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January 2015

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


January 2015 newsletter

Dufferin Rink woodstove -- New Year's Day
  • 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.

Friday Night suppers resume January 2, 2015

As usual, the rinkhouse suppers will be a smaller version of the outdoor suppers, and yes, you can eat in skates. From 6 to 7 pm, $7 main plate (vegetarian or vegan only), plus $3 dessert.

The secret, excellent fix of Dufferin Rink

Sometime at the end of November, when the rink had been open for a week, the city’s technical staff found a problem with the motor of one of the two 75 horsepower compressors. Inside of 24 hours, they got a new compressor motor, brought over a telescoping crane and positioned it at the west compressor-room, removed the broken motor (very large and heavy) with the crane, and installed a new motor. There was no interruption in the skating schedule, and in fact very few rink users or program staff even noticed that work was going on, since it was happening at the opposite side of the building. Now that's some skill! Compare with Queensway Rink in Etobicoke, with a damaged compressor motor that wasn’t fixed until just before Christmas, so that the neighbourhood lost three weeks of skating season. How did Dufferin Rink get lucky and Queensway not?

Winter campfires

In 2014, there were 543 campfires at Dufferin Grove Park, up from 476 in 2013. 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. During rink season, the staff puts out rubber mats from the ice to the rink-side campfire. Year-round, the sight of the campfires gives pleasure to passersby, and the “eyes on the park” by campfire participants help the park be safer in the evenings. For more information on how to book such a campfire, go to or email park program staff at

Holiday rink math

Last month, as in many Decembers before, the rink information schedule on the city’s website indicated that most of the city’s 52 compressor-cooled rinks would keep their buildings locked on all three statutory holidays – Christmas Day, Boxing Day (yes, really) and New Year’s Day. The ice surfaces would be unlocked for skating, but if people wanted to change their skates on a bench in a warm spot, or take their kids to the washroom, they would be out of luck.

Our website crew have been visiting these 50+ rinks for more than 10 years, and reporting on how they’re doing. We’ve been arguing with city management for almost as long about keeping the rinks open on those major holidays. And as the city website shows, now they do – but only the ice surface.

However, that’s not the whole story. This year we found that the change rooms and washrooms were open at all the rinks we visited in Etobicoke, on both Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, even though the city’s web schedule and 311 said they were closed. The busier rinks also had rink staff on site. On Boxing Day, a few of the downtown rink buildings we visited were open too, including the newly rebuilt Hodgson Rink and Greenwood Rink, both heavily used. But on New Year’s Day, those rinks were locked. Outside, parents were tying up kids’ skates with frozen fingers (it was a bitter wind). Skates, shoes, shin pads, helmets, snow pants were spread out all over the ground. And if somebody needed to go to the washroom…..

The reason for closing seems to be that staff are paid time-and-a-half on stat holidays. Closing the buildings saves that bonus money.

So here’s the math: Hodgson Rink has just been rebuilt for $2 million. Greenwood Rink was rebuilt last year for $3.4 million. The extra holiday bonus saved by not having a staff person to keep the rink buildings open on New Year’s Day is $77.00 for nine hours, per rink.

Canadians are famously polite, so they don’t tend to complain about much, other than the weather. But who doesn’t like transparency? Surely city management could put up posters at the locked rink buildings, clarifying the reason for saving the $77.00. If it’s to pay off the construction costs, it would be helpful to give a time frame – how long would it take before the $3.4 million Greenwood Rink cost would be paid off and holiday skaters could use the warm benches and go to the washroom again? Or if the closings are related to the city’s Park and Recreation operating budget – maybe $400+ million a year isn’t quite enough – would it work if staff stood in front of the locked rink buildings with a bell, a Santa hat and a donation box? When $77.00 had been collected (surely not hard with all those people who want to skate with their families and friends on the main holidays), they could unlock the door. Problem solved.

Readers of this newsletter know, of course, that in Ward 18, all three rinks were open on all three holidays. On two of the holidays, so were Ramsden Rink (in Rosedale), and all the Etobicoke rinks. Transparency needed, again. Why the unequal treatment?

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 Sunday
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.

“Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper”

This formula for civic improvements came from the Project for Public Spaces, in New York. It seems to be caching on at university urban planning schools (M.I.T. recently put out a “white paper” on it) and it’s getting lots of press as a better way of doing development – trying simple things, combining that with better programming, before committing to multi-year, multi-million dollar megaprojects that might not work out.

Is it possible that Toronto’s new Mayor John Tory has a bit of that approach in mind? In a Globe and Mail interview in December, he warned against launching sweeping projects to fix the city: Wiser “to do it in bite-size pieces,” he reasons. “This government is badly in need of modernization,” he said. “And it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen in small steps.”

At the same time, according to another Globe article, the mayor has been insisting on making these small steps go ahead faster: Because he is a city hall outsider, he brings a fresh and skeptical eye to the often-Byzantine workings of that place. When officials tell him, “That’s just the way it works” or, “That’s going to take -time,” he is entitled to push back.

We think that Dufferin Rink is a good example of this approach. For instance --

Dufferin Rink: how the walls came down, lighter, quicker, cheaper

One Sunday in December 1955, 800 people came to skate at Dufferin Rink. On January 3 1958, the Toronto Star ran an editorial called, If Sardines Skated They’d Choose Toronto: “Skating is not much fun when people have to wait in line outside for half an hour or more, and then go on an intolerably crowded ice surface…”

But by the winter of 1993, when Dufferin Rink re-opened after being completely rebuilt for $1.3 million, attendance was way down. Sometimes there were only a handful of pleasure-skaters on a Friday night, and around twenty shinny players – three of them rink guards. The rink was not a pleasant place.

The rebuilt rink house had too many walls and not enough windows. During rink season, it was impossible for the rink staff to keep an eye on whatever foolishness might be going on in the separate, walled-off change rooms. Parents couldn’t stay warm and watch their kids out on the ice at the same time – there were no eye-level windows to the outside. (All the windows started three meters up.)

We asked Tino DeCastro, our new recreation supervisor, '“how can we get rid of some of these walls and make a more usable room?” He said, “talk to the director.”'' So we called him. He said before anything could be done he’d have to get a report from the city’s building inspector.

We showed the building inspector the two concrete-block walls we wanted to get taken out, to make one big, flexible-use room. We asked him – “if these walls are removed, will the building fall down?”

The inspector showed us the big steel beams holding up the roof. The interior walls were not bearing walls. They wouldn’t be hard to remove, he said, but it would be expensive. He estimated that for the City to remove the smaller wall (about ten feet long) that blocked the staff’s view into the girls’ change room would cost $6000. The bigger wall, separating the two change rooms, would cost about $10,000. “I can see that it would be a good idea,” he said. “But you’d better get busy fundraising.”

We didn’t want to use our time to have bake sales; we wanted to work with families, to get them back into the rink, dilute the youth ghetto, mix it up, bring all sorts of people together. We had a key to the building, and we’d tried to make it as nice as we could, but it was not a pleasant space to be in. Everybody told us – great idea, a clubhouse with one big community room – but taking walls out will cost money that the City doesn’t have.

We wondered how you remove a concrete block wall. One weekend a park friend came with a spike and hammer to try out a technique he had heard about. If you just chip away the mortar, a construction friend had told him, you can lift the block right out and start on the next one. A few of us came over to watch. It was really easy.

So we took out the smaller wall. It took four hours for five of us. Suddenly the view into the girls’ change room had opened up. The whole place looked bigger.

When we confessed to Parks management what we’d done, there was some finger-wagging at City Hall. But at the same time we had the impression that the city staff got a bit of a laugh. The story spread. Everyone knew that the change made sense, but no one had thought there was a way to make it happen.

We called our city councillor to come out and have a look. We asked him, would he be willing to get his Council colleagues to approve money to put four eye-level windows into the rink house, two in each room, so people could see out, and parents could watch their kids out on the ice? And could they be windows that opened, so the building could get some air circulation in the summer? He said, I’ll see what I can do.

He came through for us. The city hired two window installers and they had it all done in two days. Suddenly the outside world reappeared, no more sealed-off concrete bunker which looked so much like a prison holding-cell.

The windows were so useful that we knew we had to go the next step. One Saturday morning in October, ten park friends came to the rink wearing overalls and gloves, and dismantled the middle wall separating the two change rooms. It took longer than the first time, to loosen and take down all those blocks – almost 12 hours – but as the wall got lower and lower and the window on the other side of the wall came into view, it was a thrill to see the red leaves of the maple tree outside that window. Finally, the rink house was one good room, allowing a community clubhouse to take shape. And it did, with light, quick, and cheap changes.

Neighbourhood News

From an e-mail post by long-time electric-train, anti-wall Rail Committee leader Kevin Putnam:

“Sorry to report this evening that our Goal Line Stand for a greener solution to noise mitigation than massive walls of concrete and plexiglass has been unsuccessful. [Our Davenport Riding MPP] Cristina Martins has failed to secure a meeting with Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca. We can speculate endlessly about whether our rookie MPP is either incompetent or unwilling to work for a better outcome (she does live in Willowdale). ….For Steven Del Duca it is easier to let this play out, blame it on his predecessors and avoid wearing the issue by getting involved.

Fighting an arms length government agency like Metrolinx has proven to be pointless when they have so clearly got Transportation Ministers under their thumb. There is a new one almost every year and that works totally to the advantage of the [people] who run the organization.

The Rail Committee is not hanging around to point fingers or say "We told you". We are now officially closed for business. Many thanks to all of the residents who have been vocal about the issue of electrification and noise walls. We never would have toughed it out so long without your support!”.

Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market, every Thursday 3 to 7 pm, beside and inside the rink clubhouse):

Market manager Anne Freeman is also a liaison and activist for 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.

After 12 years of this market, many of the vendors have become like familiar friends for this neighbourhood. Having their jam or their butternut squash or their greenhouse salad as a part of a meal is almost like having their company at the dinner table. Four of the vendors have recently had new babies, and market customers will get to see these children grow up – taken along every week by their farmer parents. In winter, it’s a tough trip from farm to market – but so lucky for us, that they come.


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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