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News 2012

From the August 2012 Newsletter:

A campfire surprise:

One of the many cheap ways to enliven a park is with a campfire. Find a bit of well-situated flat ground, surround it with a few benches, set down a grill or make a circle of rocks, pile up some sticks and firewood, get the recreation staff to bring over a shovel and two pails of water plus two pails of sand, light a match, and – presto! A bright circle for sociability. If it’s done in the evening, it’s also a wonderfully effective warning for people who want to make mischief in the park – find something better to do, because there are eyes on this park, even after dark.

In the decade before she died, Jane Jacobs sometimes liked to hear stories about Dufferin Grove and the bake ovens and the kids’ sandpit and the campfires and the other odd things that went on there. She said that she read “Cooking with Fire in Public Space” from cover to cover.

The city currently charges people over $100 to have a park campfire, except in those Ward 18 parks where recreation staff are assigned to help. As a result, so many people sign up as “eyes on the park campfire volunteers” at Dufferin Grove that the park has one or even two campfires on most evenings. The campfire area near the cob café is close to houses, so the rule for that location has been “no percussion instruments, NEVER, and only small groups.” On July 23, the park staff were surprised to hear drums coming from the campfire area, and when they went to check they were appalled to see over a hundred people there. The group had set up a tent with a beautiful arrangement of fruits and breads. The playground was full of children even though it was getting dark. There were people playing drums, others doing stately dancing and singing, wearing bright clothing, turbans – what? The staff were told it was a birthday party. More questions – whose birthday, can we talk to them? But it turned out it was the birthday of Haile Selassi, the founder of the Rastafari movement, born July 23, 1892. The staff decided to waive the no-drumming rule until 11pm. A community centre without walls has many surprises.

From the July 2012 Newsletter:


From the website:

“If you want to have a campfire at Dufferin Grove Park, we're hoping you'll be willing to donate $20. That's a lot less than the fee at other City campfire sites, and there’s a reason for that: if you and your friends make a campfire at the park, you’ve taken on a park volunteer job. You’ll be helping with park oversight while you’re at the fire.

The campfires started in 1994, to increase the night-time liveliness of the park and therefore make the park safer and friendlier. The two fire-sites are intentionally located right by the main park thoroughfare. Everyone can pass nearby and enjoy the beautiful light of the fire, and the smell of food roasting on the grill. This works wonders on other park users. Campfire cooks often share the food they cook, if someone comes along hungry or just curious.

A city is a place of many strangers, and it can be scary – a dark park even more so. But a campfire is a reassuring circle of light and activity. So the campfire participants contribute the neighbourliness of the park. A few times (very few) there has been trouble elsewhere in the park, and the campfire participants have gone to help. The trouble was quickly defused. Safety in numbers! This is exactly the point of a lively park – trouble goes somewhere else. So if you want to have a campfire, don’t forget: you’ll have an important job. If you like that task, you can book a time with And if you can't donate the $20, tell the staff, and they won't insist.”

Why campfires need the protection of the Conservancy: One day in May, the City Parks manager and his staff walked around Dufferin Grove Park with the District Fire Chief to look at the campfire sites. They made no attempt to talk to the onsite recreation program staff who run the campfire program, and who were in the park at the time. The Fire Chief was unhappy with what he saw, and ordered major tree trimming and campfire relocation, or even cancelling of campfires. Councillor Ana Bailao later arranged a meeting in her office, between the Parks manager and a conservancy advocate. Enough questions came up that a repeat walkabout was scheduled for June 25, this time including both staff and park users who know about the campfires, and about trees. The fire chief sent a fire captain in his stead. When the captain found out that the campfires are actually cooking fires instead of bonfires, he said that as long as city’s cooking-fire policy is followed as before, Fire Services has no concerns that such small fires would cause trees to ignite. The Forestry staff said he felt the same.

The main remaining problem is the name. When Fire Services approves the existing campfire pits they will be renamed “designated campfire sites.” If the city’s new procedure rules are applied to Ward 18, that would mean these sites must be centrally booked by City Hall Permits staff, at $90 plus insurance each time, and there would no longer be onsite recreation staff support. At the June 25 meeting, the recreation supervisor explained that the reason why neither Ward 18 campfire users nor campfire program staff were consulted was because this was a “procedure,” not a new “policy.”

The new rule has not yet been applied in Dufferin Grove Park. In the past year, campfires at Dufferin Grove have brought almost $5000 back to the city in voluntary donations, more than covering the extra staff cost. We’ve asked the area Recreation supervisor to set up a meeting with campfire users to discuss the imminent changes – no answer yet. But the Parks manager sent over two interesting charts from the Permits department, about campfires citywide. It shows again how hard it is for staff to administer small neighbourhood events centrally. The chart gives wrong information for almost every neighborhood park that has campfires.

Local and small-scale is easier and works better! And for anyone who wants to book a “campfire volunteer” spot, you can now look up the calendar yourself: click on “schedule” at the top of the campfire page on the website. It’s updated every day.

Why a Conservancy will work better for campfires and other local community uses: community campfire can be under the same rules at all the larger Ward 18 parks – when park users ask for a campfire location at their neighbourhood park, park staff can help them to settle on a designated site that is safe and at a sufficient distance from houses to cause less smoke than backyard barbecues. There can be recreation staff support and free access to the city’s existing volunteer insurance. When these additional local campfire sites become available, the demand at Dufferin Grove will lessen, spreading the wealth (in terms of local neighbourhood sociability and night-time park safety). With fewer departments involved administratively, the voluntary $20 campfire donations will cover the campfire staffing costs at all the designated sites.

September “everyone welcome” Ward 18 Conservancy workshop – exact date to be determined. CELOS will seek to work with Councillor Bailao’s office to gather Ward 18 park users and find out if there is a widespread public support to shape a locally-based alternative to the central model – and if so, to see what the steps are.

Barley Harvest Festival, May 10, 2012, 5:30- 9:30

Jewish traditional celebration, cooking by the fire - will forward blurb from organizer - main camfire site.

May 11, 2012

Birth Fire, Doula Heather Neville leads a fire circle exploring birthing stories and experiences. - main campfire site

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