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About us: who were the friends of Dufferin Grove Park?

posted January 31, 2005 / updated September 2017

Tia Dancing at Dufferin Grove Park

How the Park Works

Dufferin Grove Park is operated by the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division. It is not operated by the friends of the park, nor by volunteers.

The friends of Dufferin Grove Park no longer exist. They were never an organization. There was no executive, no annual meetings, no formal status. There was no written agreement anywhere between the friends and the city. But in times of trouble, there were impromptu park-user meetings, usually attended by 30 to 100 people depending on the issue.

So how did it work then, in the day to day? And who were these "friends of Dufferin Grove Park"?

The friends were all those people - more every year until 2012 - who are friendly to that 14.2 -acre city-owned common space which is bordered by the Dufferin Mall, St.Mary's Catholic High School, and the mixture of affluent and subsidized housing that borders the park to the east and the south. Most park friends expressed their friendship only through their joy at what goes on in the park. At the other extreme, for about 15 years, Jutta Mason made friendship for the park her almost-full-time hobby. In between, there were many people who gave things (time, plants, music, theatre, toys in the sandpit, conversation, sports skills, etc., etc.) as they felt moved to do that. There was no schedule to how these things are given, no five-year plan - it was (sorry) organic. Some of the friends crossed over to being park staff, magnifying their friendship as they were able to increase their responsibilities there.

The City has a formal formula for advisory councils, which includes a range of possibilities ranging from formal election of local representatives to an informal yearly meeting canvassing park users about what they want for their parks. In 2001, the former Economic Development and Parks Committee put out terms of reference for any style of advisory councils. Advisors are to "provide comments, insights, and advice to assist staff in the performance of their responsibilities." They can "provide and, with City staff, manage funding designed to enhance existing City activities...Prepare and make public accurate financial records derived from fundraising activities." But in 2012, the City put in a strict hierarchy of central control at Dufferin Grove (as was already in place everywhere else citywide). Management redefined active collaboration between local staff and park users as "conflict of interest." Even the sharing of information was ordered to stop.

At the same time, the neighbourhood culture changed, with the increasing replacement of neighbourly conversation in the park by the use of electronic media. Social media swamped out more direct encounters, partly by filling in most of what used to be experienced as "spare time." People whose children were playing in the sand pit or skating at the rink no longer reached out very much to the strangers who were their neighbours, and who were also there with their children. More often the parents worked their smart phones.

Dufferin Grove continued its role as a kind of clickable icon of "community," with real estate values inflated by that reputation. But park users' basic familiarity with the many problems generated by the tightening central bureaucracy more or less stopped. The informal giving of gifts atrophied in the hurry and clutter of present-day social conditions. And so, at least for now, friends of Dufferin Grove are no longer very active in the park at all.

Except for here and there, in an almost hidden way....

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