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October 2015

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


October 2015 Newsletter


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 fifteen years of this newsletter and on our websites. The printing of the paper version of the Dufferin Grove newsletter is currently supported by the GH Wood Foundation.

Defensive picnicking

Many of the city’s big trees were planted during a big tree-planting drive, soon after World War Two, in the 1950’s. Their age means they’re more likely to lose a branch or fall over in a storm. Even when there’s no storm, branches can come down. On the Saturday of Labour Day weekend there was a heat wave, and the city’s parks were full of picnickers. At Dufferin Grove, at about 6.45 pm, there was suddenly a loud crack and a silver maple branch as large as a tree fell to the ground. A group of people nearby said they had just moved their picnic blanket from that spot two minutes earlier, because they were bothered by the evening sun shining in their eyes. If they had still been next to the tree they would have been badly hurt. The thing is, there was no breath of wind, and no warning before the branch fell. The broken section was rotten inside, with insects jumping out.

We wrote to Dean Hart, the manager of Forestry, to find out if there is really no way of telling that a tree might be weak before it actually falls down. He replied right away, explaining that while there are certain danger signs Forestry inspectors look for, in this case the silver maple looked healthy. And in fact when the Forestry crew came a few days later and cut off the remainder of the broken branch, they pointed out that there was no rot in any of the rest of it – just solid, fine-looking maple wood.

The manager also wrote that “the trees in this high use park will be inspected this fall for any required maintenance, with the associated work to be completed over the winter. “ But happily, the pruning of park trees started much sooner, on September 14. Five days a week since then, two or sometimes more Forestry trucks with 4 to 6 staff have been in the park, cutting and pruning. The staff said they expect the work to take about a month.

Even so, in a park with so many old trees, people need to look out for where they put their picnic -- defensive picnicking! Before you spread your blanket or move your picnic table into a shady spot, look up and try to guess whether a branch might hit your picnic if it suddenly came down. Tree evaluation – a useful skill for every Torontonian, in this city of many trees.

Saturday October 3, 2015, from 6 pm: final park supper of the year: to remember Randy Heasman

Back in December of 2001, most of the city’s outdoor rink pads were still closing every day at 9 pm. Dufferin Rink friends thought that was a shame – the rink season is so short, the moon is so bright in those cold winter skies, shinny hockey is so well-loved. There was no money for staffing, but a rink friend had the keys, so some of us started keeping the rink open until 11 pm when we had time. Word got around. Soon, rink friend Randy Heasman came with a proposal: he wanted to have a regular slot for an “over-35” neighbourhood shinny game, to get some of the older guys back into playing. So we made sure the rink was always available for them on Thursdays after 9pm. Randy knew a lot of people, and the program was a success right from the beginning. It's now been renamed "Randy's Game." A neighbourhood women’s hockey group showed up next. Then we put in a couple of regular nights for youth drop-in, with an anonymous donour giving the city $769 to fund staffing.

Extended hours at Dufferin Grove caught on, and after a few years the city decided to staff them every night. Many other rinks began to stay open later too. On the part of the local shinny players, though, an anxiety arose – that a new one-size-fits-all citywide permit system would take away after-9pm community shinny times and replace them with centrally-booked permits. That was the city’s plan. So Randy’s Thursday night group, for example, might be assigned a rink slot in Scarborough, while a group from Etobicoke would have to travel to Dufferin Rink on that night.

Randy said, don’t despair. In his friendly and determined way, he lobbied to let the “local-older-guys” and the other neighbourhood-based groups keep their games at Dufferin Rink. Randy's group is now in its fifteenth year. Some of those over-35 guys are now over 55.

Randy died in May, of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, at age 58. His memorial gathering was overflowing, and it included many shinny hockey players, male and female.

NHL PA donation: Randy's travelling loaner skates

Recently, the NHL Players’ Association made a donation of 20 new sets of shinny equipment (skates, sticks, gloves and helmets) for kids and youth, to CELOS. The equipment will be used at Dufferin Rink and will also be loaned out for shinny hockey to other rinks across the city. The donation came partly as a result of an enthusiastic letter of support to the Players’ Association from Randy, written two years ago. The travelling loaner skate collection will now be called “Randy’s loaner skates,” and Randy’s wife Asha is donating a plaque, a photograph, and Randy’s latest hockey stick to be mounted on the rink house wall. The October 3 outdoor “shinny hockey supper” is to remember the many enduring gifts Randy leaves behind, because of his steadfast enthusiasm for sport, and for people. Some of the original park supper cooks are returning to make a delicious meal. Everyone welcome!

Book recommendation: Transition to Common Work. Building Community at the Working Centre, by Joe and Stephanie Mancini

Joe and Stephanie Mancini founded The Working Centre in Kitchener in 1982. Thirty-three years later they’ve written a book about it. Much of what’s in the book is also helpful for any community park or gathering place, so CELOS has bought several copies for the rink house. The Kitchener Working Centre has become “a network of practical supports for the unemployed, the underemployed, the temporarily employed and the homeless, populations that collectively constitute up to 30 per cent of the labour market both locally and in North America.” The centre’s network includes a community bike shop, a café, a barter centre, housing units built with the help of homeless people, employment supports, public access computers and computer repairs and recycling, the city’s largest furniture and housewares thrift store, a market garden, and St. John’s kitchen, which daily serves free breakfast and lunch and is almost entirely staffed by users. And that’s only some of it. It’s used by well over a thousand people every day, and its hospitality and lack of condescension are legendary.

Supports for families and “community wealth”

The Working Centre book lists some of that centre’s additions to Kitchener’s “community wealth” – facilities built in large part by people who have been unable to get jobs, but who are very willing to work. Their list made us think about the additions to Dufferin Grove Park’s community wealth since 1993, when park friends and park staff began to work together: the adventure playground, the playground rain shelter, two bake ovens, nine gardens; an inexpensively renovated and practical rink clubhouse with eye-level windows, a woodstove, and two kitchens; the cob courtyard café; a restored field house available for Clay and Paper Theatre; a farmers’ market, skate loans, the Dan’s Table2 community dinner area – and that’s not even including the “additions to park wealth” at Campbell, Wallace and MacGregor parks, many of them generated by the same collaboration.

The Working Centre addresses the problems of the economy. In a smaller way, Dufferin Grove is a place that addresses the problems of raising children in an urban neighborhood. The frustration that can make parents feel that “raising small children is a thankless, exhausting job” assumes that families exist in a void. But the friendship that many families have found at Dufferin Grove shows that so much more enjoyment is possible, if the context is right. If the kids are engrossed in dam-building at the sand-pit all summer long, or are running free with their young park friends while their parents are catching up with their adult friends on a Friday Night Supper picnic blanket, or are playing little-kids’ shinny hockey every day before dinner, the game changes – buttressed by the “community wealth” that was built up here.

The building and unbuilding of community wealth at Dufferin Grove Park

The last newsletter told about the steep increase in the cost of running Dufferin Grove Park, now over $750,000 a year. (City management has not commented yet.) That increase only became steep when the long collaboration between park friends and park program staff was brought to a stop. Many park users e-mailed the ombudsman in 2010 when the co-operative park supervisor was removed (as a first step to the dismantling). The ombudsman said that unpopular management decisions were not in her sphere of influence – and the same was clearly true of our elected councillor, who did little to stop the process. Certainly the general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation stayed on message. She was quoted in the media, saying: “People are concerned that programming at Dufferin Grove Park is going to change, and I’m not sure why. The change in supervisors is in no way intended to change those programs.”

But in fact, everything changed. When the partnership between city staff and CELOS ended, staff were told that flexibility of tasks was mostly over. They must stick to their job codes. If they were baking cookies, they would not be watering plants. If they were serving at the Zamboni café, they would not be picking up litter inside the change room. The most glaring inflexibility is at the wading pool, whose staff are administered by a central unit, and whose monumental boredom is on display on cool days with four staff sitting in a group beside an empty wading pool – all four prohibited from doing anything in the park other than look at the pool, or talk to each other. The long-time diversity of tasks is gone.

Parents who care about their teenagers’ development should advise them not to apply for a summer recreation job. Who wants their daughter to learn, first thing, that the main freedom in a job is stretching her breaks to be longer? Or to learn that the concept “it’s not my job” is the handiest way to sort out your tasks in a day? Who wants their son to shrink his horizons until only a superior sense of his own grasp of rules remains, applied to almost every aspect of public space – having been drilled into him at his compliance training?

When there was a true staff/park-friends partnership, the park had youth odd-jobs programs, summer programs, newcomer programs, Dusk Dances, music, playground programs. Quite a few of the programs were put on by non-City groups, but they needed staff support. The staff were young people eager to work, and they put their various talents to use, expanding their range from wading-pool minding and rink guarding to improving the kitchens, helping with performances, and cooking large suppers in the wood ovens. In 2008 there were 14 part-time city staff and 3 CELOS contractors (all of whom shortly joined the staff as well). They helped create the park’s “community wealth” listed opposite.

In 2015, there are 51 people on Dufferin Grove’s part-time staff list. None are allowed the freedom to create anything new. The change is huge.

Making room for people’s talents

The Kitchener Working Centre, Joe and Stephanie Mancini wrote in their book, avoids connecting closely with bureaucracies. “Government bureaucracies, larger-scale non-profits, and powerful foundations aim their power at small independent non-profits. They use their instrumental power to impose rules from above to enforce their own agenda. Talk of empowering the local is usually top-down monitoring and controlling of the process. This franchising-in-disguise model diminishes creativity and hinders collaborative development.”

For a miraculous seventeen years, Dufferin Grove staff and neighbours (later CELOS) were able to combine into a small, often-changing local collaboration. Here is the Working Centre’s definition of good work, which fits that period at Dufferin Grove very well: “our intent is to develop a flowing architecture that encourages good work by creating the freedom for individual initiatives in an integrated co-operative structure… we avoided narrow job descriptions with lists of responsibilities, believing this counter to our co-operative culture, which focused on completing the tasks at hand.”

When it became evident in 2010 that city management was setting out to redo most city job descriptions, the Recreation director of the time invited staff at Dufferin Grove to produce a list of what they were doing at the park. Staff made a nine-page, detailed document of their activities. Similar to the Working Centre, this document focused on “completing the tasks at hand,” not on separate lists of responsibilities for individual jobs. The idea was to decide what had to be done (or could be done new) and then let the staff figure out how to do it.

But that approach doesn’t fit into the bureaucratic hierarchy, and so the document was shelved. Most staff were instead classified as “Children's Arts & Crafts Instructors” even though none did that activity. They were directed to follow orders from above rather than decide together what had to be done – an amazing waste of former talents.

And then there is the question of pay. The Kitchener Working Centre book says they cap their top salaries at the level of the average industrial wage. That's listed as $49,000 a year in 2014, but actually the true median wage of individual wage earners is around $36-38,000. So that's the top at the Working Centre. New staff start at 86%, 80% and 74 % of the directors’ salaries, with an automatic 2% raise every year for 7 years. The Mancinis write: “By capping salaries at this rate, Working Centre wages would remain on par with 60 to 70 per cent of the workforce, who earn this wage or less.” And they feel that narrowing the wage spread between staff creates trust and promotes a different reason for working than career advancement and money, while still paying a living wage in the Waterloo region.

At Dufferin Grove, part-time recreation wage rates were always too low, but the spread between staff used to be small. Nowadays (not counting benefits), a supervisor earns around $100,000 a year, a full-time program staff person around $76,000, and the most the on-site program staff can make is around $21,000 a year – all for working on the same project. Unfair and wrong.

To allow the park to be once more a vibrant, creative place to work, the elements compared here will have to change. What’s the chance?

Successful Dufferin Grove oven repair makes it seem like new

The ovens at Dufferin Grove are 20 years old (big oven) and 15 years old (smaller oven). There have been more than a thousand baking days for each oven, and the hearth of the smaller oven in particular was getting worn down. CELOS has a website called, set up some years ago by park baker Anna Bekerman, and continually updated even after Anna left the park and the baking. A baker and cheesemaker named Jonathan White, whose farm is in New Jersey not far from NYC, found us on this website, and got in touch. He and his wife Nina have baked their market bread in an oven like ours for many years, and Jonathan felt sure that the hearth could be fixed. They flew to Toronto on September 13, and Jonathan worked with CELOS builder Mike Conway on the 14th to remove all the damaged hearth bricks and put in new ones. Park baker Heidrun Gabel-Koepff helped too, including crawling right into the (cold!) oven to vacuum out the ashes at the back (you need to be both thin and agile to do that).

hearth repair

Background: both Dufferin Grove ovens were designed by California baker Alan Scott. With the help of the Maytree Foundation, CELOS brought Alan to Toronto way back in 2000, to run a well-attended citywide oven-building workshop (and build our smaller oven). Alan has since died, but ovens built with his plans live on (two at Dufferin Grove, one at Christie pits, one at Wychwood Barns, one at The Stop Community Food Centre, one at the Queen/Crawford Artscape apartments, and one at Riverdale Farm). Oven hearths get worn down by water and heat over time. We knew that Alan’s design was meant to make any hearth repair very straightforward, but we weren’t sure how it would be in reality. Now we know – it works like a charm. Dufferin Grove’s smaller oven lives on to bake another thousand loaves.

Other city bake ovens

After the Dufferin Grove public ovens were built, there was an interest in other neighbourhood parks to build some ovens there too. Nigel Dean (who built our first oven) built some of them. City recreation worker Luis Andrade, also an experienced builder, worked with friends and relations to build the oven at Christie Pits, with money raised at Dufferin Grove for the materials. Artist and landscaper Gene Threndyle built the oven at the Artscape apartments across from Trinity-Bellwoods Park. The Parks Department’s capital projects staff built a few ovens as well – at Alexandra Park, Edithvale Park, and recently at Regent Park. The city-built ones are all small prefab ovens surrounded on the outside by high-quality housings. Those ovens look impressive but their hearths are so small that they can’t make much food at once. Therefore, although quite costly, they don’t get a lot of use. No restaurant would use such a design! But there are rumours that the city regards these prefabs as “up to code” (what code?) and will use only that kind of design in future. City planners have not, so far, collaborated with actual bakers – but really, ovens are not for show, they’re for baking.

Better food comes to the park’s market snack bar

Dufferin Grove Park market snack bar

A check of park finances showed CELOS in August that the park’s market snack bar was making considerable income by reselling non-organic hot dogs and drinks, against the organic market rules. On-site staff, CELOS, and market manager Anne Freeman met to find a way out of this situation. Then near the end of August, Anne was asked to a meeting with management (sadly, the park cooks were not invited). It was agreed that organic hot dogs would be tried again, and organic box drinks (Kiju) would be investigated. To address the problem of non-organic ingredients in other market snack bar offerings, the market would offer “market bucks” so park staff could buy fresh market produce for making the snack bar food.

Since then, there’s been progress. Beretta’s organic hot dogs have taken the place of the regular hot dogs, pop has been taken off the menu, and the cooks are now allowed to use $60 of “market bucks” every week to buy more market produce for the salads and soups sold at the park’s snack bar. Mary Sylwester, the park’s main market-soup-and-salad cook, was able to buy several flats of large ripe red peppers at the last market day in September. A few days later, Mary and park baker Heidrun Gabel-Koepff went to work roasting the peppers, to preserve them for Mary’s wintertime chili. The chili will be very tasty, and very local.

CELOS travels to ovens across the city, and sometimes we bring our own tandoor

After CELOS got a grant from the GH Wood Foundation to use our tandoor at a few other parks, we got worried that we couldn’t deliver – many of the former Dufferin Grove bakers have left. But then we had an idea – ask former park cook and baker Yo Utano to come back and visit from Japan for three weeks to help. She agreed! On September 24, two days after Yo got here, the CELOS tandoor was taken to the Harbourfront Centre for a food-related art opening. It turns out that artists and their friends really like making their own naan bread in the traditional way – Yo and Dufferin Grove’s tandoor baker Amna Malik were swamped. On September 30, Yo joins in baking for a community garden celebration at the new Regent Park wood oven. On October 4, the tandoor goes to MacGregor Park for their harvest festival. On October 8th, we’ll visit Edithvale oven in North Toronto, then see the cob-barrel oven at the grow2learn oven at Lawrence Heights, then make pizza with Alan Carlisle at his temporary oven at one of the west-end community gardens. On October 9, we'll be at Thorncliffe Park making naan and roasted vegetables with some of the the Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee in their park tandoor.

Toronto has a lot of ovens. And some are more fun than others.


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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