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December 2014

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


December 2014 newsletter

risky railing?
  • 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 newsletter and on our five websites. The printing of the paper version of the Dufferin Grove newsletter is currently supported by the GH Wood Foundation.

Holiday skating hours:

The centrefold of this newsletter gives Dufferin Rink’s normal skating schedule and various other bits of rink information. For the holidays, the only exceptions are the statutory holidays, when we have shortened hours, and New Year's Eve, when we have extended hours.

On December 24 and 25, the rink opens at 9 am and closes at 6 pm. On both of those days, all-ages shinny hockey goes from 9 am to noon and again from 3 to 6pm. 12-and-under shinny hockey is moved up to noon until 1.45 (a chance to try out any skating presents that may be under the tree), and 13-17 shinny is from 1.45 to 3.

On New Year’s Eve, the schedule is like Saturdays except that from 9 to midnight it’s neighbourhood shinny on the hockey pad and pleasure-skating on the other side. Skate rentals will be open until the countdown and the snack bar will be going as well. On New Year’s Day, the Saturday schedule will again be in effect (even though January 1 is a Thursday).

Note that most other city rinks will be open for skating on the three statutory holidays but will have no change room/washroom access – hard to believe but true.

Winter campfires

In 2013, there were 476 campfires at Dufferin Grove Park. There may turn out to have been even more in 2014. People like to have campfires to celebrate – birthday parties, graduations, the visit of an old friend from far away. At other times, they gather around a campfire to memorialize the passing of a grandparent, or sometimes, a son or daughter or a friend. Most of the time, campfires are simply a way to get friends and family together to enjoy one another’s company. Meantime, the sight of the campfire gives pleasure to passersby, and the “eyes on the park” by campfire participants helps the park be safer. For more information: or email park program staff at

311: tracking the trackers

Soon after David Miller was first elected as mayor in 2003, he took a trip to Baltimore. He came back with stars in his eyes, a convert to their 311 information system. 311 was the central number you could call in Baltimore to report a pothole or a slummy house or a broken park bench. 311 was backed by a system called “citistat” described as ''“an ‘executive information system’ like those used by corporations such as Frito-Lay or Mrs. Field’s Cookies.” The idea was to get as much data as possible and enter it into a system where it could be continuously analyzed by management. The system’s boosters described it like this: “Tracking citizens ‘ complaints, requests, tips, and comments can provide a wealth of information about service levels, employee interaction, and neighbourhood conditions and trends. Baltimore’s 311 telephone line provides a comprehensive system for gathering this kind of ‘soft’ data.” And the gathering of data would somehow lead to tremendous savings – officials in Baltimore say they have realized over $40 million in financial savings since they put in this system.

Wow! Mayor Miller came back and made sure that Toronto got one of those 311 systems as well. And since then, every few years there have been reports to the council committees about how well the staff feel 311 is working and how much money they assume it's saving.

But we have to give it a big bad raspberry for ice rink information. Before 311, skaters could look in the phone book and call their local outdoor rink to ask about ice conditions. Then they could decide if they ought to get their skates and come down, or not bother until the ice was better. But in 2006 the order came to make individual rink telephone numbers unavailable to the public. Skaters were instructed to call one convenient number for rink information: 311.

As of January 2014, the CELOS-sponsored website has been tracking 311 for about five years. The 311 outdoor rink information is wrong more than 50% of the time; during storms it goes up to 90% wrong. No wonder. Toronto has more municipal outdoor compressor-cooled ice rinks than any city in the world – over 50. Every time the weather changes (sometimes three times a day), ice conditions may change. That’s way too many updates to be entered into a central reporting system.

At the Ward 18 rinks, phone numbers continue to be unofficially available. For Dufferin Rink: 416 392-0913. For Wallace Rink: 416 392-0911. For Campbell Rink: 416 392-6921 (but often out of order). A phone call is a simple, straightforward solution for a problem made complicated (and expensive) through 311. Sooner or later, other rinks will need to return to using the phone again too.

Dufferin Rink schedule, Nov.22, 2014 to March 22 (not likely!), 2015

More Info:

Pleasure Skating:  Monday – Saturday, 9:00am - 9:00pm
''The pleasure pad is open for unsupervised shinny after the last ice maintenance of the evening.
Sunday 9:00am - 9pm. Skate in the round on both ice pads until 5.00pm

Shinny hockey:
Monday, Thursday, Friday before 9 p.m.
All Ages 9:00am-3:15pm
Level 2 3:30pm-5:30pm
Level 1 5:30pm-7:00pm
Level 3 7:15pm-8:55pm
PERMIT/Program 9:00pm-11pm

All Ages 9:00am-3:15pm
Level 2 3:30pm-5:30pm
Level 1 5:30pm-7:00pm
Level 3 7:15pm-8:55pm
Women’s Drop-in Shinny 9:00pm-11:00pm

All Ages 9:00am-3:15pm
Level 2 3:30pm-5:30pm
Level 1 5:30pm-7:00pm
Level 3 7:15pm-8:55pm
PERMIT 9:00pm-10:00pm
Adult Beginner Drop-in 10:00pm-11:00pm

All Ages 9:00am-11:45am
Level 1 12:00pm-1:45pm
9 & under 1:45pm-2:45pm
Level 2 3:00pm-5:15pm
All Ages 5:30pm-7:00pm
Level 3 7:00pm-8:55pm
Youth Saturday-Night Shinny Program 9:00pm-11:00pm

On the hockey pad:
5-6:30pm - Family Shinny Program (booking with staff)
6:30-8pm - Neighbourhood Youth Shinny Program (booking with staff)
8-9:30pm - Permit
9:30pm-11:00pm Adult Beginner drop-in program (by registration)

Beginners’ shinny:
Drop-in: Wednesdays 10 to 11 pm. All beginners welcome but there’s a cap of thirty skaters.
Registered: Sundays 9.30 to 11 pm. Brief lesson followed by a game. Nearby rinks: Campbell Rink, Mondays 8.30 to 10, intermediate, skills and drills (drop-in)
Wallace Rink: drop-in Adult beginner, Thursdays, 8:30pm-10:00pm (registered)


Rink clubhouse: open seven days a week, Monday to Sunday: 9:00am - 9:00pm
Zamboni Café : Monday-Sunday 10:00am - 8:30pm
Skate/stick/gloves loans ($1 to $2 suggested donation): Monday to Sunday 9 am to 8 pm
Shinny hockey: same hours as the rink clubhouse except Sundays. There is a (strictly enforced) age schedule. From rink staff: “If you ever see the wrong age group on the shinny ice, do us a favour and notify the rink staff right away.”

Pleasure-skating: always freely available. After 9:00pm, skating is unsupervised. Then it's a bit like skating on a pond: it’s mostly shinny hockey, and people are responsible for their own use of the rink.

The large rink lights turn off after 11:00pm, and then the rink is locked.

Parking: One good place to park is at Dufferin Mall across the street. After 5 pm. there’s lots of parking across from St.Mary’s School at the north end of the park too.

Rink contacts: 416 392-0913 or The rink phone message will tell you the current ice skating conditions.

In the event of snow, if rink users help staff in clearing the ice, the rink opens faster. There are lots of shovels, or bring yours from home.

Ice maintenance times: Monday to Friday: 9 am, 11.45 am, 3.15 pm, 7 pm and 8.55 pm. Saturday: 8 am, 11.45 am, 2.45 pm, 5.15 pm, and 8.55 pm. Sunday: 9 am, 1 pm, 4.55 pm, 8 pm.

The website

This is a website run by CELOS, giving information about all 50+ municipal outdoor ice rinks, as well as Harbourfront’s Natrel Rink. The site has maps, hours, schedules, phone numbers, ratings, and stormy-weather updates. It also has blogs about the individual rinks, with contributions from skaters.

Book-keeping puzzles at Dufferin Grove:

There’s a popular saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But bureaucracies specialize in fixing things in case they might perhaps break later. They call it “risk management.” Two year ago, when CELOS asked city management to take over the income earned through the Dufferin Grove cafes and skate lending, the managers decided it was time to “regularize” Dufferin Grove to fit better into the Parks and Recreation hierarchy. So they revamped the program. They took away many of the leadership responsibilities of the on-site staff, those who had created the program together with CELOS. They added a new full-time off-site staff person to make decisions and handle the money. The theory was that accountability would improve, and the hypothetical risk of local staff fraud or conflict of interest would be removed.

But fixing what isn’t broken often makes problems. The park book-keeping began to look a little iffy. There were more and more layers of data entry, sent downtown to Finance but no longer accessible locally. So CELOS asked to see the central numbers entered downtown. It took almost a whole year to get detailed access to the city’s book-keeping for Dufferin Grove (including 4 months of delay after we finally submitted a Freedom of Information request).

What we found: in 2013, a total of $10,055 in income was not entered – it had disappeared among the layers of data. How that happened: petty cash was dispensed from Dufferin Grove earnings without being recorded as income, two weeks of income data entries were missed altogether, sometimes income was entered as expenses. On the expenses side, $3370 was wrongly listed as expenses (e.g. due to duplicate entries) – and at the same time, over $7000 was not listed as expenses when it should have been. And the various versions of income documents sent by the finance people each showed different totals. Finance calls that a “variance,” meaning the numbers don’t agree with each other.

Numbers are slippery things! And if you were to lay the 75-cent mini-pizzas, made at Dufferin Grove over the last 20 years, end to end, maybe they would reach the moon. Even careful book-keeping of so many small amounts – shoelaces for the skates, some hot dog buns, a box of bandaids – will have mistakes. The problem with the bureaucratic approach is that the mistakes get bigger, and also more remote. And the additional layers of staffing add expense without improvement. In the case of all the new layers of staff involved in “regularizing” Dufferin Grove, the additional cost is surely getting close to $100,000 a year.

Parks and Recreation management have not been interested in speaking publicly about the new problems. So CELOS recently went to the city auditor for help. We said – surely this way of running a local recreation program at a park is an example of waste. The auditor’s investigator didn’t disagree. But compared to the larger budget issues – for instance the ballooning $70 million cost of buying and adapting the city’s new “FPARS” financial software – we could see that it was not likely that the auditor could get involved with such small potatoes. So there it is. CELOS will keep on reporting to the neighbourhood.

Risk management: the risk of fingers getting stuck in passing zambonis

In early December, someone in authority put in a safety-related work order for wire mesh to be welded to the railing along the end of the pleasure-skating rink pad, and for two swing barriers to be put up at the two open spots where skaters can get on the ice. None of the recreation program staff were consulted, so whoever put in the order is still a silo-ed mystery.

The reasoning, apparently, was that during the ten seconds when the Zamboni passes close to the railing to clean that edge of the ice, there is a risk that kids might stick their hands through the railing and try to touch the Zamboni, and injure their hands or their fingers. There has never been such an injury – but what if?

We sent a question to the general Parks supervisor: what if skaters at Dufferin Rink get so used to this bubble-wrap protection that they no longer feel secure skating at the many other city-owned rinks that have no Zamboni barrier at all – the rink at City Hall, for example, or Wallace or Ryerson or Scadding rinks, or the skating trails at Colonel Sam Smith and Rennie Rink in the west, or at Greenwood and Dieppe rinks in the east? Should skating trails also have wire mesh fences and swing barriers along their length, so that passing Zambonis won’t hurt the skaters? What about the danger of kids hurting their hands trying to touch the passing buses at the Dufferin bus stop? Should there be swing barriers down there too, which could be closed until the bus comes to a full stop?

Plain silly, this kind of risk management. Happily, the Parks supervisor had some discussions and cancelled the plan.

Candles in the park

In the fall when darkness comes so early, people sometimes put out candles in the park. One evening in September, little votive candles were set out all along the walls of the reflexology path, forming an infinity symbol pattern. When the Balfolk dancing group dances in the park, they put candles on the rocks near the cob courtyard. At Night of Dread, Clay and Paper staff define the performance space in the soccer field with a giant circle of candles stuck in sand inside hundreds of little paper bags. And sometimes campfire groups set out candles on the logs and the picnic tables, especially if someone is giving an inspirational fireside chat. All of it adds to the light in the park during the dark months – very welcome.


Jason Bomers, who lives in the part of the neighbourhood called “Brockton Village,” has started a web magazine called The Blok. He writes: “Brockton feels like home.  The sidewalks and park benches are familiar friends.  Strangers are now neighbours. But even though I’ve been living here 8 years, I feel like I just scratched the surface.  There are decades of history to explore, there are stories in every kitchen, and with a turn on every street corner there are new faces and new experiences to discover.  

Starting this magazine, the Blok, I hope to find out more about this wonderful place and its inhabitants and share it with anyone that wants to spend time with it.

“For this first issue, I chose the theme Roots/Routes.  I wanted to focus on the history of the neighbourhood and highlight how the area is defined by the routes that border or run through it.  There are some fantastic personal stories to explore and some other surprises along the way.  This issue only touches on the some of the history here and the thousands of years of history before European contact is sadly not included, but I hope that this is a starting point for conversations between friends, family and neighbours about this neighbourhood.  Please enjoy!” We read it and did enjoy it, a lot.

Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market, every Thursday 3 to 7 pm, beside and inside the rink clubhouse (but NOT on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day):

The market is year-round, but this year the two main holidays fall on a Thursday. So there will be no market for two weeks – resuming on January 8. Market manager Anne Freeman is also a co-ordinator and activist for all the other Toronto markets. She worked with the year-round markets to create a poster for the subways, showing which markets keep going throughout the winter. Look for the subway posters from the end of December on – you’ll recognize some farmers’ faces. Meantime, our Thursday vendors will have a little holiday from their weather-intense trips into town. Four of the vendors have new babies – so it’s a good chance for them to enjoy that part of their crop.


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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