In this issue:
DArcy Mackenzie, a friend of Trinity-Bellwoods Park, forwarded this e-mail from the "Parkfest Event Management Group." They say that "dates and park locations are confirmed" for five "community events" to be put on at neighbourhood parks this spring/summer/fall. Christie Pits is the first location, May 11 - 12, and we are the fourth. There are no more details given. The companys web site says they are a division of Charisma Advertising and Public Relations Inc. The "Parkfest" logo shows a ferris wheel, and the list of possible activities at this event includes a Conklin midway, retail vendors, and product sampling. The company calls itself an "event marketing company" and says that is runs not-for-profit events like this to give us some fun and "promote good community relations." To underline the not-for-profit aspect, their events may also include a "local food drive element" and a "flea market "organized by the local neighbourhood parents association."
No one has heard a word of this up to now, no one was asked, and it has not been possible to find out more. One has to assume that it was approved by Parks and Recreation Management. However, its our hunch that this plan may "promote community relations" in a different way than was intended.
Raku in the park
The potters are coming back again. David Windle, Judy Gillis, and Camille Winchester are firing their clay pots at the park sand pit in early May. Because so many people have watched so closely when the potters have done this in the past, they have a special idea this year: anyone (adult or child) who would like to try their hand at making a clay piece and then firing it, can come to a clay workshop and get help doing a piece, on Saturday April 13. The potters will bring the dried and fired pieces to the park on Saturday May 4 and there the participants can apply the raku glaze and put their pieces in the fire. David says "then watch the magic as the glaze, fire and smoke transform your piece into a beautiful work of art." If you want more information, call Camille at 416/604-4160 at The Well Studio and Gallery. Or if you just want to watch these potters work on their pieces here, you can do that too. Whenever these potters have come to do their work at the park, theyve been particularly nice to children who want to watch (and very safety-conscious, about the heat of the fire).
In the second week of April, a group of mothers with young children are planning a daytime walk around the playground, to look at what works well and what needs fixing. This meeting is prompted by some comments by Beth Stockton, who has two young children and also runs a day care centre. She had the experience, as so many people have had, of suddenly losing some very good elements in their daycare playground because of the new CAS standards or a misinterpretation of them. She said, better to be pro-active and see what playground users want, before theres a big hurry. If you would like to come to this walkabout, check the web site for the exact time. Or if you like, you can send in suggestions electronically, through the park list serve email@example.com. (if you are not yet a member, please subscribe first by clicking here.)
Friends of Dufferin Grove Park Annual Report.
This report is almost ready and will be available at the end of April. It will include money spent (by our group and by the city), activities during the last year, projected activities for next year, and a discussion about the problems we are now facing. That means that our park community meeting can finally be scheduled in May, exactly half a year after it was first postponed.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER!
The yurt is near:
Michele Oser called the park to let us know that the last week of May, after the long weekend, their yurt will be put up in the park. A yurt is the traditional circular tent dwelling of people in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, and this one is big six meters in diameter. It has a carved-stick wooden frame with an embroidered felt cover, and the floor of the tent is covered with carpets. Ian Small and Michele plan to have traditional cooking, exhibits, and films during the week the yurt will be up. They welcome help in erecting this tent: for more information, call the park clubhouse at
Salt on the sidewalks
This was a very light year for snow, of course, but there were a few snowfalls. The day after the last snowfall in March, it was so warm and windy that the snow all melted and the sidewalks were bare and dry by noon. But the sidewalk to the north of the park was still white with salt, drifts of it, little heaps of it, the whole length of the sidewalk from Havelock to Gladstone. The dog walkers noticed it first, because their dogs limped and whimpered, from the salt burns on their feet. The dog owners talked to other people in the park, and there was lots of grumbling about the salt going into the ground and down the sewers into the lake. An e-mail went to Mike Hindle, the parks maintenance supervisor. He wrote back the next day, apologizing. He said there seemed to have been either "equipment or operator error" involved, and the Parks crew had come back and swept up the extra salt.
It was true the whole length of the sidewalk was swept and only a little powder remained.
If you are a person who worries about excessive salt on roads and sidewalks in Toronto, let city workers know. For more information about whom to contact, and how, send an e-mail to the neighbourhood list serve: its a great way to find out things, because somebody always seems to know the answer youre looking for.
Further adventures with Mimo:
Mimo is staying at city homeless shelter called Seaton House, and in the last newsletter we reported that he has a warm bed, new clothes, and is in good hands. Well...sort of. We went down to see Seaton House for ourselves, and its not a place most people would like to call home. Its on George Street, half a block from Allan Gardens and across the street from the back of 311 Jarvis Youth Court and the Young Offenders holding jail. There is a high, ugly fence around Seaton House and the doors are electronically locked. They buzz you in, if you have an appointment. We did. Cathy Mello, a nurse who has worked there for 14 years, took us upstairs to the fourth floor (a long-term care section, mainly for people with psychiatric problems). She said that two years ago, Seaton House had millions of dollars of renovations. You can sort of see it. There is a TV room and a computer room, and there are only five beds in each sleeping room. There are showers, and washing machines, and there is a locker for each person. There seemed to be plenty of city staff around, many of them in a large office in the centre. The men staying there were sitting in chairs, for the most part, staring at the floor or the wall. Mimo was not around at that moment.
Downstairs, where the younger (non-psychiatric) men are housed for overnight stays, they have to clear out of the sleeping rooms during the day. But theyre allowed to stay in the TV room and in the computer room (which is set up for job searches and the writing of resumés). These rooms were packed with men, some looking like your favourite uncle, but with gray and sad faces. The TV was on but no one was looking at it, and few people were talking. It would not be possible to exaggerate the plain dead-end ugliness of those rooms, and the despair hanging in the air.
The nurse said Mimo has been known to the staff at Seaton House for years, only that he disappeared for two years (into our neighbourhood). Now hes back. The nurse said theyve got lots of room, and Mimo can stay there as long as he wants. He can get meals, and he can come and go as he wants, day or night. Its not a jail, in other words. But it feels like one the same sense that nothing will ever happen.
Two union locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), are ready to strike in April, if they are unable to come to an agreement with the City of Toronto. That means parks will have no workers and community centres will be closed, but it also means there will be no garbage collection. We sent an e-mail to Claire Tucker Reid, General Manager of Parks and Recreation, asking if she could give us a general idea of what the main issues are as they affect parks, so that we could write a few sentences in this newsletter. She wrote back: "The negotiations are confidential at this point and we have not been privy to the proposals from the Union or the City, nor the status of negotiations." We sent the same question to the union, CUPE Local 79. They didnt bother responding at all.
If theres a strike in our park, are the reasons for going on strike and the management response a secret from the people who pay the taxes to fund all this? That seems odd..
Watch out for boa constrictors
At the end of March, a few days before Easter, a 47-year-old woman was attacked by a thief in front of St. Marys School, across from the park. It wasnt very late, but it was dark, and the thief slugged her to get at her purse. She was stubborn and held onto it. Some young fellows came to her aid from a neighbouring house and from the park. She was bruised, but the fellow who attacked her had to run off without achieving his aims.
There are powerful lights all around the outside of St. Marys School. Aside from annoying the schools immediate neighbours, who feel like theyre living on a brightly-lit movie set every night, these lights are also rather dangerous. Thats because they create a false sense of safety and security for people walking back from Dufferin Street at night. The fact is, when its dark and cold, the block in front of the school is often deserted, and so is the park on the other side of the street. A person walking on that block could be a long way from any other person. The lights seeming so safe and bright just allow the mugger to see his isolated target better.
So walk with someone else, or take another route, when its dark and cold and deserted around the park. Its not that our neighbourhood is so bad its just that two and a half million people is a lot of people. Weve heard that when people go out into the jungle, they are on their guard because there are many creatures in the jungle, not all of them friendly. In Toronto a city of so many people its a bit similar. Most people are decent but there are some who are dangerous. A few of them are apparently related to boa constrictors.
March is a pretty quiet month at the park, on account of the cold and the mud. But we did get one visit: Jeff Crump, who is the head of Slow Food Ontario. He came to the park to see the community wood ovens and to be interviewed by Toronto Star food columnist Marion Kane. We served them some Italian-style pizza from the oven, with only sliced grape tomatoes, over-wintered sage from the park garden, and bocconcini (little mini-mozzarella balls) on top. The pizza dough was just the standard park oven bread dough, stretched out flat. So simple! But they liked it a lot.
We bought the cheese at Mediterranea Grocery. They are another neighbourhood store that is starting to bring in more organic and more Ontario foods: lots of organic vegetables, lots of less-processed dairy. This store, owned by the Peluso family, has been in our neighbourhood for a long time. But when you go in there, it feels a bit like you might be in a village store in Italy. Amelia Peluso has dazzled her neighbours at the park in the past when she made her giant pizzas in the park oven. Her sister Gina told us that they became interested in organic foods a while back and have begun ordering more and more of it for the store.
Jeff Crump stayed on after the Star reporter left and talked a bit about Slow Food. The Ontario branch is new, part of a 70,000-member world-wide organization, committed to supporting locally-produced food grown in an ecologically responsible way (not necessarily certified organic). They also promote good cooking and "the pleasures of the dinner table." Jeff was very interested in the "pleasures of the picnic table" as they take place nearby the park ovens. We started thinking about a plan: to make a Slow Food picnic at Dufferin Grove Park in July. There are two requirements for such an event to be supported by the Slow Food movement: the event must showcase a local food item, and the people who come must be able to learn something new. We talked about having a picnic that highlights the efforts of some of our small neighbourhood grocery stores to sell good food. Mediterranea, Longos,and Magnolia come to mind. If you have a favourite local grocery store that is trying hard, and want to add them to our list, or would like to get involved in the planning: call the park clubhouse at 416/392-0913 and leave a message.
Summer kid stuff in the park: back to our roots
Back in 1993, when the big sand-play area first went in beside the playground, there were wonderful drop-in activities, led by artist Elyse Pomeranz, who is now a teacher. Drop-in activities are what Toronto playgrounds were built around from their beginning in 1908. In the last two decades, many people preferred to have their children enrolled in full-time day camps, so that they knew they would be safe and accounted for in the school holidays. There are many such programs now. But our playground is already so busy with visiting day camps in the summer, wed like to add something for kids that arent in a camp. This summer that will mean an emphasis on dramatic and make-believe play, open to whoever comes, without registration, and run by an unusual staff group of college graduates who are older (not teenagers).
Because of the maturity of our staff, we will also try another new thing. Parents, if your kids are old enough to be on their own, and they dont want to be enrolled in a day camp, but theyre too young to get a summer job yet, they can use the playground staff as a reference point this summer. That means they can drop in and out as they choose, help or just "hang out," learn something or just come and have a chat. There will be cheap, good food available, interesting people and activities around, and someone to turn to if theres a problem. The staff will have a cell phone with them, for parents who want to contact their kids to check on them.
In other words, the park staff will be trustworthy young adults willing to make friends with these older children, children who will have the luxury of a summer of unprogrammed time. There is, of course, no charge for this connection. Our taxes are paying for it already.
Fifth annual matzo-baking:
On Sunday March 24, Annie Hurwitz and Ron Paley again had the park outdoor oven fired up and invited Jewish families from all over the neighbourhood to come and make the unleavened bread of Passover. They even put up a sign at Harbord Bakery, and they had a lot of people. The park tables were covered with new plastic table cloths and there were new rolling pins and combs (for pricking beautiful patterns into the dough). Everything had to be new so that the matzos would be kosher. Also, the matzos had to take no more than 18 minutes from the mixing of flour and water to being all baked. Ron told us that anything longer would be considered leavened not permitted during Passover.
So the long tables had all sorts of children (including some nosy passers-by, who were made welcome) and their parents, intently rolling the dough and stamping on the patterns, slipping them onto the wooden peel (the board for putting them in the oven, also new) and rushing them over to Manny Silva, the park staff person in charge of the oven. The finished matzos were taken home in brown paper bags, to be put on the table and eaten for the duration of Passover.
One of the people who saw the poster and came to look was an internet "content producer" for the food channel, named Lynne Valeriote. She took pictures and talked to people. She has posted a very nice item about the day on the food channel web site: www.foodtv.ca.
Sand play in history
The first Metro Parks Commissioner, after World War Two, was Tommy Thompson, much beloved for his love of parks and his good sense. (He put up signs in the parks: please walk on the grass.) Were doing some research at the Toronto Archives for this years annual report, and we came across a speech he gave at a Parks Conference, in which he told his colleagues: "I passed a playground the other day in which I saw a sandbox that I suspect was twelve feet square. To me, this is an insult to the sand area concept. The time has come when weve got to get bigger in our thinking and realize that, when a group of kids want to carry out something that stimulates their imagination - and this is one of the things we should be responsible for promoting we should be putting in a sand area half as big as this auditorium. We should be putting in the kind of sand that kids can use to build, and we should not only keep it clean every day, but make sure that its moist enough to do something with."
Sounds good to us, Tommy Thompson. (You were a smart man.) As soon as the weather gets warm, well sweep the sand pit daily and keep it moist, so the kids can build. Well try to get new tipi poles from Forestry, and well use the money left from the winter snack bar to buy new shovels. Any donations very welcome: tipi poles, short shovels, metal pots and pans. Leave them by the rink house door or call the park clubhouse at 416/391-0913 for pick-up.
Weve got a head start this spring on play-pot donations: Ann Bjorseth picked up two big stacks of excellent pots at the end of a garage sale, for very little money, and gave them to the park. We hope other people will imitate Ann, because pots are a lot of fun in the sand "kitchen."
Follow-up to park troubles:
In the last newsletter we told the story of the rinks last day, and how the rink operator disappeared with other operators, during their last shift. Our own rink operator, when he briefly returned, refused to clean the ice for our final-day event until a group of rink users followed him around and pleaded with him. He did one cleaning and then left, two and a half hours before the end of his shift. The rink supervisor refused to speak to us or to help us, despite the fact that we had notified him of our needs for last-day ice-servicing three weeks beforehand.
Don Boyles, director of Parks and Recreation, sent us word that he would follow up. But he never got back to us. At various community meetings lately, it sounds as though this is a pattern people call the city but no one calls them back. Its possible that management are all too busy to respond to citizens, on account of a very ambitious "permit harmonization" program that is underway. Harmonization means "identical everywhere." But squeezing every neighbourhood park or community centre into the same mold is a very big job. So big, in fact, that it may be time to persuade the city management staff to scale down their aims.
Private use of public space: the permit saga.
Recently, Jutta Mason went to an evening information meeting on the new rules for permits. She found out that a new centralized computer connection called CLASS is being used to index all small, medium and large rooms inside community centres, all gyms (and their dimensions), all playing fields, all small additional structures - rink change houses, picnic tables - that might have a space that could be permitted for money. Nothing is left out, everything must be visible in the CLASS system.
It then becomes the responsibility of recreation workers in every part of the city to type into the computer each minute of time that these spaces are used for city recreation programs. Whenever a room is not booked, it becomes centrally available for rent by a permit group. For fairness of administration, there is a priority sequence for permit approval. Age is the most important consideration, with children and youth (up to age 24) getting the lions share of the time. Residents rank much higher than non-residents. As long as the whole permit group comes within the new amalgamated city of two and a half million and not beyond, they can be slotted in anywhere from Rexdale to Scarborough, assuming they dont mind a little driving.
Not-for-profit groups rank far above those wishing to profit from the space, but they have to be "not-for-profit organizations with a volunteer executive elected at an Annual General Meeting; a constitution, by-laws and/or letters patent; provide financial statements (audited if required)."
All the other groups including community groups that dont "meet the criteria to be defined as community groups" go to the end of the line for permits. They are lumped with "commercial groups and individuals." This bottom group is entitled to 0 - 10% of permits in any neighbourhood parks and recreation facility (including a park).
Neighbourhood Parks are different:
Or at least, thats what we think. As it stands, not one of the groups that had a permit here at Dufferin Grove Park in winter or last summer fits the new definition of a community group. For the larger parks that are city-wide attractions, the new criteria might make sense. For parks that were meant to strengthen individual neighbourhoods, they dont work. And charging people money to use the public space their taxes already pay for is a very dubious undertaking. Certainly it means that public space is more and more given over to private use, as long as the group has money to pay (and, of course, an executive, by-laws, etc. etc.).
We think that the Parks and Recreation management is not sufficiently aware of these problems. Our park is a good example of a park that cannot be "harmonized" into the basic mold. After last years "Fate of the Park" community meeting at the rink house (February 2001), Director Don Boyles wrote a detailed response to the points raised in the meeting report. He supported many of the suggestions, and concluded his letter this way: "I look forward to working with you on this initiative." Its soon time to remind him of this commitment. Perhaps a closer understanding of how our park works will help broaden the approach management is taking to our public spaces elsewhere in the city.
Newsletter prepared by: Jutta Mason; Illustrations: Jane LowBeer
Technical support: John Culbert
Web site: Joe Adelaars, Henrik Bechmann, Caitlin Shea
Park phone: 416 392-0913; street address: 875 Dufferin Street
List Serve: Emily Visser, Bernard King