create a huge environmental impact.
  • Removing and replacing the SIX large flood lights will incur unnecessary costs & wasted time.
  • Tearing up the current (nothing wrong with it) basketball court to build a brand new court which will face east/west will incur unnecessary costs, unnecessary disruption of service and create a large environmental impact.
  • Taking down SEVEN old-growth trees will cause an unacceptable loss of shade and carbon capture which will take many years for newly planted trees to replace.

snow hills
  • We would like the Zamboni garage to be a permanent building built at the east-end of the rinks next to the Gladstone park walkway. This solves the Zamboni rink access and exiting issues. The rink machinery should remain in the rink house but be replaced, as recommended in the State of Good Repair report.
  • At the June public meeting, the architect noted that, since there's no room for the zamboni's "snow hills" in the plan, her firm will either construct a facility to melt snow cleared by the Zamboni, or city staff will have to truck the cleared snow away. This is unnecessarily carbon-intensive, and also removes a winter play area for children. We want the snow removal "mountains" to be placed on the basketball court, as they have in the past.

If you want your name included, send your contact information to:

Editor: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer


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