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posted February 03, 2007


Campbell Rink cooking fire

Back in 1993, the friends of the park got their first cooking fire permit. Isabel Perez cooked tortillas with the kids who came to the park. That worked so well that the following year the City added a fire permit beside the rink house. Some youth who were in a gang called the ‘Latinos Americanos’ helped cook soup and hot chocolate there. It worked so well attracting families back to the rink that the cooking fires have gone on ever since. People began to arrange cooking-fire times for birthdays and school outings and family reunions, and since most of those occasions were in the evenings, the park got safer, from having more people in it after dark (“eyes on the park”).

Dufferin Rink staff have recently begun to "take the show on the road" in a few places, collaborating with Rec staff at other parks to see if what they developed at Dufferin can be adapted to other neighbourhoods. In January there were two wonderful events at Wallace Rink and Campbell Rink, each including a DJ, good food, a skate rental van, and a campfire.

A campfire provides the "heart" for such a neighbourhood event. The fire's beauty draws people together and makes food taste better. A campfire is a “story magnet.” It loosens tongues so that often even shy people begin to talk to one another.

But the new Parks supervisor, Peter Leiss, was concerned and unhappy about the safety of having all those cooking fires in parks, and he began to question the practice. The Fire Safety section at City Hall was contacted, and after the second cooking fire at Wallace Rink, Fire Captain John Lyons came out there to look.

The second Wallace Rink cooking fire had taken place right after an ice rainstorm that coated the ground and the trees, and the fire site area was very slippery. The least slippery spot was near a pine tree, so the cooking fire staff made the fire there, with close attention so there was no damage to the tree. Then they spent time in the week afterwards, chipping out the ice from the more distant fire site for the following Sunday.

But when Captain Lyons saw the old ashes near the tree, he said that anyone making a fire near a tree was an “imbecile,” and that cooking fire permission for anyone, including staff, was immediately withdrawn – at Dufferin Grove too.

So in the days that followed, rink staff had the painful task of calling all the people who had planning a cooking fire by the rink. They couldn’t get hold of them all. The worst was having to disappoint a group of 25 kids who had come over from a Toronto Community Housing project with their packages of hot dogs and marshmallows. Ouch.


If Parks supervisor Peter Leiss had been around when some park neighbours first got involved in making Dufferin Grove Park more lively, none of the liveliness would have happened. Mr.Leiss would have pulled out his rule book and that would have been the end of it. But the chilly wind of bureaucracy wasn’t blowing as hard ten years ago as it is now.

January 26, a new order came down: no more cooking fires by the rink, nor by Wallace or Campbell rinks. Parks supervisor Peter Leiss gave the order to stop them on the grounds of “inadequate protocol." Thirteen years of campfires at the park with no injury, and suddenly they were stopped! From the very beginning there had been an agreement about the park fire permit with Toronto Fire, but Parks management said they no longer recognized that agreement. They backed up some of their safety concerns with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, legislation directed at employees but broadened by Parks management to apply to almost every situation.

When the order came to cancel the campfires, one woman wrote a protest e-mail to the Parks supervisor. So he let her have her campfire after all, even though everyone else was banned. Then a new protocol -- meant to apply to the whole city in exactly the same form -- was devised, then rewritten, and rewritten again. The first meeting to discuss the new fire protocol didn’t include any rink staff or rink friends. The next two meetings allowed two rink staff to attend, but still no community people.

All was confusion. One day it seemed that all campfires would revert to the jurisdiction of the central permitting office, costing $53.50 each time, with no local park staff supervision. Then it seemed that park staff would have to be present every minute to oversee the campfire groups – a staffing expense for which there is no budget (and no need). Then there was a hint that the city was considering banning all campfires from city parks, under any circumstances. It was impossible to find out more.

Then suddenly, before any new rink protocol was ready for public presentation, the Park supervisor called the rink to tell the staff that the campfires had been temporarily restored. This would be in effect for a weekend, or maybe even for a month. The rules would be the old fire safety rules that have been in place for thirteen years.

A happy development? “Better than a kick in the teeth” …. but not much. The staff meetings generated so far by this ban involved a forester, a fire chief, a Recreation supervisor, a Parks supervisor, a Parks manager, a Permit officer, four Dufferin Rink staff, and an assistant to the General Manager, most of them repeatedly, all of them already overworked. Rink friends wrote letters and called the councillor and the mayor’s office. Countless exasperated conversations took place at the rink among skaters, on e-mail, around dinner tables. These bureaucratic collisions take so much of everyone’s time! A remedy is in everyone’s interest.

The City of Toronto Municipal Code is a compilation of bylaws organized by subject.Chapter 608: PARKS. ARTICLE I. Definitions. PERMIT — Any written authorization of Council, a committee established by Council, or the Commissioner under delegated authority.

You can read the thread of conversation about this issue so far or email if you want to receive email updates. You can also have a look at our campfires page for information about the campfire program, and Campfire Protest Letters for some community response.

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