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December 2013

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


December 2013 newsletter


20 years!

Dufferin Rink was completely rebuilt in 1993, so this is the twentieth season since the renovation. Something to celebrate! To mark this milestone, here is a bit of the recent history of how Dufferin Rink became the way it is today (excerpt from The making and unmaking of Dufferin Grove Park, by Jutta Mason).

Dufferin Rink: a little history.
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.)

I 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 I 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?” He 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.

The city sent in a carpenter to fix the edges where the wall had been removed. Then we asked for an interior window in the staff office, facing the change room, so that the staff could see what was going on in there. That window was put in by a city crew, without any mention of the cost. We called our city councillor, Mario Silva, 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. Finally, the rink house was one good room, allowing a community clubhouse to take shape. Over the next several years Tino, the recreation supervisor, hired some more rink program staff. With their help a few more changes were made, piece by piece as they were needed or as money came available. The grandmother of a little skater donated a Maytag stove, so the staff began baking cookies. The rink house began smelling like warm cookies instead of only stale-sweaty hockey gear.

In 1996 the City gave the park a “Food and Hunger Action” grant to convert the office, and the slop room across the entry hall, into two halves of a community kitchen. The same year, we sent the Maytree Foundation an old photo from the 1930’s, showing a woodstove in a general store with people gathered around it: would the Foundation be willing to fund a woodstove for the rink house? To our delight, they were willing. When it was installed, the city paid for a little wrought iron fence around it, for safety. The fence had an extra bar for drying wet mittens, used countless times since then.

The rink change room’s fluorescent lights were ugly and made people look greenish in the evening, so we begged $1000 of track lights from Home Depot. They said no, at first, and then changed their minds and presented us with the lights on St.Valentine’s Day. The softer, focused lighting made a huge difference in the long winter evenings – people stayed and played chess, and more youth started bringing their dates on Fridays. After skating, they could drink hot chocolate with their girlfriends and watch the flames in the woodstove together.

Then in 2003, four of the rink’s program staff met every night after work for a week, to fill out a 46-page City application – for a $20,000 community kitchen grant to add a second small kitchen in an unused alcove in the zamboni garage. The application was successful, but it was a bit more complicated than expected, so the G.H.Woods Foundation topped it up with an $8000 grant to let us finish. The second kitchen made the start-up of rink-house Friday Night Suppers possible, and it took away the public health officials’ qualms about food safety.

In this way the existing 3-month-a-year rink house was changed into a small year-round neighbourhood clubhouse. This happened without a middle man, architect or otherwise – step by step and piecemeal, as useful changes suggested themselves to park users and rink staff, and as City funds or foundation money became available.

The Dufferin Rink clubhouse adaptation costs were as follows: Wall removal clean-up: $1000. Observation window in office: $800. Windows to the outside: $8000. Casement window: $700. Track lights: $1000. Woodstove: $3500. Installation and cast iron fence: $700. Clubhouse kitchen: $6925. Maytag stove: $750. Zamboni kitchen: $28,000. Total cost: $51,375 ($2500 through the Parks and Recreation budget; the rest, donations and grants, and volunteer labour).

Fast forward to rink renovations in 2013: Things have changed a lot since the Dufferin Rink building got its transformation . Recently, Greenwood Rink was rebuilt for $3.4 million, with a roof over the hockey pad, and a landscaped skating trail. Their rinkhouse was renovated at the same time, at a cost of $700,000. There is no woodstove, no chess table or shelf of storybooks for the little kids. There’s not even a warm garage for the zamboni, it just has an outdoor chain-link cage – so of course there’s no alcove to build a zamboni kitchen in. For snacks, there’s a vending machine with water and gatorade. It’s a magnificently designed rink – but the clubhouse part is not there. Would it have been different if there had been less available money, fewer design experts, more piecemeal ?

A big change in park benches:

In the November newsletter there was a piece about Dufferin Grove Park’s new benches. Ten cement platforms appeared in the fall, in various locations throughout the west half of the park. The platforms are bases for ten new benches, to be bolted onto the cement later. The benches cost $900 each and the cement platforms about $1000 each (a bit less when many are put in at once).

It’s wonderful to add more places to sit. However, there are a few problems with these sudden bench appearances. There was no consultation about placement or style, between the park maintenance (bench) staff and the park program (people) staff. Too bad, because benches can change the feel of the park.

The “bench philosophy” that developed at Dufferin Grove over the last twenty years is similar to that of many of the newer downtown urban parks worldwide – to have moveable benches so that they can be clustered for conversation or picnics, as desired by park users. This has worked out very well at Dufferin Grove. Loss of benches to theft is quite rare.

In contrast to the friendly bench groupings, the new park-bench platforms are all far apart. Each bolted-down bench will have a middle railing to disallow sleeping (something that one almost never sees at the park anyway). That means that only two people can sit, decorously separated, on each bench, with no other benches nearby. What’s the message here? Sit up straight, no hugging, and no groups?

The same principle seems to be applied in most other Toronto parks. Benches at playgrounds are usually set in straight lines far enough apart that they discourage conversation among child-minders. When park benches are closer together, some are actually placed back to back. (Happily, there are exceptions – see for example Little Norway Park across the channel to the island airport.)

Dufferin Grove still has about twenty of the older, moveable benches , some of which were scrounged from forgotten park storage rooms years ago, and given a new coat of paint every few years. As long as these benches remain, they can be moved around kitty-corner to the new bolted benches as desired, to keep the conversation-groupings alive. But the new Parks and Rec philosophy seems to be taking the park in a different direction, apparently as part of a citywide policy of uniformity. We asked Parks management how these decisions are made. It turns out that there is a Design Standards Committee, whose meetings are not public. This committee introduced standardized benches “in order to ensure quality of product and to simplify ongoing maintenance of park benches.” According to Parks Director Richard Ubbens, “standards are subject to change occasionally in response to various factors such as legislative requirements and public feedback.” Peter White, the general supervisor of Parks in the west end, has said he’s amenable to having some discussion about benches with park users. Watch this newsletter for a late-winter date for a broader, maybe even citywide “people’s summit” about park benches. Could be fun, with a benches-show-and-tell and bake-oven pizza.

Dufferin Rink schedule, Nov.23, 2013 to February 28, 2014

More Info: and

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 shinny 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 lessons followed by a game.

From park staff Alain Heese-Boutin: “I will be helping out with the beginner shinny program this year starting Sunday November 24th.   There will be equipment rentals available, please let me know prior to the lesson if you will be needing it.  Please note that this is a beginner shinny program and that some people may still be working on their skating skills. If you feel that you are more advanced please register for our intermediate program.  Depending on my assessments, I may ask particular participants of more advanced skill to slow down to the group’s skill level.” To sign up or get more information:

Skate Loans:

There is a good supply of skates available to borrow at Dufferin Rink, and at Wallace and Campbell rinks as well. This year, staff will try doing timed loans (two hours) on weekends, when the demand is higher than the supply of skates. There is a requested donation of $2 for skate loans. Important: there will be a fine connected with late returns on the days of timed skate loans.

The loaner-skate collection started with a grant of 50 pairs of skates from the NHL Players Association. That was eight years ago, in 2005. Skates in the most popular sizes have to be replaced when they wear out from heavy use, but last year City management didn’t allow staff to use the skate loan funds to buy replacement skates. This year so far – sadly – there is no new agreement.

All skate donations are welcome (and staff will trade loaves of Dufferin Grove’s tasty wood-oven bread for used skates).

Neighbourhood event

Really Really Free Market: Saturday Dec.7, 10 am to 4 pm, Campbell Rink

This market, held the first Saturday of every month, is called a “free cycling” event. The rink’s address is 195 Campbell Avenue (near Landsdowne and Wallace). Clean and usable items only. The organizers say: “Everything is free--really! No swapping, no trading. Bring what you don't need, take what you need. Bring your items before 3pm. We cannot accept very large items unless you are willing to take them back at the end of the day if there are no takers.”

CANTATE (Sing!) At St.Anne’s Church, Dec.8, at 2 pm (270 Gladstone).

St.Anne's Choir, The Junction trio and friends. Featuring excerpts from Handel's Messiah, Christmas favourites, carol sing-along, and a dance performance by the Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement. There will be Interfaith guests , including (we’ve heard) a Rabbi and an Imam. All of it in the luminous space of the heritage church, with a modest youth-scholarship-fund donation of $10.

Annual Dufferin Rink Winter Craft Fair, Sunday Dec.15, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

From organizer Heidrun Gabel-Koepff: “This season's winter craft fair at Dufferin Grove Park will be set up outside the rink building. There will be hand-made goods including woodworking, knitwear, bead work, teddy bears, ceramic bowls, print work, jewellery, book covers, scarves, hemp shopping bags, cosmetic products, cookies, teas and much more. Local, non-professional crafters. There will be hot drinks and food available from the Zamboni Café."

Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market, 3-7 pm Thursdays year-round. (Closed on Boxing Day).

From market manager Anne Freeman: “It's hard to believe, but there are just three markets left in 2013.

Winter eating means getting in touch with your roots, and the guy to answer all your root vegetable questions is Kevin Hamilton from Shared Harvest, who can fill you in on their culinary and nutritional properties. Take a walk on the wild side and try one you've never had before, or re-visit something you last had as a kid. Think you hate rutabagas?”...and Anne goes on to give two must-try recipes in her weekly market news (to get on her list, e-mail )


Newsletter prepared by: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer

Published by: CELOS

Web sites: Aseel Al Najim,

Park phone: 416 392-0913

Park web site:


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