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How the idea started

The sight of a crumbling village oven, in a documentary film about Portugal, started our bread oven idea here at Dufferin Grove Park. The film showed the village priest encouraging the people to repair their old communal oven, and then there was a short clip of some village women baking at the rebuilt oven, their faces lit up by the fire. When we described this movie scene to people at the park, their faces lit up too. Over the following weeks we were astonished at the strength of people's reaction to the oven story, as we were asked to tell it again and again. Of all the ideas ever proposed for the park, there had never been such a uniformly enthusiastic response. There must be an old memory (of bread baked on the hearth with fire) that people don't seem to have let go of, even after half a century or more of sliced bread in plastic bags.

Bread ovens were very common in 19th century and early 20th century Canada. For example, here is a painting by William Kurelek, of a prairie farmstead:

A Prairie Farmstead
William Kurelek

In Quebec it's not hard to find outdoor ovens still standing, although many of them are crumbling now and need repair. When we decided we wanted to build an oven, we asked around and wrote to people, but we didn't really come up with a good plan until we heard about Alan Scott. We got in touch with him and asked him to send us his oven plans for a mid-sized (4x6 foot) hearth. Alan put us in touch with a masonry-heater builder in Quebec, named Norbert Senf, and we arranged that a neighbourhood contractor and friend of the park, Nigel Dean, would build the base, Norbert would come and build the working parts -- the hearth and the dome -- and then Nigel's crew would finish the job. Since then, Nigel has built a number of public ovens himself in other Toronto locations, and other oven-builders have established themselves as well.

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