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September 2015

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


September 2015 Newsletter

children's workaround

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 the fifteen years of this newsletter and on our websites. The printing of the paper version of the Dufferin Grove newsletter is currently supported by the GH Wood Foundation.

Sunday Sept 6th, 3-5 pm: Annual MORRIS DANCERS’ gathering

Toronto Morris dancers will once again 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 resistance to early industrial conditions in Great Britain in the eighteenth century. The dancers often wear bells strapped to their legs; some are in blackface (this refers to mining, not race); some dance with swords. It’s very energetic, and exhilarating to watch. Groups from other parts of Ontario, NY State, sometimes even 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 groups dance for one another 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.

Monday Sept.14, all day: oven repair with Jonathan White

hearth repair

The ovens at Dufferin Grove are getting on in years: 20 (big oven) and 15 (smaller oven). The hearth on the smaller oven is very uneven by now. Jonathan White, a baker and cheesemaker near New York City, discovered the Dufferin Grove ovens on the internet, and got in touch. He visited in July and is now coming again to help fix the oven hearth. He may have to get part-way inside. A tricky business! But it will be interesting to watch – everyone welcome.


Saturday September 19, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dufferin Grove Street Festival

The lineup: 10 a.m. lawn sale at the Havelock side of the park.

On the street: bouncing castle, popcorn; arts and crafts; pet show; bake sale.

6 p.m. potluck and bake oven pizza and cakewalk at the park. Car-free between Hepbourne and Bloor, noon until 10 p.m. EVERYONE WELCOME

Saturday October 3: Randy’s shinny hockey supper, by the bake-oven


Randy Heasman started the first older-guys shinny hockey group at Dufferin Rink. He was enthusiastic about kids’ shinny hockey too, and he wrote CELOS an endorsement of our application to the NHL Players’ Association, for donated shinny equipment to augment the CELOS skate loan collection. Sadly, Randy died in May. The NHLPA approved our request a little while before. The skate collection is being renamed “Randy’s Loaner Skates,” and Randy’s contributions to Dufferin Rink will be celebrated at the year’s final outdoor supper at the new “Dan’s Table2” sitting area, on Saturday October 3. Everyone welcome. Guest cooks: Lea Ambros and Yo Utano (former park cook and baker, back again just visiting, from Japan).


Editorial: In five years of “harmonizing” Dufferin Grove Park with the rest of the city, the cost of running the park balloons to $750,000 a year. But it’s less fun

It’s been five years since the long-time recreation supervisor of this area, Tino Decastro, was removed. At the same time the informal partnership between city staff and CELOS wound down, and an entirely new staffing system was set up. Ten years of experimental collaboration between CELOS and city staff working together – on how to make a lively park – have been followed by five years of a different kind of experiment by city management. Now the results of that second experiment are in.

The cost of running Dufferin Grove, since its management was centralized, has ballooned. Freedom of Information requests show an increased cost of almost 40% over four years. In 2014, the most recent city financial report, it appears that the net operating cost was close to $750,000, up from about $550,000 in 2010. The math is outlined in the next three pages, and in even more detail on the financial pages of the website.

Coincidentally, city government spent upwards of $71 million over the past 6 years to upgrade its financial reporting system (called SAP), saying it would be much more transparent and easy to track. The improvement is not easy to see. So two weeks ago we asked both Recreation management and Parks management to check our numbers. There was no denial from either source, so we assume that the numbers are approximately correct.

Did the cost increase bring us a better park? Well, numbers tell a story, even if never the whole story. First, income: the warm-weather community suppers are shrinking. In June, July, and August, the supper income (meant to cover costs) was $6800 less than in the same three months last year. The park bread sales were $12,700 less in 2014 than in 2010. The park’s market snack bar has made up for it by increasing the sale of cheap hot dogs and drinks. Second, fair wages: Staff are being treated unfairly. Some identical tasks such as park supplies-shopping have sharply different wage rates depending on who does them. Meantime, experienced staff doing complex tasks like planning and cooking the food for the cob courtyard snack bar are no better paid than students with their first job, learning to cut vegetables.

Some park users are beginning notice these problems, but still often say: “the park is enjoyed by so many people – isn’t that worth the money being spent?”

Maybe not. It’s true that Toronto is a rich city, compared to lots of places. But the citywide operating budget for running all of Parks, Forestry and Recreation this year is $436 million. If Dufferin Grove Park uses three-quarters of a million dollars of that tax money a year for running just one park, and not very well, how long can (or should) that last?

Unless the arrangements for running the park change, the park’s special character will gradually be lost. The question is: before this happens, is it worth trying a third experiment, to see if park users and park staff can collaborate locally, in an open, inclusive and frugal way? In the October newsletter, we’ll consider this possibility, and suggest some elements that might work, for starters.

The Math (numbers are rounded)

The base: Back in 2006, a new “base budget” was set up for staffing the recreation program “cluster” of Dufferin Grove Park and Wallace Rink and Campbell Rink. That year the cost of city staffing for that cluster was about $211,000 counting benefits. In the three years that followed, MacGregor Park was added to the cluster, and the staffing cost for the group hovered between $245,000 to $270,000 a year, counting benefits.

The “harmonization” experiment: Then at the end of 2010 came the start of city management’s “harmonization” of Dufferin Grove, to follow the template of the rest of the city parks and community centres. Not only was Tino, the supervisor, removed, but the park’s recreation staff were warned that their collaboration with CELOS was most likely putting them in conflict of interest with the city. A full-time staff person was brought in, to do the administrative work formerly done by the part-time staff. Costs soared: in 2011, the recreation staffing budget rose to $399,000, counting benefits. The cost briefly dipped back down to $392,000 in 2012, and then took off, to $434,750 in 2013 and $472,500 in 2014.

Expenditure: The city’s book-keeping records (in their SAP financial program) were obtained through a number of Freedom of Information requests. We looked up the costs of materials and supplies and added them to the cost of recreation staffing, and also added back in the now completely separated wading pool program. That puts the cost of recreation in Dufferin Grove Park in 2014 (the last year for available records) at $627,000.

Apples and oranges: The current recreation supervisor for Ward 18, Marcel Vieira, insists that when you compare the base funding in 2010 with today’s costs, you’re “comparing apples and oranges.” He’s got a point. In actual fact the cost of the city’s experiment is higher. The 2010 base funding for the Dufferin Grove “cluster” recreation staffing included MacGregor Park and Wallace Rink and Campbell Rink. But from 2012 on, Dufferin Grove was counted separately in the city’s report. If we add the other sites back in so that we’re comparing 2010 apples (the year before the changes began) to 2014 apples, the amount the city spent for the staffing of that cluster in 2014 was upwards of $700,000 (the exact number is unavailable because of a missing coding in the city’s SAP book-keeping).

So comparing apples to apples makes today’s costs look even higher. Better to stay with the Dufferin Grove-only number.

Income: Of course, there was also recreation income, almost all from the food and skate lending programs developed under the city-CELOS partnership. The city’s Dufferin Grove income reporting was unreliable and contradictory for the first three years, but it seems to be working better now. In 2014, the income was listed as $172,000. So the net recreation cost for running just Dufferin Grove last year was close to half a million – $455,000.

Parks expenditure: Recreation programs are not the only expense of running the park. There’s also spending by the Parks section of the division, which looks after most of the grounds maintenance and half of the washrooms, plus running the outdoor rinks. The Parks section also has a “minor capital” budget for smaller fixes around the park, such as new stairs, better storage sheds, and a new counter for the cob café. Then there’s a Major Capital section which does projects over $50,000 such as the 2009 renovation of the wading pool or the 2013 addition of the reflexology path.

Other costs: Another division, nicknamed “FRED” (Facilities and Real Estate Division) looks after rink house building maintenance and repairs; yet another division, Solid Waste Management, picks up the park garbage.

Total Parks and Other costs: Figuring that out is tricky, since the costs are coded by ward or city region rather than by individual park. But it’s possible to make an educated estimate of basic maintenance, which for Dufferin Grove came out to $236,400. That means the total (net) operating cost: about $690,000 conservatively. Probably closer to $750,000, realistically.

Fact-checking #1: I asked Parks supervisor Lennox Morgan to make a rough assessment of the accuracy of my numbers, and also to point me to the ballpark costs of the extras: purchasing of materials, payroll, site meetings and management time, and also “minor capital” costs: graffiti removal, painting, new benches, rebuilt stairs, the Quonset garage with new utilities, the new cob courtyard counter. But there was no answer.

Fact-checking #2: A request went to Sue Bartleman, the recreation manager, too. I asked for a check as to accuracy, and for the ballpark costs of all the extras: materials-purchasing, including central grocery contracts, payroll and revenue data entry, health and safety inspections, fire extinguisher checks, by-law inspections, public health inspections of wading pool and farmers’ market, “FRED” (facilities and real estate) repairs, and supervisory activities by management (i.e. by non-union positions). My request was passed on to a Finance manager and after that there was silence. So we’ll assume my numbers are reliable.

Why did the costs increase so much?

1. Adding a “community recreation programmer”: When the partnership between city staff and CELOS ended, the first thing the recreation manager did was to add a full-time staff person to run the “cluster,” that is, mainly Dufferin Grove, and also its outliers (Macgregor Park in summer, Campbell Rink and Wallace Rink in winter). This staff person is not located in the park, but in an office. She is supposed to do all the administrative tasks that on-site senior staff formerly did – scheduling, entering financial data, ordering of supplies and repairs, shopping for groceries and missing items, addressing problems and crises. The cost of a recreation “community recreation programmer (CRP)” – as full-time staff are called – is about $96,000 per year when you count in the 33.4% benefits. So that made the costs go up right away.

2. Flattening the park wage curve: The next thing the manager did was to reclassify the on-site recreation staff, all of whom are slotted as part-time even if they work full-time in the summer and winter seasons. The staff who sell at the snack bar or bake cookies or cut onions for Friday Night Supper were all classified as “Children's Arts & Crafts Instructors.” (After 5 years of this experiment there are still no proper wage codes for Dufferin Grove jobs.) But here’s the rub: students holding their first job are paid a surprising $16 an hour for selling food at the cob café or cutting carrots for Friday Night supper, and the experienced bakers or the cooks who are responsible for planning and executing the weekly community supper or the seasonal snack bar offerings are also paid $16 an hour. The message is clear: what you do doesn’t much matter.

3. A ‘false economy’: The former senior staff who coordinated everything that happened in the park were re-classified as "Parks youth coordinators" at $17 an hour, only a dollar more than most other staff. If the recreation manager had added one more word – Youth Program Coordinator – the park’s overall coordinators would be paid $23 an hour. This way, $5 an hour was saved, but it was a false economy. Some senior staff left, others narrowed their activities in response to the narrowing of their jobs. So more and more junior staff had to be hired to get the work done. In 2008, seven part-time city staff and three CELOS contracts made the park a lively place. In 2015, there are more than 35 on the staff list (some work very few shifts – they are just filler for when people are missing – and it shows).

4. Chain of command: The senior staff formerly spent lots of time working directly alongside the junior staff in the playground or at the rink (i.e. supervising and mentoring). Much of that time is now spent chasing after the community recreation programmer (CRP) to sign off on every little task that needs to be done. When the CRP and the coordinator do the same activity together – like shopping (part-time staff are no longer allowed to pay at stores) – the CRP is paid $35 an hour and the part-time staff is paid $17. Meantime there is little direct supervision of the junior staff by anybody.

5. Numbers tell a tale: Less bread is baked these days, and so the bread income at the market dropped from $43,000 in 2010 to $30,000 in 2014. Last fall, the cooks felt they were worked too hard at Friday Night Supper, considering their unfair wages, so this year they reduced the variety of food they made. Friday Night Supper income this season (June, July, August) dropped by over $6800. (But the junior staffing increased.)

6. No incentives: There are no remedies for lower food revenue or less work done. Neither are there incentives for good work. A long-term park cook pointed out that if she keeps producing her popular soups and salads for ten years or a hundred years, she will still be paid exactly the same $16 “children’s arts and crafts” hourly wage as a new staff person just learning to slice carrots.

Official line: I asked management, why is there such inaccurate, inflexible pay coding? The supervisor and his manager responded: “We have checked our system and the codes we are using at Dufferin Grove Park are correct.” Really.

A few changes at the Thursday Organic Farmers’ Market

Background: the market snack bar run by park staff sells a great deal of non-organic food, even when it’s outdoors, i.e. not part of the rink. It didn’t use to, but when Dufferin Grove stopped being a city-CELOS partnership run by on-site city staff, the market snack bar changed its menu. Organic hot dogs gave way to ordinary hot dogs, which became one of the biggest sellers: about 200 hot dogs every Thursday in summer, a bargain at $2 each, slathered with non-organic toppings and enclosed in a little “Sunshine” brand bun. The market snack bar still sells the tasty salads and soups that Mary Sylwester cooks, but the supplies for preparing these dishes are now ordered centrally. That means that during high summer when the market is overflowing with just-picked vegetables, the current purchasing system doesn’t allow the cooks to buy organic peppers, cucumbers, onions, zucchini (really), tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and herbs from the market. Olive oil no longer comes from market vendor Angelos, and the park’s current oil is not organic. Coffee, tea, and maple syrup are no longer organic, nor are the sugar and butter used for muffins, cookies, and cinnamon buns sold at the snack bar. Nor, of course are the juice boxes, or the pop. A happy exception is park cook/gardener Leslie Lindsay’s mostly-organic focaccia, for which she uses produce picked from the park garden whenever she can.

Market rules: What this menu means is that for some time now the park’s market snack bar has not followed the market’s vendor rules, that say “Products must be organic or it must be clear to customers that they are not organic (and with a good reason).” Another rule is “Vendors have to produce the majority of what they sell.” This used to be true for the park table when the market was young – the park bread was all baked in the park ovens, entirely with organic ingredients, and the snack bar was a sideline, serving food prepared mainly with farmers’ market ingredients. In the past few years, though, the balance has turned. In summer the snack bar outsells the bread, partly because of re-selling cheap hot dogs and drinks.

Dufferin Grove market manager Anne Freeman pointed out the problems to recreation management more than two years ago, as did the park staff who cook for the market. But there was never a solution, so for a time everyone gave up. Recently, the issue was put back on the table. Near the end of August, Anne was asked to a meeting with management (sadly, the park cooks were not invited). It was agreed that organic hot dogs would be tried again, organic box drinks (Kiju) would be investigated, and the market would offer “market bucks” to allow park staff to buy fresh market produce for making the snack bar food. In addition, there is to be clearer signage pointing out which park snack bar foods are not fully or even partly organic.

The good news is that until the purchasing for the park’s market snack bar is fixed, market customers have a lot of other options. The market is full of good mostly-organic locally–made food for people who want to have their supper there. Many of those offerings are reasonably priced and filling, even if they aren’t quite as cheap as the city-staffed park snack bar. Hopefully the promised changes in the park staff’s menu will be coming through soon.

What works: children’s workarounds.

riding bikes through a foot of water

The sandpit: In early August a new tap was installed at the playground sandpit. The tap turns itself off every 20 seconds – a water restriction that impairs the fun and learning of the hundreds of children making dams and forts downstream from the tap. The measure was not because of water usage – the adjoining wading pool with it frequent drainings uses many times more water than the tap – but a complaint about mosquitoes, from a park neighbour. Happily, some children quickly figured out various ways to keep the water flowing, including hanging a sandpit shovel over the waterflow governor. So the fun resumed, at least part of the time.

Wading pools: for years, the city has been replacing wading pools with cheaper splash pads (no staffing), but children don’t always find them much fun. In some parks, children found that they can block the splash pad drains with a large piece of paper, so that the water will accumulate. On a recent CELOS visit to a Thorncliffe Park splash pad on a hot August day, the water was a foot deep, and kids were paddling around and even riding their bikes through – since there were no staff to stop their games, of course. The result: summer freedom.

A photo exhibit for the 10-year anniversary of the cob courtyard café, built in 2005

10-year anniversary photo display

The wading pool shed is now covered with laminated colour pictures showing the step-by-step building of the cob courtyard, and the many people involved. So many children helped build!

From the August 2005 newsletter: The cob courtyard by the wading pool is growing spectacularly. They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and that seems to be borne out at the park, with the cob building project. Late last summer, Toronto Public Health inspectors told us to get proper sinks for food preparation installed by the wading pool for this summer or stop having snacks at the playground. Park friend Georgie Donais said – “if we have to have sinks, we can back them with a community-built cob courtyard and make something beautiful.”  With the help of a $2500 grant from the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, she set about working with many park friends to build a little courtyard around the sinks, and continuing on from there, to create an outdoor gathering-place. ….The Parks and Recreation Division’s contribution to this project has been solid and growing. The plumbing for the sinks was installed by the City’s plumbers, and the electricity for the water heater required by Public Health, as well as for the snack bar cooking facilities, was put in by the City’s electricians. Parks and Recreation supervisor Tino DeCastro and manager James Dann said they would help Georgie make it happen, and they’ve been as good as their word at every step.


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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