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Latest Picnic and Permit News

From the September 2010 Newsletter:


Picnics and other gatherings of family and friends make a park lively and pleasant to be in. Recently, CELOS researchers have been visiting many parks in all parts of the city (to find out about the use of the Stimulus funds). On sunny days in the summer, it was often worrying to see how empty of people many of the parks were.

Picnics can bring people back. For that, you need some basics, though – tables and drinking fountains and washrooms. Many Toronto parks have none of those things, and as we’ve found out, there’s no room in a 2010 budget of $370 million (operating and capital) to add them, either.

Dufferin Grove Park has 28 picnic tables, down from 45 in 2007 but still a lot better than the 1 - 4 tables in similar-size neighbourhood parks in Etobicoke or Scarborough. The park also has washrooms and water and an interesting playground, so on weekends it’s a popular birthday party spot. People sometimes borrow the park dolly to move picnic tables closer together, and if they forgot something, they just buy it at the cob cafe. They may bring a little tent for babies to nap in. Often there are clusters of balloons and streamers on the trees, and happy birthday signs. Other park users have the fun of watching the goofy antics in egg-and-spoon or sack-races, or an all-ages soccer game, or blind-folded children banging at piñatas. The smells of frying chicken or hamburgers hang in the air.

Almost all these things are against the city’s park bylaws. What’s not allowed: moving tables; picnics of over 25 without a permit; attaching anything to the trees, including balloons, streamers, and piñatas; barbeques; tents; putting up signs or notices without a permit; and playing sports without a permit. (All these bylaws can be found on the city website or on the

Most of the time those rules don’t make much sense, and they’re ignored by the park’s program staff. But sometimes the point of the prohibitions becomes a little clearer. The problem arises when picnickers get confused about the difference between private and public space. Smoky barbeques beside the wading pool or the playground – no fun for the park users. A birthday party that sets up right by the cob cafe or right at the edge of the public wading pool –confusing for park users who suddenly feel like uninvited guests at the party. Streamers from tree to tree to tree, that seem to suggest staking out part of the park for private use “STAY OUT.” Four or five of the scarce picnic tables taken away from the public wading pool area to serve as the staging area for a single birthday party – not fair.

party right by the playground cafe -- too close to public area

party right at the edge of the wading pool -- too close to public area

marking out the birthday party with streamers -- much too large

So the park’s program staff have resolved to remind park users more firmly – “remember that a park is public. Set up your picnic slightly out of the way, and very far away if you’re going to barbecue. Stow the streamers, and minimize the balloons. Never set up right by much-used space like the wading pool or the playground. Return picnic tables after you’re done. A park has no walls, so everybody can see you. Make sure they’re watching with enjoyment.”

Older Picnic and Permit News

From the July 2007 Newsletter


On Canada Day, Dufferin Grove was full of extended-family-plus-friends picnics. Some groups had hung up flags, some people wore Canada Day t-shirts, or red and white outfits, or – failing that – at least Molson’s Canadian baseball caps. The smell of barbecues was in the air and the mood was lovely. Some people had organized kids’ egg-on-a-spoon races, some were playing frisbee, some were strumming guitars.

Dufferin Grove Park staff keep a close eye on the number and location of picnic tables, so that picnics will flourish in the park. Some of the tables are badly in need of paint, but the Parks department currently has no provision for painting them. To make sure the tables and benches don’t wear out sooner from lack of protection for the wood, Recreation staff are collaborating with park friend Michelle Webb to help her set up another picnic table painting day. The last one Michelle organized was a lot of fun and very successful. Watch the park bulletin boards and for more details.


Campfires need permission, but it’s easy and local. Call the park program staff at 416 392-0913 or There are two campfire locations - centre path and south path – plus one more in winter, by the rink. The south location is only available after 8 p.m.

For more information, see Campfire locations and booking page.


posted May 12, 2006, modified July 01, 2007

Some places in the park are never given to a permit group: the cob courtyard (including the outdoor kitchen), the playground rain shelter, the wading pool, the playground (all of it, including the whole adventure playground area), and the wood ovens. People can’t rent them since those spaces always have to be available for park programs, i.e. for everyone’s use.

At the ovens there’s a partial exception for birthday parties, which can book special pizza time before or after Sunday pizza day. And school classes can book class pizza-making time before or after the regular pizza times. But even those groups should welcome any unexpected visitor, who wants to try the ovens for the first time – hospitality is good.


posted May 12, 2006, modified July 1, 2007

You can't reserve picnic tables for your campfire or your family party, but there are a lot of tables all over the park, and everybody moves them around to where they want them. The only tricky time is Friday nights because most of the tables get taken over to the oven for Friday Night supper. The suppers are every Friday night all summer long and into September except if the weather is bad. There is more information about the suppers on the Bake Ovens & Food page.


posted May 24, 2006, modified July 1, 2007

People practising music (unamplified), dancing, stilt-walking, fire-twirling, headstands, etc. don’t usually need permits. Groups doing tai chi or yoga don’t need permits. Kids making art in groups don’t need permits. People who stop and watch don’t need a permit either – it’s public!

However, drumming, amplified sound and other more intrusive activities should run by staff first.

Feel free to contact park staff at 416-392-0913 or by email to find out some of the sports and activities currently being practiced at the park.


Posted May 16 2006, Modified July 01, 2007

Amplified music is usually only permitted down in the Garrison Creek Hollow, south of the marsh fountain near Dufferin Street. That’s so that the sound is partly muffled by the hillside and doesn’t bother the neighbourhood.

Live music gets a bit of leeway to be elsewhere in the park, if it’s not too loud on the mikes. Tables can be moved down to the hollow as needed, and the rink house has a makeshift stage in storage, available to take down there free of charge.

But all tables, benches, stages etc. should (please) be returned to their original spot afterwards.


posted May 24 2006, Modified July 01, 2007

Pick-up games don’t need a permit – they’re fine if they don’t get in the way of a central permit (like the Toronto Eagles soccer club). To make sure there’s enough time for pick-up soccer/ frisbee/ cricket/ baseball, Tino DeCastro has booked from Saturday 2 p.m. until Sunday night as a “community permit.” That means there’s no need to book six weeks ahead or to pay for playing a pick-up game at the park.

If a community group wants to have a reliable time, e-mail or call Amy at 416 392-0913. But any such group has to welcome individual drop-ins.

Having a Picnic at Dufferin Grove Park

posted May 12, 2006

The park has many picnic tables throughout the park, and anyone having an ordinary picnic can use these without a reservation or a permit, first come, first served. Picnic tables can be moved from one picnic spot to another but it’s nice for picnickers to move them back if they’re normally used for a program (e.g. pizza days or Friday Night Suppers).

Be gentle moving the tables -- they get very little maintenance and they're getting pretty rickety.

Larger local picnic groups under 25 people: if you’re inviting your aunts and uncles and cousins too, you still don’t need a permit, but please call the park staff when you’re making plans, at 416 392-0913, so they can help you figure out the best location (one that doesn’t put you on top of another group). The park staff can also lend you a dolly for moving a few more picnic tables and an extra trash can to your picnic spot. Just put them back after. If you need to borrow the farmers' market tables, call 416 392-0913 to see if that can be arranged. There is a flat fee of $10 for the use of the market tables, unless you need a lot of them (then it's more).

Permits for groups over 25 people (and up to 200) are centrally booked through the city for $71.22 (from p.42 of the most recent city fee schedule). These have their designated base location: the south grove under the big old silver maples, where the permit sign is. These groups can also borrow the staff dolly to carry over extra picnic tables from elsewhere in the park if they need them.

If you have any trouble with washrooms or trash receptacles or water fountains, please tell the park staff or e-mail picnics or leave a message at 416 392-0913, and they'll try to make sure the problems are fixed.


The Parks by-law requires a permit for barbecues.

§ 608-10. Campfires and barbecues:While in a park, no person shall...Use any portable barbeques unless authorized by permit or where posted to allow the use.

People often prefer to be more spontaneous (permits take up to six weeks). But barbecues are often smoky, which bothers other park users. So if you want to bring a BBQ, set it up FAR AWAY from the main activity areas (i.e. far away from the playground, sports fields, or the main walkways). And if your barbecue smokes up the park, the staff will ask you to put it out.

About Having Birthday Parties in the park

posted May 12, 2006

In the winter there is an outdoor skating rink at Dufferin Grove park, with a rink house café where people can drink a hot chocolate, change their skates, talk to their friends, etc. Outside the rink house there is a campfire location, and sometimes people have winter skating parties, with a fire (including birthday parties). We do not offer birthday party space inside because the building is usually full of skaters.

In the spring, summer, and early fall, people often have a birthday party somewhere in the park -- they bring a picnic, hang a pinata in the tree, and have a good time. Anyone can do that almost anywhere in the park without arranging permission. (see non permit sites) It's allowed to bring your own barbecue, and many people do that. It's also possible to book a campfire from the park staff for $20 by donation but you need to bring wood yourself (we have a fire stand, pot, frying pan, oven mitts, etc., which we lend out for free).

Pizza Birthday Parties

April 23, 2008

If you want to book a pizza birthday party, it's sometimes possible, but you have to pay for staff ($15 an hour, including fire-lioghting, set-up, and clean-up) as well as wood ($10) and materials ($2.50 per pizza unless you bring all your own materials, i.e. dough and all toppings, sauce, etc.). Call the park at 416 392-0913 and leave a message, and a park staff will call you back and talk it over.

If the birthday were in March, April, October, or November, you'd be out of luck with the park. The rink is not usually open and the park is too cold and muddy for a picnic. But during any of the other months, birthday parties done the way we've described here, are very easy.

You can also e-mail us at


posted May 24 2006

A recent e-mail from the central permit office said that only incorporated groups can do a special event at the park. Since that would wipe out about three-quarters of the events at the park, park friends negotiated with the City to co-sponsor neighbourhood, unincorporated groups for special events. To find out more, contact or call 416-392-0913.

Park Permits: Rule Bound

posted September 12, 2006

At a recent park staff meeting, City recreation supervisor Tino DeCastro said that folks who've been playing informal pick-up soccer at Dufferin Grove, now that spring is here, are doing something illegal. He was kidding, right?

Wrong. A bit of research into the 2001 Toronto Municipal Code turned up this:

§ 608-17. Organized sports or activities. While in a park, no person shall….arrange or engage in an organized sport or activity, unless authorized by permit…” And in case there’s any doubt, the municipal code defines this activity as “a sport, game or activity pre-planned by a group or organization whether or not formally constituted and whether or not the players or members wear uniforms.”

A lot of people call up their friends to come to the park and play a game of some kind, if the weather's nice. Who knew that spontaneous sports activity in parks is actually against the law? (unless players arranged for a permit six weeks in advance, and paid for it).

The municipal code also prohibits weeding the park gardens without a permit, moving a picnic table or a park bench, hanging a birthday pinata from a tree, or being in the park at all after midnight.

Dufferin Grove Park has a lot of outlaws, by those rules. That’s what makes it such a lively place. Time to re-evaluate the rules? But until then, if you get a ticket in the park for playing a game of frisbee or walking your dog after midnight, you can share that news with other park friends by e-mailing

Park friends will pay the ticket.

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