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June 2012

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


Volume 12, Nr.1, June 2012: Ward 18 Parks Conservancy


Park events in June

MacGregor Park:

Art Club (Saturdays), Canada Day festival (July 1),

  • campfires with cooking and/or storytelling
  • community gardening (various times).

Staff liaison: Anna Galati ( or 416 392-0913.

Campbell Park:
  • weekly community supper (Saturdays, 6 pm)

Staff liaison: Marina DeLuca-Howard ( or 416 392-0913

Dufferin Grove Park:
  • second annual Pet Adoptathon (June 9 and 10), put on by Toronto Animal Services

Staff liaison: Ava Lightbody ( or 416 392-0913

  • June 9, 2 pm: Darren Hall leads a 30-minute OM voice meditation circle, everyone welcome
  • June 20-24 the Cooking Fire Theatre Festival returns. From the organizers:

“Cooking Fire Theatre Festival: For our eighth year in Dufferin Grove Park, we will have performances by companies from Toronto, Montreal and Strasbourg, France. Shows range from a satirical take on the 2008 global financial crisis, to a clown turn about the hazards of Toronto real estate, a look at the family road trip from hell, and a solo show about clocks and running out of time. And don't forget dinner served from the park's two bake ovens. Come out and enjoy the beginning of summer in the park. Dinner served 6:00pm, performances 7:00pm.

Also, on Saturday June 23, join us for our first ever Children's Parade, a fun and casual event for our littlest audience members and their caregivers. Bring your own costumes or wear one of ours and follow our host in a lively procession through the park before dinner. Dress up begins at 4pm, parade at 5pm. Drop-in (no registration).”

Perth Park

June 23, 2012: Councillor Ana Bailão’s Ward 18 Community BBQ, 12 noon to 2 pm.

Good news about events in Ward 18 parks

In recent years, locally-sponsored events in parks have faced a challenge. The Parks Permit department at City Hall has been directed to charge a fee to park users wishing to enliven their parks with even very small, local events like free music concerts, seasonal-celebration picnics, and park gardening events. Insurance fees were also required, sometimes adding more than a hundred dollars to the cost. A 2011 community campfire at Dovercourt Park cost park neighbours $120 with the insurance. There hasn’t been another one since. Community bake oven fees or the threat of fees have shuttered the Christie Pits oven for most of the year. In many parks across the city, volunteer-run events have begun to die out.

This development has been a big concern, and is one of the things that has led CELOS to work on an alternative approach: a Ward 18 Parks Conservancy. (CELOS stands for: Centre for Local Research into Public Space). In Chapter 32 of the long-running Summer/Fall/Winter/Spring Story about the Unmaking and Remaking of Dufferin Grove Park and other city parks, there is a list of principles that apply to parks. This is the first principle:

1. Principle: parks support cities when they’re lively social spaces.\\ Application: most park events in Ward 18 ought to be free of charge, with no fee to the organizers or to park users. Exception: events that require significant extra non-program work by city staff, or that involve marketing or product promotion. Existing by-law example: permits for filming in public spaces are free to film companies, in recognition of the film industry’s stimulation of the local economy. The same principle applies to community events in parks: they stimulate local neighbourhoods.

The good news is that this past spring, it appears that PFR management is moving in that direction in some of the Ward 18 parks. For the Conservancy-sponsored Jane’s Walk on May 6 (“Why cheap parks are more fun”), recreation program staff were allowed to work with park users and artist partners at both MacGregor Park and Campbell Park. At Dufferin Grove, all events put on by local park users have been included in the regular program schedule, as partnership (no fee) activities supported by program staff. This is not a secure arrangement, but it may be a hopeful sign of a gradual turn in direction. So musicians, line dancers, frisbee players, tight-rope walkers, take heart. If you want to make some park fun with your neighbors, the park staff can help you set it up this season, and you won’t have to pay for giving your gifts!

Ward 18 Parks Conservancy: Update

From Jutta Mason: Last summer, on July 7, I began to write about the unmaking of Dufferin Grove Park. I wanted to record the history of the park – both before and during its most recent iteration as a community gathering place. That way, if Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) management returned Dufferin Grove back to the norm of most city public spaces, there would be an account of the 18 years when it was an “anomaly.” Last December, in Chapter 20, I began to turn to the bigger picture – the effects of the seven-year Parks, Forestry and Recreation “function over form” restructuring on other parks all over the city. Then in the middle of February, in Chapter 27, I first proposed setting up a “Ward 18 Conservancy.” The chapters that followed were subtitled “workbooks.”

The workbook chapters included many references to the work of American political scientist Elinor Ostrom, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009, for her work on “governing the commons.” A lifetime of studying how ordinary people in all corners of the world collaborate in ingenious ways to shape their public spaces may make Professor Ostrom a better guide for people who cherish their parks than the fast-turnover management theories coming out of business schools. Many guides can be found locally – through talking to people engaged in conserving public resources in Toronto. David Crombie, who was mayor of Toronto during the “Stop Spadina Expressway” days, is one of the local advisors who helped, by pointing out promising directions for us. He made us aware of the “Aquatic Working Group,” chaired by Karen Pitre, which successfully scuttled the plan to close 40 community swimming pools housed in schools. Read on to find how their approach can be adapted to city parks in Ward 18.

This is the first of this summer’s Conservancy newsletters. A conservancy involves a more active form of democracy, the kind that doesn’t happen only every four years during election time. The Conservancy seeks to build on what’s already there in Ward 18, what’s “in the pantry.” How do we conserve and strengthen the Ward 18 parks as lively neighbourhood meeting places, in the face of a central PFR management that seems to be heading in a very different direction? That’s the experiment the newsletter will relate. This is like a small movie that’s being made right now, with only a sketchy script and an outcome that’s still unknown to the actors. It’s not clear who’s directing this movie. A long-time neighbourhood busybody like me? An elected city councillor, who has at least twenty other, more pressing concerns? The people who spread their blankets near the Dufferin Grove ovens for Friday Night supper? Or maybe...nobody has the full power to direct what happens in public space. Public spaces are shaped by whoever shows up there, and every single person has an influence on the result.

It’s time to join a “Working Group”!

One morning in the middle of April David Crombie came to the CELOS office for coffee. He asked us “do you know about the Aquatic Working Group?” Of course we’d heard of them. They helped to overturn a Parks and Recreation staff recommendation in 2008, which proposed to pull city funding from the swimming pools that are jointly run by the schools and the city (thereby forcing 39 pools to close). Only 7 run-down pools ended up closing, with the saved pools reviving, some of them dramatically, under joint staff-volunteer stewardship. The Aquatic Working Group (AWG) persuaded the school board to lower the permit charge for private pool use (e.g. birthday parties). The increased volume of bookings caused pool permit revenues to increase from under $500,000 to over $1 million. Crombie said, “if you want to know more of the story, you have to talk to Karen Pitre, the chair of the Toronto Sports Council.

So we asked her to come to the park for a bowl of Mary Sylwester’s chili, if she could find an hour in her schedule.

Pitre came. She said that the Toronto Sports Council helped put together and support the Aquatic Working Group. It took pool supporters 4 years to get the city to come to the table and save the pools. Now they’ve got a partnership with the city, which also includes two groups called “Let’s Make Waves” and the Aquatic Working Group.

One of the puzzling things before the Aquatic Working Group was formed, Pitre said, was that increasing revenues through increased enrolment in swimming was never part of the discussion. “Why not?” asked Pitre. It was clear that the city would rather close swimming pools than get more people to swim there. Former Mayor David Miller refused to even discuss alternatives with Crombie and Pitre – he said that the pools would close no matter what the objections. But he was mistaken.

The Aquatic Working Group has no complicated structure, says Pitre. Who comes to the meetings? “Everyone is welcome – if you support the swimming pools, you should be there.” The Toronto Sports Council followed up the swimming-pool campaign with another working group to turn back the sudden, unheralded increase in sports field permit fees for children and youth. The working group had the same formula – notify all the people involved with children’s and youth sports field permits, “EVERYONE WELCOME” and work out an alternative approach.

Some of the City’s rules concerning Ward 18 parks (Dufferin, MacGregor, Wallace, Campbell, Carlton parks) are just as unfortunate as the ones Karen Pitre’s group are negotiating. It’s time to steal a good idea (with permission!) from the Toronto Sports Council. Working groups

Park “working groups”

Several months of conversations with community advocates from across the city and beyond brought in enough ideas to take the next step. How would a parks conservancy work in the day-to-day? Park user “working groups” can help flesh it out. Some working groups already exist, and some are just getting started. Here are the ones we already have:

The skateboard working group: this group adopted the pleasure-pad of the Dufferin Grove skating rink, outside of the ice-rink season, a few years ago, and has grown bigger since then. They keep the equipment in good repair, build new structures, and get the word out through Facebook. They work closely with the park’s program staff. The park’s “cookie money” helps to pay some of their materials costs. Everyone welcome, from 6 to 60 (must have their own skateboard).
Staff liaison: Anna Galati.

The community gardens working group: this group includes both park users who have a green thumb (or who want to find out if their thumbs are green), and park program staff with a particular love for initiating more people into the joy of gardening. The Dufferin Grove members got a Parks and Trees Foundation grant last year to improve some of the native species gardens and to make signs for more of the gardens. Parks technical services staff contributed by adding a new fenced garden, bringing the total number of garden areas in Dufferin Grove Park to 14. Group gardening times are posted at the gardens’ bulletin board near the ovens, and also on the park website: Garden. Everyone welcome, regularly or just drop-in. The group gardening sessions usually include a picnic together, using the garden’s vegetables, of course.
Staff liaison: Anna Bekerman.

The MacGregor Park members have been gardening at that park for six years. Two years ago the Parks horticulture staff put in four entry-feature garden beds (two of them including edible fruits – strawberries, blueberries, and service berries). These beds are mainly maintained by horticulture staff, although the garden working group helps with watering and planting. There are also four concrete–planter vegetable gardens, and one new “lasagna garden” just getting going. The focus in these beds is on gardening with children.
Staff liaison: Michelle Webb.

The bike polo working group: Even more than last year, the hockey pad at Dufferin Rink has been adopted by bike polo players. They keep the nets in good repair, clean the rink surface of leaves, debris, and (when necessary) water, devise schedules, and publicize their activities through Facebook. Everyone welcome – will be slotted according to ability.
Staff liaison: Ann Galati.

The wading pool working group: This is a new group, now inviting members. If your family uses any of the wading pools in Ward 18 (Dufferin Grove, MacGregor, Campbell, Dovercourt, and Carlton parks), you should consider joining this group. Everyone welcome!

Background: In 2006, Parks, Forestry and Recreation took the wading pools away from local recreation supervisors and centralized them. The busy wading pool at Dufferin Grove was not immediately restructured – instead, the aquatics supervisor allowed that pool to be “sub-contracted” to the program staff so that it would remain integrated with the other park activities.

Dufferin Grove wading pool staff were finally completely dis-embedded from the other Dufferin Grove program staffing in the summer of 2011. This meant no more local staff, and great inconsistency, with many days being staffed by temporary teenage relief staff. These young wading pool attendants were resistant to even doing traditional activities like crafts at poolside. The story was the same at MacGregor Park. And if the experienced program staff wanted to ask one of the new wading pool attendants to help with other poolside activities, they could not approach them directly but had to contact their external supervisors for permission. The external supervisors were not always reachable.

This year, CELOS asked Aquatics management to allow the staff at Dufferin and MacGregor wading pools to be re-integrated. In a letter to 'Recreation director Janie Romoff, Ward 18 councillor Ana Bailao supported this request. There have been several meetings, but little progress so far.

Many wading pool users noticed last summer that the wading pool was staffed more like other city pools, by youth who often seemed bored and uncommunicative, and who didn’t know the park or the people. The wading pool working group can help stop the deterioration.

Wading pool working group: what members can do.

1. get on the wading pool e-list or read the playground bulletin boards. This allows members to keep abreast of the updates on the wading pool situation, so that they can tell other users and – if needed – contact Ward 18 City Councillor Ana Bailao for help -- and/or

2. monitor conditions at Ward 18 wading pools and report problems to onsite program liaison staff (for Dufferin, MacGregor, and Campbell wading pools). There will also be a Facebook group for such posts -- and/or

3. work alongside park program staff to enrich poolside programming, for instance by getting water toys at garage sales, or offering (or supporting) poolside activities like storytelling, clay sculpture, games, etc. -- and/or

4. Work together with program staff to give direct, steadying feedback to centrally-deployed wading pool attendants, introducing them to local users and encouraging them to get more involved.

Friday Night Supper

Friday Night Supper, 6 p.m. at Dufferin Grove Park, is back outside for the summer. The big sugar maple that shaded the picnic tables had to be cut down (the wood is helping to heat the ovens). But a new tree will soon be planted. These popular suppers long ago expanded beyond the shade of that big tree anyway. Bring a blanket and sit where you want. Reminder: the supper is based on a suggested donation. If you can’t afford it or forgot your wallet, eat anyway! You can donate less than the suggested amount, or you can donate more. Every bit helps, not only to cover the food costs but also to buy supplies for other park programs, and to add a few new programs by the playground. The food is cooked by the park staff, based on what’s available at the Thursday farmers’ market, and it’s a delicious adventure.

If the forecast is bad, check the website ( or the park phone (416 392-0913) for cancellation. You can also find the menu posted on the website, after 3 pm. And if you don’t like the big crowds or want a different night, try the new Saturday Night Supper at Campbell Park (6 pm).

Budget information: the cookie (donation) money and its use is itemized on the website (click on “financial information”). The Quickbooks program that’s used to keep track is easy to run reports on – write to if you want to learn more about where the money goes.

The use of the city budget in Ward 18 parks and recreation centres is the subject of a long-running Freedom of Information request that is due any day now. When CELOS gets the details, the information will be posted on two park bulletin boards. It should be interesting and helpful.

Summertime “Prezi” slide shows in Ward 18 parks: CELOS recently bought a projector with the last of the 2010 Trillium “governance” grant funds. We’re using “Prezi,” a very lively, easy-to-use slide show program, to highlight park programs around here and elsewhere. The “Prezi tent” will be travelling to various Ward 18 parks (and beyond) this summer – presenting fifteen-minute slide shows, and even some park videos, for all ages. Look for it!

Dufferin Grove farmers’ market: every Thursday 3 – 7 PM

Market manager Anne Freeman sends weekly market news to market list subscribers every Wednesday. To sign up, visit the market page at


Newsletter prepared by: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer

Published by: CELOS

Web sites: Henrik Bechmann, Aseel Al Najim,

Park phone: 416 392-0913

Park web site:


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