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August 2012

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


August 2012: Ward 18 Parks Conservancy


The last month of the summer has begun. Next summer, much of what makes Dufferin Grove Park lively may be missing. MacGregor Park may revert to its former slumber too, and the Saturday Night suppers at Campbell Park may be no more. But for now, there’s a great deal to delight, at all three parks. This is the summer to enjoy what still works well.

Park Census

CELOS asked Dufferin Grove program staff to do an all-day census, writing down the number of park users, and what they were doing, every two hours all day long. On an ordinary Saturday (July 21) with no special events in Dufferin Grove, close to 2000 people of all ages and cultures spent time at the park at different points in the day. Some people were taking naps under a shady tree. Others were playing frisbee or soccer, or having a birthday party, or splashing in the wading pool, or walking their dogs, or digging in the sandpit (even grownups!), or playing an accordion, or cooking over a campfire, or balancing on a tightrope, or watering the trees, or doing yoga, or demonstrating skateboard moves, or playing three-on-three basketball, or studying their ipad in a secluded corner of the park… Or kissing on a park bench.

A good park is like a very well-used community centre, without walls.

Park event in August:

''A History of Forgetting. Clay and Paper Theatre. August 3rd to August 26th, 2012'. Outdoors at Dufferin Grove Park, Wednesday, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:00 PM, Saturdays & Sundays at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM.

From director David Anderson: “Explore long discarded histories, forgotten people and, of course, lost love. With a baby as narrator (I’m a clean slate!), this Surrealist inspired journey embraces the omitted, the erased, the lost. A giant pair of blue hands, a seven foot tall face, melting clocks, a dancing key, the cave paintings of Lascaux and a slew of literary and historical characters parade across time and space and the green expanse of Dufferin Grove. What will you remember? What might you find? What will The History of Forgetting unlock for you?”

The tricky problem of FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER, the playground food cart, and make-your-own pizza days at the park ovens

In the July Conservancy newsletter there was a warning that there are no longer enough part-time staff on the roster to handle all the parks programs:

'“Since last year, city management has allowed no new part-time recreation staff to be hired for the Dufferin Grove Park programs, nor for the related programs at other Ward 18 parks (e.g. Campbell and Wallace Rinks in winter, MacGregor Park in summer). That means that when staff leave to go on to other occupations, there are no replacements, so that the pool of talented staff is steadily shrinking. This summer there are not enough staff to run the ovens and work with families for bake-oven pizza days, so most have had to be cancelled. It now looks like there will have to be some days when the wading pool cafe is closed and Friday Night Supper is cancelled.”''

Neither recreation management nor Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailao’s office had time to help address the problem. So two out of the three weekly kids’ “pizza days” aren’t running this summer, and on Friday July 13, there was no supper. All that weekend there was no playground café. Most of the overworked part-time staff took their days off (and those who had already worked 40 hours avoided the penalties that the city assigns to staff who work overtime).

The Toronto Star ran an article about the missing Friday Night Supper (it must have been a slow news day). Recreation Manager Kelvin Seow was quoted there, saying there are plenty of staff at Dufferin Grove. Councillor Bailao asked for a list of part-time staff and when they could work, to see the problem for herself. The list was sent around, showing the shortage. Recreation management responded with a warning – making any staff list public was against the law. CELOS asked for the relevant quotes from the laws management hinted at (Privacy and Labour laws). No response thus far. That warning may turn out to be a red herring.

After some urging by City Councillor Bailao, City management now say that they will hire some backup part-time staff with the skills needed at Dufferin Grove. The hiring won’t be ready in time for the summer season, though, since even after interviews are set up, all new staff have to get a police check. (Cooks use knives, after all.) So there will likely be at least one more summer weekend when the lack of available staff forces the supper and the playground café to shut down.

LONG-TERM TROUBLE: the shrinking of the staff list.

Making a list of all current staff working in Ward 18 park programs was fun. What a collection! Part-time staff wear many hats. There are 14 university students, at both the undergraduate and the graduate level. There are three graphic artists, one plumbing apprentice, two dancers, two farmers (they work at the rinks in the winter), and there are translators, poets, theatre people, visual artists, landscapers, historians. Some people are gathering experience for their educational field; others are taking a break from their education. Eight are parents, and so have an inside view of what a lively park can give to kids, and to their families. Among the current part-time staff, there are twelve languages spoken – a good representation of Toronto’s multiculturalism!

Once a person starts working at the park, they often get so involved that even after their education is complete, they still want to keep their oar in. They may not have much time to work here anymore, but their experience and their familiarity with the community are valuable, and so they’re welcomed back even if only for a few shifts a month, or a few months of intensive park work between periods of travelling or working elsewhere. For example: park baker, cook and researcher Yo Utano just left to go back to her island in southern Japan. But she may come back in eight months with new recipes for Friday Night Supper, and new park stories from her circuitous route home. Until fairly recently, she could slip right back in, doing part-time work, with a fresh outlook and new skills to contribute.

But the last two years have driven people away. Even though the staff are no longer being warned every week about “conflict of interest” when they collaborate on projects with non-staff park users, there are plenty of other ways in which they are made to see that their work is not valued.

Last fall their jobs were all reclassified downwards, and most of them now earn barely more than teenage staff just starting out in their first job. There’s a ramifying hierarchy of administrative recreation staff, based at the two Ward 18 recreation centres. At Wallace-Emerson Recreation Centre, more than half a million dollars a year is now spent for indirect “support” activities like registration, collecting fees, entering data, and the enforcement of city policies. The gulf between direct program staff and even the data entry administrators (who earn at least three times as much as most direct program staff) is widening. And so the list of adventurous, imaginative park program staff keeps shrinking. If nothing turns this around, most will soon be gone. (Ed. Note: And so will I.)

Gardening news, with a bake oven postscript from Edithvale Community Centre

The Dufferin Grove “garden club,” which has city program staff support from Anna Bekerman, Rachel Weston, and Leslie Lindsay, recently got a wonderful surprise – a $1000 donation to buy pollinator plants for schoolchildren to plant in the park. The online magazine The Grid (connected with the Toronto Star) celebrated its first year of publication by hosting what they called a “pop-up lunch” at the 416 Snack Bar restaurant at Bathurst and Queen. Invitational chefs came from other restaurants, cooking a $5 fundraiser lunch, with the proceeds to be given to some worthy cause. The Grove School (a Board of Education alternative school) teamed up with The Grid to locate the donation at Dufferin Grove community gardens.

Kelly O’Brien made a lively video of the Grove students’ planting day (the link is posted on the home page). York University pollination researcher and park neighbour Clement Kent gave the kids a talk about pollinator gardens, gardens which provide hospitality to bees and butterflies. He makes an appearance in O’Brien’s video, as does Rachel Weston, who works at Dufferin Grove one afternoon a week, in addition to her fulltime private landscaping job. Rachel made a new design for the pollinator garden near the cob courtyard, and that’s where the kids planted most of the new plants. The donation also covered art materials – wooden cutouts of birds and butterflies and insects, and paints for the kids to paint them. These colourful shapes are now hanging up in the park trees. Have a look!

The park’s “garden club” is open to everyone who likes to garden or thinks they’d like to try it. The gardeners meet on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and work in the park gardens together. Their meetings often include a picnic made with the garden produce. To find out more, e-mail

The garden club was the brainchild of long-time park staff Anna Bekerman, who volunteered at the park gardens before she even began to work as a program staff person. Anna is also one of the park bakers and Friday Night supper cooks, and she is often called on to talk to other interested groups about using community bake ovens. Recently, she gave a three-hour workshop to big group of staff and volunteers at the new Edithvale Community Centre in North York. The new community centre included a very nice outdoor bake oven installation, complete with a $4000 marble prep counter. The only problem is, the oven hearth is located so high up (due to the contractor’s concern about child safety) that it’s very hard for shorter adults to reach. The hearth is also quite small (it’s pre-fab), and so it’s hard to bake with a larger group. However, the oven is supplied with all new baking equipment from Nella cutlery, the councillor is fully in support, and the taller summer staff are keen to bake. A new bake oven story begins.

Wading pool blues

A snapshot: On July 24, a sunny hot Tuesday, at 1.30 pm, there were 27 kids splashing in the MacGregor wading pool, with another ten at the crafts table or the dress-up area. Two more kids were watering the gardens. At 1.35, there were three kids in the Campbell Park wading pool. At 1.40, there were two kids in the Carlton Park wading pool. At 1.45 there was no one in the splash pad at Perth Park, but two kids were in the playground. At 2.05 pm, there were 42 kids in the Dufferin Grove wading pool with another 83 playing nearby in the sandpit or the playground, or eating a snack from the playground café.

All of these wading pools, no matter what their attendance, are assigned the same number and kind of staff – two teenagers from Central Aquatics. Gone are the days when the wading pool staff at Dufferin Grove were integrated with the many summer activities going on near the pool. Now the young staff are told that they have nothing to do with the rest of the park activities. They are to take direction only from their central coordinator. During July, the Aquatics-mandated hour-long lunch break, for one staff at a time, meant that for two hours every mid-day, there was only one wading pool attendant no matter how many children were in the pool. (Happily, wading pools are usually surrounded by parents and camp counsellors, who pay attention as well.)

At MacGregor wading pool, a deal was made to let one of the two wading pool attendants be from the recreation staff, to give the park the benefit of more mature staff with local knowledge of the park users. But the central pool coordinators said the “crossover” staff weren’t good enough, and they tried repeatedly to get the recreation staff replaced by the teenage aquatics staff. At Dufferin Grove, the wading pool staff justified disruptive wading pool routines by misrepresenting them as legal requirements. The young staff found reasons not even to sweep the sand away from the pool edges, nor to help out in other ways. On cloudy or rainy days, two staff were directed to stay sitting beside the pool long after few or no kids were in the pool. Paying two staff to sit by an empty pool on bad-weather days means that there is no budget to extend the wading pool time for even one hour on hot days.

An appeal from CELOS to Councillor Ana Bailao’s office brought this response: “I am pleased to hear from Management Staff that an orientation session took place in Dufferin Grove, providing understanding of park programs to part-time, seasonal wading pool staff. I am disappointed, however, that levels of collaboration between recreation and wading pool staff have not met your expectations. I will follow-up on my original request by once again contacting the Director of Community Recreation; encouraging more collaboration.”

A few changes were made, but the basic problem of centralization remains, painful to witness. The rinks are next, this winter. This can’t be remedied without a parks conservancy.

The Ward 18 Parks Conservancy – conserving our joint resources – a way to save money

Ward 18 parks have been on the conservancy project for some years already. Four underused field houses and one rink change room have been turned into lively clubhouses: two at Dufferin Grove, plus the field house at MacGregor Park, plus the Campbell Park rink house, and the Wallace Rink change room. This was done for a fraction of the cost of building one new field house, for example at Queensway Park in Etobicoke, which was built in 2010 for $1.5 million and is still unused more than a year after completion.

Value for money: the Ward 18 Parks Conservancy would use “full cost accounting,” as requested by the City’s own accounting section. That means finding out the real costs associated with every activity – not only the guy on the zamboni, but also the costs of scheduling him, issuing his cheques, supervising his work, devising rink policies at City Hall, ensuring compliance, and so on. The last two costs in particular are rising very rapidly.

Full cost accounting is dependent on transparency by the City. According to the city website, the whole city government will be required to use this approach, but Parks, Forestry and Recreation management said they may not be ready until 2013. The Ward 18 Parks Conservancy would want to be first out of the gate, calculating and publishing those numbers much sooner. One aim is to see whether well-used all-season parks are actually more economical to run than indoor community centres.

In April, CELOS applied, through freedom of information, for the detailed Ward 18 budget information. In June, the city released the first 16 spreadsheets. Studying them this summer has been a wild ride. The information we’ve learned up until now is posted on the website. (The home page has a direct link called “where the money goes.”)

The city’s “SAP” accounting system shows that community centres in buildings are indeed more expensive to run than community centres in parks (without walls). Just the caretaking costs for the two Ward 18 community centres added up to $847,626' in 2011 – more than three times what it cost the city to run the full four seasons of recreation programs at Dufferin Grove. Unlike the Ward 18 park programs, almost every program in the two community centres carries a fee. Whatever doesn’t bring in revenue, with the exception of family drop-in programs, has been cut out – for example youth basketball, and programs for disabled people. The expenditures for the staff administering the fees and the compliance policies that accompany this approach, are very steep, and not recovered through the fees: non-program costs at the two centres are $660,000''', not counting the incomes of the supervisors who do some or all of their work a Ward 18 community centres.

Stay tuned.

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.

The second-ever “Sleep-in” at Dufferin Grove Park, Friday August 17, 7 pm.

From the “loveduffgrove” organizers: “Everything you love about Dufferin Grove is now at risk. Last year, Grove-lovers demonstrated our willingness to fight for this park by holding a “sleep-in”…Apparently, they didn’t get the message the first time.”

Facebook: A sleep-in at dufferin grove. More information:

This newsletter is written by Jutta Mason and published by the Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS), To read this story online:

Illustrations by Jane LowBeer

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