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July-August 2010

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


Volume 11, Nr.6, July - August 2010


For an independent community email list service and discussion group, see dufferingrovefriends


“The Circus of Dark & Light,”
July 16 to August 15, 2010, Wednesday to Sunday, 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
$10 or Pay-What-You-Can
Location: just west of the field house, near the basketball court. From artistic director David Anderson: ''“This summer Clay & Paper Theatre presents: The Circus of Dark & Light, a subversive comedy featuring puppets, live music, and special appearances by a human cannonball, a pyrophobic firebreather and a truly elegant ersatz elephant.
Welcome to CIRCUS SCAMALOT, currently on tour with Prime Minister Nobody and under the tiny thumb of Little Big Man. Can a bedraggled bunch of clowns, a cowardly ringmaster and a hard-nosed high wire beauty queen band together to break out of oppression, galvanize hope and take control of their own lives? Come join our unlikely heroes and discover how the magic of community can change the world.”''


The wading pool is open seven days a week all summer except during stormy weather, from 11 a.m. until 6 pm (with extended hours on days over 29 degrees Celsius). Park staff Michael Monastyrskyj has posted archival photos and old newspaper clippings of the ground-breaking for the original wading pool in 1954 (on the wading pool shed bulletin board). It was called the “Abe Orpen Memorial Wading Pool,” in honour of the original owner of the Dufferin Park Race Track, whose family donated the money to build it.

That track, located where the Dufferin Mall is now, drew people from all over Toronto. Betting on horses was a big part of the local economy.

There has been concern that the new wading pool surface (put in last year) is slippery. The surface was power-washed before the season began, and children are welcome to wear swim slippers or plastic sandals if parents find that it helps them keep their footing better. Wading pool staff are keeping a log of kids who slip and fall – if it still seems excessive, the City will paint the surface next year, with a paint-sand mix to increase traction.

Wading pool rules call for a swim diaper for children who are not toilet-trained (for sale by staff), no water guns, and parents right beside the child if a float-toy (e.g. a water ring) is used. The playground is supplied with plastic toy boats and buckets – any other toy donations are welcome!

MacGregor Park Stimulus Project s-l-o-w-e-d down

When the Dufferin Grove wading pool gets too full on hot summer days, families have always been able to find more space at the big wading pool in MacGregor Park, down the street near Lansdowne and College. That wading pool is open this year, but the adjoining field house, centre for summer play programs, community events, and healthy snacks, is off limits. Even the washrooms are locked, with a chemical toilet instead.

The field house was assigned some “Stimulus Funds” for much-needed water-proofing, electrical upgrades, and floor and window repairs. New door frames and doors were also part of the plan, although the existing doors were still good. But the door frame work stalled in early June, and not a great deal has happened since then. The renovations will eventually make the MacGregor field house much nicer than before. But oh!! – the frustration of seeing the building locked day after day, and glacial progress….

the windows have vanished behind heavy green metal screens

Prison-style field house windows

In the last version of this summer news-letter, we reported on the excruciatingly s-l-o-w progress of the MacGregor Park field house ”stimulus fund” renovations.

Work resumed, but there are some new problems. The original hinged metal windows were to be rehabilitated rather than replaced, since they are still in fine condition, except for the multiple layers of paint that were preventing them from closing properly. On July 28, the ugly wire 1950s style window cages were removed, for glass replacement. The windows looked great from the outside, so park users asked that the cages not be replaced (such cages are no longer being installed in newer park buildings). But instead, brand new metal screen coverings were installed, so thick they make the building look boarded up. Park users described it as the “penal” look.

Inside, the normally bright building is dim because the dense screens let in much less light than before. The windows have mostly been painted shut (instead of removing the old paint), so there’s hardly any air flow inside.

Calls to the Capital Projects staff were not returned. If you live near Lansdowne and College, have a look. In case you want to share your opinion with Councillor Giambrone’s office: 416 392-7012, or

FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER by the oven, 6 p.m

This is also a weekly fundraiser for park programs. All the surplus goes to adding more programming at the playground in the summer. A win-win! General information: Everyone welcome. No reservations are necessary. Park cooks use ingredients from the Thursday farmers’ market. Cost: by donation. Suggested donations (to cover cost of materials plus park program fundraising): soup $3, main dish $7 (choice of meat or vegetarian/vegan), salad $2.50, dessert $2.50 - $3 depending. Pay less if you don’t have the money, more if you want to help more. Cooks this year (taking turns) are Mary Sylwester, Matt Leitold, Yo Utano, and Leslie Lindsay. Supper is served until 7.30pm. Bring a blanket to sit on – the park’s picnic table supply has diminished from 45 to 25.


In summer, there are two small-group campfire locations – centre path and south path. The centre path fire circle is in the middle of the park, and the south path fire circle is beside the cob courtyard. The park’s recreation staff book the cooking fire times. They also give fire safety training and are available to help start/end your fire. You can reach them at 416-392-0913 or email

The parks has grills, a cast-iron stand (if you want to cook more than marshmallows or hot dogs on a stick), pots and pans for campfires. Please donate $20 to cover staff open/close costs. Park staff will give you water, pails, and a shovel. The rules: bring your own wood, and be quiet and respectful of park neighbours. Campfires are Dufferin Grove are not permits, they’re a program to increase park safety. That means campfire users act as park ambassadors for curious strangers, and keep an eye out for trouble as well as having their campfire fun.


The big sugar maple beside the bake oven is half dead, and the park’s other sugar maples are fading fast as well. All over the city, sugar maples are in trouble. One theory is that they don’t like the warmer weather. At Dufferin Grove’s bake oven, and by the various footpaths, the soil compaction that comes with so many feet makes it worse.

But it’s not only sugar maples that are leaving the park. In every wind storm, a few giant branches from Norway maples and silver maples break off. Sometimes a whole tree comes down with a heavy crash. Is the park’s forest in trouble?

Maybe not. Here’s a bit of park tree history: Dufferin Grove Park is named for its trees. Photos taken a hundred years ago show lots of white pines and giant elms, as well as sugar maples and some flowering trees. In the 1930’s, the park became known all over the city for its horticulture – for its trees and shrubs as well as its beautiful flowerbeds. In the 1950s, many Norway maples were planted, although around the same time, most of the trees in the northeast quadrant of the park were cut down to make room for a sports field. (Before that, the central grassed area of the Dufferin Race Track across the street was often used as a sports field when the horses weren’t running. But in 1957 the race track was sold to make a mall. That sports field gave way to shopping.)

So the sports field was established in the park instead. The Norway maples in the rest of the park grew fast. The elms began to die off, though, because of Dutch elm disease, and the white pines gave way to silver maples, linden trees and ash. The flowerbeds were gradually eliminated (the last city flowerbed was removed in 1992, to save on gardening costs). In the late 1990s, half a dozen oaks and three white pines were planted south of the field house and north of the rink. Meantime, various park friends, after consultation with the City’s horticulture staff, began planting small beds of native species that included trees as well as shrubs.

There was no more tree planting by the City until 2007. That year, a City contractor was hired to plant 42 new trees all over the park, mostly various kinds of oaks, maples, and Kentucky coffee trees. But that was also the year of the drought and – therefore – it was the summer of hoses and mulch piles everywhere, as the park’s recreation staff worked with volunteers to keep the new trees alive despite six weeks without a drop of rain. Almost all those trees made it, and are thriving now.

In 2008, a City contractor planted two “little forests” of native species trees and shrubs near Dufferin Street. These plantings were part of City Council‘s big program of doubling Toronto’s tree canopy. Many people wondered why the plantings were so dense, all jammed together. This year, when city forestry developer Uyen Dias came to have a follow-up look at the two “little forests,” she said she was astonished at how well they had grown. The reason the plantings were so dense, she said, is that there was an assumption that many of them would not survive the first year.

But the land near Dufferin Street lies in the former Garrison Creek hollow. It’s fertile and moist. All the trees in the little forest flourished and most have tripled in size in two years. Meantime, the Norway maples around the wading pool and the sandpit seem to have made use of all the extra water coming their way, and with their enormous branches they are giving wonderful shade despite hitting 50.

So the trees being lost to old age or climate change are being replaced by thriving young trees, and it looks like the park can retain its name. However, the bake oven area will soon be without shade. It may be time to talk about Gene Threndyle’s suggestion: to make an area of flagstones and a simple shade arbour there, maybe with a low wall, to define the outlines of a park oven café. Food for thought.

Making cheap playgrounds expensive

In the July 5 issue of the New Yorker magazine, writer Rebecca Mead reports on a new playground in New York City (at Burling Slip at the South Street Seaport), called the “Imagination Playground,” scheduled to open sometime this summer. It will have many molded-foam “loose parts,” designed by the playground’s architect and marketed by Kaboom, a booster of manufactured playgrounds everywhere. It will also have some tires and wheelbarrows, plastic crates, scaffolding for kids to build blanket houses, and sand and water for the kids to make dams. (Sound familiar?)

The New York Imagination Playground costs more than seven million dollars. Architect Frank Gehry is designing another new-style playground at New York’s Battery Park. Yet another novel architect-designed playground in the city’s Union Square has been “almost cripplingly well-attended” – i.e. it’s way too crowded.

No wonder. The colourful plastic fitness-based playgrounds that were installed across North America, during the last decade’s “safety standards” explosion, are low-maintenance, but they’re also low-usage – kids don’t seem to stay interested in them for very long. But if adventure playgrounds with sand and water and a little stash of building materials carry a price tag of millions of dollars, such playgrounds will be very scarce, and the ones that exist will be mobbed.

But what about the sand-and-water-and-logs-and-shovels (“loose parts”) playground at Dufferin Grove?

The sandpit area at Dufferin Grove Park cost $4000 to install in 1993. Even that was a notional fee, since the hole for gravel and sand was dug by a staff backhoe operator, and the big tree trunks that formed the first border were brought over by a Forestry truck, instead of going to landfill. Water comes from a hose connected to an existing park water outlet and the recreation staff buy the shovels for digging at Wal-mart, with cookie money earned at the playground’s cob café. (Over the last 17 years, the real metal-not-plastic shovels at the sandpit have caused far fewer injuries than the monkey bars in the playground – but both monkey bars and real tools are good for kids).

The Dufferin Grove sandpit can get very crowded, since despite its simplicity it’s also a scarce resource. There’s only one other similar sandpit in the city (at Trinity-Bellwoods), and it’s used by a camp in the summer. So far, the City has not agreed to requests from other neighbourhoods for a similar sand-and-water playground. As the crowds of kids have increased at Dufferin Grove, these little dam-engineers and tipi builders have expanded their field of operations, so that a much larger section of the playground is now given over to making rivers and dams, play-forts and sand landscapes.

Maintenance used to be very simple. Twice a summer, Parks staff backhoe driver Mark Cullen would come to the park very early (6 a.m.) and plough the sand back into the original sandpit, plus adding one new truckload. One Dufferin Grove staff person was there to help direct the re-shaping. By 9 a.m. the first kids arriving would have a wonderful sand mountain to work with.

This year, the maintenance plans were a bit more ambitious. The idea was to deal with the pooling of water near the edge of the park by creating a dry well for better drainage. But even the part of this year’s job that merely involved replacement of the sand was far more complicated than in other years. Instead of one City staff person, there were 5 or 6 at a time.

Instead of taking 3 hours, the sand leveling took up the better part of two days. A construction fence was erected around the sandpit, to do a job that was no more complicated than what snowploughs do on city streets after a snowstorm, without construction fences. For the first time this year, Parks maintenance staff felt that sand replacement constitutes a “construction site” according to the Ministry of Labour. Recreation staff were required to wear hard hats and safety boots even when the backhoe was not working, just to enter the sand-play area.

All this complication adds to the cost and makes cheap playgrounds more expensive, contributing to an unnecessary scarcity of fun. It needs rethinking. But happily, we’re still a long way from New York City’s $7 million “Imagination Playground.”

Elinor Ostrom

Last February, when city recreation supervisor Tino De Castro was transferred away from Dufferin Grove Park and from Ward 18, the city’s new ombudsman received hundreds of letters of protest, and a park user started a Facebook group about the issue. Over the two weeks that followed, more than 2000 people joined that group, many of them objecting to bureaucratic centralization, expressed in this case by Tino’s transfer. The park made new friends, but the problems of centralization remain.

One of the people who wrote on the Facebook ‘wall’ was John Bowker, park user and owner of the bookstore “She Said Boom” on Roncesvalles. John suggested that the work of Elinor Ostrom would be helpful in understanding what was happening at Dufferin Grove. Few of us had heard of this person. From John we found out that she received the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics, for her work describing and encouraging local governance of common-pool resources (like fish, high-mountain meadows, and groundwater, for example). We wondered – are public parks a common pool resource?

We learned that Professor Ostrom began her inquiry into the governance of the commons in California by learning about the groundwater supply under some of the cities there, water which was threatened with depletion because of overuse.

Toronto’s municipal budget may share some common qualities with California’s groundwater resources. The supply of tax revenue, like the supply of groundwater, is renewable but limited. In Toronto’s parks and public spaces – important common resources – there have been danger signs of “tax depletion” for some years. Every year more of the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division’s budget is being used for mandated wage increases (management as well as union), and the increases are mounting up faster than taxes are coming in. Even with $100 million in revenue (much of it from user fees) $260 million more in city tax funds are needed to run Parks, Forestry and Recreation in 2010 – more than double what was spent only ten years ago ($124 million in the year 2000). At the same time there are more broken picnic tables, shrunken programs, fee increases, and hat-in-hand approaches to corporate funders.

Each municipal budget report says “this pattern is not sustainable.” That’s for sure! Attempts to dig out of the hole preoccupy the Parks and Recreation staff, so that less and less of their effort is available to make the best use of the parks and recreation centres. But Elinor Ostrom’s accounts of “governing the commons” in various localities may help. CELOS continues its friendly argument with City Hall, urging less central control and much more active, detailed collaboration with local users and on-site staff. To find out more, go to theory.

A bake-oven café as a “third place”?

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote a book 20 years ago, called “The Great Good Place.” It got a lot of attention. He had researched 150 years of social places – not home, not work, but “third places” where people could relax among their neighbours – pubs, coffee shops, general stores, barber shops. His descriptions of Minnesota’s outdoor beer gardens, which were family-oriented meeting places with weak lager, good food, colourful gardens, open-air performances and a mix of ages from babies to grandparents, match some historical descriptions that inspired park reformers in the early twentieth century. In 1920, one of North America’s best-known playground crusaders, Henry Curtis, lauded the German beer garden (euphemistically called the “concert garden,” because it always had an orchestra). “In many ways the German concert garden is the most delightful community playground in the world. There is excellent music, there is shade, and good refreshments are sold at reasonable rates. There is a delightful social atmosphere throughout it all, and at the edges are abundant playgrounds for the children.”

Now that the sugar maple shading the bake oven area is almost dead, maybe it’s time to think about how to make that area work as more of a “third place” social space for park users. Park friend (and landscaper) Gene Threndyle suggested years ago that a flagstone patio would be good by the oven, with a low stone wall and some kind of arbour with climbing plants to provide shade. Friday Night Supper has become a very pleasant occasion for gathering by the oven. Maybe it’s time to make a little café spot there – and the food income could also help to pay for the building materials.

Any park café, including the zamboni café and the cob café, will work best if city staff run it. This already happens, unofficially, but CELOS is still far more involved in the day-to-day than is desirable. Last winter, Dufferin Grove staff and CELOS asked the city to bring in their internal auditor, to confer about the present system of staff cash handling, for park food and skate lending. (The Dufferin Grove recreation staff have been running these for years, but not with the city’s full blessing.) Anila Lalani, an auditor from the City Manager’s office, has now come to help. If food is allowed to continue at the park, a little outdoor bake oven café could be a fine “third place.”


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


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:


Newsletter sponsored by: Edward Cayley

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