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September 2014

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


September 2014 newsletter


Events in September

Saturday September 13, 6 pm: annual potluck and pizza-making for the Havelock Street Fair

This is the 26th year for the annual street fair. Most of the events take place in the daytime in the block between Bloor Street and Hepbourne, but at 6 pm the action moves to the Dufferin Grove bake oven (and of course anyone from all of the surrounding streets is welcome as well). This is usually a delicious potluck, and there’s pizza-making for the kids, run by Dufferin Grove staff.

Saturday September 27: Native Child and Family Services will be presenting their annual “Honouring our Children” POW WOW. This year it's called "The Ninth Moon of Creation." Sunrise and 12 – 5 pm. This event is a very popular, very colourful occasion with many craft vendors, two big tipis, drummers, dancers in beautiful costumes, some free food as well as food for sale, and a big “give-away” of donated goods at the end. The day begins at sunrise with a fire ceremony in the fire circle, lit by an elder. Then there is a pause while the soccer field is set up with tipis, vendors and information tables, a stage, and food areas. The grand entry of the dancers is at noon, and the give-away is at about 4 p.m. Drumming and circle dancing, all afternoon, everyone welcome. Since having over five hundred people in the park all afternoon can lead to some problems, recreation staff will be at the playground this year again to supervise. Tipi poles and shovels will not be available at the sandpit on that day, to reduce the number of loose parts that can cause problems if there are too many kids packed into the playground together. But there’s lots of other fun.

Friday Night Supper continues to the end of September, so do school pizza days on Tuesdays between 11 and 3, and drop-in pizza days on Sundays from 12 to 2. To find out the Friday menus, go to the link on the home page of To book a school pizza visit, contact Michelle at

Park campfire program This program goes year-round, and staff are already starting to fill up the volunteer spaces to the end of December. To find out about the program, go to and click on “campfires.” Or call the park and leave the staff a message at 416 392-0913.

Dufferin Grove skateboard improvements


The informal, very popular skateboard park on the Dufferin Grove rink pad got very lucky this summer. Skateboarder and builder Rob Poyner contacted long-time skateboard volunteer Jason Kun to ask if the park might like some high-quality skateboard equipment designed by Gord Hardie and built by Gord and Rob under the sponsorship of the Converse company. Would we! And an unexpected donation from the GH Wood Foundation contributed some maintenance funds as well. So the days of splintery, slightly iffy skateboard ramps at Dufferin Grove are over for the moment.

Surprise donation from the GH Wood Foundation

It’s NOT very common to get a surprise donation from a foundation. Usually you have to send them a long form and plead your case, and if you’re lucky and are good at writing applications, they fund your program. That’s how the park ovens were built, and the zamboni kitchen, and that’s how some of the park youth programs and family programs and the first native-species gardens were funded over the years.

But this past spring, CELOS got a phone call and then a visit from the GH Wood Foundation, asking us if we needed any funds – could we think of anything we might like to do?

CELOS stands for Centre for Local Research into Public Space. Since 2000, when we started our little group out of Dufferin Grove Park, we’ve been doing what we call “theoretical and practical research” into what makes public spaces – like parks – more welcoming and more lively. We’ve been nosy to find out what works and what doesn’t, we’ve documented a lot of what we’ve seen and done on our four websites, and we certainly had no problem making a little list for the GH Wood Foundation, about what we’d like to try next. To our surprise, they accepted almost all of it. They gave us funds to keep printing and posting the park newsletter and pay the yearly web server fees, they said they’d support experiments in making gardens and playgrounds more accessible, they’re willing to let us try making food in parks work better – that is, in other parks that have friends but no kitchen and no oven. They want to support good maintenance for the informal skate park that’s located on the Dufferin Grove rink pad, outside of the ice rink season. The foundation was intrigued by our ideas of how inexpensive areas of sociability are made (the opposite, in our view, of the $13 million pink umbrella park on Queen’s Quay). And the foundation wanted us to document all of it, for others to use as they wish. So here we are, still pinching ourselves a little – did this really happen? But we’ve begun, and over the next months we’ll report on the work as it goes along.

Where the new park chairs came from

Moveable chairs and benches in parks are very common in Europe, also in some newer parks in North America – and in Dufferin Grove Park. This summer the park got some fine wooden patio chairs, donated by Maria Remondini (whose daughter is a new part-time recreation staff at the park). Maria said that after a household in her extended family downsized, the chairs were put in storage, and she thought they would be better used at the park. She was right. Around the campfires, at the skateboard park, following the sun or the shade on the park lawns --- the chairs were useful everywhere. So Maria next brought over a sturdy wooden table and stools to use in the rink house in the winter. This is how a gift can build park sociability, six chairs and four stools at a time. Thank you, Maria!

Report card for the election: how the bureaucracy is doing at Dufferin Grove Park

In the middle of August, there was a surprise announcement at city hall: two of the city’s top bureaucrats, city manager Joe Pennachetti and deputy manager Brenda Patterson, are retiring.

Before Brenda Patterson became deputy city manager, she spent a few years as general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation. Under her watch, the transformation of park culture that began with the city’s forced amalgamation 17 years ago was completed. Parks and Recreation changed from its former emphasis on local neighbourhood collaboration, strong support for and encouragement of volunteers and frontline staff, and a culture of flexibility and “let’s make it work” -- to a strict hierarchy with central control, a multiplication of complicated policies, and the discouragement of volunteers through the almost universal charging of permit and insurance fees for any contribution that park neighbours might wish to make to the liveliness and fun of parks.

Dufferin Grove Park lost its long-time “let’s make it work” recreation supervisor, Tino DeCastro, who was moved to supervising city caretakers, and the program staff were downgraded in their responsibilities. The programs these staff had devised and run were put under the authority of a full-time staff person with the new name of “community recreation programmer” (CRP), not placed directly at the park. The programmer now made all decisions off-site, about park programs and staffing. She or he (there were frequent re-assignments of staff) accompanied the park food program staff on all grocery shopping trips, since the programmer was the only one now allowed to pay for anything. The programmer then submitted all expense figures to yet another city department, whose staff entered the numbers into the city’ s central accounting system, called SAP.

Money puzzles: Before the changes, on-site recreation staff used to record every expenditure and every donation (for food and skate lending, i.e. donations totalling between $150,000 and $200,000 a year) into the Quickbooks accounting program, and those numbers were available for anyone to inspect. Summaries were posted yearly, sometimes monthly, on the website. Under the new system, the extra levels of staff in the accounting chain brought confusion. For 2013, CELOS (the Centre for Local Research into Public Space, a little charitable research group founded in the park in 2000) continued to monitor the park’s income and expenses, to see if the numbers matched the City Finance figures. They often didn’t. Expenses were under-reported by about $3000 during the winter season, a mistake partly balanced by mistaken duplicate expense entries totalling over $2000 in June and July. CELOS asked to see the City financial reports to check income reporting, and found that they reported about $5000 less income than CELOS showed in Quickbooks. We asked City Finance to check their numbers, and got a new set of numbers, different than the previous City report. Neither report matched the CELOS records. When we asked about this problem again, the City lowered the boom. An order came down to the Dufferin Grove program staff: they were no longer allowed to let CELOS see the daily income and expenditure counts, to stop us from comparing the locally reported numbers with the central Finance entries.

Hiding information about public income or expenses is not allowed under the Freedom of Information Act. So CELOS applied to the City’s Corporate Access department to get the information. That was in March 2014. The Act gives an institution 30 days to respond to a request. Finally in July and again in August, the city sent back two new versions of their Dufferin Grove income and expenses documents – so that we now have four versions in total, none matching. Neither of the recent FOI responses fully answered the questions we had asked. In the documents that the city did send, again there were duplicate entries, and some numbers were entered as expenses when they were really income. Obvious data entry mistakes that we reported a long time ago had not been fixed. Depending on which city financial report we choose, the difference in the total 2013 Dufferin Grove Park program income between the Quickbooks records and the City financial records might be as little as $2000 or as much as $12,000.

Of course, this level of reporting error is peanuts compared to the city’s entire budget. Who cares about a few thousand dollars’ sloppy financial reporting when the city budget last year was $9 billion?

But what if the details in this grass-roots view show a larger problem in the city’s book-keeping, amounting citywide to a lot more than a few thousand dollars? Certainly there has been concern within the city government for many years, about the level of transparency in their reporting. To improve accuracy and clarity, the city signed a contract for a new reporting system in 2006, called the Financial Planning, Analysis and Reporting System (FPARS). The contract was originally supposed to cost $7 million, but that amount had increased to almost $70 million by March of 2013.

Is the city’s financial reporting about Dufferin Grove the ‘canary in the mine’ – a sign that the new $70 million system didn’t fix the book-keeping?

The response by Parks and Recreation management so far was to simply pull down the blinds. Our efforts to interest the Ward 18 Councillor, Ana Bailao, in the problem, early on, also came to nothing. The only door left open within the City is the City Audit Department, so a copy of this newsletter will go to the auditor this month, to see if he’s interested.

The book-keeping puzzle is not the only budget problem generated by Brenda Patterson’s departmental changes. Her legacy at Dufferin Grove Park increased the expense of running the park. The additional full-time off-site staff person assigned to the park, added to make every small decision and to cover shopping trips, costs an additional $76,000 a year. The additional levels of downtown data entry staff, centralised food ordering (with complex approval processes often requiring complex changes), and management time for central meetings to control local problems, add up to an unspecified but surely considerable extra expense. So when it’s time to fix the park picnic tables (see the article on page 5), the money is not there.

Seeing this, a question comes to mind: Can thrifty, sensible, open-door government become an election issue in a city as rich and complacent as Toronto? More on the challenges in the October newsletter.

Picnic table painting, August 24

Dufferin Grove Park got ten new benches last year, but apparently there were not enough funds left in the budget to repair and maintain the park’s existing heavily-used picnic tables. So the recreation staff got permission to put out a call for a public picnic table repair-and-painting session. In the week before the session was scheduled, recreation program staff sanded some of the most needy tables, but nobody was able to get time or materials to replace bolts or broken boards. On the day of painting, five youth came plus two playground users and their kids. They and the program staff were able to paint 12 tables (sustained by pizza from the bake oven). The paint they used was fast-drying acrylic, which was just as well because as soon as any table was barely dry, picnickers would come and take it to their picnic. And still there were not enough tables for the park users who wanted them. But Dufferin Grove is lucky in the number of its tables – in many parks there are only one or two, or none at all. This is sometimes intentional – in some neighbourhoods there is a worry that picnic tables or benches will attract the wrong crowd. Having enough places to sit certainly does bring people into a park, and if there’s shade and drinking water and washrooms and trash cans, family picnics will multiply. So will the number of people sitting at tables working on their laptops, or reading on a bench, or strumming a guitar. Having more benches and tables in a park makes it safer – and more interesting for people-watching. But then the money has to be found to keep the park furniture in good repair. Maybe after the coming election there will be a change of priorities, with less expenditure for new stuff and more for good maintenance instead.

A little Dufferin Grove history

Here’s a short tale about how stories play themselves out at Dufferin Grove Park. Back in 1995, when the sandpit was new and permission had just been given to have cooking fires, two park friends, Margie Rutledge and I (Jutta Mason), got a small grant from the Maytree Foundation to do a “practice-your-English-at-the-park” day once a week with families living in a downtown refugee shelter. The parents were given bus tickets so they could bring their children to the playground, where there was a cooking fire for snacks and coffee, and lots to talk about. One day when they were all there, well-known Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy and his wife came to the playground with their two small boys. (I knew Jamie a little because we had once gone together to depute to a provincial committee, in favour of expanding food offerings on street-food carts.)

That day at the park, Jamie was interested in the cooking fire, and watched as we made coffee – only to have the pot tip over on our new cast-iron trivet and fall into the fire. A new pot of coffee was made, and that one fell over too. That was our level of clumsiness when we first brought food into the park. Embarrassing.

We got better over the years, built the bake ovens, and the park got fuller. Then in 2002, farmers from the Riverdale farmers’ market (at that time the only park-based market in the city) asked if they could set up a market in the west of the city, at Dufferin Grove. They chose their spot, permission was given, and despite the lateness of the season (November), the market had lots of customers from the very start.

During the winter, there was often a bad scene (fighting, bullying) at Dufferin Rink, on Friday nights in particular. We reasoned that if we could attract more families, the rink wouldn’t be just a ghetto of teenagers in a bad mood. Two of the rink staff, Lea Ambros and Dan DeMatteis, loved to cook and bake in the park wood ovens, so in January 2003 we made a plan – they would cook a tasty meal every Friday, using farmers’ market ingredients, and advertise it as a time for people to bring their kids to eat and skate at the end of a tiring work week.

We put up posters all over the rink house to let people know. The week before the suppers began, Jamie Kennedy came skating with his now-much-older sons, and he read the signs. We introduced him to the cooks. He was very enthusiastic about the changes at the park – the zamboni cafe, the ovens, the farmers’ market, and now some good meals. We felt like we had got a famous chef’s stamp of approval, before we even began. The suppers flourished, and the Friday Night bad-mood youth-ghetto mellowed right out.

Park staff Dan DeMatteis decided not long after that he wanted to cook all the time, and he left for Italy to apprentice. There he and Jamie Kennedy ran into each other again, at the Slow Food convention in Turin, and Jamie asked Dan about the Friday Night suppers. They talked for a long time, and got on well. At the end of the convention, Jamie offered Dan a job at one of his restaurants back in Toronto.

Dan worked for Jamie, and learned from him, for some years. Then Dan became a chef at another restaurant, and dreamed of opening his own place. Sometimes he came back to the park as a guest cook for the Cooking Fire Theatre Festival, or just to meet friends at Friday Night Supper – which by then had spread over the lawn all around the bake oven during summer, with several hundred people, including many children, coming to eat good food.

Then, in June of 2012, Dan suddenly died, of a blood clot in his lungs. Jamie Kennedy was one of the speakers at the memorial service, very shaky and sad, as was everyone else there. Dan’s friends have gathered at Friday Night Supper on the anniversary to talk over the old stories, in each of the two years since.

Meantime, on Thursdays at the farmers’ market and on Fridays for the warm-weather suppers, the hillside and all around the ovens is full of people sitting together on the grass, eating good food and enjoying one another’s company. Sometimes I have to rub my eyes, thinking back of the earlier times when all this began, before there was an oven or a market, and the hillside was mostly empty.

This year on the last farmers’ market Thursday in August, market manager Anne Freeman invited two guest cooks to the market. They were cooking fries using Ontario organic potatoes. They tossed them in a giant bowl with sea salt and thyme and sold them in paper cones, in the old style. Word got around how good the fries were, and soon there was a long lineup.

It turned out that the two cooks, working away at their deep fryer in the middle of all the farmers and the talkers and the eaters, were Micah and Nile Kennedy: Micah was little kid with his dad Jamie Kennedy at the park on that day way back in 1995 when the coffee pot kept falling off the trivet into the campfire, Nile is the third son, not yet born then. It was great to see these young men cooking at the market (but I could still feel our embarrassment about the coffee, after all these years).

Park friend John Ota on the reflexology footpath

click to enlarge

John Ota is a freelance writer on architecture and design and says he “grew up in Dufferin Park in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.” He sent us these comments:

The path is wonderful.  The walls are not.

With delightful patterns of river-bed pebbles, an undulating curving path and a symphony of rustling leaves in the breeze, the new reflexology walk is a lovely and meaningful addition to Dufferin Park.

Soothing, respectful and visually pleasing, people walk the path with a sense of reverence, honouring the life of a passed neighbour.  Reminiscent of walking along the beach, the path reinforces the quiet atmosphere of what has historically been for decades, a passive part of the park.  The different stone patterns, although not always comfortable, not only massage the feet, but they slow you down, to make you think about who you are, where you are and to slow your breathing.  Delicate and imaginatively quirky – just like everything else in Dufferin Park, the stone path only enhances the magic of the natural, organic character of the place.  A place to get away from a harsh man-made environment.  An oasis.

Unfortunately, the reinforced concrete retaining walls are not so wonderful.  Totally out of character with the rest of the park - both visually and philosophically, they look like they landed with a thud from outer space.  While everything else in the park seems to grow out of the earth, the concrete sticks out like a sore thumb.   Heavy handed and over-designed -- there is no need for the concrete walls.  The site should be consistent with the thoughtful and ethereal path - horizontal, respectful to the natural surroundings and gently meld into the landscape like a dream.

Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market, every Thursday, 3 to 7 pm.

Despite an unusually cool summer, the market has heaps of good food and lots of people. A good place to run into old friends too. To get the weekly market news, e-mail market manager Anne Freeman at Here’s a quote from last week’s news, from Sosnicki’s' farm: “Sweet Corn is up and going this week!! Late, but worth the wait! Crop looks nice. Red Potatoes are coming! Carrots and beets of all sorts and colours are thriving and doing awesome. Kales, Chards, Onions, Cabbage too! And a look to the future, we are making an effort to grow fall Cauliflowers and a huge patch of Broccoli. Brussel Sprouts, cooking Onion crops are looking glorious. We had our annual organic inspection/audit this past week, with a new inspector, very thorough and it went very well. Very proud to have been certified organic for a decade now!”


Newsletter prepared by: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer

Web sites: Aseel Al Najim,

Park phone: 416 392-0913

Park web site:


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