Centre For Local Research into Public Space (CELOS)


See also Site Map

Contact

mail@celos.ca

Search


Custodians:

Community commentary Re Dufferin Grove Park In Trouble (2) July/August 2011

July 8 2011
A.G.wrote:

I used to live in the area, just over one year ago, and nearby the year before. I made use of the park and its services year-round. I was greatly disappointed to learn of the changes to Dufferin Grove Park. When I was a child, my mother took me to play in that park. I have a very strong attachment to it, though I live in the Annex. I would use it more often, except that I have spent more than the past year dealing with my mother's esate. In my mind Dufferin Grove Park is the ONLY one that's run CORRECTLY - that is with community involvement.

Reading about the history of parks in Toronto on the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park website, was very informative. It seems as though traditional activities, as run by the city, have been absent for a long time. The friends of the park have stepped in, to fill in the gaps of what the city provides. This is exactly what SHOULD be happening everywhere. Instead we have citizen's advisory groups eliminated. Instead we have someone dictating changes based not on what the community has expressed a desire for, not what has worked and is working, but on some notion of what works elsewhere. How does that recognize the diversity of the city? How is this respect for the taxpayer?

If you look at the salaries mentioned in the article as well, you see that the current wage structure saves a tremendous amount over the proposed changes. How is increasing costs and cutting services respect for the tax payer? Respect for the taxpayer was supposedly the mayor's slogan, but I see none here. I see contempt. It's becoming all too common. Trying to fix "what ain't broke". The legacy of Mayor Ford is already "Pay more, get less."

I urge you to do what's right and allow Dufferin Grove to continue being run as it has recently.

R.R. wrote:

For seven years I have been going to Dufferin Grove Park, first with my infant son for the market and, over the course of the past seven years, taking advantage of all that the park has to offer. My three sons, husband and I have skated in winter, seen theatre productions, participated in birthday parties, clothing swaps, pizza baking and so much more.

I live in a neighbourhood not far from the park, where our local park is in an active revitalization process and Dufferin Grove Park comes up often as an inspiration for the incremental and logical changes that make a park a truly welcoming public space in a diverse community.

I worked for many years as a management consultant and understand very well the organizational benefits that can accrue from streamlining, centralization and cutting out excess. The problem with this particular application of that theory, is that it is already being accomplished by other means and will actually be curtailed by this approach.

Dufferin Grove Park is - although it may not appear this way on the surface - actually a well-oiled machine. There are efficiencies and appropriate redundancies built in to a system that allows for all aspects of the park to run smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that the community is often of the opinion that it runs itself, or perhaps is run by them.

Evidence for the success of this approach is at least three-fold: Local replications, diverse population attraction and national and international attention.

Dufferin Park staff has increasingly been able to apply many of its best practices at other local parks such as McGregor and Wallace Emerson, which has caused those parks to become more welcoming and has laid the groundwork for them to become community hubs in their own rights.

Dufferin Grove Park is an open secret among Torontonians searching for a welcoming place to host birthday parties, cultural celebrations and other gatherings. This is thanks to the variety of social and material infrastructure available there. By social infrastructure, I mean the skills, abilities and knowledge of the staff and their capacity to perform a variety of tasks in many contexts over a short time. By material infrastructure I mean spaces for both public and private gathering, playspaces supportive of many age-groups, winter and summer activities, and food access.

It is such a poorly guarded secret, in fact, that people come from as far away as the United States and Europe to see how the park does it. From the cob structure by the wading pool that serves as a snack bar, to the outdoor festivities that take place there year-round, tourists, Dufferin Grove Park builds things that others seek to emulate.

What the process undertaken by the new Recreation Supervisor fails to see is that in creating a laundry list of discrete tasks for individuals to do, it is attempting to duplicate in a few months and by people who have checklists, the work done by many people over the course of years to determine the best approach to the tasks required by the space, the environment and the people. It adds a level of rigidity while removing the ability to be fiscally responsible from the hands of those who actually know what is needed. Instead of making the city management the facilitator of innovative and cost-effective programs, it turns them into bean counters. In short it misses an amazing opportunity.

Rather than destroy this capital, Supervisor Jang could put the city's money to better use, if she had the City Recreation Programmer understand how Dufferin makes it work and then asked the Programmer(s) to enable other parks to do similarly amazing things in their parks.

Please keep this park humming and buzzing for years to come!

K.P. wrote:

Dear Mayor McCallion,

I am sending you this letter because I know that Rob Ford has tremendous respect for you and the way you do business in the city of Mississauga, and I sincerely hope that you might be able to share your wisdom with him with regards to one of Toronto's gems, Dufferin Grove Park. Dufferin Grove has given back to the people of Toronto the hope and reality that local community can make great things happen without burden of huge costs to tax payers. Dufferin Grove is a brilliant example of simplicity and common sense in action- something that is unfortunately rare in our life and times. I am sure that Dufferin Grove Park would inspire you; perhaps it can even inspire other great parks in Mississauga with its efficiency and creativity. The park has its own web site - http://www.dufferinpark.ca/home/wiki/wiki.php - which is a great, volunteer driven resource, linking the community to the park.

At the moment it is on the verge of being essentially shut down by bureaucracy, policies and procedures that have little relevance as we all move into new times with the need for new ways of conducting the business of city life.

I am forwarding a letter I recently wrote to Rob Ford on this matter, and my hope is that your down to earth, wise influence will reach him before it is too late...

I would love to invite you to join me for a community dinner at Dufferin Grove Park, any Friday night this summer. I can promise a delicious meal and a fantastic experience inside the richness of the community. I would love to host you and I know the community would be delighted to have you there.

K.P. wrote:

Dear Mr. Ford,

Perhaps you are aware of proposed city changes to the administration and running of Dufferin Grove Park ( Dufferin and Bloor). This park has been an amazing example of community engagement and creativity over the last 20 or more years, and in case you weren't aware, I wanted to bring it to your attention.

I truly believe that this park is a template for how other public space can be used. Over the last years, this park has been virtually transformed into an outdoor recreation centre for hundreds of toronto families and it is a gem of our city, with families crossing town to spend the day by the sand pit, or to enjoy a community supper or theatrical event. This park raises money through creative means- renting skates, which were donations from the NHL, is one example of a creative way to raise funds for the park.

There is tremendous community spirit and thus reduction of crime in the park, as well as a sense of community responsibility and ownership for the space. This translates in actions - people clean up and care for the space as if it were their own- a spirit we could only hope for in other parks and parts of the city.

One of the things that makes Dufferin Grove tick is it's unconventional 'out of the box' thinking around tasks and functions of staff. When you research hugely successful businesses like Google and Facebook it is clear they have figured out that the future is in the people and in tapping their desire to be engaged, to have autonomy and creativity in their work. Best selling business authors like Daniel Pink have proven it too- that to be effective and efficient and to make amazing profits, people need to be freed from the constrictions of the organizational structures of the past. The Dufferin Grove model is a perfect example of this- able to do much more than an average park- even more than many community centres, with much less resources and cost to tax payers.

I am certain that it will interest you from this financial standpoint alone. Dufferin Grove offers practical, time-proven examples of how to do more with less money, and how to also build the community, which is critical to the health and safety of our city.

As I am sure you know, there can be dreadful complacency in 'government' positions, where people end up doing the bare minimum to meet the requirements of their contracts. This attitude effectively drives up all costs, as the complacent worker needs more supervision and more external enforcement to follow the rules- rules that often also restrict intelligent decision making.

In recent times a new recreational supervisor, Wendy Jang, has been assigned to Dufferin Grove. Clearly she hasn't caught up with the times, and is trying to force the staff and programs at the park into an old, restricting framework that causes the very complacency and increase in running costs. Apparently the manager of Toronto East York Recreation, Kelvin Seow also has plans to 'assume operations' at the park, which would be a devastating blow to the vibrancy of the park and the people who work and partake in its community happenings.

I urge you to look into the matter, and to offer these administrators some guidance in how to update their attitudes so that they can see the opportunity and new template that Dufferin Grove offers to the whole city. If more parks could engage people in such a way, Toronto could save hundreds of thousands of dollars while also strengthening the community life; clearly a win-win for everyone.

I am sure you would be a welcome guest at the park anytime, should you wish to get a hands-on experience and understanding of the practical nature of the operations there. A great guide is Jutta Mason, a local volunteer and very knowlegeable person on the finances and workings of the park. I have cc'd her her in case you wish to get in touch.

Thank you very much for your efforts to 'stop the gravy train'. Before this park gets tossed onto the train, I hope you will find a way to put the breaks on and to let it be a new example for a flourishing and fiscally responsible way forward, as opposed to the high cost, little value models of the past.


July 9, 2011
K.W. wrote:

Hi Ana,

I think the park is a jewel in the crown of Toronto parks and is well run, vibrant and a big asset to our ward just the way it is.

There are some things the city should NOT tinker with and leave it to the dynamics of neighbourhood involvement, and this is one of them. The place works well the way it is.

Please do NOT let the city bureaucracy dsimantle what has grown to be an exceptional local attraction, simply iin the name of conformity. Remember: Diversity is Our Strength

D.A. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao.

I understand that the community based approach and unique programs (also supported through significant community donations) currently run through the Dufferin Grove park are at risk because some bureaucrat working fpr City Hall who makes over a hundred thousand dollars a year basically wants all park programming to fit into her cookie cutter model of how a park should operate. I humbly suggest that the Mayor's current review of unnecessary expenditures consider exactly this kind of bloated bureaucrat- the kind whose main concern appears to be making her own overpaid position easier to administer and who has absolutely no connection or accountability to the community whatsoever. Slash the top-heavy bureaucracy and let the people run their own park with the parks staff who work there. We don't need more money, just let the community keep doing what works the way they have - the city can keep whatever it saves, the park will run just fine without this useless extra bureaucrat, and her replacement might get an important message. If she keeps going the way she's going, there will hopefully be enough complaints to fire her.

Our kids and families are not well served at all by these upper managers with nothing better to do. And we will make noise, and not just the so-called "progressive left", NDP voters in the neighbourhood. Many people of a more centre-right, conservative, cost-cutting persuasion are locking arms with our traditional political opponents on this one.

For example, I used to work in the provincial government in the 90's, and I quit for just this reason. The bureaucracy was bloated, top heavy, ineffective and inflexible beyond belief, often creating work for itself in ways that actually harmed the communities it was meant to serve. This is why people like Mike Harris and Rob Ford get elected. Unfortunately, while MIke Harris was able to cut a lot of important services and beat up a few welfare cases and Indians on the side, he couldn't really do anything effective with the provincial bureaucracy, which remains as bloated, inflexible and inefficient as ever. Please help our mayor understand what he was really elected to do - trim the actual waste, no matter how hard they kick and scream. Because if he caves to these overpaid clowns, the real, useful, and necessary services will be the ones to suffer. Don't let that be his or your legacy or our legacy.

D.M. wrote:

Re: This is another note in support of Dufferin Grove

While other neighbourhoods dream of having a park like Dufferin Grove, Dufferin Grove innovators at CELOS continue to waste energy in discussion with Park city supervisory staff that don't get it. Dufferin Grove and CELOS should have a special status as a park think-tank understood to be forging new working models for Toronto parks to follow. Parks that build engaged communities make a better city for everyone.

July 11 2011
J.L. wrote:

Hello Councillor Bailao,

I live on Delaware Ave and have lived there for 25 years. I knew Dufferin Park then and I know it now. It has developed into a jewel of a park; a park with life, with intelligence, a park with people that visit it and love it. The city has problems. WHY would the city waste valuable time and money changing something that works?

Here is a place that tourists visit- that makes Toronto special. Please wake up and help wake up the rest of the city officials that continue to waste time and needed monies on this issue.

a very up set Toronto citizen,

July 20, 2011
M.S. wrote to mail@CELOS.ca

Hello,

I look after a lot of children and take them to Dufferin Grove all of the time. I love it and am always telling my non-TO friends about how wonderful it is and how lucky we are to have it. I am very troubled to hear that you chaps are having problems and want to write to Anna Bailao. However, I'm finding it hard to work out exactly what the proposed changes are. Although it's great to have to much backstory, I'm finding it hard to pick out exactly what it is I want to object to her about.

Is there any chance that on the website, you could maybe do a bullet-point list of the proposed changes, or something similar to outline them?

Thanks, and good luck!

July 28, 2011
Jutta Mason wrote back for CELOS:

We've just put out an update, which may have a bit more of the information you asked for. http://dufferinpark.ca/aboutus/wiki/wiki.php/DufferinGroveIsInTrouble2.FrontPage

The problem with saying exactly what the changes are is that it all comes down to one thing: the ability of management to throw a spanner in the works. Dufferin Grove -- like any place where a lot of stuff gets done -- is a mini-ecology, where staff rely on one another, step in when needed, and continuously revise what needs to get done next. When there is suddenly an outside person who blocks the existing relationships and puts themselves in as the central task organizer, people get tripped up all the time. In a way, the park this summer is a textbook example of why modern bureaucracies cost so much to do so little.

What developed at the park is on its way out, no question. How the citywide money crisis will affect the park is still unclear, since the current problems arise out of a management intention to exercise micro-control, not to just cut funding.

It's an interesting time. If you want to talk in person, how about a cup of tea or coffee at the park? Let me know if you want to make a time.

July 28, 2011
C. P. wrote

Dear Councillor Bailao,

I dread the effect of rumoured changes to Dufferin Grove Park's staffing and programs. The park works very well and the staff are really doing excellent work. In fact, I would say that one staff member at Dufferin Grove Park does the work, hour for hour, of two staff members at other recreation sites I've been to in Toronto.

In particular, I would like to point out the innovation and excellent service I have experienced at the mini-cafe near the wading pool. The staff at this simple cafe serve nourishing meals to my family and even my five-year-old eats the quinoa salad!

Innovations like these allow parents and caregivers to stay in the park while the children get the exercise and social contact they need to grow into responsible loving members of our city. Not to mention, of course, the good fun everyone has on this lovely park.

Please do all you can to preserve the awesome work being done in Dufferin Grove Park and promote it as a model for other parks and recreation centres in Toronto.

If you need any information I would be glad to meet with you or your staff.

Thank you,

A. M. wrote

Dear Councillor:

As a long time resident near the park and user of the park for many things, I must express my concern over proposed changes. The park is currently an excellent example of community spirit and community building. I do not believe that all parks must be the same in order to function. I have been using this park for more than 20 years and have seen how it has grown and flourished and how residents of the area continue to flock to the park because of it's wonderful programs, atmosphere and staff.

The children's pool and play area are excellent examples of social interaction, community building and co-operation. This is demonstrated by the building of the cob structure for serving food. It is loved and used - often. My children are grown and no longer play there but I walk my dog in the park several times a day and all I ever see are happy families - escaping the heat, hanging out, being with their children and having a wonderful time.

The Friday night dinners have grown and continue to be a welcome place for people to meet. I see people who are new to the community coming here and integrating themselves, meeting other families and feeling part of something. This is very important - especially to newcomers to Toronto.

In winter the skating rink is always full of teenagers, families and older people just getting exercise.

The park is a safe and happy place - please help us to keep it this way. This park should be used as a 'model' example of a working neighborhood park. Please do not let the city destroy it!

July 28 2011
From E.G. to Ana Bailao

The Dufferin Grove Park was working well and was the envy of other parks and other city communities too.

I don't understand why any new arrangements are needed or even being considered at the park.

We had wonderful food being sold at the wading pool, convenient to moms and kids.

If a mom and her kids are at the pool and need to get a snack, the way the proposals indicate now, the mom would have to pack up everything to take the child to the rink house instead of sending him (within sight) to the cart by where they were. It was convenient and simple the way things had been.

It is impractical to adopt these recommendations.

The system was working well, everyone was not just happy but deliriously thrilled with the way everyone collaborated. I don't understand why things have to change from a system that was functioning for all participants to an impersonal one like the one that is proposed.

We live in the city and put up with a lot of crime, smog, overcrowding and horrid other things that our suburban friends don't have to contend with. This park is well used and loved.

The Dufferin Grove park is one of the best things about the city, not for the rules but for the collaborations and work people like Jutta Mason, park friends and park staff have put into making things better.

Please don't allow the new Park Supervisor undo all the good that has been accomplished. It seems unnecessary to break something that is working well in favour of something that will serve fewer people.

Let us enjoy this park as we had always done.

From M.A.

Dear Councillor Bailao,

I am writing because I feel the urgent need to do so. I am very concerned about the recent staffing and programming changes that the Parks, Forestry & Recreation has been making at Dufferin Grove Park. I live in the community and spend a lot of time at the park for different activities. Dufferin Grove Park is probably the best park in Toronto because of all the different activities that happen there and because of the staff who care about their work and the users. For this reason, the park is so popular - many people want to be there day after day. It is truly a place where people gather and there is a strong sense of community there. All these are achieved without costing the city much. It should be a model that should be repeated in other parks, rather than something that should be forced into existing model of how parks should be run. The changes that are proposed would destroy all the good things that make Dufferin Grove so special. Below are some of my main concerns:

1. Staff - one of the reasons I like spending time at Dufferin Grove Park is the staff who are welcoming, care about and enjoy their work. I go to other parks and recreation centres in the neighbourhood and do not find the staff helpful or welcoming. Many staff at Dufferin Grove work there year after year and as a park user, you get to know them. This summer I noticed a big change at the wading pool. In other years, more matured staff were working at the wading pool, while they also took care of other duties, such as the food sales and preparation. In previous years, the staff were always very helpful and engaged with children at the wading pool, knew many of the children and the parents who visited the park. This made the entire playground area very lively. This year, I was sad to see wading pool attendants most of whom were sitting or standing there looking completely bored. They weren't interacting with children at all. This made the Dufferin Grove wading pool look like other wading pools (except that we still have a lot of kids in the pool). It made me realize how much the staff contributed to the liveliness of the park. Of course, it's boring to have to watch the pool all day. The previous model of the staff engaged in various tasks throughout the day makes their job more interesting, and in turn, the job attracts the kind of people who have multiple skills, including interpersonal skills.

2. Programming - one of the things that make Dufferin Grove Park so special is the availability of healthy reasonably priced food in the park. This includes the cafe beside the wading pool during the summer, rink house cafe during the winter and Friday night supper. Healthy food available at a reasonable price makes it very attractive to stay in the park for an extended period of time. Parents and children who sit around the wading pool and playground to have lunch and snack create a gathering place where people meet. I met so many people in the Dufferin Grove Park this way. It is also important that the food be available close to where people are. I'm opposed to the proposed move of the wading pool cafe to the rink house , because it would make it difficult for people to get to the food.

3. Big sandpit - PFR seems to be interested in controlling access to shovels and the sandpit itself during high-use times. As far as I know, and according to statistic collected by the park, there have been so few cases of injury. The sandpit is often crowded with kids, because it's so much fun to play there. But at the same time, there are as many parents as kids who are always watchful of what happens there.

I am concerned that the current policies of the Parks, Forestry & Recreation would lead to parks that are easy to manage and prone to fewer liabilities form the PFR point of view, but are not attractive or interesting for people to visit. From my point of view as a citizen, I would like PFR to facilitate and encourage community building through park use. As a simple example, having a clean washroom facility that is open most of the hours when people use the park is very important. This is in place at Dufferin Grove, but not in many other parks.

I invite the Recreation Director and Supervisor to spend time at the Dufferin Grove playground (including the wading pool) or at the Friday night supper and imagine being a child, or a parent of a young child, or simply an adult citizen. Do you think as a child you would want to play at Dufferin Grove? Would you would visit this park? If so, why? Please talk to park users and find out why they want to be at Dufferin Grove. Watch how children play. Please try to facilitate all the good things at Dufferin Grove Park that make us want to be there.

Sincerely, M. A.

July 28, 2011
To Ana Bailao

My husband and I have been avid fans of Dufferin Grove Park for the past 7 years and there hasn't been a week that has gone by in all those years that we haven't spent time in the park. There is nothing else like it in Toronto-- but there should be!

Much of the reason Dufferin Grove Park is so wonderful is because the staff are part of the community, not an outside force as they are in too many of Toronto's parks. In other parks the staff have an attitude of "us against them" ( "us being the P&R staff and "them" being the people who use the park). This attitude is fostered as a result of the organizational structure in place in P& R that doesn't encourage the staff to really get to know the community. Staff are silo-ed in their jobs, only allowed to do one function and not encouraged to get to know the community and become a part of it. Often they perform the same job in many parks within a district, never spending much time in any one park. On the other hand, the Dufferin Grove staff are able to respond to pretty much any need of the community or park itself--and as a result they care about the park and people.

We think this is a much more efficient way to run the park and makes for a much stronger and caring community--a winning recipe all the way around. The staff cares about the park and the people, and the people know and care about the staff and the park. Community members and staff alike are involved because the park is our home. There aren't many parks in this city that can say that. It is very fitting that Dufferin Grove was known as The Big Backyard for many years.

Dufferin Grove Park is praised and emulated as a "park that works" by urban planners, open space experts and ordinary people across Canada and North America. ( see a multitude of articles here: http://www.pps.org/search/?cx=001533798867655338194%3Auq5kdbnfz6s&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=UTF-8&q=dufferin+grove&sa.x=0&sa.y=0).

To impose a narrow, silo-ed structure on P & R staff would be to make Dufferin Grove homogeneous with all other Toronto parks, when what we should be doing is helping other parks to become more responsive to their individual communities. Toronto has so many wonderful cultures and we are famous for celebrating them. Why then would we try to turn people's parks into bland replicas of each other without any individual personality? We firmly believe that the proposed reorganization of Dufferin Grove staff will do just that.

It isn't broken--it doesn't need "fixing"!

Very sincerely,

Laura Berman and Michael Bowser

August 3
J. D. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao

I'm an engineer and a parent whose family visits Dufferin Grove Park regularly. In engineering we have a saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". It seems to me that the Parks, Forestry, and Recreation department should be guided by this principle as it considers how best to govern Dufferin Grove Park. Dufferin Grove is a gem. It is the park in Toronto that I show off to my visitors from the US and Europe. The Europeans recognize it, and the Americans envy it. This park works, and it works for families with small kids, families with older kids, and single people. There's nothing else like it in the city.

I would admit that the current management structure is a distinctly odd combination of city and community management. That makes it complex, but it does work. I can see that there is the potential for something to go wrong, but it would be awful to sacrifice the actual real good that we do have now just to eliminate that risk. Instead, we should be brave. Yes, things could go wrong, but if we try to regulate the park to ensure nothing unusual will happen, we'll just lose what we have now, because we could never afford it, even if we could find regular city employees with the same skill and motivation as the current staff.

I urge you to encourage the department to keep it's hands off Dufferin Grove. Don't try to "fix" it.

August 5 2011
J.G. wrote:

I am writing to you to express my concern about Dufferin Grove park. I am afraid that the City is trying to change Dufferin Grove park for the worse. At present, it is the one public space in the City I would most like to be. I go there many times per week, on walks with my partner and our 3-month-old daughter, to the playground with my 3-year-old nephew, to the basketball courts and firepits with my friends. I shop at the farmers market, I eat lunch at the concession stand by the wading pool, and our family and many of our friends eat a delicious, affordable and nutritious dinner in the park almost every Friday night. Dufferin Grove is way more than just a park. When I used to live in Parkdale I still spent most of my outdoor time at Dufferin Grove even though there were tons of closer parks. The reason that it is such a success is because it is run as a community space. It's not just another park that can conform to strict rules about how every little thing should be done according to a City-wide plan. What works in other parks may not work in Dufferin Grove. What works in Dufferin Grove has been developed over years and years, with the input of thousands of neighbours and people who are part of the community (even when they don't live right in the neighbourhood). I know that you can appreciate Dufferin Grove--I've seen you there holding events and interacting with people. This is crucially important part of our neighbourhood. Please defend it! We mustn't let Wendy Jang or anyone else impose some arbitrary formula on us, especially after so many years of work developing a participatory, community framework that has been so successful! Thank you very much for your time, and for your commitment to our park! Respectfully yours,

August 6 2011
Stock response letter from Councillor Ana Bailao:

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office on the subject of Dufferin Grove Park.

As you indicate, Dufferin Grove is both a unique and immensely special area of Toronto. The level of community engagement, innovative programming, and park activity is the envy of many other areas of the City. I also have incredible esteem for the staff who work at this park, for the many extra hours they continually provide to keep the park operating, for the positive attitude and skills they bring to the park, and the dedication they invest in improving this local community hub.

It is true that Dufferin Grove is being examined by City staff to ensure that it meets Health and Safety, Union and City staffing policies as well as City accounting practices. This examination is in no way a negative reflection of the program delivery Dufferin Grove has been providing, but an effort to protect a prized community resource from liability and risks that could shut-down programming.

It is also true that I will fight to make sure that programs, staff, and the high-quality of service Dufferin Grove has become known for is not reduced.

In speaking with many local residents I have heard many concerns about changing Dufferin Grove Park. I will be working with community groups and City Staff to achieve a balance that both allows the rich and innovative community projects of the park as well as the necessary liability requirements the City requires of all of its operations.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact my office and please do not hesitate to do so in the future.

August 7 2011
J.G. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao,

I am disappointed at the middle-of-the-road tone of your email. Issues of "liability" are too vague for me to respond to, but you seem to be trying to leave the door open to supporting the City's reorganization of Dufferin Grove Park. The Park works right now, in fact it is internationally renowned. But instead of celebrating it, the City is reorganizing it and the effects will be reductions in Staff pay, and a likely reduction in the incredible programming that has made the park so unique. Instead of stifling Dufferin Grove's community-driven creativity and success, the City should be seeking to support neighbourhood and community involvement in other parks in the City where residents are already trying to replicate some of the successes of Dufferin Grove. As my councillor, in the neighbourhood that includes the Park, I expect you to take a strong lead in defending it. And I know that I am not alone. Right now the residents of this riding are asking you to be a true ally to the Park. I hope that you live up to that expectation, and do not bow to bureaucratic euphemisms for cuts to staff and programming.

Yours respectfully, J.G.

August 8 2011
Second stock response letter from Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailao (for writers who responded back to her first letter)

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office and for your interest in preserving the wonderful programming at Dufferin Grove park.

I absolutely agree that a planned and considerate approach is necessary in order to maintain the community engagement at the park and avoid any loss of service.

Recently Parks Management staff have addressed a number of issues at Dufferin Grove. Among them were updates to outdated staffing policies that had existed since amalgamation and which exposed the City to a potentially expensive dispute process.

Before City staff implemented this update I was adamant that the services offered at Dufferin Grove be protected and preserved. I was assured both that there would be no loss of staffing at the park, and no loss to service. In a recent meeting with management, I have requested to have this information in writing to ensure that these changes will have no negative impact on park services.

In addition, staff has indicated that these policy updates will protect the park from union disputes that have cost considerable amounts in other areas of the City, money that can no longer be invested into Parks programming.

Thank you again for contacting me and I invite you to contact me again should you notice any loss of programming or service at the park.

August 9 2011
K.H. wrote:

Dear Councillor Mammoliti, In attempt to make budget cuts work, and find new creative ways to support public programming, look no further than Dufferin Grove Park. The parks community activities raise about $190,000 a year that is put towards the park budget. These activities all enhance the feeling of community and make the park a real hub. This, in turn, makes the park safer, and ensures the maximum number of users are taking advantage of the park activities. If you are interested in details, check out http://www.dufferinpark.ca/newsletter/wiki/wiki.php/Summer2011.FrontPage#moneyissue.

Right now, Parks and Recreation management is reshuffling staffing and not allowing them to participate in these money-making services because they are abnormal park activities. I think you will agree that the opposite should be happening. Why fix something that not only isn’t broken, but is wildly successful? It should be the model for all GTA parks. The changes proposed by the new recreation supervisor, Wendy Jang. will cost more money, they will dumb down the jobs and have a negative impact on the services at the park. I find it so disturbing that unelected bureaucrats are able to undermine the community-supported activities of this park. It is also confusing, because these services raise so much money towards the park operations.

On a more personal note, my kids love the park, I love the park and the park is the envy of all other neighbourhoods. The staff are amazing, creative and energized – a model for park staff elsewhere in Toronto. It is one of the reasons why I am raising my family in Toronto. I hope you can step in and help Best regards, K.H.

S.C. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao,

Dufferin Grove park is a treasure for the city. It brings people from all income levels together, provides a safe and enriching environment for children, and builds community. I am sure that it could be argued successfully that it also reduces crime, by building community and providing much needed activities for youth. Thousands of Toronto taxpayers use this park - a recent census showed as many as 2000 users in a single day.

The amount of work and dedication that part-time staff and volunteers put into the running of this wonderful park is unique and valuable. The snack bar at the pool, the Friday night pizza nights, the many many community events, the fact that the wading pool is opened according to the needs of the community not arbitrary city schedules, the ice rink and the similar philosophy guiding its hours - it can not be denied that these are things that add so much to community life in your ward, and to the city as a whole.

The rationale for these changes is that it leaves the city “vulnerable and open to major risk factors”? Has the community been complaining? I see only a community that has been enriched and made healthier by the activities "Friends of Dufferin Grove" have made possible. Good government is not about avoidance of lawsuits for anything lawyers and bureaucrats can think of. The city's employees should be putting their minds to making the city better, not protecting itself from imaginary lawsuits. Good governance is about providing policies and programs that do the most for the health of the city population.

I have seen only a decline in the park since the city has started its new approach to the park - the closure of the snack bar at the pool which provided healthy, organic, low cost nutrition for children is one example. How can you allow a change in city policies which would cause this snack bar to close, when it provided such benefits at such a low cost to the city? Is it preferable to have vending machines with chocolate bars and chips as other conventionally city run community centres do? The Toronto Star and Now magazine have detailed many of the other losses which have happened at the park over the last year.

Are you supporting the work of the new supervisor who is meant to return the park to the core activities that the City has traditionally run, and therefore destroying much of what makes the park such an asset? Or are you supporting the community who has made the park such a wonderful place to be? Please let me know what steps you are taking to preserve this amazing park and the people who make it so (the in-park staff, the volunteers and the neighbours at the park) and what steps you are taking to stop the loss of the community programs and activities that are going on at the park.

If you are supporting the park and you have suggestions on how citizens of the city can help please let me know.

Thank you,

S.C., city resident, St. Clair and Bathurst

p.s. I hope that you are reading the list and history of "anomalies" that the recreation supervisor is trying to stop. They are detailed here: http://dufferinpark.ca/aboutus/wiki/wiki.php/DufferinGroveIsInTrouble2.Chapter5

August 9 2011
Jutta Mason wrote to Councillor Ana Bailao

I'm following up to your letter about costly union arbitration -- to repeat my question: we need to know the dates and issues and outcomes of the Dufferin-Grove-applicable "union disputes that have cost considerable amounts in other areas of the the City" that your letter refers to. Can you point me to your source? Are you referring to the PT rec collective agreement or the Full time agreement or the 416 collective agreement?

If you got the information from employee and labour relations, could you ask them if they divide their work by division and collective agreement to some degree? That would mean they should be able to "cost" that part of their expenditure re PT rec unionization -- if you have those numbers, can you send them to me? Or otherwise, could you ask for them?

In the information I've gathered so far there seem to be no costly or broad settlements related to PT rec employees. I have looked for arbitrated (judged) awards (these are public) relating to Local 79 and the City and the Part Time rec group. I see no expensive awards issued by arbitrators. So where is the "expensive dispute process"? Is the City voluntarily settling awards? Giving union members money through grievances without being forced to?

If the city feels that the rules or processes required by the collective agreement are too expensive, why did they negotiate them? why do they administer them? Why don't they push back?

I look forward to getting this information, so we can talk about actual details instead of just fears of what might happen.

August 9 2011
B.L. wrote:

It is unfortunate that Jutta ignored my advice to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding between the Friends/CELOS and the City. Operating a business, no matter how altruistic, on City property without one is really not acceptable. Given the amount of money involved, and the use of City staff to work in the operation, it was only a matter of time before the liability issues would force the City to act. Now, I fear, it is too late to come to an agreement and that is a great loss to the community.

August 9 2011
David Anderson wrote:

Hello Ana,

I am writing because I am very concerned about what is happening to Dufferin Grove Park and the nearly twenty year tradition of community participation in the direction and realization of the park's programming and development. This park has become a "community centre without walls" in some unique ways, as you are well aware.

Clay and Paper Theatre's first play about the park was called "The Resurrection of Fornax". Fornax is the ancient Roman goddess of bake ovens, and it seemed to us (Larry Lewis, the writer, and me, his collaborator, and artistic director) that it was quite a coupe to wake up and find out that DGP had the honour of having Toronto's first outdoor community bake oven built at its centre. The person behind this gift to the park was Jutta Mason, so it was fitting that we could have fun by celebrating her as the resurrected goddess of bake ovens. Many other bake ovens now exist in other Toronto parks, inspired by that first successful community intervention.

But the changes that are presently being visited on the park in the name of "it will be non-compliant on many approved policies, procedures, and legislative requirement...vulnerable and open to major risk factors." is Kafka-esque at best and, in my view, driven by a mean-spiritedness that ignores the spectacular community involvement that has characterized this community for so long now. The changes that have been wrought in this park have inspired others locally and the park is recognized as a beacon of community participation internationally. I am not interested in the motivations for this new destructive thrust from the Parks bureaucracy. I only want to know how to stop this craziness, and I want your help in mobilizing the community to protect its well run alternatives.

I would like to know how you can help us maintain this historical achievement. What steps can we take to counter this extremely SILLY idea of "non-compliance"? It's an attempt to limit action by fear, and, in this case, unfounded fear: crazy paranoia. Consequently, it seems that an accounting of value vs. expense is not even considered here. Why? The VALUE accruing from the organic organization that has developed is clear (and documentable). The EXPENSES that these programs cost are an absolute BARGAIN for the city. It does not make sense. So, how can we reverse the steps that have already recently been taken? Are you prepared to lead us in a sit-in, or a community Choral Cry against Stupidity, or a Dufferin Grove Dance to a Different Drummer? I certainly hope so. We need your help.

Its pretty disheartening to see this piece-by-piece destruction of a vibrant community practice going on unchallenged. The sense of Noblesse Oblige, the sense of condescending social responsibility, that is being shown by the actions of the department are quite intolerable! I await your response.

David Anderson

Artistic Director

Clay & Paper Theatre

August 9 2011
G.T. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao and Mayor Ford,

Making Dufferin Grove Park conform to the rigid procedures and protocol of other city parks is very wrong headed thinking. DGP has been innovative and experimental and has lead by example for other neighbourhood parks in the west end and across the city in regards to community involvement and enlivening our commonly held green spaces. When the friends of DGP raise money in the park with food sales and other community building projects it is only right and natural that these small funds go to other projects that further develop community activities in the park.

If anything other parks should be make to conform to the DGP model. If the friends of DGP were a corporation, this would be called a public private partnership. Instead this is a public community partnership and these initiatives should not be squashed but nurtured. Anyone who thinks wastes should be cut and frugality rewarded should agree that communities that raise money without charging fees should be rewarded not punished. That is capitalism in a nutshell.

In the same light, the community markets that add so much to neighbourhoods should not be charged extra fees. They are not costing the city anything by setting up on our publicly owned and commonly shared green space. Raising the fees to the point that they fail will not increase revenues for the city but will only impoverish our quality of life by reducing our access to farm fresh food. You cannot buy the farm fresh quality fruits and vegetables available there in any grocery stores. If this policy is pursued then the city must make it easier for us to grow our own fruit and vegetables in areas close to our homes. This would be much more expensive. Please be guided by reason with these policies.

J.D. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao, I am sure you are aware of the story of Dufferin Grove Park, and the current approach of the city bureaucracy that threatens the many wonderful activities that have flourished there over the past years, through the involvement of community members such as Jutta Mason. I highly recommend the summary available at http://dufferinpark.ca/aboutus/wiki/wiki.php/DufferinGroveIsInTrouble2.Chapter1.

I beg of you to do everything in your power to ensure that city bureaucracy does not undermine the vast improvements (aka 'anomalies') at the park. It is a treasure for the community, and a shining (award winning) example of the positive results that can come from a flexible approach and community engagement. In particular, and not limited to Dufferin Grove, usage fees imposed on users of public and community space have the effect of dampening activity and usage of that space. In other words, they are entirely self-defeating.

August 11 2011
J.B. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailão

Toronto Parks staff seem determined to strengthen a failed policy of centralization that will further restrict the ability of local supervisors and park friends to create unique and innovative programs like the ones that exist at Dufferin Grove. I would describe it as a “fast food franchise” model of parks management. Under such a model, if a program does not satisfy the "consistent processes and methodologies" of the franchise model, that program will likely be bogged down under mountains of red tape, as has repeatedly happened in the past (Icycle, pizza oven, skate rentals, Zamboni cafe, etc.). I urge you to please ensure that the administrative needs of the Parks department do not destroy what is special about Dufferin Grove.

It was only last year when the Friends of Dufferin Grove learned that supervisor Tino DiCastro was to be transferred. This was alarming, because Tino had developed an excellent working relationship with the local community, and there was no apparent reason for the transfer. The Parks department apparently believed that park supervisors should be easily interchangeable, just like light bulbs. Long-term relationships, such as the one that had developed between Tino and the community, were somehow a barrier to administrative efficiency (even though there were many instances where this centrally-managed “efficiency” wound up needlessly costing quite a lot of money).

The director of recreation's quoted remarks suggested a lack of awareness of the uniqueness of Dufferin Grove's success. "Tino has done a great job there," he said. "But that's the case in every part of the city." I'm sorry to say that is not the case in every part of the city. Not every park can boast such a successful partnership between City staff and the community. In fact, the evidence is that such relationships are quite rare.

Moreover, the senior supervisor was quoted as saying, "The community doesn't make staffing decisions. That's my decision. We don't staff by consultation." This may be careless wording, but these remarks seemed to reveal a dismissive attitude towards the principle of community engagement that has been mandated by City Council. The community never requested a veto over staff decisions. But it believed, and still believes, that the local park supervisor should be able to form a good partnership with the community he or she serves. I think it is overly optimistic of anyone to suggest that this can be achieved "irrespective of staff moves."

I really don’t know why the Dufferin Grove community is still fighting this battle. After the uproar over Tino’s transfer, there were community meetings where senior parks staff insisted that no one was trying to destroy the uniqueness of Dufferin Grove. In September, there was an excellent report by the Metcalf Foundation that seemed to confirm everything the Friends of Dufferin Grove had been saying about the problems of centralization. This report was a founding document for Park People, the parks advocacy group. And then Rob Ford was elected, with his promise to cut away red tape and authoritarian, top-down policies. There was good reason to think that the Parks department, at long last, finally got it.

But now I hear that Parks staff are once again targeting Dufferin Grove’s locally-driven uniqueness simply because it is “anomalous” and “non-compliant” with some policy. Here we go again!

Councillor Bailão: surely the first rule here has to be protect what is working, especially when the Parks department seems unable to easily replicate such success elsewhere. For whatever reason, there persists a top-down culture at the senior levels of the Parks department that is unable or unwilling to treat parks as a local resource, responsible to local needs and priorities. The one-size-fits-all approach must stop.

L. C.wrote:

Ana Bailao's response to the changes at Dufferin Grove Park is typical of her reputation as a centrist. She's obviously playing both sides against the middle. Her explanation about how the changes are being driven by the union just doesn't ring true. Neither does her implication that she is powerless to intervene.

I asked a friend's brother who works for Parks and Recreation about what's going on. He didn't know the specifics of Dufferin Grove Park, other than to say that the City has always had it out for the way the park is run, but he did say that if the local Councillor wanted to intervene, she could easily stop most of the changes and negotiate a compromise. He said Councillors have "extraordinary powers" over things like the parks and roads in their wards. I'm sure that the union occasionally grumbles about the role of CELOS, as various Parks officials have for years. But Adam Giambrone always acted as a buffer against those naysayers, allowing the park to become the incredibly rich community resource that we all value. Moreover, CELOS operates with complete financial transparency and has always worked very well with the unionized staff, notwithstanding its occasional critique of the senseless rules governing the zambonis and other nominal union-related issues. Their strong support for part-time unionized staff during the last strike demonstrates that they are anything but union bashers.

Many of us supported Ana because she seemed very personable, she worked very hard to get elected, and Kevin Beaulieu seemed a little blah. And we heard that she had been very helpful towards Dufferin Grove park when she was Mario Silva's assistant. In retrospect, that may have been a terrible mistake. In less than two months, Davenport will have both a progressive MP (Andrew Cash) and a progressive MPP (Jonah Schein). There will be a powerful machine in place that can elect a Councillor with similar values, NDP or otherwise. If Ana Bailao doesn't stop waffling and refuses to put a halt to these awful changes, it will soon be time to start looking for a progressive candidate who will stand up for the park without making specious excuses. Of course, she's still relatively inexperienced so it's possible she hasn't learned how to navigate the system as skillfully as her predecessor. Perhaps she actually believes the claptrap they're throwing at her.

Will Ana Bailao be a one-term councillor whose legacy will be presiding over the destruction of one of the city's greatest treasures? Or a genuine leader who stands up to the technocrats and shows that she values community?

August 12 2011
A.M. wrote:

Thanks to Jutta for the relatively positive news about the park meeting between management, herself and the councillor who is clearly responding to the letters that have been written in support of maintaining the park programming as is. And thanks to Jutta for all she's done in developing this programming and fighting to maintain it.

And frankly, thank you to Councillor Bailao for responding to the community's concerns through the letter writing and taking a strong stand in support of the current park structure. Regarding Lisa's comments, I think she makes some good points about maintaining pressure on our elected officials to represent the wishes of the community. I think this will become increasingly important across the city as the current mayor continues his crusade to essentially destroy virtually everthing that is good about the city.

I do think there's a difference between community pressure and threats of a political machine unseating an elected official. If anyone has followed Councillor Bailao's voting record at city hall, she has voted with the progressive side of council on a majority of issues. I don't think Ana Bailao is the problem, and frankly, our little park is small potatos in the grand scheme of the current mayor and his cronies to unmake Toronto as we know it.

While I treasure Dufferin Grove, bike lanes and farmers markets, I'm frankly more concerned about the social, economic and political cost of the Ford revolution to our most vulnerable neighbours.

When Ford was elected I told anyone who would listen that despite Ford, the downtown would do just fine. Oh, we won't get as many bike lanes, and our farmers markets are threatened. But downtown Toronto is rich, mostly white and affluent and can ride out this storm. The real pain will be felt in the inner suburbs (Downsview, Rexdale, Malvern, Galloway, Weston) where there is real suffering and deprivation, and it's only going to get worse.

Full disclosure - I strongly supported Kevin Beaulieu in the last civic election because I thought he was an excellent candidate. Not blah at all, quite charming. However I am pleased with most of the positions our new councillor has taken and am willing to give her an opportunity to show what she can do for our community.

M.J. and L.M. wrote:

Dear Councillor, We have been patrons of Dufferin Grove Park since we moved to Dufferin and Davenport in 2003. WeLOVE the Friday Night Dinners, so tasty, so many new and old friends, tons of happy kids... we've brought countless numbers of friends and family to the dinners to enjoy as well.

In the winter we skate and enjoy the dinners. We've never found a place in Toronto that has such a feeling of community and family. Why would the city want to punish us? Shouldn't we strive to have more parks like Dufferin Grove? Don't we want to keep teenagers busy w/ activities, promote volunteering, feed people w/ lower incomes such as seniors, artists, the underemployed and single mothers etc?

There must be some lawyer concerned about "risks" and wants to cover the city's ass but the city is ours too and we love this little corner of happiness and civility. We need places like this in north Toronto, east Toronto and beyond. No one would dislike this park. It's not costing or hurting any 'taxpayer", which we are as well, by the way.

Please help fight for our park. We won't forget it.

From Recreation Supervisor Wendy Jang to K.H.'s August 9 letter

I have been asked to respond to your letter to Councillor Giorgio Mammolitti regarding Dufferin Grove Park.

The City values the involvement and contributions of the local community in making Dufferin Grove a vibrant and busy park. To date, the City has made a unique investment in Dufferin Grove Park by providing significant recreation staff resources all year round. This supports a very high level of community engagement that contributes to making Dufferin Grove such a special place.

I would like to clarify the point that you made about $190,000 a year that is raised through programming and "is put towards the parks budget"; and your statement that "these services raise so much money towards the park operations." The monies collected at Dufferin Grove for snack bar and food cart products, Friday Night Suppers, pizza days and campfire rentals are collected by CELOS, a local community organization, and deposited into the CELOS private banking accounts. Starting in May 2011, some of the campfire rental donations have been deposited with the City, but otherwise, the Parks budget has not been a beneficiary of any funds raised at this site. We are working with CELOS to transition the food activities to a Parks, Forestry and Recreation operated program.

The City has not changed any of the programs at the Dufferin Grove site, nor are there any plans to reduce the programming: the wading pool, playground and sand pit, pizza oven, campfires, Farmer's Market and Friday Night Suppers will continue for the normal seasonal operation. City staff will continue to support the programs at the same levels experienced in the past.

Some changes to staff schedules and assignments were made prior to the summer to ensure that the City was in compliance with the Collective Agreement that the City has with CUPE Local 79. Staffing changes were made without any change to the programming as scheduled.

As with all City services and partnership agreements, we continuously review and improve our operations to ensure they are well-managed and well-run. Because the relationship with the community has grown organically over the years, we are working to ensure we deliver on the activities in the park with clear expectations, roles and responsibilities for staff and partners.

We are pleased to know that you and your family love the park and the park programming. We hope to continue to engage you in a conversation about the park and parks services, and I invite you to contact me directly if you wish further information about the programs.

Thank you for your interest in Parks, Forestry and Recreation services.

From K.H. to Wendy Jang,

Regardless of how the money is tracked, the work done by CELOS and money raised is returned into the park and has made it an exceptional place.

I would like to clarify your point that the city not changed the programs of the park. They have indeed changed the programming at the park. There has been no Cob Cafe since Aug. 1. Changing the location of the cafe has dramatically changed the feeling and ease of the wading pool and playground area. Families must now pack up and trek over to the fieldhouse to get their healthy snacks. This has also removed a social hub from the playground/wading pool area. From what I understand, this has also led to a drop in revenues for the cafe.

I really do appreciate you responding to the letter. If there are no plans to change the park programming, I suggest you host some public meetings to explain the changes that are being made. There is a sense of panic among users that your intention is to dismantle the lovely parts of the park. This was reinforced by the closing of the cob cafe. I would love to see more transparency on behalf of city management.

Best regards,

August 13 2011
From Jutta Mason to Wendy Jang:

Hello Wendy,

Your e-mail response to Kendra Hawke was forwarded to me from several sources. It contains some misleading information that is important to clear up. CELOS (The Centre for Local Research into Public Space) is a registered charity and therefore subject to quite a bit of oversight. The idea that the funds raised through food, skate lending and other programs are "deposited into the CELOS private banking accounts" makes us sound a little sticky, don't you think? You might want to have a look at our public web posts about where the funds go: http://celos.ca/wiki/wiki.php?n=CELOS.Financial.

There is a little more detail in this table: http://celos.ca/wiki/wiki.php?n=FinancialRecord.FinancialHighlightsOfCELOS, although sadly we've been so busy we haven't had a chance to update it since 2008. However, you could find out quite a bit more if you feel like reading through the Dufferin Grove newsletters archives: http://dufferinpark.ca/newsletter/wiki/wiki.php?n=Archives.FrontPage, and also the most recent one: http://dufferinpark.ca/newsletter/wiki/wiki.php?n=Newsletter.FrontPage. I think you'll see that at Dufferin Grove Park, funds that are raised are used as a medium of exchange to support the wonderful diversity of community gifts that make the park so lively.

As for the Parks budget not being "a beneficiary of any funds raised at this site" -- it's good to clarify that you're referring to the PFR $360 million operating budget that comes mainly from our taxes, citywide. If you look from a more local point of view of what funds were made directly available for Dufferin Grove, then the funds that CELOS has helped to raise (through our long-term cooperative relations with city staff) are indeed part of the budget. This particular way of increasing the funds available for an economically mixed neighbourhood like ours, without using up more taxes, is kind of interesting in the present context, don't you think?

Since you are now the supervisor responsible for recreation activities at Dufferin Grove, I think it would be helpful if you did a little more background reading on what goes on there, starting with the links above. I also highly recommend the community letters, which you may find helpful for your understanding: http://dufferinpark.ca/aboutus/wiki/wiki.php/DufferinGroveIsInTrouble2.Comments.

August 15 2011
S.W. wrote:

I have been a resident of little Portugal/little Italy for the past six years.

I am concerned about potential changes to the programming activities at Dufferin Grove park due to so called park 'anomalies'.

I have been going to Dufferin Grove park for several years - this past May I celebrated my 31st birthday with a campfire at Dufferin Grove park. The staff were so amazingly helpful in training me on how to handle the fire and put it out at the end of the evening as well as on the day of the campfire - two or three staff (or volunteers, not sure which) came by throughout the evening and made sure everything was going well and that we had everything we needed. My friends and I had a great time eating sausages, corn and smores under the beautiful trees in the park. Many of my friends said that the campfire was such a great idea and it was great that the park allowed people to enjoy campfires in the city! For people that don't have cottages or the ability to leave the city, this campfire was a real treat. A few of us said that the campfire was the highlight of their summer and I hope to host another one in the fall. If no decisions are made regarding the programs at Dufferin Grove by then, I invite you to come join us and see how fun and what a unique experience it is for people living in the city.

Long story short, is that me and my friends do not want to see Dufferin Grove lose the campfires! The park is such a gem in the city, it would be a real shame that it would have to lose its unique character.

S.C. wrote:

I owe lots to Dufferin Grove. It's helped make me into the person I am today. The activities going on there also account for a large portion of what I love about Toronto. The current news about what the city is doing to the park breaks my heart. I really don't know what I'd do if the amazing community joy that has been created over the years was destroyed by bureaucracy. Please give the city back to its citizens!

August 19, 2011 copied from Facebook:
R.R. wrote [about the "Sleep-in"]:

A good idea might be not only to invite the local councillor(s), but ANY others (left, mushy middle, or even pro-Forders having second thoughts) to join in the fun and to network with the community that actually uses this terrific park.

D.A. responded:

I find the "mushy middle" and "left-right" labels a big part of this whole problem, and I believe thinking in these terms is a barrier to resolving it. As a one-time bureaucrat (6 years with the province under Rae and Harris), I completely... understand how a Ford or a Harris come to power: many people are frustrated with needlessly expensive, centralized, top-heavy, self-serving bureaucracies, bloated with the likes of Wendy Jiang. There are many Wendy Jiangs up there, and while Harris was able to increase the dire circumstances of poor kids and brutalize Indians, he never did touch the Wendy Jiangs. Why? because the left tied the fight to a dogmatic focus on resisting Harris rather than asking why he got elected. The right dug in its heels, and the middle was admittedly mushy. The answer is a very firm middle that answers to the inherent truths hidden in the rigid left (social justice, etc.) and the rigid right (slash the bloated bureaucracies at the higher levels who exist to make their own lives easier and the lives of communities more difficult and complicated). If this gets framed this as an anti-Ford, anti-cuts agenda (remember the guy got a lot of support, and there must be a reason), the fight will be a relatively isolated one. If it can be played in the media as exactly the issue that got Ford elected - expensive self-serving bureaucracy) - then there could be some significant pressure brought to bear from all along the political spectrum. I for one, being firmly in the middle, have no interest in standing with an "anti-Ford" "anti-cuts" agenda or crowd. But if you want to talk about using this issue to highlight how we get rid of the Jiangs by at least half and insisting the ones left over work for the communities (not to mention their 100k salaries) rather than oppressing them, I'll be there.

Belinda Cole wrote, August 25, 2011

Hello,

I count myself very lucky to have raised my kids so close to the Dufferin-hub parks for the past 7 years.

Aside from enjoying the park, I have also worked for a long time as a part-time contract researcher for CELOS, looking at the laws and policies that get in the way of the parks running so well. From this position, I'd like to throw out a few brainstorming suggestions to add to the discussion about where to go from here.

I’m responding to the situation that Kelvin has detailed in his very helpful letter above – the fact that local city staff cannot continue to do what they do so well to run our four parks - in the face of specific policies passed by City Councils since amalgamation.

For some time now, CELOS has been urging Toronto’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Division to take over the food and skate lending programs at Dufferin, Wallace, Campbell and MacGregor parks. However, it is becoming clear that under the existing city policies the parks department cannot run the parks in the flexible, innovative ways that local parks staff have continually adapted over the last 20 years. The policies are “one size fits all” and designed for large institutional contexts. They simply don't fit in our neighbourhood-based, small-scale context.

So, I think what we need now is to ask our city councillors and Mayor to enter into an agreement to launch a 2 - 3 year local governance pilot project.

The aim of the agreement would be to suspend the city policies Kelvin describes, as they are applied to these four parks, during the period of the pilot project. Many of these policies have been added fairly recently; they are themselves an experiment. Suspending them for the project area would allow CELOS and local city staff at the four parks to demonstrate how to meet the aims of these city policies in an alternative, small-scale, inexpensive, constantly innovative ways.

Perhaps CUPE Union locals 79 and 416 would have an interest in the pilot - to look at win-win situations of keeping competent, resourceful employees – while bringing the missing third party – the public for whom the city provides services – into the discussions.

University of Indiana political scientist Elinor Ostrom, who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for her work on “Governing the Commons,” has lots to say about the factors that make groups like the park work. This pilot in local governance would draw on her knowledge and experience. http://celos.ca/wiki/wiki.php?n=OstromWorkbook.ListOfPrinciples

Some initial thoughts about some of the key elements we might like to see in the agreement:

Principles:

  • build on the long-time track record of how the four parks work so well for the people who use them - the welcoming, neighbourly focus, broad competence, resourcefulness and versatility of local city staff, and Elinor Ostrom's list of criteria about what makes these kinds of arrangements work
  • leave space to continue to adapt the practical arrangements that make the parks work while addressing the requirements set out in applicable laws and honouring the spirit of city policies (park safety for park users and city staff, respecting employment standards, proven small-scale, flexible, transparent, accountable cash handling arrangements, minimizing city liability, etc)
  • document the experience of the pilot as a model for:
    • 1) running other city parks and public amenities,
    • 2) accessible, publicly transparent and accountable local governance and city budgeting on a small-scale

Goals: To reach an agreement to launch a local governance pilot that:

- reflects and makes space for local staff to continue the actual arrangements and local budgeting decisions (within the existing city allocated budget) that have worked so well in the four parks

- showcases CELOS' “third way” of fundraising to fund enhanced park programming, far beyond what is offered in most city parks

- provides the city with the real costs of running each of the four parks as a model for accessible, publicly transparent and accountable local government and city budgeting

- opts out of the city policies that make it impossible to do what works at the four Ward 18 parks – instead, we go with our proven local accountability measures that meet the purposes and objects of the City of Toronto Act

- provides direct City oversight from subset of city councillors and supervisory staff chosen on their track record of flexibility, innovation and working with local neighbourhoods

- continues to respond in practical ways to address actual and reasonably foreseeable harms and liability based on documented hard evidence available for public evaluation and discussion

- is written in clear, everyday language

Hopefully, we'll have a chance to talk to one another about some of these ideas and all of the others that neighbours and parks friends have written about - maybe at Friday's sleep-in and other Friday night suppers in Dufferin Park. I look forward to seeing you there.

Belinda Cole
The Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS)


Dufferin Grove Park in Trouble (1) community letters Feb/March 2010

Letters to the ombudsman February/March 2010

Ombudsman March 2010

Marie Chen, legal council and senior investigator for the ombudsman, met with Belinda Cole and Jutta Mason on March 2, 2010. The meeting lasted two hours, and a report will follow shortly.

Ombudsman February 2010

Update, Feb.24 2010:

Fiona Crean, the ombudsman, sent us the phone number of her "legal advisor and senior investigator" Marie Chen. Ms.Chen says that after an initial meeting at her office, she would consider coming to Dufferin Grove some evening. That would allow an open conversation around the table at the clubhouse, about how the ombudsman might help citizens in a situation like this one. (The issue is citywide, since neighbourhooods all over the city have lost their familiar rec supervisor.)

The ombudsman originally sent a letter saying she has no jurisdiction. When the letters kept coming, the response letter asked: "While we understand and empathize with your concerns, we would ask that you cease sending us correspondence and making calls on an issue we cannot pursue." Then various people wrote back giving their different interpretation of the ombudsman's role, and that's when Fiona Crean suggested talking to Marie Chen. A Dufferin Grove clubhouse conversation would give the ombudsman's staff to explain why they can't act. It might also give the new office a chance to hear counter-arguments, on the role of the ombudsman as interpreted by the citizens.


Original request, Feb.17 2010: Below is a letter to Toronto's new ombudsman, Fiona Crean. If you want to add your voice, you could block and paste this letter, or edit it as you choose, or write your own and send it to Fiona Crean at ombuds@toronto.ca. Councillor Adam Giambrone is trying to help here, so you might want to cc him at Councillor_Giambrone@toronto.ca.

Other cc's: - General manager Brenda Patterson at bpatter2@toronto.ca - Deputy City Manager Sue Corke at scorke@toronto.ca - Chair of Community Development and Recreation Committee Janet Davis at councillor_davis@toronto.ca

Letter to Fiona Crean, Toronto ombudsman, Wednesday February 17, 2010:

Dear Madam,

For the last fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, and last week we heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

The problem has a larger context. Recreation supervisors are an important point of connection between the city and its neighborhoods. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving all these supervisors across the city to new locations, discarding existing working relationships with the community in favour of ever-tighter central control. We're concerned that this approach is causing lasting damage to what works well in our neighbourhood public spaces. Our concern extends to the waste of talents and taxes, as restrictive policies proliferate in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a culture of timidity takes over. Consultation with citizens (and, we are told, even their city councillors) is lacking, and direct appeals by citizens to management are rebuffed.

At Dufferin Grove Park we are now facing a crisis. There is no doubt but that a continuation of the administration's present approach will soon result in the collapse of what we have built, together with locally-responsive city staff, over many years. Can you help us?


This is the e-mail response from Fiona Crean, Ombudsman, sent at 4.22 pm Thursday Feb.18 2010:

We have had hundreds of complaints from the Dufferin Grove Park patrons and surrounding community about operational decisions being made by Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) with respect to redeployment of their employees and related labour relations issues.

I can investigate public complaints about decisions, actions or recommendations made or omitted in the course of implementing City policies and administrating City services. However, I have no jurisdiction over the Dufferin Grove Park matters raised above. We note that PFR management is entitled and has the responsibility to redeploy their supervisors as it sees fit.

Despite this fact and because there have been so many complaints, we made enquiries. We remain satisfied that these issues are not within our jurisdiction to investigate.

We have been informed that the delivery of service by PFR to Dufferin Park will not be affected by the change in supervisors. While we understand and empathize with your concerns, it is simply not in my jurisdiction to look at.

 

Jutta Mason wrote to the ombudsman, Friday February 19, 2010

Dear Ms.Crean,

Your response to my February 17 e-mail, and to the hundreds of others you received on the same subject, raises more questions than it answers. I hope that the questions that follow in this letter will give you an opportunity to teach Torontonians more about the role of the ombudsman.

In your public talk last November at Scadding Community Centre, you said “test me,” and you also said that you wanted to address not only individual injustices but systemic problems. It’s our contention that the current actions of Parks and Recreation management provide an excellent opportunity to do that. Yesterday’s response from you suggests we are mistaken. We are puzzled and need more explanation.

To pose the problem again: what’s at issue here is systemic across the city, that is, the current Parks and Recreation management’s refusal to engage with the citizens in their local projects of enlivening their community commons. Working in public space, with the people who use it, is the job of Parks and Recreation Division. But under the present administration, staff who do respond to local initiatives where they work are just as likely to be moved somewhere else as those staff who ignore local wishes. In the case of the 15-year project at Dufferin Grove, the recreation supervisor who matched local initiatives with the needed support is being moved away from contact with citizens completely. We believe this is meant to send a warning to his colleagues across the city: don’t collaborate with local projects unless specifically directed from downtown. This top-down approach, mostly speaking with very little listening, is a very bad thing for our parks and community centres. It should be the other way around.

Management’s obliviousness to locally-generated projects is perceived as a problem across the city, not only in Ward 18. Complaints among citizens are rampant, as is their perception that there’s no one they can turn to. All other avenues, including the Community Development and Recreation Committee and the Parks Committee, have been tried, so far without remedy. So we came to you. Here are our follow-up questions:

1. In your letter, you said that you “made enquiries” about our complaint. But you did not make enquiries of us, the complainants, although I offered to provide more specific documentation. Why did you not?

2. You “note that PFR management is entitled and has the responsibility to deploy their supervisors as they see fit.” If Brenda Patterson decided to deploy all her recreation staff at computers or at Metro Hall, and not out in the field at all, is that also her entitlement? Is there a written description of the extent of this entitlement? Are there any limits to this entitlement which would ever come within the ombudsman’s jurisdiction?

3. You wrote that you are satisfied with the information you received, saying that Dufferin Grove Park will not be affected by the change in supervisors. That is not the opinion of the many people who wrote to you. If you are not the right person for citizens to approach when there is disagreement over the management of our public spaces, who is? Can you let us know the relevant policies that address this question?

4. There is a widely-perceived insufficiency of two-way consultation in some of the City’s divisions. This frustrates citizens, agencies, and even our elected representatives. The problem needs to be addressed case by case, without fear of recrimination – currently a rare thing indeed. Brenda Patterson announced the idea of moving all the recreation supervisors out of their areas over a year ago. This was never accompanied by active, ongoing two-way consultation, not with her own field staff and not with citizens. If the city’s policies make no provision for such collaboration, does the ombudsman have a role in recommending a change of approach?

I understand that these questions involve details that may need more research from your staff. This can take time, but we would appreciate knowing soon whether you feel the questions are good ones for you to address.

Jutta Mason
Administrator
The Centre for Local Research into Public Space
416 533-0153

 

John Bowker wrote to the ombudsman Feb.19:

I understand that your mandate is to investigate systemic concerns as well as individual complaints. I don't believe my email mentioned any redeployment of local supervisors. My email concerned the Parks department's apparent policy of centralization, which is being undertaken despite the concerns of the local councillor and the opposition of the Dufferin Grove community. What mandate or authority is there for a policy that could destroy the vitality of this very special park?

On May 15, 2009, City Council received a PFR report that sought "approval for the principles of equitable access, quality, inclusion and capacity building as a foundation for the development of a City-wide, multi-year Recreation Service Plan." The report defines "capacity building" as the creation of programs that "create a sense of community, belonging, and vitality." The report's proposed work plan promised that "a strategy to engage staff, key stakeholders, and the broader community in the development of the Service Plan will take place over the next several months."

Nine months later, no such community engagement has taken place. Instead, a strategy of community disengagement has been taking place. While I did not mention the redeployment of a local supervisor in my first email, I would agree that the reassignment of the senior staffer who worked most closely with the neighbourhood appears to contradict the principle of community engagement that was mandated by City Council.

Therefore, my concern is not so much about one staffing decision, but is rather the failure of PFR to uphold its commitment to public engagement and its apparent indifference to the staff/community partnership that is responsible for the unique "sense of community, belonging, and vitality" that exists at Dufferin Grove. This commitment was a key part of Council approval for restructuring, and without such community engagement, PFR appears to be acting against Council's mandate.


M. G. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Ombudsman,

I am including below a letter that you have no doubt already received from others. This is an important issue for me as a member of the Dufferin Grove community. The park has been a formative place for my children in Toronto and stands out as a model for how the City can work with its communities for good. To hear that it is now threatened in this way is disheartening and speaks to a short-sightedness within the City. I hope that you will hear both sides clearly and be able to help us find a resolution that continues to work, rather than 'fixing what is not broken'.

Thanks for your time and commitment to a solution.

text of our shared concern:

For the past fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that they are in conflict of interest for their community connections, and last week we heard that the long-time recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

The problem has a larger context. Recreation supervisors are an important point of connection between the city and its neighborhoods. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving all these supervisors across the city to new locations, discarding existing working relationships with the community in favour of ever-tighter central control. We're concerned that this approach is causing lasting damage to what works well in our neighbourhood public spaces. Our concern extends to the waste of talents and taxes, as restrictive policies proliferate in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a culture of timidity takes over. Direct appeals by citizens to management are rebuffed.

At Dufferin Grove Park we are now facing a crisis. There is no doubt but that a continuation of the administration's present approach will soon result in the collapse of what we have built together with locally-responsive city staff over many years.

Can you help us?

L. V. wrote to his hockey team:

Please send the Toronto ombudsman, Fiona, a letter TODAY. You can use the template on the park website, as I did below. If the city goes through with what it is proposing, Dufferin Grove park could end up like any other homogenized park, void of personality and community... So, if you can spare 10 minutes TODAY, let's overwhelm the ombudsman with our concerns...

http://dufferinpark.ca/home/wiki/wiki.php

Please forward as you see fit. Thanks so much.

 

Dear Fiona,

I have been a happy member of the Dufferin Grove Park community for almost 10 years, the entire time I've lived in Toronto. I play hockey there every winter, and have enjoyed many of the year-round events that contribute to the unique vibe of this park.

For the past fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that they are in conflict of interest for their community connections, and last week we heard that the long-time recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

The problem has a larger context. Recreation supervisors are an important point of connection between the city and its neighborhoods. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving all these supervisors across the city to new locations, discarding existing working relationships with the community in favour of ever-tighter central control. We're concerned that this approach is causing lasting damage to what works well in our neighbourhood public spaces. Our concern extends to the waste of talents and taxes, as restrictive policies proliferate in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a culture of timidity takes over. Direct appeals by citizens to management are rebuffed.

At Dufferin Grove Park we are now facing a crisis. There is no doubt but that a continuation of the administration's present approach will soon result in the collapse of what we have built together with locally-responsive city staff over many years. Can you help us?

Thanks, Fiona.

D. R. wrote to the Mayor, Councillors and the ombudsperson:

Dear Mayor, Councillors and Ombudsperson,

Please don't change the community-driven and community-building way in which the Dufferin Grove park and rink are currently organized. I don't know what happened in Leaside, but you would be throwing out one of the City's best examples of civic cooperation if you force Dufferin Grove and all other rinks into the same straitjacket.

I actually live closer to the Trinity Bellwoods rink -- it's a sad rink in comparison to Dufferin Grove -- and rarely go there. First of all, it's difficult to get accurate information on when "free" skating time is from the annoying, impersonal automatic telephone recording, and secondly, "free" skating is rare, making it a rink I don't use with my child. At Dufferin Grove, children of all ages come from across the city to skate anytime; and there is always a game of shinny going on the second pad. In addition, there is nothing to draw community members to the Trinity Bellwoods rink in the winter. It remains underused, except by hockey playing teens and young men, for the most part, which is good, but doesn't appeal to the whole community.

In other words, having more official city control doesn't always mean good things for the community.

As a member of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund Investment Committee, I know how important volunteer and citizen involvement is to the City. Rinks like Dufferin Grove thrive on that energy, making the city parks an inviting place for people of all sorts.

Please use Dufferin Grove as a model for how other rinks could evolve to attract more community members. Send staff to study it and replicate it elswhere, rather than closing down the elements that are so needed for people and families who are isolated enough in our busy, urban centres. (Also, please send us back our rink supervisor! Tony was great to work with, though we hope we can build a relationship with the new person too.)

DON"T mess with what works!!!!!! PLEASE resist centralization and bureaucratization -- let local, creative, innovative, community-based events blossom and flourish as they are and work to create more, not less of this in our city.

M. F. wrote to the Park supervisor:

Peter,
I have spoken with the Deputy Mayor regarding the attached statement and he would like to communicate his support of the current organizational system of Dufferin Grove...Also, you might want to communicate the free skate concerns to the Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park. Thank you Peter.

Y. B. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Fiona Crean,

I'm writing to you today out of concern for what i have recently heard is happening to at least one well loved local park. Via the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park, I have come to understand that Parks and Recreation management is making a move to homogenize its offerings. "Management says: No community boards of management for arenas. And in the case of outdoor rinks, the message this year has been getting ever more insistent: No campfires. No skate lending. No mini-pizzas. No woodstoves. No zamboni cafes with cheap food. No easy collaboration between rink staff and rink friends."

It seems to me that the collaborative model that has made Dufferin Grove Park the award winning, and much loved community hub that it is, ought not be destroyed through such restrictions.

From what I understand, it seems the City's administration is methodically breaking the connections between communities and locally-responsive Parks and Recreation staff, in the interest of ever-tighter central control. I'm concerned that this approach will causing lasting damage to what works well in our neighbourhood public spaces. My concern extends to the waste of talents and taxes, as restrictive policies proliferate in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a culture of timidity takes over.

This would seem to be a matter for in-depth consideration by the two committees of Council which have charge of Parks and Recreation. Attempts to interest them, however, have thus far been unsuccessful.

Can your office help in this situation?

More information about this extraordinarily engaged park community can be found here - http://dufferinpark.ca/home/wiki/wiki.php#communityconnections

Thank you for taking the time to look into these concerns.

K. S. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Fiona Crean,

I'm writing to you as Ombudsperson to help save Dufferin Grove Park's unique family and community based activities.

Every Sunday, we go to Dufferin Grove to skate and have lunch at the Zamboni cafe and every summer, we spend many days there with the kids. Not only do we go there because we can meet lots of our friends there and enjoy the urban oasis, but we know we can get healthy snacks and food there. Instead of hot dogs, chips and fries that you find at other arenas or attractions like Ontario Place, the zoo or Centre Island, you can get healthy home made soup, and the best oatmeal cookies you have every tasted. You can make your own pizza using herbs from the community garden.

Not once have we ever been to Dufferin Grove and failed to run into someone we know! In summer, you don't even know it is in the city anymore. Friends of mine refer to it as "the cottage". Part of what makes it unique is the food stand and the chess and reading, or art and singing provided by park staff and community members.

Why ruin this wonderful atmosphere, created and run by the community and hard working park staff? Rather than ruining Dufferin Grove, why not look at this model for other parks, as other parents have tried to do? Under the new Parks plan, the word "equitable" is being used to mean lower the bar so no park has what Dufferin Grove has, including Dufferin Grove - why not raise the bar and share this community based model?

I keep reading that the City of Toronto is overbudget, so why not let things run as they are in Dufferin Grove instead of needing more money or bureaucracy to run things. Why bog this down in red tape? And it seems kind of mean to make Tino DeCastro go sit at City Hall after all the good work for Duffering Grove.

It would be really unfair to the community to change the way the Park is run, so please help keep it like it is.

J. B. wrote:

To the Ombudsman,

I am alarmed at reports that senior City staff are seeking to implement a fast food franchise model of parks management. http://dufferinpark.ca/newsletter/wiki/wiki.php/#tino Under such a model, it would become more difficult for the community to work with local park supervisors to create innovative programs without going through a mountain of red tape.

Dufferin Grove does not have the fanciest equipment or state-of-the-art facilities. It has a COMMUNITY, and that is why people come from all over the city to enjoy this wonderful park. Please do not allow parks staff to threaten the community-driven vitality of Dufferin Grove.

Parks do not need more red tape and bureaucracy. What they need are staffers that are empowered to engage the local community.

M. B. wrote to the ombudsman:

Hi,

I am writing about Dufferin Grove Park and changes to the way it is administered and managed.

The Park and community are fabulous - really great. My son and I go there - winter and summer for many different events - my son is 5. The big sand/mud pit makes summer in the city worthwhile.

But, over all it is a community driven park, with it's camp fire pits, wood stoves, organic farmer's market, music events, little cafe with fresh baked treats of cookies and hearty bread and healthy cheap freshly made foods. This community plants gardens in the warm months and has many events all year. We have enjoyed skating and theatre in the park.

I can go on and on singing the merits of this park and it's community driven "get it done attitude". There are so many other events I haven't listed here. It is for all ages and all incomes. Quite simply it works and it works very, very well. You can see the many happy faces light up the park.

And now, simply put, the city Parks and Recreation management wants to close the community driven element down. This would stop the events there. Please see: http://dufferinpark.ca/newsletter/wiki/wiki.php/#tino

I and my family really encourage you to not change Dufferin Grove Park's management system - it works and in my mind should be a model followed by every park in the city.

E. G. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Fiona Crean.

I am sending you a letter to tell you that I love my neighbourhood park. It is wonderful and a huge part of what I love about living in Toronto. We put up with crime and congestion, but the activities in my park balance off some of what some of my friends move to the suburbs to avoid.

I love the dufferin grove park and the good that has been done for our community through the involvement and initiatives there. It is incredible. In the summer to see people from all different cultures using and taking ownership of the park, picking up someone else's litter and helping with the gardens, it is inspiring.

It is a great example of things that work in our city when people who care are empowered. My life is better because of the work that my neighbours have done. Tino Castro is an excellent manager, helping us in all sorts of ways. Jutta Mason has created a fantastic support with neighbourhood volunteers and logic minded friends. I love this.

I am a single mom and artist in the community that has been working on getting rid of my most recent brain tumour. I am always shocked at how Tino can remember the peculiarities of my situation and really helps us. I understand that Parks and Rec wants to move the managers around. I don't think this makes any sense. The point is that he is really good at what he does and is appreciated for that. Why move him into a role where he has less impact? My community will suffer as a result.

I don't get it.

I have heard the news about the new budget. Increasing fees for community centres will be rough on my neighbourhood. Most of the thousands of park users don't have a back yard or access to much that many other Torontonians enjoy. Many are new to our city and the warmth they are shown is pretty precious and an important part of their lives too. It is very family like. The Dufferin Grove Park is a very special place because of the community support and involvement.

We should be rejoicing and celebrating the good and not dismantling what is working.

Please step in and have a look at what Parks and Rec is proposing for my park.

A. H. wrote to the ombudsman:

Letter to Fiona Crean, Toronto Ombudsman

Dear Madam:

For the last fifteen years, our neighbourhood has been working with city staff to build our local parks – Wallace Emerson, Campbell, McGregor, Dufferin Grove, etc – into lively community commons.

In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management.

The front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, which is ridiculous. Last week we heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. The community believes that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with Building Cleaners (of all things) is a punishment for his support of community efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

I am appalled at the low nature of the internal politics within this city department. It is an unjustifiable waste of resources.

Can you help?

C. K. wrote to the ombudsman:

Here is the email I sent to the 3 emails suggested: As a former Toronto resident, living at Harbord and Ossington, I have grave concerns with regards to the future of Dufferin Grove park. Dufferin Grove park, as it exists today with heavy community involvement, unique... intiatives and a culture all onto its own, STILL draws ME and MY FAMILY as a TOURIST to Toronto for the events that take place within Dufferin Grove park. I am extremely upset to hear that many of the unique aspects that color Dufferin Grove park are being threatened by homogenization. What DO the other parks offer? Not a whole lot. What community is created by some of the other parks? Last I looked....Christie Pits was being used as a garbadge dump and the lovely park at Broadview save for its sports activites had people hiding in the bushes smoking crack and getting up to other so called unsavory activities. Dufferin Grove park, on a Saturday afternoon, evening etc is so filled with activity that unsavory behaviours do not happen or do not happen at the expense of the feeling of community safety. Individuals who may otherwise been attracted to the seedy side of park life are invited to engage in one of the many community activities that are taking place i.e. pizza parties, baby showers or whatever else. (I being one of the expectant mothers baby showers who invited a few park goers to join in) I ask you, what do you WANT the parks to do? What is the mission statement of park and rec. Ask yourself, is the role of our community parks simply to function? Or to thrive. My family met at Dufferin Grove, from all over Ontario for many occasions. Be it a baby shower, a day of fun, a pizza party. In fact, my first son, his first walk out of the house was to Dufferin Grove Park. I knew that there would be tons of fun for us to sit and watch in our haze of recent childbirth. Please do not take our park as it lives today, away. If anything, please consider Colleen K. Former Resident of Toronto Current Tourist of Toronto

Tim Posgate wrote on his blog:

Dufferin Grove Park is one of the best family places in town, hands down! It is run with great spirit by community folks that care. There are such great events, food, parties, Farmers market, skating, swimming and everything you can imagine all under the shade of some nice old trees that are spread all over the park.

Somehow, every now and again the City of Toronto seems to threaten the idea of this perfection by taking it over fully and trying to make it like all the other parks.

It really is hard to believe and I would only guess that none of the people trying to do this have ever spent much time there and definitely don't have kids.

If you are one who uses this park and wants to get involved in keeping it going the way it is now, here is some info.

To CONTACT THE OMBUDSMAN regarding this issue you may visit the website at: http://ombudstoronto.ca/

W.S. wrote:

I spoke to the ombudsman's assistant introducing myself by name and as a resident of Ward 18.

I explained to her the changes that were coming and that many of us in the ward did not want those changes.

She said she was aware of the issue and had already received a few emails. This was around 1:30 pm.

Among other things, I told her we liked Tino and that moving people around would bring instability to the park.

She responded by saying it was an employment matter and that we were to go to the ombudsman as a last resort if a service was not provided and to work things out with Brenda Patterson.

I told her we tried but we weren't getting anywhere.

She said she needed some documentation on what has been happening between the friends of the park and the city.

She took my contact info and we agreed to keep in touch.

E. L. wrote:

Dear Fiona Crean, Ombudsman of Toronto, Councillor Davis, Brenda Patterson, and Sue Corke,

Why, and for what logical reason whatsoever, does the City of Toronto want to take away staff from a magical, inclusive, special place like Dufferin Grove Park, and stop them from supporting and engaging an officially 'at risk, priority and vulnerable community' in the Davenport Riding? Why, when a group of people, such as Jutta Mason, and Anna Galati, create such a creative, vibrant community hub, does the City of Toronto want to lessen community involvement in a park which is a bright light in the center of our city? This is one of the most active and beautiful inner city parks I have ever seen, and it is because of the work of its staff.

Dufferin Grove, and all its events, makes the City of Toronto great, and builds community in the most positive ways- through art, healthy food, and sport. Those who work at Dufferin Grove Park have done much to create outreach for the farmer's community, to encourage healthy and sustainable lifestyles, and to engage all kinds of children in Ward 18, for those who live Toronto to enjoy our city a little more each day.

Please allow Dufferin Grove to continue to thrive, grow, and support community members in the Davenport Riding and beyond. In the Davenport Riding, asthma and morbidity rates are among the highest in Canada due to air quality and poverty, and each day, when I see children skating on the rink, playing in the sandpit, or families attending farmer's markets, is a day that those statistics lessen because of Dufferin Grove providing an example of alternate, healthy lifestyles to affect change in our community.

Please don't break what is not broken, and what does many constituents a world of good to level the playing field for children and adults of all socioeconomic status to teach them how to build a sustainable, constructive community. Dufferin Grove has gone from a very dangerous place to become a beloved, overflowing, active park because of their hard work, and a place for many different cultures to meet and congregrate.

D. O. wrote to cityrinks:

I think we should keep the camp fires and the snackbars etc in the rinks because it makes us happy and safe so i say yes to keep the rinks and the snack bars, camp fires please for the fun of skating and hockey

P.S. wrote to farmers' market manager Anne Freeman:

I have a comment about the letter to the ombudsperson that I think is important - and because there is no place to comment on the website itself, I was hoping that you would pass this on for me.

While I think the idea of a letter that can be sent in is great, the drafting of this letter doesn't have enough information in it to really give me a sense of the issue. While the letter talks about problems, I still didn't know what the actual issue was. Because I'm new to the neighbourhood and I love the services and community stuff at Dufferin Grove, and I'm interested in city parks and services policy - I clicked further and joined the facebook group to learn more. But I think the letter itself should include that information - with either an extra paragraph or sentence or two - otherwise the letter doesn't communicate to people what the actual problem with the re-shuffling of staff is and relies on people doing more digging to actually "get it".

I think including something as simple as "Many of the services we offer residents, services that both build community and provide a healthy lifestyle for a vibrant city, are threatened by the proposed reshuffling of staff and homogenization of services. Our ability to offer a well-organized farmer's market, community dinner, skate-lending, cheap food and other affairs are fostered by and dependent on involved and informed city staff who are informed, responsible and innovative. Taking away the capacity that's been built and preventing it from being shared harms not only our community but all of Toronto." in the form letter would be a lot more informative for people like me who care about the issue and for people that we need to convince to help us.

If you could pass this on to the website person, or the letter designer, I would be very grateful!

From Jutta Mason to P.S.

Anne Freeman forwarded your letter. I'm hoping that you might post it to the facebook group, to clarify some of the issues that you feel are missing....? We'll put it on the web site "community comments" too, with just your initials. Every bit helps, thanks! (And I'm hoping you sent your expanded version to the ombudsman)

By the way, have you had a chance to read the longer explanations in the February park newsletter? You might find them interesting, to give a little background, and of course there is a lot in the newsletter archives too, if you really want to poke around a bit.... archives.

The things at Dufferin Grove Park were never exactly meant to be a service. This was just something that grew up among people in an odd little corner of the city (across from Wal-Mart!?) at a particular moment in time. In the current municipal climate, it may not be viable, but other odd and interesting things will come along at other times, as the next wave moves in (like you!). Thanks for writing me in such detail -- that's rare, and appreciated.

Bernard and Emily Kingvisser wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Ms. Crean,

For the last fifteen years, we have had the privilege of working with various community members and City of Toronto staff committed to developing and sustaining meaningful urban relationships to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. We raised our two young girls at this park, skating in the winter and playing in the wading pool in the summer. We taught our children how to make pizza at the pizza ovens and ate among our community at Friday night suppers. We shopped at the farmers market on Thursday afternoons and joined hundreds of participants at Dusk Dances. The programming at Dufferin Grove Park is well known - and has only been possible through the collaboration of City staff and local residents. Our children are the result of this remarkable community, and we remain so grateful to share in its success.

In the past year, this concerted effort to create real and meaningful community has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, and last week we heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

The problem has a larger context. Recreation supervisors are an important point of connection between the city and its neighborhoods. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving all these supervisors across the city to new locations, discarding existing working relationships with the community in favour of ever-tighter central control. We're concerned that this approach is causing lasting damage to what works well in our neighbourhood public spaces. Our concern extends to the waste of talents and taxes, as restrictive policies proliferate in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a culture of timidity takes over. Consultation with citizens (and, we are told, even their city councillors) is lacking, and direct appeals by citizens to management are rebuffed.

At Dufferin Grove Park we are now facing a crisis. There is no doubt but that a continuation of the administration's present approach will soon result in the collapse of what we have built, together with locally-responsive city staff, over many years. Can you help us?

Please contact us and let us know what can be done. And accept our thanks in advance for your consideration of this complex issue.

C. V. wrote:

I am a very concerned parent, contacting you in the hope that you will encourage the City to leave Dufferin Grove Park in the hands of the community that is currently running it. Thank you C. V.\\ Parent of 2 Children aged 4 and 6.

Pamela Cuthbert wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Madam,

For the last fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. I am disappointed to learn that in the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. This city-centre park is an important gathering place for families, friends, youth and elderly alike -- and a leader in the increasingly popular movement to support local food systems through a weekly, year-round farmers market. A true urban gem, it deserves the City's support.

The Park's managers have informed me that front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, and last week they heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. This is a problem with a broader context: Recreation supervisors are an important point of connection between the city and its neighborhoods. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving supervisors across the city to new locations, thereby discarding existing, working relationships with the community -- and all in favour of ever-tighter central controls. Consultation with citizens (and, we are told, even their city councillors) is lacking, and i am disappointed to learn that direct appeals by citizens to management have been rebuffed.

Dufferin Grove Park is now facing a crisis. There is no doubt but that a continuation of the administration's present approach will soon result in the collapse of what we have built, together with locally-responsive city staff, over many years. Can you help us?

H. P. wrote:

Dear Toronto Ombuds and General Manager Brenda Patterson-

I am writing you today to ask you to please do what you can to ensure the survival of the community element of Dufferin Grove Park. I am a resident in the area and I chose to live in this neighbourhood because of all that Dufferin Grove Park has to offer.

My family does not have a car so our way of enjoying the seasons is by visiting the park. Whether it is skating, playing in the playground, jumping in leaves or watching the new flowers and plants bloom, we do this in Dufferin Grove. Many of those things we could do in other parks but Dufferin Grove is a special place. I can go with my child and stay all day because I know I can buy healthy food when I am there and we can take part in a variety of activities - most of which are provided by the community (books, playing checkers, watching outdoor plays or shows, dance/music lessons).

I feel that my son is safe when I am there as there is a strong community that looks out for each other and the park (keeping it clean and maintained).

My friends who live in other neighbourhoods and other cities are jealous of the park. Let's use it as an example on how we can improve our neighbourhoods, rather than take it away because it is unique. Let's use it to showcase how great Toronto is ... and build on the ideas!

Equitable access, quality, inclusion, and capacity building. These four pillars are found in Dufferin Grove like nowhere else that I know of.

Again, please do what you can to keep Dufferin Grove as the amazing center for our community that it is.

C. P. wrote, Feb 17:

To whom it may concern,

I'd like to echo those that have already written to express their concerns and displeasure at what is potentially happening at Dufferin Grove.

I'd like to in fact go a step further to say that if we shut down these communities and the services they provide, then we have taken a giant step backwards in time. Why don't we just don on the puritan uniforms of our ancestors. Let's ban alcohol across the city, let's ban Halloween - as it just incites the heathen ways of those community-minded folk who want to contribute to their community. For god's sake, get your heads out of your beaurocratic asses and see what the Friends of Dufferin Grove have done for an entire community. In fact, these groups should be encouraged across all the city. Trinity-Bellwoods is another fine example where community Puritans (i.e. rate payers that live on Crawford) are enhibiting that park to be something spectacular for downtown Toronto. Why not a wine bar like in the great parks of Europe?

A concerned community member and parent living at College and Dovercourt.


February 18, 2010
M. L. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Fiona Crean,

Congratulations on your role as Toronto Ombud. I know you bring a long and distinguished record of human rights and equity work to this current post, the very existence of which is a testament to the vitality of the democratic community spirit that has made Toronto such a successful city.

I'm writing to you about the latest threat to Dufferin Grove Park, a community that has amazed, moved and exhilarated me since I first began going to the park with my infant grandsons. I could never have believed that a park could stimulate so much creativity in young and old, foster such strong bonds of friendship, stimulate so much community investment and commitment to neighbourhood betterment, give birth to such a festivity of art, crafts, wholesome food and, above all, the kind of safe, lively, free outdoor play for children that is rare beyond rubies.

The farmers' market, the skating lessons, the folk dance lessons for preschoolers, the cricket games, the Dusk Theatre ---it all springs from the most powerful sense of community I ever encountered, in all my 70 years as a born Torontonian. (The parks of my childhood were desolate. The only adults who came there were the flashers who lurked by the bleachers).

Time and again, I have attended meetings at the park where city bureaucrats have come to lay down the law and refuse permission or flexibility around some rule, real or imagined. At more than one meeting, I have been shocked by the incomprehension of Brenda Patterson. She was trying to be fair, she was citing the rule book, and seemingly without any malevolent intent ---solely out of bureaucratic control ---she was willing to threaten everything that had been so lovingly and painstakingly built up by citizen effort.

Dufferin Grove is magical, and it is all built on the people who have come together there. Experts come from all over the world to see how it was done. And now, to see it on the verge of being undone, for no human reason, is simply too painful a loss.

Someone in the city power structure must intervene! The fate of the city's most diverse and vibrant community cannot rest in the hands of one indifferent bureaucrat!

Please do your best to prevent this.

C. T. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Madam Fiona Crean, Ombudsman

When I hear “Dufferin Grove Park is in trouble!”, I must respond immediately.

Toronto’s Dufferin Park is working. It is a place in my city where my toddler is learning about trees, campfires, gardens, cooking, music, live theatre and arts and crafts. It is at this park where we meet fellow Toronto families, from diverse backgrounds, who share our community spirit.

The families and friends of Dufferin Park are working hard to build a strong forward-thinking community. We are looking to you for your support and to achieve new accomplishments together.

J. M. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Ombudsman:

The Dufferin Grove Park is in jeopardy of losing its ability to be a centre for community based activism and community spirit. It is a community driven park, it has camp fire pits, wood stoves, organic farmer's market, music events, little cafe with fresh baked treats of cookies and hearty bread and healthy cheap freshly made foods. This community plants gardens in the warm months and has many events all year. It has a "can do attitude". It is for all ages and all incomes.The city Parks and Recreation management wants to close the community driven element down. This would stop the events there.

There have been meetings with Kelvin Seow, Malcolm Bromley, Brenda Patterson, and Councillor Janet Davis, i.e. all the way up the line.Parks and Recreation management is making its move to homogenize its offerings. Management says: No community boards of management for arenas. And in the case of outdoor rinks, the message this year has been getting ever more insistent: No campfires. No skate lending. No mini-pizzas. No woodstoves. No zamboni cafes with cheap food. No easy collaboration between rink staff and rink friends.Over the past two years, the Ward 18 recreation supervisor has not managed to completely cut his community ties, or completely forget his “let’s make it work” approach to his rink staff. So at the end of January, management let him know he was leaving Ward 18. He’s not the only recreation supervisor being moved away from the communities where they have relations with the neighbourhood and the local councillor – almost all of them have been transferred to new wards. But Tino DeCastro is not reassigned to another ward. For his “let’s make it work” experience at the Ward 18 rinks (and all year round), he is to be sent to an office in Metro Hall, liaising with building cleaners.

This is simply not acceptable to curtail community development and citizen participation in the city core. This is bureaucracy at its worst. Something must be done to keep neighbourhood initiative from being shut down. I have felt for a long time that Dufferin Grove is a best practice and should be treated as such. What can the ombudsman do to recognize how much of a need there is for citizens to stay involved in their local communities to make them thrive to deter crime and to build neighbourliness. This is not the time to standardize offerings and make them all pale, jaundiced replicas of each other. Respect the vibrancy of Dufferin Grove and secure its future by having the Parks and Recreation Department stand down and lend its support to the community initiative.

K. S. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Ombudsperson,

I understand that there is a move afoot within parks and rec. to standardize programming at parks / rinks and to either advertently or inadvertently shut down the wonderful things that are happening at Dufferin Grove Park (in the form of The "recreation service plan"?) I moved to the neighborhood precisely because of these things, and it would be devastating to have the community element removed from the park. This would be dragging DG-- an international award winning (see pps.org)-- down to the lowest common denominator. People all over Canada have been inspired by all of the programming, from the food to the campfires to the playground/sandpit, pizza making, farmers market and theatre in the park. Why on earth would we want to do anything but encourage this community- and public space-building initiative?

Apparently any consultation about this plan has been completely pro forma. I have certainly heard nothing about any opportunity to have input on it.

As a case in point, I understand that the Parks Supervisor (Tino de Castro) who has been helpful to enabling all these outside-the-box initiatives, has been shifted to a job supervising cleaners at city hall. His work has been in sharp distinction to other staff whose perpetual contribution is to try and shut down anything grassroots and community-driven, either because of overwork, risk aversion, apathy or general irritability at having to think differently about different parks.

Hmmm. The shift of Mr. De Castro is either a bad mistake, or has a more intentional strategic motivation. When anyone wants to understand or find out about what is going on in the bureaucracy, nothing but hurdles are raised.

I heard you on the radio saying that this is a priority for you-- ensuring lines of accountability and transparency among city staff, and facilitating public input. This might be a good starting place.

Thanks for your attention.

A. wrote:

I just spoke to the Ombudsman's Office and they have received about 90 emails (plus phone calls) so far and they are drafting a formal response.

They cannot cannot interfere with "staff" choices as this is out of their jurisdiction. However, we can make a case for "administrative unfairness".

The office has asked if we can help provide documentation to back up the claim of unfairness (ie. the last letter received from parks and rec.) and other helpful documents. Once again a strong case must be made regarding 'unfairness', not 'staff selection'.

I was asked to help provide any helpful documentation, but I do not think I am the one to do this. Can someone help take care of that?

Kind Regards,

Jutta Mason wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Ms.Crean,

Today I sent you an e-mail about a crisis at Dufferin Grove Park, and how it reflects a much larger problem at Parks, Forestry and Recreation. The writer below (Angela Read) has let me know that you are sending out a response, and that you have asked for more documentation. Since this alert originates from me, I am certainly well prepared (too well, alas) to submit any documentation you require. I will wait to see your letter.

A. S. wrote to the ombudsman:

Ms. Crean,

I am watching with alarm the bureaucratic train wreck that the city seems intent on pursuing at Dufferin Grove Park, and indeed across this self-proclaimed "city within a park".

I will refrain from simply copying and pasting a well-worded missive from the park website, as I'm sure that you've seen quite enough of it by this point. I shall instead offer up a few of my own thoughts.

I have lived in Toronto for over 20 years, having come from a small town in Northern Ontario. During my childhood, we lived an idyllic existence with many friendly neighbors, and a great community feel. When I moved to Toronto (a much larger city), I found quite quickly that 'neighborhoods' meant quite a different thing down here. There was isolation, and an impersonal undercurrent to the city. Some years later, I moved to College & Dufferin to raise my young family. It was then that I discovered a magical place called Dufferin Grove Park. I thought I knew what a proper neighborhood "should be" from my youth. But I was immediately taken by the community that had (and continues) to evolve around Dufferin Grove. It was a place that I embraced, and it was a place that in turn embraced me and my family.

My enthusiasm has been tempered, however, by years of hijinks brought about by the machinery of the city, specifically the department of Parks & Recreation. Many, many good things have been done at this park, but for every little miracle there seems to be a jab from the city in turn. Every step forward seems to be matched with an attempt by some bureaucrat with (I presume) an MBA to march two steps back. It is getting tiresome.

Dufferin Grove Park works.

I will now point out that I am a tax-paying property owner, and it is my (mistaken?) impression that I am paying the salaries of those that (purportedly) run the city, specifically, the managers in the department of Parks & Recreation. They work for me, and they work for my family. I'm sorry if the antics of the park don't fit into the one-size-fits-all strategy being pursued by the departmental managers. But it is what I want, and it is what thousands of people who embrace the park want.

In closing, I shall make a financial appeal. I own a house close to the park. If I were to sell this house today, it's value would be raised simply but putting the words "Close to Dufferin Grove Park" in the ad. If the park gets marginalized and loses it's magic, then I will stand to lose money. A great deal of money.

Please instruct the Department of Parks & Recreation to work WITH Dufferin Grove Park. Stop the transfer of Ward 18 recreation supervisor Tino DeCastro to metro hall. Establish lines of communication so that instead of fighting the success of Dufferin Grove Park, it instead embraces it, and spreads it across the city.

B. C. wrote:

When I visited my local rink this weekend, I was alarmed to hear that the human touches that make our recreation facilities such a pleasure to visit are in peril. My family and I are regular users of Wallace Emerson and Dufferin Grove and have always been thankful for the City providing frontline staff with the ability to respond to community initiatives and to truly support community building and sustenance in our city. As a former Parks and Rec employee back in the 90s, I noticed that staff were often hampered in our ability to respond to actual community, and assumed that the last decade or so of leadership had learned the valuable lesson of empowering frontline staff rather than seeking to control them. Has amalgamation taught us nothing? If the Province had the foresight to support its cities and urban centres rather than “govern” them—in the sense of a governess, doling out instruction and sporadic funding to unruly children rather than true parenting which includes guidance, support and flexibility—we might be living a different reality in Toronto today. Clearly, Parks, Forestry and Recreation has had a good thing that for some reason, someone has decided to tamper with. Please ensure that any changes to the current structure are well thought out and have the interests of individual communities in mind. In an era of budget tightening, the creativity and commitment of frontline workers must be given a voice in how we will continue to build safe and inspiring communities.

Please do your best to ensure that the concerns of the constituencies directly affected are heard and respected.

C. K. wrote:

As a former Toronto resident, living at Harbord and Ossington, I have grave concerns with regards to the future of Dufferin Grove park. Dufferin Grove park, as it exists today with heavy community involvement, unique... intiatives and a culture all onto its own, STILL draws ME and MY FAMILY as a TOURIST to Toronto for the events that take place within Dufferin Grove park. I am extremely upset to hear that many of the unique aspects that color Dufferin Grove park are being threatened by homogenization. What DO the other parks offer? Not a whole lot. What community is created by some of the other parks? Last I looked....Christie Pits was being used as a garbadge dump and the lovely park at Broadview save for its sports activites had people hiding in the bushes smoking crack and getting up to other so called unsavory activities. Dufferin Grove park, on a Saturday afternoon, evening etc is so filled with activity that unsavory behaviours do not happen or do not happen at the expense of the feeling of community safety. Individuals who may otherwise been attracted to the seedy side of park life are invited to engage in one of the many community activities that are taking place i.e. pizza parties, baby showers or whatever else. (I being one of the expectant mothers baby showers who invited a few park goers to join in) I ask you, what do you WANT the parks to do? What is the mission statement of park and rec. Ask yourself, is the role of our community parks simply to function? Or to thrive. My family met at Dufferin Grove, from all over Ontario for many occasions. Be it a baby shower, a day of fun, a pizza party. In fact, my first son, his first walk out of the house was to Dufferin Grove Park. I knew that there would be tons of fun for us to sit and watch in our haze of recent childbirth. Please do not take our park as it lives today, away. If anything, please consider Colleen K. Former Resident of Toronto Current Tourist of Toronto

A. M. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Ms. Crean

I write to express my feelings about the importance of a strong community in my part of Toronto. I love living in this city and chose to buy a home in this area in large part due to the close and supportive community that was created around Dufferin Grove Park. I have found a haven within the large city of Toronto where I have established close friendships myself and have found a wonderful community for my daughter. We regularly use the park and attend functions such as plays, musical performances, festivals, dinners, skating, etc. These activities and the community that supports them are invaluable for me and my family.

In recent months the efforts to maintain and grow this welcoming and supportive community have come under attack by the very organization that should be supporting it and using it as an inspiration for other parts of this beautiful city. I understand that the staff of the park, who devote their extraordinary talents and skills to nurturing this community have been intimidated by officials from Parks, Forestry and Recreation. In addition, the recreation supervisor who has worked so well with the community has been advised he will be transferred to a different position.

The position he now holds is an important link between city neighborhoods such as ours and the City itself. It is vitally important that the person who holds this position establish a good working relationship with the Community, including park staff, and develop a strong understanding of what works in each unique community. These relationships become important bridges between the community and the city and are the most efficient way to utilize the limited resources of the city. Interfering with these relationships is a waste of the talents of those involved and leads to waste and misuse of limited public funds.

I am very concerned that the approach that is being taken now will cause a breakdown of the important community hubs that have been established for me, my family and my neighbors. I want to be consulted about these issues before decisions that seem to me to be destructive are made. Are you willing to help this community and, assuming your answer is yes, how will that happen?

D. R. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Ms. Crean,

I’m writing to support the initiative to re-instate the recreation supervisor who was working with the volunteer staff at Dufferin Grove. The issue may sound rather trivial but I don’t believe it is. Before I explain, let me, In the interest of full disclosure acknowledge that I support Friends of Dufferin Grove and have made it the largest beneficiary of my charitable donations for the past several years.

In the nearly forty years I’ve lived in Toronto I hardly have a friend who, when considering a place for athletic and/or social purposes, hasn’t chosen a private club. I have resisted the choice because private clubs tend to be restrictive -- members tend to be defined by income, religion, or ethnicity -- and that doesn’t work for me. I like public space because in it I have more of a chance to meet my neighbours. My attitude is personal but I think, in our Toronto, its not insignificant. In our Toronto the idea of neighbour is important. Diversity does not naturally breed neigbourliness. In fact the opposite is true.

If you accept that public space ought to be the locus of neigbourliness, then you must ask which public space works to that end. Allow me to offer a personal view. Have you ever gone to a public swimming pool in summer? It is astoundingly chilling – and I’m not speaking of the water. I’ve rarely visited a pool at which the staff hasn’t treated me as a potential rule-violator rather than as a guest. Securities exchanges around the world do not close more precisely on time. Pleasure and ease, the lubricants to neigborliness, tend to be foreign to the places: You get in, you get out, you go home.

Contrast the experience with Dufferin Grove. Dufferin is friendly, vibrant, human. It lends itself to conversation. You meet people there.

Why the difference? I’m no expert but it seems to me that the explanation lies in who manages the two spaces. Pools are run by city staff. They come from away. To them their job is just that -- a job. Dufferin is run by volunteers. Most of them live in the neighbourhood. What they do, they do because it makes them feel good.

Dufferin Grove’s success has come about with more opposition from the city than support. Its astonishing that this would be the case. The place has become a Toronto treasure. Its also become a potential gift to the city in that the city can use it as a model for what public space might be – at absolutely no cost. The current recreation supervisor understands Dufferin’s pulse and soul. I urge you to help nurture Dufferin and the initiative it represents by, in the present instance, working toward having him remain Dufferin’s contact with the city.

Jutta Mason wrote to D. R.:

Thanks for copying me on your eloquent e-mail to the ombudsman. The only thing is, Dufferin Grove is not run by volunteers. All the people who work in recreation there are part-time recreation staff, working for $9 - $17 (top) per hour. The CELOS funds add programming but the basic responsibility is with the City. That means, running the park is cheap for the City but not free -- it does make (good) use of our taxes. The rec staff fooled you because they act like volunteers -- i.e. friendly and enthusiastic and inventive. And almost all of them do live in the neighbourhood.

Their "volunteer" mentality is the reason they are being warned about "conflict of interest." City staff are supposed to remember at all times that they work for "the corporation of the City of Toronto." They are not to do things on their own initiative but to follow direction. If there is no policy allowing staff to run a zamboni cafe or a $2 skate rental program at city outdoor rinks, then it should not be happening. Part-time rec staff from Dufferin Grove should not EVER be getting together with city staff or park users in other parts of town, to talk about how to make a community campfire work. Part-time staff are at the bottom of the hierarchy. If they have questions or suggestions they must only approach the city staff directly above them. Otherwise they can be warned and then disciplined. I'm not kidding.

That's how so many talents and gifts are wasted across the city, and that's why there have been such strenuous efforts applied to Dufferin Grove -- to get it back into the fold. Wrong-headed, for sure -- because when staff are encouraged to act like volunteers, they may work wonders, like at Dufferin Grove.

You were mistaken about the Dufferin Grove recreation staff being volunteers, but you see the reality at the park more clearly than management does at the moment. I sure hope their vision clears in time.

D. C. to the ombudsman:

Dear Fiona Crean,

For the last nine years I have had the privilege of hosting an event at Dufferin Grove Park. I have always had a positive experiance and the staff at Dufferin Grove has always gone beyond the pale to help. We have always been considered part of the scheduling at the rink. We have never had to obtain insurance, permits and donated money for the ice time. This year it all changed. A month before our event was to happen we were told that we would need insurance, permits and have to pay for the ice. We were then informed that this was all part of a bigger plan to centralize the ice scheduling.

I worry what this approach might have to the community as a whole. Is a centralized approach really the best route to go? I realize that the city is in a financial bind and needs to find money to pay its bills, but is it best to take the public out of "public parks"?

I understand that in the past the scheduling for the ice and park events was left in the hands of the local park committees. What is the reason behind this change? Is this for the best for communities that have put so much time and effort into making the parks work?

I have also heard that city staff that have worked with the community have found that this relationship has put them in a conflict of interest. I have also heard that because of this conflict one of the city staff have been transferred. Is this a punishment for helping the community have the park that we want?

I would think that these affiliations would strengthen the bond between community and city. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving all these supervisors across the city to new locations. I am concerned that this new way of doing business will disrupt the community feel of the park and add unneeded waste and cost to the city.

Can you look into this situation to make sure that the parks continue to serve the people in the community and not the whims of upper management? I believe that the parks have been well looked after with the community model that has been in place. To replace it with people who do not know the park, the people or the community seems like a recipe for disaster.

I appreciate your time on this matter and look forward to your response.

R. R. to the ombudsman:

Dear Ms. Crean,

I am the mother of two young, lively boys and expecting my third. For as long as I have been at home with the children, Dufferin Grove Park has been a haven for me both in winter and in summer. Wherever I go in my travels, whether they are local, provincial or abroad, people have heard of this park and/or are envious of all of the amazing things that it offers, due in large part to the engagement of its staff and the leadership and support of its management. Kudos come from all over the world and yet it seems that Dufferin is set to become a victim of management "best practices". I would urge you to see for yourself the great work that is going on in this park and perhaps find ways for other public spaces around the city to emulate its model, rather than let it go the way of so many good initiatives that do not conform to a popular theory of how things ought to work. I am too tired, in the third trimester of this pregnancy to more eloquently articulate the situation at Dufferin Grove Park than has been outlined by a letter you may have already received and so I enclose the body of that letter below in order to bring to mind exactly the work that Dufferin Grove Park does and the situation in which it currently finds itself.

Please don't let Dufferin Grove Park become the victim of a new business model but instead look to it as a good place to see how to do more great things in this city and with our public spaces.

Thank you very much for giving this your attention and I am confident that you can help us find a positive solution.

text of our shared concern:

For the last fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, and last week we heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

The problem has a larger context. Recreation supervisors are an important point of connection between the city and its neighborhoods. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving all these supervisors across the city to new locations, discarding existing working relationships with the community in favour of ever-tighter central control. We're concerned that this approach is causing lasting damage to what works well in our neighbourhood public spaces. Our concern extends to the waste of talents and taxes, as restrictive policies proliferate in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a culture of timidity takes over. Consultation with citizens (and, we are told, even their city councillors) is lacking, and direct appeals by citizens to management are rebuffed.

At Dufferin Grove Park we are now facing a crisis. There is no doubt but that a continuation of the administration's present approach will soon result in the collapse of what we have built, together with locally-responsive city staff, over many years. Can you help us?

C. S. to the ombudsman:

If there is indeed a policy of moving city staff when they are perceived to become attached to a community, I beg you to do all you can to have this policy reconsidered. Dufferin Grove has been a beacon of innovative community building for the entire city for years, and the staff "on the ground" there are to be highly commended for their ability to allow what is truly important about making a great public space available to all. The park is a model for all parks. The facilities are clean, there are clear rules, but there is also lots of people doing overlapping activities and managing it with minimum friction.

There is no way to make everyone get along perfectly, there will always be problems. Taking away the people who understand them is not going to make the problems go away, and will undoubtedly make everyone very unhappy.

A. P. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Fiona Crean (Ombudsman, City of Toronto),

Like many people in the extended neighbourhood of Dufferin Grove Park my family and I are drawn to it and inspired by it. Indeed, we think it serves as a strong example of how activities and solutions to problems in public parks and rinks, etc., can be efficient, sensible, cost-efficient, and hugely effective -- particularly when generated by the very community they serve and with the responsive help of City workers who understand the local situation.

The proof of this is evident to anyone who visits this park. The vibrancy and cheerfulness of the place makes any visitor think, “I want to be a part of that.” And because the people who have generated the solutions, activities, and vibrancy are of the community, it becomes clear to anyone that he or she can be a part of it.

This model works. The City of Toronto needs more places like this: public spaces in which the City is responsive to the needs of its community by being open to community-generated solutions. We do not need more red tape, or one-size-fits-all solutions. Good relations with responsive City workers – such as the recreation supervisor of Ward 18 who I understand was recently transferred away from the park -- are part of the building blocks of our community. Please help us by understanding and supporting non-centralized models – such as Dufferin Grove Park – that have proven successful.

With best regards,

J. B. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Madam,

My family and I have lived in the Dovercourt park neighbourhood for over 14 years and have been visiting Dufferin Grove Park since our first son was born more than eleven years ago. What we have experienced over the years is really quite phenomenal and can only be viewed as a successful experiment in public space management. My children have learned to skate here, they have made wood oven pizzas, had birthday parties, celebrated Halloween, eaten exotic foods, "worked" with staff to serve food, sat around fire pits drinking hot chocolate, had BBQs, watched plays, shopped and tasted at the organic market, played tether ball, taken dance classes, built cities in the enormous sand pit, made rivers with a running hose, played safely in the wading pool for hours, made cob ( a type of adobe) for the park structure, planted in the garden and made many many friends with kids, families, dog walkers, childless people and the elderly at Friday night suppers and innumerous other opportunities to interact with the community as a whole. Could this have happened at another park? I doubt it. Could it have happened in a comparable inner city park such as Dufferin Grove is? I highly doubt it.

What makes Dufferin Grove special as I see it is the ability for a community to come together and make things happen and for City staff to allow this to happen. For that I thank you.

For reasons that have not been explained to me I understand that the way the City approaches things is changing and not for the better. I ask that you consider the implications of breaking this model that, in my view works so well and ensure that not only Dufferin Grove continues to operate successfully but that you spread this knowledge so others in the city can put into practice what works so well in Dufferin Grove,

S. S. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Madam,

It’s come to my attention that Parks and Recreation has implemented a new policy requiring park supervisors to be redeployed to new neighbourhoods. This is most alarming for communities who have collaborated with city staff to build wonderful public spaces such as Dufferin Grove Park. Although I don’t live near Dufferin Grove Park, I’ve traveled across the city to enjoy the incredible things it offers. Our wedding celebration bread was baked in its ovens, my high school students have skated on its rinks, I’ve played in a women’s shinny tournament while my infant & husband cozied by its wood fire. I’ve taken my parents to its community dinner (even though they live in Leaside) because it is a model community for all citizens. I understand and share the concern about haphazardly moving supervisors to new locations.

Recently, some of the kind folks at Dufferin Grove (friends of the park, as well as city staff) helped me and a neighbour organize a rinkside campfire at our local east end park. Without their help, experience and knowledge, it never would have happened. What has become commonplace at Dufferin Grove was a bureaucratic nightmare for our park because staff had no idea how to handle our request for a campfire. Having done it once, however, it seems hopeful that the seeds have been planted for more special gatherings like the one around our skating fire. Indeed, our park’s recreation supervisor hopes to bring his kids to the next one.

However, it’s disheartening to learn that relationships like the ones we are beginning to build with our own recreation supervisor & front line staff may be doomed from the outset. Will they risk being reprimanded or redeployed to manage Metro Hall’s building cleaners if they work too hard to support the blossoming park community? Is the mediocre status quo of our park what we have to look forward to?

Please help restore & improve the necessary framework to make our public space work as it should.

J. H. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Fiona Crean,

(cc. dufferingrovefriends@googlegroups.com, Councillor_Giambrone@toronto.ca)

The recent removal of Tino DeCastro from his position as manager of the Wallace Emmerson Community Center is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the city's recent anti-community activities.

It's no secret that there has grown, in several neighbourhoods in the city, a feeling of connection and involvement that has driven a revitalization of services and the ways in which they are delivered. Groups have formed around parks and recreation centers and allowed people to connect in ways largely unseen before in the city. This has encouraged citizens becoming involved in their neighbourhoods and getting together with city employees to help "make things work". Fundraising and locally funded groups have done a great deal to promote this movement, and cost the city nothing. These citizen driven initiatives have been a huge success in terms of delivering services to the community.

For some unknown reason, such unbridled success has seemingly caused the Parks and Recreations Department to do everything they can to stop it! Their underhanded and prohibitive attitude (which has been detailed in other places, such as the DufferinGroveFriends website, and will not be repeated here by me) has gone a long way to sour the working and recreational environments at many city parks.

Is this the publicly stated mandate of the department? Why is there a concerted attack on our communities? What is the city going to do about this problem?

J. M. wrote to the ombudsman:

Dear Ms Crean:

It's come to my attention that one of our family's most beloved Toronto spaces, Dufferin Grove Park, is in danger of losing its autonomy, placing its lively and creative relationship with surrounding communities in jeopardy.

Dufferin Grove Park could perhaps be seen as almost a model of what an urban park ought to be: in an ideal central location serving many regions of the city, it seeks to involve a highly participatory community while fostering great working relationships with local artistic production companies, organic food vendors. This park pulls off so many diverse endeavours it sometimes boggles the mind. As anyone who's been there can attest, visiting Dufferin Grove Park is a totally different experience every single time.

Yet while this park could serve as a role model, it is a model which I also believe could never be successfully applied in many areas around the GTA: in a more suburban region, for example, or one with less desirable transit routes, an entirely different model should apply.

It is my fear that in standardizing parks within Toronto, the city will - let's face it; clumsily - remove key individuals who have helped to foster these essential community relationships and place leadership of the park in the hands of those who live elsewhere and do not understand fully its particular assets.

I truly believe we ought to strive to become the "City within a Park," as the Parks, Forestry and Recreation slogan claims. And if that is the case, I believe the parks' needs - each park's unique and special requirements - must always come first.

Thanks for listening,

{moi}

p.s. I have cc'd Joe Mihevc, our own hard-working city councillor, in the hopes that he will get involved to whatever extent he can in helping keep this park - an amazing free resource quite essential to many of his constituents - as free and amazing as possible.

F. S. wrote:

Dear Fiona Cream,

I have been an active member of the Dufferin Grove community, as well as simply an enjoyer of the park since I moved to Toronto in the early 1990's. I have had the pleasure of being part of, and witnessing, the growth and development of this unique community space. Throughout my years, I have always admired and appreciated the hard work of BOTH community members and Park's Staff whose energy and enthusiasms have combined to create a healthy, active, creative space in what was once a needle infested, unfriendly downtown park.

For the last fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, and last week we heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

The problem has a larger context. Recreation supervisors are an important point of connection between the city and its neighborhoods. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving all these supervisors across the city to new locations, discarding existing working relationships with the community in favour of ever-tighter central control. We're concerned that this approach is causing lasting damage to what works well in our neighbourhood public spaces. Our concern extends to the waste of talents and taxes, as restrictive policies proliferate in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a culture of timidity takes over. Consultation with citizens (and, we are told, even their city councillors) is lacking, and direct appeals by citizens to management are rebuffed.

At Dufferin Grove Park we are now facing a crisis. There is no doubt but that a continuation of the administration's present approach will soon result in the collapse of what we have built, together with locally-responsive city staff, over many years. Please take into account the importance of preserving and supporting what helps create an actually liveable Toronto, rather than a bureaucratically practical system. Sincerely and with hopes of change,


To Brenda Patterson, General Manager Parks, Forestry and Recreation

February 17, 2010
G. T. wrote to Parks, Forestry and Recreation general manager Brenda Patterson:

Dear Ms Patterson, I never cease to be amazed at how wrong bureaucracies can be. If the lessons of Jane Jacobs and so many others since her have been forgotten let's start with one thing that she said in regards to making Toronto Island a park with no resident communitiy. "If something is unique and beautiful, don't destroy it. " I may be paraphrasing but what that means is if something like the Friends of Dufferin Grove Community is singular in its qualities, then don't risk destroying that. I have watched in Trinity Bellwoods as they have tried to duplicate what has grown at DGP and it's always "close but no cigar." The main reason that I can see is that DGP is resolutely bottom up in how it is run. Do you really think that your top down approach will improve anything? Do you think that not listening to people is the answer? How widely have you consulted? If Friends of Dufferin Grove are asking you to reconsider something then exactly what part of your job description tells you that you don't need to?

H. P. wrote:

Dear Toronto Ombuds and General Manager Brenda Patterson-

I am writing you today to ask you to please do what you can to ensure the survival of the community element of Dufferin Grove Park. I am a resident in the area and I chose to live in this neighbourhood because of all that Dufferin Grove Park has to offer.

My family does not have a car so our way of enjoying the seasons is by visiting the park. Whether it is skating, playing in the playground, jumping in leaves or watching the new flowers and plants bloom, we do this in Dufferin Grove. Many of those things we could do in other parks but Dufferin Grove is a special place. I can go with my child and stay all day because I know I can buy healthy food when I am there and we can take part in a variety of activities - most of which are provided by the community (books, playing checkers, watching outdoor plays or shows, dance/music lessons).

I feel that my son is safe when I am there as there is a strong community that looks out for each other and the park (keeping it clean and maintained).

My friends who live in other neighbourhoods and other cities are jealous of the park. Let's use it as an example on how we can improve our neighbourhoods, rather than take it away because it is unique. Let's use it to showcase how great Toronto is ... and build on the ideas!

Equitable access, quality, inclusion, and capacity building. These four pillars are found in Dufferin Grove like nowhere else that I know of.

Again, please do what you can to keep Dufferin Grove as the amazing center for our community that it is.

E. L. wrote:

Dear Fiona Crean, Ombudsman of Toronto, Councillor Davis, Brenda Patterson, and Sue Corke,

Why, and for what logical reason whatsoever, does the City of Toronto want to take away staff from a magical, inclusive, special place like Dufferin Grove Park, and stop them from supporting and engaging an officially 'at risk, priority and vulnerable community' in the Davenport Riding? Why, when a group of people, such as Jutta Mason, and Anna Galati, create such a creative, vibrant community hub, does the City of Toronto want to lessen community involvement in a park which is a bright light in the center of our city? This is one of the most active and beautiful inner city parks I have ever seen, and it is because of the work of its staff.

Dufferin Grove, and all its events, makes the City of Toronto great, and builds community in the most positive ways- through art, healthy food, and sport. Those who work at Dufferin Grove Park have done much to create outreach for the farmer's community, to encourage healthy and sustainable lifestyles, and to engage all kinds of children in Ward 18, for those who live Toronto to enjoy our city a little more each day.

Please allow Dufferin Grove to continue to thrive, grow, and support community members in the Davenport Riding and beyond. In the Davenport Riding, asthma and morbidity rates are among the highest in Canada due to air quality and poverty, and each day, when I see children skating on the rink, playing in the sandpit, or families attending farmer's markets, is a day that those statistics lessen because of Dufferin Grove providing an example of alternate, healthy lifestyles to affect change in our community.

Please don't break what is not broken, and what does many constituents a world of good to level the playing field for children and adults of all socioeconomic status to teach them how to build a sustainable, constructive community. Dufferin Grove has gone from a very dangerous place to become a beloved, overflowing, active park because of their hard work, and a place for many different cultures to meet and congregrate.

G. L. wrote to Parks, Forestry and Recreation general manager Brenda Patterson:

Brenda,

As a middle-aged woman and mother, who lives,works, pays taxes and volunteers in Davenport/Ward 18, I am shocked to hear that you would be in favour of centralizing Parks and Rec services even more. I can not think of an instance where citizens have benefited from this strategy - our schools, hospitals and city are worse for this approach.

Tino deCastro has served our community so well, he is helpful, committed and cares about the community. He works together to ensure we have safe, healthy and inclusive parks. I urge you to reconsider moving him from a job that he is doing well and where the community supports him. From the streets we have seen how working in partnership makes our services and lives better.

We all benefit from the continuity of leadership that Tino's experience and consultation with front line staff and community members/tax payers brings.

Why mess with success?

From: Malcolm Bromley, director of Recreation

Hi Ms. L.,

Brenda has referred your email to me for reply.

Please see attached letter.

Dear Ms. L.,

Thank you for your email concerning Tino DeCastro. While I share your praise for Tino's good work, I have a responsibility to manage a staff group of over 700 people in a way that is best for the City as a whole. Tino is part of a collective shift in the South District in order to address several issues. I assure you that the high quality of service you have experienced with Tino will continue with the new Supervisor. Please contact Manager Kelvin Seow at 416-395-6190, should you wish to discuss more specific details.

Yours truly,
Malcolm Bromley
Director Community Recreation
Parks, Forestry and Recreation

J. B. wrote, Feb 18

Dear Madam,

My family and I have lived in the Dovercourt park neighbourhood for over 14 years and have been visiting Dufferin Grove Park since our first son was born more than eleven years ago. What we have experienced over the years is really quite phenomenal and can only be viewed as a successful experiment in public space management. My children have learned to skate here, they have made wood oven pizzas, had birthday parties, celebrated Halloween, eaten exotic foods, "worked" with staff to serve food, sat around fire pits drinking hot chocolate, had BBQs, watched plays, shopped and tasted at the organic market, played tether ball, taken dance classes, built cities in the enormous sand pit, made rivers with a running hose, played safely in the wading pool for hours, made cob ( a type of adobe) for the park structure, planted in the garden and made many many friends with kids, families, dog walkers, childless people and the elderly at Friday night suppers and innumerous other opportunities to interact with the community as a whole. Could this have happened at another park? I doubt it. Could it have happened in a comparable inner city park such as Dufferin Grove is? I highly doubt it.

What makes Dufferin Grove special as I see it is the ability for a community to come together and make things happen and for City staff to allow this to happen. For that I thank you.

For reasons that have not been explained to me I understand that the way the City approaches things is changing and not for the better. I ask that you consider the implications of breaking this model that, in my view works so well and ensure that not only Dufferin Grove continues to operate successfully but that you spread this knowledge so others in the city can put into practice what works so well in Dufferin Grove,

Brenda Patterson wrote, Feb 19:

Thank you for your correspondence with respect to staffing changes in the South District. We appreciate the important role that our staff members play in delivering services to the community.

From an organizational perspective, movement of staff is necessary to address a number of management issues, which include core competencies, training and skills development, performance, and succession management. Facilitating shifts in staff assignments can be mutually beneficial to all parties including the community, employees and the organization.

Parks, Forestry and Recreation prides itself on the high calibre of staff throughout our organization. I understand that these changes may cause some initial discomfort for the community; however, I would like to reassure you that you can expect to continue to receive excellent service, irrespective of staff moves. The first order of business for the new staff will be to meet with the various community groups and organizations in the neighbourhood. These new staff members will continue to foster the many connections and relationships that are integral to ensuring our services continue to be meaningful, responsive and reflective of community needs.

J. B. wrote, Feb 20:

Thank you for your reply, and I appreciate your pledge to maintain a high quality of service that is responsive to the community.

I remain concerned, however, about PFR's apparent belief that park supervisors can be easily interchanged without cost. You refer to succession management, suggesting that there is plan for a smooth transition from one supervisor to the next. And yet according to the Star, Tino DeCastro is to begin work Monday at City Hall, even though the new Dufferin Grove supervisor has yet to meet with members of the Dufferin Grove community. There will be no apparent opportunity for Mr. DeCastro to introduce the new supervisor to the community, and to share his knowledge and experience. This suggests there is no succession plan at all: one supervisor simply moves in as the other moves out, just like changing a light bulb.

The director of recreation's quoted remarks also suggest a lack of awareness of the uniqueness of Dufferin Grove's success. "Tino has done a great job there," he says. "But that's the case in every part of the city." I'm sorry to say that is not the case in every part of the city. Not every park can boast such a successful partnership between City staff and the community. In fact, the evidence is that such relationships are quite rare. Change is good, says the director. But surely the first rule of change management is to protect what is working, especially when the Parks department seems unable to easily replicate such success elsewhere.

Moreover, the supervisor is quoted as saying, "The community doesn't make staffing decisions. That's my decision. We don't staff by consultation." This may be careless wording, but these remarks seem to reveal a dismissive attitude towards the principle of community engagement that has been mandated by City Council. The community is not requesting a veto over staff decisions. But the park supervisor should be able to form a good partnership with the community he or she serves. I think it is overly optimistic of you to suggest that this can be achieved "irrespective of staff moves."

Perhaps there is a communication problem here, and I am misunderstanding PFR's motives. I hope so. I don't claim to understand the complexities of managing a Parks system as large as that of the City of Toronto. But I do know that the success of Dufferin Grove is rare and precious, and I am not yet convinced that PFR appreciates this. I would be grateful for stronger demonstrations that PFR intends to strengthen, and not weaken, the working relationships between park supervisors and their communities.

The Kingvissers wrote, 2/17/10

Dear Ms. Crean,

For the last fifteen years, we have had the privilege of working with various community members and City of Toronto staff committed to developing and sustaining meaningful urban relationships to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. We raised our two young girls at this park, skating in the winter and playing in the wading pool in the summer. We taught our children how to make pizza at the pizza ovens and ate among our community at Friday night suppers. We shopped at the farmers market on Thursday afternoons and joined hundreds of participants at Dusk Dances. The programming at Dufferin Grove Park is well known - and has only been possible through the collaboration of City staff and local residents. Our children are the result of this remarkable community, and we remain so grateful to share in its success.

In the past year, this concerted effort to create real and meaningful community has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, and last week we heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

The problem has a larger context. Recreation supervisors are an important point of connection between the city and its neighborhoods. Parks and Recreation management has a new policy of moving all these supervisors across the city to new locations, discarding existing working relationships with the community in favour of ever-tighter central control. We're concerned that this approach is causing lasting damage to what works well in our neighbourhood public spaces. Our concern extends to the waste of talents and taxes, as restrictive policies proliferate in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a culture of timidity takes over. Consultation with citizens (and, we are told, even their city councillors) is lacking, and direct appeals by citizens to management are rebuffed.

At Dufferin Grove Park we are now facing a crisis. There is no doubt but that a continuation of the administration's present approach will soon result in the collapse of what we have built, together with locally-responsive city staff, over many years. Can you help us?

Please contact us and let us know what can be done. And accept our thanks in advance for your consideration of this complex issue.

Lesley Price wrote, Feb 19:

The following email message has been sent on behalf of Brenda Patterson, General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation:

Dear Kingvissers,

Thank you for your correspondence with respect to staffing changes in the South District. We appreciate the important role that our staff members play in delivering services to the community.

From an organizational perspective, movement of staff is necessary to address a number of management issues, which include core competencies, training and skills development, performance, and succession management. Facilitating shifts in staff assignments can be mutually beneficial to all parties including the community, employees and the organization.

Parks, Forestry and Recreation prides itself on the high calibre of staff throughout our organization. I understand that these changes may cause some initial discomfort for the community; however, I would like to reassure you that you can expect to continue to receive excellent service, irrespective of staff moves. The first order of business for the new staff will be to meet with the various community groups and organizations in the neighbourhood. These new staff members will continue to foster the many connections and relationships that are integral to ensuring our services continue to be meaningful, responsive and reflective of community needs.

The Kingvisser Family wrote Feb 19:

Thanks for your email, Ms. Price.

I'm wondering if Ms. Patterson would confirm the position that engagement with local communities does not put staff in a conflict of interest. Word to that effect would go a long way in assuring us, and many community members, that Parks, Forestry and Recreation are working on the same side as the community.

Would Ms. Patterson email us back with this message?

We look forward to hearing back from her.

M. E. wrote, Feb 19:

To: Fiona Crean and Whomever Else it May Concern

Re: Dufferin Grove Park

I am sorry I don't have more time today to craft a more eloquent or detailed letter. But I felt I really must send something.

As a citizen, homeowner and teacher who can get to Dufferin Grove Park in a just a few minutes walk from my home or my school, I am deeply concerned about the current state of affairs. Dufferin Grove Park has become, for me, an example of the potential for our community to get off the computer and build a relationship with each other, we can move from isolation to cooperation. It has become a place where I send my students to find meaningful connections and volunteer opportunities and also a place I can just 'hang out' in with my own friends. It is welcoming and there is a 'vibe' that is hard to describe, though I think it has something to do with the goodwill and creative, collective thinking between residents and some city staff.

And now all that is built is threatened.

I urge you. Please. Listen carefully to the people in my community. Take action that restores and builds upon the positive energy, commitment, thoughtfulness and respect between us and the city staff. Our parks are not Walmarts. Our trees are not parts of a machine. Please do prioritize simplistic, centralized, efficient short term solutions over the long term, complex and ever-changing needs and dreams of people.

Assimilation will be the end of dreams.

And if we can't sit under a tree in a park and dream, dream of a better day, then what hope do our dreams for the rest of the City have?

I look forward to your response.

Brenda Patterson

The following email message has been sent on behalf of Brenda Patterson, General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation:

Dear Mr. E.,

Thank you for your correspondence with respect to staffing changes in the South District. We appreciate the important role that our staff members play in delivering services to the community.

From an organizational perspective, movement of staff is necessary to address a number of management issues, which include core competencies, training and skills development, performance, and succession management. Facilitating shifts in staff assignments can be mutually beneficial to all parties including the community, employees and the organization.

Parks, Forestry and Recreation prides itself on the high calibre of staff throughout our organization. I understand that these changes may cause some initial discomfort for the community; however, I would like to reassure you that you can expect to continue to receive excellent service, irrespective of staff moves. The first order of business for the new staff will be to meet with the various community groups and organizations in the neighbourhood. These new staff members will continue to foster the many connections and relationships that are integral to ensuring our services continue to be meaningful, responsive and reflective of community needs.


Letters to the Councillors

Jutta Mason wrote to the chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee:

Dear Councillor Davis,

A year ago (February 2009) I came to see you, about various concerns including the issue of all the recreation supervisors being moved. You may recall that I brought you a copy of a letter of appeal to Brenda Patterson, asking her not to go in this direction. Neither my visit to you, nor attempts to appeal to management, prevented the situation from getting steadily worse. For that reason I am now presenting my concerns publicly, including in the park newsletter http://dufferinpark.ca/newsletter/wiki/wiki.php?n=February2010.FrontPage#tino, and have sent the letter below to the ombudsman.

By the way, the issue of the board of management rinks is closely related to our concerns.

D. R. wrote to Councillor Pantalone's assistant:

Thanks, M. I'm glad to hear of Joe's support... that's why we love him as our Councillor!

Hopefully we can keep Dufferin Grove at the wonderful level it has been for so many years. Of course, we love Trinity Bellwoods Park also, and I'm glad to hear that the Friends of Trinity Bellwoods might have some influence over that rink eventually too!

J. M. wrote:

p.s. I have cc'd Joe Mihevc, our own hard-working city councillor, in the hopes that he will get involved to whatever extent he can in helping keep this park - an amazing free resource quite essential to many of his constituents - as free and amazing as possible.

Dear Ms Crean:

It's come to my attention that one of our family's most beloved Toronto spaces, Dufferin Grove Park, is in danger of losing its autonomy, placing its lively and creative relationship with surrounding communities in jeopardy.

Dufferin Grove Park could perhaps be seen as almost a model of what an urban park ought to be: in an ideal central location serving many regions of the city, it seeks to involve a highly participatory community while fostering great working relationships with local artistic production companies, organic food vendors. This park pulls off so many diverse endeavours it sometimes boggles the mind. As anyone who's been there can attest, visiting Dufferin Grove Park is a totally different experience every single time.

Yet while this park could serve as a role model, it is a model which I also believe could never be successfully applied in many areas around the GTA: in a more suburban region, for example, or one with less desirable transit routes, an entirely different model should apply.

It is my fear that in standardizing parks within Toronto, the city will - let's face it; clumsily - remove key individuals who have helped to foster these essential community relationships and place leadership of the park in the hands of those who live elsewhere and do not understand fully its particular assets.

I truly believe we ought to strive to become the "City within a Park," as the Parks, Forestry and Recreation slogan claims. And if that is the case, I believe the parks' needs - each park's unique and special requirements - must always come first.

Thanks for listening,

D. R. wrote to the Mayor, Councillors and the ombudsperson, Feb 17:

Dear Mayor, Councillors and Ombudsperson

Please don't change the community-driven and community-building way in which the Dufferin Grove park and rink are currently organized. I don't know what happened in Leaside, but you would be throwing out one of the City's best examples of civic cooperation if you force Dufferin Grove and all other rinks into the same straitjacket.

I actually live closer to the Trinity Bellwoods rink -- it's a sad rink in comparison to Dufferin Grove -- and rarely go there. First of all, it's difficult to get accurate information on when "free" skating time is from the annoying, impersonal automatic telephone recording, and secondly, "free" skating is rare, making it a rink I don't use with my child. At Dufferin Grove, children of all ages come from across the city to skate anytime; and there is always a game of shinny going on the second pad. In addition, there is nothing to draw community members to the Trinity Bellwoods rink in the winter. It remains underused, except by hockey playing teens and young men, for the most part, which is good, but doesn't appeal to the whole community.

In other words, having more official city control doesn't always mean good things for the community.

As a member of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund Investment Committee, I know how important volunteer and citizen involvement is to the City. Rinks like Dufferin Grove thrive on that energy, making the city parks an inviting place for people of all sorts.

Please use Dufferin Grove as a model for how other rinks could evolve to attract more community members. Send staff to study it and replicate it elswhere, rather than closing down the elements that are so needed for people and families who are isolated enough in our busy, urban centres. (Also, please send us back our rink supervisor! Tony was great to work with, though we hope we can build a relationship with the new person too.)

DON"T mess with what works!!!!!! PLEASE resist centralization and bureaucratization -- let local, creative, innovative, community-based events blossom and flourish as they are and work to create more, not less of this in our city.

E. L. wrote:

Dear Fiona Crean, Ombudsman of Toronto, Councillor Davis, Brenda Patterson, and Sue Corke,

Why, and for what logical reason whatsoever, does the City of Toronto want to take away staff from a magical, inclusive, special place like Dufferin Grove Park, and stop them from supporting and engaging an officially 'at risk, priority and vulnerable community' in the Davenport Riding? Why, when a group of people, such as Jutta Mason, and Anna Galati, create such a creative, vibrant community hub, does the City of Toronto want to lessen community involvement in a park which is a bright light in the center of our city? This is one of the most active and beautiful inner city parks I have ever seen, and it is because of the work of its staff.

Dufferin Grove, and all its events, makes the City of Toronto great, and builds community in the most positive ways- through art, healthy food, and sport. Those who work at Dufferin Grove Park have done much to create outreach for the farmer's community, to encourage healthy and sustainable lifestyles, and to engage all kinds of children in Ward 18, for those who live Toronto to enjoy our city a little more each day.

Please allow Dufferin Grove to continue to thrive, grow, and support community members in the Davenport Riding and beyond. In the Davenport Riding, asthma and morbidity rates are among the highest in Canada due to air quality and poverty, and each day, when I see children skating on the rink, playing in the sandpit, or families attending farmer's markets, is a day that those statistics lessen because of Dufferin Grove providing an example of alternate, healthy lifestyles to affect change in our community.

Please don't break what is not broken, and what does many constituents a world of good to level the playing field for children and adults of all socioeconomic status to teach them how to build a sustainable, constructive community. Dufferin Grove has gone from a very dangerous place to become a beloved, overflowing, active park because of their hard work, and a place for many different cultures to meet and congregrate.

J. B. wrote, Feb 19:

To Councillor Janet Davis, Chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee

I am alarmed at reports that senior PFR staff are seeking to implement what appears to be a fast food franchise model of parks management (http://dufferinpark.ca/newsletter/wiki/wiki.php?n=February2010.FrontPage#tino). Under such a model, it would become more difficult for the community to work directly with local park supervisors to create innovative programs without first going through a mountain of red tape. This policy is being undertaken despite the concerns of the local councillor, Adam Giambrone, as well as the opposition of the Dufferin Grove community. What mandate or authority is there for a policy that could threaten the vitality of this very special park?

On May 15, 2009, City Council received a PFR report that sought "approval for the principles of equitable access, quality, inclusion and capacity building as a foundation for the development of a City-wide, multi-year Recreation Service Plan." The report defines "capacity building" as the creation of programs that "create a sense of community, belonging, and vitality." The report's proposed work plan promised that "a strategy to engage staff, key stakeholders, and the broader community in the development of the Service Plan will take place over the next several months."

Nine months later, no such community engagement has taken place at Dufferin Grove. Instead, there seems to be a strategy of community disengagement. The sudden reassignment of the park supervisor who worked most closely with the neighbourhood appears to contradict the principle of community engagement that was mandated by City Council. I understand that other local park supervisors have been inexplicably reassigned as well.

City Council is debating the rink time allocation issue at its meeting on Monday. This is an opportunity for City Council to clarify the mandate of PFR, preserving local control of the city's parks and rinks. Council should direct PFR to seek strong, direct relationships with the local community, and to welcome local experimentation in the pursuit of program excellence. PFR should interpret the goal of "consistent processes and methodologies" (under the proposed Recreation Service Plan principles) in a way that encourages the spread of successful experiments, and not in a way that discourages such experimentation.

The worthy pursuit of gender equality and access must not be allowed to become a Trojan Horse for needless centralization and bureaucracy.

A. B. wrote to Mayor of the City of Toronto, Feb 23, 2010

Your Worship, Mayor Miller,

I am writing to you as a resident and a concerned citizen of Ward 18. You are undoubtedly aware of the current controversy regarding the recreation supervisor for Dufferin Grove Park, Tino DeCastro, who has been a valuable member of the Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Department for decades, working hard on behalf of the residents of Davenport. You are most likely also aware that despite the public outcry, the department of Parks, Forestry, and Recreation has indicated that they will not reconsider their decision to move Tino to another position , and bring a new recreation supervisor for our area, and the city ombudsman has refused to get involved, citing a lack of mandate. I am writing to you today in the hope that you will choose to get involved in this issue, and help ensure that Tino can continue to work with area residents to make Dufferin Grove Park the vibrant community hub that it has become.

For over two decades, Tino has worked closely with the community to build a unique community gathering place – the kind of place you see less and less in this city. As the Toronto Star’s Catherine Porter put it this weekend, “Dufferin Park is exceptional. It should be the model for the rest of the city. There's a formula here – the happy combination of an involved community and a welcoming staff willing to form relationships and work together. Those things take time. They aren't measured on an accountant's spreadsheet.”

I understand that it would be exceptional for the Mayor of Toronto to get involved in staffing decisions at a local park, but I believe that this situation is exceptional, and I believe your involvement would be a signal about the kind of city you built and hope to leave behind.

In your inaugural speech in 2003, you said, “The great urban thinker Jane Jacobs has always understood this -- that it is not roads, monuments, or office towers that are the central building blocks of cities -- it is our neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods are what make this city great. We must value what is distinct about our neighbourhoods, recognize that which has value beyond its cost.”

The situation at Dufferin Grove Park is an opportunity for you to live up to your own words. I encourage you to take it.

I would be delighted to discuss this important issue further with you, or more appropriately, to have you visit Dufferin Grove Park and see for yourself what the impact of this decision will be.

K. S. wrote, Feb 25, 2010

Dear Councillor Davis,

I copied you last week on a letter I sent regarding Parks strategy as it relates to Dufferin Grove. Having read Catherine Porter's article on what has been happening in other parks, I am getting REALLY concerned. I'm guessing (hoping) that the folks who fight of each of these individual battles may win them, but what about future programming and the chill it will place on anyone who wants to start something new? What are the benefits of homogenization of service relative to those of place- and community-based organizing that seeks ways to maximize the value of local parks in ways that make sense to that particular community? Surely any costs to the city are more than balanced by the volunteer resources leveraged and the benefit to the department in reaching what I hope is its big-picture goal of creating vibrant and well-used parks.

I refer you to the recently-released Toronto Food Strategy to consider the recommendations that have been made about parks' potential for positive impact on food security in Toronto-- be it as sites for community gardens, bake ovens or markets. I hope that this strategy will eventually help to guide policies in a number of departments, including Parks and Rec. In the meantime, I suggest that this standardization strategy be halted before it kills the fragile community initiatives that are contributing so much to our communities.

A. M. wrote, Feb 25, 2010

Dear Sirs and Madams,

I am writing to express my concern of recent changes in policy, processes direction and management relations in the relationship between the Parks and Recreation Department and the community volunteers and Friends of Dufferin Grove Park and Friends of Christie Pitts Park.

A park can be an unwatched, quiet, dark, place to sell and use drugs and a hide-out for criminals and vandals, as Dufferin Grove Park was 15 years ago. Or it can be a well-maintained haven for children, a focus of community, a centre of sports, art, learning, environmental stewardship and commerce and general fun as it is now. It is community groups and volunteers, through co-operation with the Parks and Recreation Department that have transformed this Park. Similar transformations have been occuring at Christie Pitts.

Beyond the clear social value of creating a communal public space and safe area to be and play, there is great economic value to the city from the way this park has been run. When there are community dinners, arts events and sports events in the park most nights, there is no place for criminals and drug dealers. This means less cost for policing and park clean up, higher property values in the area (more tax base). It has also led to more people spending time in the area, increasing the customers at local stores and malls. There is also the untold benifit of providing recreation to children and teens who might not otherwise get it. It may save the city much if they have alternatives to dangerous or risky behaviour.

The kind of neighbourhood cooperation and community created, where Park Staff bake pizzas for volunteer-organized community dinners or clean ice for community led hockey tournamants is an example the kind of modern city Toronto sees itself as and markets itself to the world as.

Please ensure that this city stays forward-thinking and protect these important programs from turf wars, short-term politics or petty fights.

Response from Councillor Janet Davis, chair, Community Development and Recreation Committee, March 1, 2010

Thank you for your e-mail with respect to staffing changes in Dufferin Grove Park. I appreciate the important role that our City staff members play in delivering services to the community.

As Chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee, I understand the important role that front-line recreation staff play in "making it work" at recreation centres and parks across this City. I also know that these staff members become part of the community and will be dearly missed when they move on. However, from time to time it is necessary to make changes as staff get promoted or are moved around in order to provide excellent service to residents throughout the City.

I understand that this recent move may cause some concern, but I believe that the dynamic life of Dufferin Grove, along with the many parks and recreation facilities across the City, will be sustained regardless of the individual in the position. The strength of the community contributions and engagement at Dufferin Grove will ensure that the new recreation staff values the contributions of the community just as highly, and continues to make things work for this amazing park.

I understand that the new staff will be meeting with the various community groups and organizations in the neighbourhood. These new staff members will continue to foster the many connections and relationships that are integral to ensuring our services continue to be meaningful, responsive and reflective of community needs.

Response from Councillor Adam Giambrone, March 1, 2010

Dear Concerned Resident,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the staffing changes at Dufferin Grove.

I believe strongly in nurturing community engagement in our parks and I was concerned to find out about Parks and Recreation's decision to reassign many Recreation staff around the city to new locations. Over the years, our local Recreation Supervisor has done a great job of fostering a spirit of community partnership and facilitating the development of exciting and creative community programs at Dufferin Grove and other parks in Ward 18.

I have spoken to the City Manager and the General Manager of Parks & Recreation directly about this issue. From an organizational perspective, I have been informed that a regular movement of staff is necessary to address a number of issues, and that often, such changes are mutually beneficial to the community, employees and the organization. However, I continue to believe that in this case the community would be better served by having the staff member under discussion stay in place. That said, the new staff for the area should be in contact with local community groups and organizations soon, in order to ensure the connections and relationships formed by the previous staff member stay strong.

Our parks and community centers should be places where our communities are invited into their public spaces and encouraged to develop community partnerships to create new, creative and exciting community programs and initiatives. The City would do well to take a close look at parks and community centers where these kinds of initiatives and partnerships are already happening and look at how these sorts of models can be encouraged and nurtured all over Toronto. I have already begun conversations with my Council colleagues and the Mayor's office about the impacts these proposed changes at the Recreation Department will have on our communities and neighbourhoods and I will continue to do so.

I can assure you that I will continue to do everything possible to ensure that all of the wonderful community activities, programming and engagements at the park are protected, irregardless of this change in staff.

Yours truly,

Adam Giambrone Toronto City Councillor Ward 18 Davenport Chair, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)


Campfire 2007

Letters about the campfire program cancellation

1. From Meaghan Boyce to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Jan.29 2007

I would like to express my dismay and disappointment that there may no longer be fire permits issued for Dufferin Grove Park and existing fire pit reservations cancelled. This seems to me to be an unreasonable and reactionary ban given the fact that so many campfires have been held without incident over the years.

I believe that community is built through caring for and enjoying our common gathering places. It seems that community is being 'snuffed out' by the fear that someone, somewhere could be held liable if anything should happen. I would like our parks to remain vibrant, vital places. Instead, the spirit of local community investment and care is being preemptively annulled. This fire-pit ban seems completely misplaced and fosters a mentality of patronizing mistrust from the officials who should be partnering with the community to care for the park.

Please help to save a long and SAFE tradition that has been part of the life of Dufferin Grove Park since 1993.

2. From Jutta Mason to the Brockton neighbours listserv, Feb.2, 2007

hello Brockton neighbours -- I noticed that someone on your list had an item about a big snowball event at Trinity -- sounded neat but I didn't take much notice until I just heard that the event was disallowed today by Parks Supervisor Peter Leis. Apparently the snow-making machine was ordered out. I don't know if that's true. But the same Parks supervisor has created lots of unhappiness at Dufferin Grove Park by suddenly getting all the cooking fire/campfire permits withdrawn. (He's also the same guy who said in the summer that children under 16 had to kept away from any cob-building because it's too dangerous.)

Nothing bad happened with a fire -- the supervisor just felt that protocol wasn't observed the way he wanted, since he transferred here from Etobicoke where they run a tighter ship. He now says that the Dufferin Grove fire permit will no longer be done locally but given out centrally for $53 a pop. The campfires were part of an "eyes on the park" program and the cost would certainly undermine that. Plus there are many other reasons why "if it ain't broke don't fix it."

There seems to be an issue of "whose parks are they anyway?" developing here. A note to your councillor about this would be very helpful -- contacts with both Pantalone for Trinity snowballs and Giambrone for Dufferin Grove campfires would make a big difference.

3. From Jutta Mason to the dufferingrovefriends listserv Feb.2 2007

Dear park friends, Once again your e-mails can help a park problem. Pasted in below is the rink diary entry from Jan.31. Attached is a bit from the February newsletter. So far, attempts to fix the cancellation of Dufferin Grove campfires through negotiation have been unsuccessful. In a situation like this, your e-mail to the councillor is worth a lot: councillor_giambrone@toronto.ca and cc mayor_miller@toronto.ca.

Councillor Giambrone supports the cooking fires and has come to them himself, but your e-mails can very much strengthen his advocacy for this matter at City Hall.

4. From Kathryn Scharf to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.2 2007

It is depressing to hear that there may not be any more permits granted for cooking fires at Dufferin Grove. So many pleasant things have happened around the fires, and as I understand it, so little unpleasant or dangerous, that it is just criminal to allow some miserably killjoy parks and rec bureaucrats to wreck the fun.

Just a few weeks ago, on January 13, I got a campfire permit to celebrate my son's birthday in the park, and on a warm sunny day my four-year-old and several cronies toasted marshmallows around the fire. Some kids we didn't know stopped by and they toasted some too. All of the adults there said what a wonderful thing it was to be able to do something so simple yet special in a public park.

Please continue to do your best to turn this around.

5. From Georgie Donais to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.2, 2007

I am writing to thank you for your support of the long-standing and ongoing tradition of cooking fires in Dufferin Grove Park, and other parks throughout Ward 18 and the city. I would like to encourage you to push for collaboration between the very experienced city recreation staff, and citizens -- who have been staging these fires without negative incident for thirteen years -- and Toronto Parks.

I would like to stress that a park's existence is for the pleasure and enrichment of the citizens who use and cherish it. It is not just another place of employment that the city must manage, and citizens are not liabilities who get in the way of administrative efficiencies. Successful collaboration will pay the city back many times in healthier, happier citizens who love and support their communities. That is truly an opportunity worth taking.

Thank you for your help.

6. From Erella Ganon to the Dufferingrovefriends listserv, Feb.2 2007

The ban on cooking fires? What is next? At the dufferin grove park, fires have warmed hot chocolates, cider, assorted other warm beverages and humans too for many years without any scary incidents at all.

Other parks all over the city try to emulate the sense of fun and community we have here at the dufferin grove park. Fires warm more than just beverages, I think. Sometimes they warm spirits too.

I don’t understand why someone would look at something that is working well and try to figure out how to spoil the fun.

I don’t know what it would take to get cooking fires allowed at the dufferin grove park again, but I would hope that Peter “kill joy” Leiss, the Parks supervisor reconsider his ruling and consider taking up a new hobby. There must be a better use for his time than closing down snowball games at Trinity Bellwood park and cooking fires too. He salary is paid for by our tax dollars. How did a man like this, with so little faith in humans ever get an important job such as this one?

7. From Angela O'Hara to City Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.2 2007

I am writing with regards to the cancellation by the city of permits to make cooking fires in Dufferin Grove park. I think this is a reflection of a very sad and short-sighted perspective on behalf of the city. Dufferin Grove is highly unique in Toronto for many wonderful things and one of those things is the ability to have traditional cooking fires, one of the few places left where this is possible. Having a cooking fire is one of the simplest and most pleasurable ways for people to come together and the ability to do this in a park in the city, particularly within the wonderful setting of Dufferin Grove, is cherished by the community. Depriving us and our children of this is surely a means to further sterilize urban life from the most simple yet fulfilling of past-times.

For many years, Dufferin Grove has had cooking fires without incident and it's fair to say that the circumstances around this particular incident in question and the heeded response (as I understand it) are up for debate. I implore you to please help us to reverse this ban on cooking fires in Dufferin Grove and preserve this vital community activity.

8. From Angela Shilolo to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.2 2007

This email is to express, both as a member of your constituency and community, my support to allow the continuation of campfires (and/or permits for) in public parks, specifically with regards to the recent related issues facing Dufferin Grove and surrounding parks.

With respect for all of our time and energy, I thank you for your attention to the matter.

9. From Ann Bjorseth to Mayor Miller, Feb.2 2007

I know you are familiar with Dufferin Grove Park and how wonderful it is for all of us in this community, young and old, a variety of cultures, middle class or whatever class, with special emphasis on inclusion and friendliness. That's why I'm asking you to support having camp fires available in our park. I have had a fire permit on several occasions, for children in my daughter's school, and for family events. The fires have been a wonderful opportunity for fun and celebration. On each occasion, the park staff has provided me with safety equipment and guidance. Please help to insure we can continue to have fire permits at our park.

10. From Nadya Burton to Councilor Adam Giambrone, Feb.4 2007

I am a regular user of Dufferin Grove park, and have lived in the neighbourhood for over 10 years. I have two children, currently ages 11 and 6, and I have been taking them to Dufferin Grove regularly since they were born. While there are many wonderful things about Dufferin Grove, that truly make it an outdoor community centre, the park fires are one of the highlights for myself and for many, many park users. I am shocked and angry that the city has decided to ban these fires.

I know that in the past you have been supportive of outdoor fires at Dufferin Grove, and as a constituent in your riding, I call on you to continue this support and to help this community re-institute fire permits for our park.

In all the years I have used the park I have never seen the fires used dangerously or inappropriately. My family has rented the fire pits for numerous family birthday parties, and I have attended gatherings of others at these fire pits in both winter and summer. Additionally, my family skates often at the Dufferin Grove rink. One of the delights of the Dufferin Grove rink is the small fire burning nearby, sometimes heating cider or hot chocolate, but more often just burning a few logs (it is never a large fire). I have, over the past decade, observed families (including my own) with toddlers and young children, and older kids and teenagers, as well as adults, all congregate around these fires. Park staff are always around, safety is attended to constantly. Any time I have rented a fire pit I have been trained by park staff about what to do, how to manage a fire out of control, and have been given tools needed (buckets of water and shovel) to manage a fire responsibly.

I can see no reason, other than bureaucratic rationales, which rarely apply to individual contexts or take into account particular circumstances, to ban small, controlled, outdoor fires in designated areas at Dufferin Grove Park. As you know, Dufferin Grove is a star in this city. It provides meaningful, healthy, creative opportunities for teenagers, young families and many individuals marginalized in other communities to share outdoor space in a wonderful way. The park fires are an integral and wonderful part of this community, and I find it shocking that they should be banned with so little exploration of how they are being used and managed in this particular community.

I would like to be kept informed about how the City is dealing with this situation.

11. Kyla Dixon-Muir, and George A. Moore, to Councillor Giambrone, and Mayor Miller, Feb.4 2007:

Thank you for your continued support for the long-standing tradition of cooking fires both in Dufferin Grove Park and other parks throughout both Ward 18 and the whole city. I am asking you to please push for more collaboration between the Toronto Parks' very experienced recreation staff and the citizens who have been staging these fires without negative incident for thirteen years.

I see you in action at Cycling Committee meetings, and know how effective you can be. I used to be a resident of your ward for many years, and a very regular participant at Dufferin Grove, having read and enjoyed Jutta Mason's text Cooking with Fires in Public Spaces, and having held my own keys to the bake ovens.

I live in Ward 30 now, and my husband and I are the coordinators of Riverdale Meadow Community Garden. As wood from this garden becomes weathered, we donate it to Dufferin Grove, so it goes from use in growing foods to use in cooking foods -- a fine furtherance, we think. We know this is not the only scrap wood being diverted to positive uses, having trucked many loads of what others might think is waste to a beneficial second life. Currently, our only other option would be trucking it to Michigan -- something we don't think you'd endorse.

I would like to stress that all park's existence are for the pleasure and enrichment of the citizens who use and cherish them. My husband and I continue to enjoy fires at DGP, and also often use the fire pits at Toronto Islands, too-- all year round. (Our little millennial bonfire shows in the photos of the fireworks printed in Toronto Life's 2000 celebratory spread, where we rented a cottage for a rare overnight New Years' treat.) Fire is something connected deep within our psyches and ancestral memories, and should not be reserved for the lucky few who can afford houses with fireplaces or who must drive hundreds of miles to campgrounds and cottages.

I concur with Georgie Donais who stresses that public parks are not just another place of employment that the city must manage, and citizens are not liabilities who get in the way of administrative efficiencies. Successful collaboration always pays the city back many times in healthier, happier citizens who love and support their communities. This is truly an opportunity worth continuing to take.

Thank you for your continued help.

12. From Suzanne Wilson & Ralph Kircher to Councillor Giambrone, Feb.4 2007:

I was extremely disappointed to hear about the recent "controversy" regarding the cooking fires in Dufferin Grove Park.

My family and I own a house adjacent to the park and have, since we moved here four years ago, been delighted to share in the sense of community that the activities at Dufferin Grove bring.

There is something about a wood fire, in particular in the cold winter months, that draws people together and fosters a sense of community and friendliness. Particularly for those of us with small children, it's a welcome addition to the long winter that helps draw us out to the park to play and take advantage of the rink facilities.

I have always been impressed by the responsible manner that both park staff and the members of the park community have handled the cooking fires. In fact, I feel that the respectful way that they treat the woodfires is a great fire safety learning opportunity for the children of the park.

I trust that you will continue to support this tradition - it would be real shame that if, in fear of some hypothetical "risk", we rob our kids and residents of something that really typifies the park community and the richness that so many of us get from it.

13. From Dave Howard to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.4 2007:

I am writing to thank you for your support of the long-standing and ongoing tradition of cooking fires in Dufferin Grove Park, and other parks throughout Ward 18 and the city.

I would like to encourage you to push for collaboration between the very experienced city recreation staff, and citizens -- who have been staging these fires without negative incident for thirteen years -- and Toronto Parks.

I would like to stress that a park's existence is for the pleasure and enrichment of the citizens who use and cherish it. It is not just another place of employment that the city must manage, and citizens are not liabilities who get in the way of administrative efficiencies.

Successful collaboration will pay the city back many times in healthier, happier citizens who love and support their communities. That is truly an opportunity worth taking.

Thank you for your help.

14. From Alan Carlisle to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.4 2007

As you are no doubt aware, the fire dept. has influenced the authorities into creating a fire ban in the parks. For all the obvious reasons, I personally oppose this initiative. Apart from the innate appeal of fire, that seems to so attract human beings, a total fire ban appears to be ridiculously, Draconian and unfair. It is ironic that with all of fire’s destructive possibilities, that a controlled fire in a safe Toronto Park setting is actually a community building event. Good for Chief Lyons, pointing out some of the possibilities of the dangers, after all his men and women risk all if anything goes wrong. I would hope that after addressing the chief's concerns, the sensible activity of public fire circles be restored. May I remind you that Ontario's public parks have strict fire making policy, yet thousands of campers enjoy and use fire as a fundamental activity for cooking and warmth and to generate that wonderful feeling of involvement with one's companions. Indeed, fires create a connection that consciously and unconsciously links us to our forbearers, to whom fire was a fundamental essential of life. Many communities in the rural areas tolerate fires as a direct symbol and activity of winter fun. Skating ponds from New Brunswick to Grenadier Pond typically have a casual small fire nearby for cozy evocations and practical warmth. Participants over the day and night, feed the fire and it is an engaging invitation that is real in its essence. It is not shopping, buying services, watching TV, computer time or driving. It is a modest, real activity that nourishes our soul and spirit. Done with understanding and respect, there should not be any reason to make permit fires in the park a banned activity.

Thousands and thousands of North Americans die every year on our roads and highways... many more are injured. One may describe this carnage as an epidemic. Are safety authorities calling for a ban on cars, trucks and driving? It is ridiculous to continue the park fire ban. May I suggest that park staff become properly alerted to hazards and safety issues, that a retraining session be arranged and then away we go with fire permits. I recall some years ago when a construction site on our street had a continous burning fire in a barrel. When I called the fire department to enquire, they showed up with a big, big truck, stuck their hose in the barrel and blasted away the fire...I understood that they did this because the barrel was unattended. They also told me that one may have a controlled fire for warmth and food preparation.

It seems since amalgamation, that City Services and Departments are unsure and somewhat disjointed, with Jurisdictions and protocol, liabilities and turf jealousies. This makes one believe the Public Service exists for its' own benefit and the actual serving of the public has become an inconvenient annoyance. Its like the old saying "a policeman's job is made easier in a police state." Let us not allow ourselves to succumb to the increasingly embraced process of allowing public policy to be determined by liability chill, so called public security concerns, crippling over regulation, worker convenience, department isolation and rivalries. we are indeed involved in the experiment of creating community together. By surrendering to rigid, uncompromising positions that are inflexible and serve perceived notions of the catch-all "public safety" we are condemning our selves to that grey, lifeless existence that in the end serves no one...

15. From Petra Hanzlik to Councillor Adam Giambrone and Mayor Miller, Feb.4 2007

SO WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

we would like to continue with our tradition of having campfires in the park If there is a safety issue please send someone around to further educate us. There is NO REAL REASON that you need to cut them when we have proven we are responsible, careful and have a perfect track record.

Your immediate attention to this matter would be appreciated by all

16. From K.H. to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.4 2007:

Please I hope you can intervene regarding the new restriction on campfires in Dufferin Grove Park (and also at Wallace and Campbell rinks). The recreation staff, together with community residents have really made many positive changes in the park throughout the years; more people are enjoying the facilities and activities, one of which is the campfires. I hope you can help collaborate between the community's concern and the Toronto Parks and help to re-negotiate permission for campfires again.

I thank you for your kind attention.

17. From Roscoe Handford to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.4 2007

I'm writing to add my support to having cooking fire permits in city parks kept available.

Certainly we must be careful around how we use open fires in public spaces, but we must also be equally careful to not dismiss arguably the most basic way to bring people together to enjoy each other and to meet. Public services that protect people out of enjoying themselves are doing no service whatsoever.

Surely it's the duty of the fire dep't to see that lighting fires is done with the greatest safety possible, but not to deny them altogether. Likewise, it should be up to the Parks dep't to provide safe ways for people to do what they want, but not to deny what people want to do. I'm reminded of the Parks dep't salting the community rink over here at Wychwood barns a few years back, based on the information that it was icy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

18. From Henrik Bechmann to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.4 2007

Subject: Cooking fire ban is not about fire safety. It is about control.

I would like to contrast stewardship with centralized planning and control of programs, taking the position that stewardship is more effective in many situations than central planning and control. We now have a case in point: the edicts of Parks Supervisor Leiss and Fire Captain Lyons which have suspended cooking fire permits in Ward 18.

I remind you that the recent community events organized at Campbell and Wallace under the guidance of community stewards and community-based parks staff have been spectacularly successful. By contrast, these events are now under attack by the actions of Mr. Leiss.

I submit that the edicts of Mr. Leiss are far more about control ("who controls the parks?") than about fire safety, and furthermore that they demonstrate the weaknesses of over-reliance on a central planning and control model.

This is not about fire safety:

That the ban is not about fire safety is clear for several reasons:

1. There was never any actual fire damage. The ban was issued based on an incomplete evaluation initiated internally, not on the basis of any report of fire damage.

2. There was never any danger. The fires at Wallace were within Ontario Fire Safety code: at least one meter from the nearest flammable structure, and a height clearance of 3 times the height of the fire (3 meters for a latitude of a one meter high fire). Furthermore the fires were closely supervised at all times by highly experienced and trained city staff.

3. The edict of a 30 meter distance requirement is either incompetent or punitive. The Ontario Fire Code gives one meter as a safe distance for a cooking fire. Two meters would be applying an over-abundance of caution. Thirty meters is clearly absurd.

In the absence of solid fire safety reasons, this leaves control as the primary motivation for Mr. Leiss' actions.

This is about control:

1. Mr. Leiss ignores a 13 year precedent that was achieved in the same regulatory framework. This manifestly constitutes arbitrary action.

2. Mr. Leiss cites Municipal bylaw 608-10 as the basis for his action. Yet this bylaw is very general, and doesn't even mention cooking fires (although cooking fires are referred to in many regulations, including the City's, as special exceptions). In other words this bylaw is open to interpretation when taken together with other parts of the regulatory framework. Mr. Leiss had made an explicit decision to interpret the bylaw in the most restrictive possible fashion, in complete disregard of the damage to the community of his actions. This constitutes, in my opinion, abuse of authority.

3. Mr. Leiss is acting against the stated goals of Parks Forestry and Recreation with respect to community involvement. In my opinion this constitutes inappropriate behaviour for a public servant.

In short there is no defensible substantive reason for Mr. Leiss' actions. I can only surmise that Mr. Leiss either does not appreciate the role of stewardship in community development, or is actively hostile toward it. Either way he clearly has opted for an authoritarian, and indeed condescending approach, requiring a degree of bureaucratic control over activities (specifications, pre-planning, centralized permits, and fees) which does not contribute in any way to community development, but rather only serves to impede and impose his control over all activities within his domain.

In addition Mr. Leiss is developing a track record of taking regulatory positions that are unnecessarily damaging to community initiatives. This includes the barriers (literal and figurative) that he put in the way of the composting toilet project last summer, the recent ban of snow making equipment in Trinity Bellwoods, and this campfire ban.

Consequences:

The consequences of Mr. Leiss's action are damage to community development and specific activities, damage to morale among community workers and local parks staff, and waste of taxpayer resources through the unnecessary drama generated by his actions.

Action items:

I believe the following actions need to be taken:

1. Cooking fire permitting be re-instituted as before. For further certainty, the parties could agree (again!) generally that cooking fires should be one or two meters away from flammable structures, with appropriate overhead clearance, and that the number of cooking fire sites be appropriately limited and marked by local staff.

2. Mr. Leiss should be reprimanded. He clearly has a problem conforming to the needs of this community.

19. From Maria Brum to the dufferingrovefriends listserv, Feb.4 2007

I am not sure why the ban is happening-- which is a bummer !!!! ( more waste of paper and staff time at city level)

I have a very strong feeling that, this is a legal matter. That the city doesn't want to have events, where someone may get "hurt". Then the next thing that happens, is the city has a law suit on its hands. Given the increase amount of law suits over the last 10 years or so.

Is there any loophole in the this ban ????? -- any legal ppl out there ??? dose anyone know???

There is a way of getting around it !!!!!!!!! do read on

You/we can all take a portable fire- ie, a BBQ, a portable oven. That happens at beaches/ parks across the city and province. That way, programming, regularly scheduled ,can continue to do so.

Hot Chocolate or yummmmmmmmy melted marshmallows anyone ?? ( both for me thanks !) See ya at the park !

20. From Erella Ganon to the dufferingrovefriends listserv Feb.4 2007

The insurance industry has been raking in record profits in the last decade. This is a fact.

Every year is more profitable than the previous one or any that preceded it. Imagine that.

I remember when the playgrounds were all being ripped out of public playgrounds and schoolyards there was a lot of discussion about liability. With a small amount of research we discovered that way more injuries happened AFTER they took away the fun parts (swings, slides and sand boxes) and left the dangerous part (the concrete).

No one has been injured as a result of a cooking fire in the 13 years of that happening at the dufferin park. What has happened is a great deal of warmth of all sorts.

It seems like a foolish thing to charge fees in parks for a number of things like cooking fires. Charging people for having meetings in schools is equally short sighted. Building communities should be a priority for the parks department.

I wish it were being led by a person with vision.

How do these people get these jobs?

21. From Gene Threndyle to Councillor Giambrone and Mayor Miller, Feb.5 2007

I'm writing to ask why the city is opposed to the community building activities at Dufferin Grove Park like the outdoor fires. Certainly the idea of having a fire especially in the winter was not invented at DGP. I remember very well skating on Grenadier Pond and warming up beside a fire many years ago. What has changed to make this activity unacceptable?

I would give the city of Toronto the benefit of doubt because many thing that we could do in the past like fly to the US without a passport, we can no longer do. I feel that this however, is a case of the city going to war against its citizens because of the history at DGP. The city has been opposed to the farmers' market and many other things.

To the city's credit, it has not been so heavy handed as to stop all these community driven activities and in fact has allowed so many that DGP stands out as a shining example to other neighbourhoods as to what can be done if people only care enough to get involved and not simply let our masters run our publicly own assets for us.

When will city hall acknowledge that the Friends of Dufferin Grove is not simply one bad woman who needs to be controlled by middle aged men and their bureaucracies but a genuine, creative, democratic (albeit unstructured) response to urban life at the beginning of a new century? It is not perfect in fact it is a trial and error experiment but the city should be celebrating this and helping to expand it, not always trying to shut it down.

There are alot of things this city could do to help community involvement in parks and public space and to help neighbourhoods resolve conflicts in a bottom up democratic fashion but I do not see anything inovative happening in my city in those regards. Let them have fires in DGP.

22. From Jane Price to Councillor Giambrone, Feb.6 2007:

I am writing to thank you for your support of the interesting and creative life that now flourishes in Dufferin Grove Park and to ask for your support now in dealing with the troubles over cooking fires.

I believe the ingredient that makes Dufferin Grove park so vital. is that the park, as it now works operates, offers urban residents access to a public space where they can join or initiate activities that are meaningful to them. Dufferin Grove is not all about "programs" that people sign up for. Quite to the contrary, it is a place where people have a chance to make things happen from cooking fires to pizza parties to outdoor theatre.It is a place urban dwellers can make their own in way that we can never do if we are joining into someone else's program or set of instructional sessions. And, because people have the feeling they can "make the park their own," it is a fabulous place for people to gather, meet, and maybe go from being strangers to acquaintances and sometimes even, to friends. How valuable is a meeting place that breaks down the isolation of the urban dweller? How important are the activities that allow this to happen?

Cooking Fires are a great symbol of what Dufferin Grove is about and what other parks can become. There is long standing tradition of cooking fires in Dufferin Grove Park, and as well, in other parks throughout Ward 18 and the city.

We really need you to speak up now and push Toronto Parks to work respectfully with the very experienced city recreation staff, and citizens -- who have been staging these fires without negative incident for thirteen years in Dufferin Grove.

Dufferin Grove, like all Toronto parks, exists for the pleasure and enrichment of Toronto citizens. We need to remember that this is the goal and make decisions not based on the needs of the bureaucracy but with a view to the goal of enriching the lives of the city dwellers. Thank you for your help.

23. From Kathy Patterson to Mayor David Miller, Feb.11 2007

I want to add my voice to the many voices asking to have the campfires re-instated at Dufferin Grove Park. I am sure you are aware of how unique Dufferin Grove park has become over these last years ( if not- please visit!!!- especially for a Friday night dinner! ) As a family with a small child we have come to love Dufferin Grove for it's warmth and community spirit and for the vast array of experiences it offers- including a chance to enjoy a warm outdoor fire in the middle winter. The fires have always been well attended with people and buckets of water, and I have never felt or witnessed anything that would suggest there is a safety risk. On the contrary, I think the many varied dynamics at the park help grow a safer community- with better bonds between people of all ages and with lots of things for young people to engage in instead of getting lost to boredom. Please then help us to get the fires going again. My little daughter misses them a lot and it's just not the same with a pretend tissue paper fire that has replaced the dancing flames.

24. From Bob Edwards, Registrar, 62nd Toronto Scout Group, to Councillor Giambrone and Mayor Miller, Feb.12 2007

On behalf of the 62nd Toronto Scout Group and the 1st Centennial Scout Group, (an alumni group of former Scouts), I wish to register my concern about any changes to the campfire permits or procedures at Dufferin Grove Park.

We have held many campfires in the park. For some of our inner-city youth it's the first 'real' fire they've seen. It's a neighbourhood opportunity to teach fire safety and cooking skills etc.

The on-site staff are always very thorough outlining the rules and supplying the fire buckets, shovels and wheel barrow. They stop by to inspect the proceedings during the campfire and check up upon closing.

I have forty years of Scouting experience and cannot see any deficiencies in the practices and procedures in place. Surely, on site control and oversight is preferable to a Permit simply issued from City Hall.

Last summer we had a campfire for a group of Scouts visiting from Liverpool UK. They had never seen a city park with such community involvement and spirit. Several commented that they would like to borrow the "Friends of..." concept to use at home where parks are lifeless, dangerous places after dark.

Let's live up to the "A City Within a Park" motto by not stifling local initiative! Hopefully, procedures can be implemented that meet all party's needs.

25. From Gillian Green to Mayor David Miller:

I would like to take this opportunity to voice my disappointment with the current situation regarding campfires at Dufferin Grove Park. As a neighbour and a park supporter, we have reserved the firepits to celebrate many occasions over the years. We have had the fortunate pleasure of sharing our unique park with friends and relatives from across the country. Many of whom have been delighted and inspired by the community spirit and unanticipated adventure the park has to offer. The firepit is one of the strong elements that allows for the interaction and celebration to occur. We have booked the firepits to allow a warm focus to our gathering events; skating parties; outdoor wiener roasts and summer night fireside storey telling. Each time we marvel at how lucky we are to have such a wonderful opportunity right in the middle of an urban setting!

It is just too sad that bureaucracy has muddied the system. Reserving a spot, signing a form to take responsibility for the fire pit and garnering buckets of water for dousing the pit at the end-- I always felt that this existing protocol was simple and effective. Making the reserving of firepits inaccessible, expensive or additionally burdened with bureaucratic steps seems unfortunate and unnecessary.

Please lift the ban and hear the reason of thirteen years of safe and fun history park campfires. Please do not allow the pleasure of urban campfires to be engulfed in undeserving regulatory framework. Please let us keep our city within a park.

Do come and enjoy a toasted marshmallow in the sanctity of our Toronto neighbourhood park.

26. From Hastings Withers to Deputy Mayor Sandra Bussin, Feb.13 2007

I'm not sure if you would have seen the email below, but as Deputy Mayor, I'm sure you'd be interested in things outside of just the Beaches riding. Our family now go all the way from the Beaches to Dufferin Grove Park for their programs - which include community meals, hockey programs for women, for children, for beginner adults, and in summer they have theatre, dance and . and . and . . . the list goes on and on.

Everything I've seen about how they run programs at the park would lead me to have total confidence that the Scout fire lighting program would be excellently and safely run. Speaking as citizen, voter and past Scout leader, I would hope the Parks Department finds a way to make this program work as well as all the other programs at Dufferin Grove.

I'd appreciate it if you could pass my comments on to the relevant people in the Parks Dep't.

27. From Mary-Margaret Jones to Mayor Miller, Feb.12 2007

It is my understanding that Parks supervisor Peter Leiss has decided that Dufferin Grove Park should no longer be able to offer campfires. Parks supervisor Peter Leiss was concerned and unhappy about the safety of having all those campfires in parks, and gave the order to stop them on the grounds of "inadequate protocol."

First of all, there have been no incidences to warrant his decision. Apparently, Dufferin Grove has safely offered campfires and cooking fires to park users for 13 years. I understand the "what if" factor on this -- what if a fire got out of control etc. Thing is, I took the course and it was fine. I was told exactly where to find water, how to extinguish the fire regardless of my assurances that I am an experienced camper.

What is adequate protocol? Is Mr. Leiss a campfire safety expert? Could he offer a different protocol to the Dufferin Grove Park staff instead of just taking away campfires?

Dufferin Grove Park is exceptional to all other parks in the city. Volunteers have put a lot of time and effort to build a community that comes together for arts festivals, the summer playground, skating and -- yes -- campfires. Personally, I hosted a Thanksgiving Dinner at Dufferin Grove in 2006 and it was fabulous. People of all ages gathered around the fire to share food in a very meaningful way.

I realize that in a time when we are worrying about transit and gun violence that something like a campfire in a public park might not be an issue to a city mayor -- but it is to me, a constituent of this city who has supported you through two mayoral elections. This is about community building. My community. Please ask Mr. Leiss to offer solutions instead of taking away something that is dearly loved by the Dufferin Grove community.

28. From Mae Lee (Rigmea), Special Assistant,Office of Mayor David Miller to Mary-Margaret Jones, Feb.14 2007

Thank you sharing your concerns regarding Dufferin Grove Park campfires and related issues around safety and protocol.

Parks, Recreation and Forestry staff will touch base with you directly to address this issue. I encourage you to follow-up with your local City Councillor on the case. They are copied on this email.

29. From Mary-Margaret Jones to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.15 2007

Councillor Giambrone, please read below. I am aware that you are working with Jutta Mason on this matter. I hope that you are able to strongly recommend to Parks, Recreation and Forestry that they should consult the Dufferin Grove park leadership before making decisions that are not based in reason.

It seems that because Dufferin Grove operates in such a unique manner that the park staff, organization and community/ recreational offering is under constant scrutiny. Obviously transparency is encouraged but the Dufferin Grove model should be studied and celebrated as a successful community building project. It works.

From Friday night dinners to the rink to campfires and the adventure playground, people congregate in this park. Toronto residents who encounter Dufferin Grove for the first time are amazed that this park exists, in the middle of the city, across from the Dufferin Mall.

I hope that this issue can be resolved quickly and to the liking of the Dufferin Grove community.

30. From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Mary-Margaret Jones, Feb.15 2007

Thank you for your email. I would like to clarify some issues for you regarding the Fire Permits at Dufferin Grove Park. I am not trying to stop Cooking Fires or Warming Fires at Dufferin Grove. The bylaws as they apply to Parks require that any open fire requires a permit. In 2006 no permit was requested for fires at Dufferin Grove therefore no permit was issued. This also meant that there was no liability insurance in place.

Safety and safe use of the Park are concerns of mine as they are for all Park users. In the event of an incident or injury I would be required to demonstrate that I have followed all of the required procedures to hold an event in a Park. I am obliged by law follow the bylaws and policies and procedures that the City uses.

I am currently working with Park staff to put in place a protocol that meets the needs and desires of the local community and fits within the process of the City. I have had a number of meetings with Recreation staff, Fire Department staff, Permitting staff and Parks staff to resolve this issue.

I have also approved a Pilot at Dufferin Grove Park to allow Cooking Fires and to test the protocol that has been formed to date.

31. From Jutta Mason to Mary-Margaret Jones, Feb.16 2007

Peter Leiss is being a bit selective here. As far as I know, when Tino DeCastro, the recreation supervisor, tried to get cooking fire permits for our rink campfires and for other parks back in the fall, he was told that Permits doesn't give them (i.e. the locations were not "in their system," end of story). It may be that there was actually a new policy developing, to stop all campfires in city parks (or so rumour says). Certainly the city has reduced the number of parks allowing campfires from 16 to 11 in the past few years.

However, campfire users spoke up pretty loudly, and so did the staff who run this program. So I have just heard that Peter Leiss will be introducing a new city-wide "cooking fire/warming fire" protocol at a Parks, Forestry and Recreation management meeting next Wednesday. He and his superiors have not applied to any non-staff for their contributions to this protocol, nor have I heard of any plan to approach us.

Apparently Mr.Leiss will present our successful 13-year old campfire location(s) as a "pilot project."

It's certainly his pilot, which he began with a ban on all cooking fires/campfires, lasting (with a few one-off mystifying exceptions) from Jan.26 to Feb.16. Up until now, his pilot has involved 68 e-mail exchanges, plus an unknown number of staff-only e-mails, plus 26+ protest letters (not everyone cc'd me so I'm not sure of the numbers), plus maybe a dozen staff meetings. http://www.dufferinpark.ca/problems/wiki/wiki.php?n=Problems2007.CampfirePermissionRemoved

The new cooking fire/campfire protocols that I've been able to ascertain so far are virtually identical to what we developed over the past 13 years.

There must be a better way, involving less grief and less wasted time for everyone. Conversation -- instead of unilateral orders -- would be a good beginning.

32. From C.Elder to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.18 2007

When my daughter and I were living in a tiny attic garret on busy Dovercourt 6 years ago, we spent a lot of time at Dufferin Grove park. We spent a lot of time building huge teepees and structures in the sand pit under the shade of those huge trees, enjoying the outdoor theatre pieces of Clay and Paper, eating the wonderful snacks from the roving cart. One day, in conversation with Jutta, we learnt that we could actually build a campfire at night in the park.

Now, at that time, my daughter and I had as much chance as going camping or to a cottage as flying to the moon. Imagine my delight to be able to hold campfire dinners in downtown Toronto with my daughter and her other inner-city friends, some who had never ever experienced a campfire! We sang songs, we baked potatoes and corn, we had great times with our friends. We even held a daycare fundraiser there. We were carefully prepped about safety and how to handle the fire and our responsibility to clean up the area afterward. No issue ever arose.

I cherish those memories with my young daughter. I cannot describe the feeling of adventure and confidence that this possibility meant for us: suddenly my relationship to my city changed. I realised that I had always assumed without realising it that some hidden administration held the power over our common space--suddenly I realised that as a citizen, I could bring forward ideas about public space and what we could do with it. I realised that my idea of this "hidden administration" dictating what could and couldn't be done in our public space was an idea I had made up. It was an exciting change, and I am sure, had an empowering effect on my daughter about her relationship with her city.

So, I am writing to thank you for your support of the long-standing tradition of cooking fires in Dufferin Grove Park, and other parks throughout Ward 18 and the city. I am writing to encourage you to do all you can to push for collaboration between the very experienced city recreation staff, and citizens -- who have been staging these fires without negative incident for thirteen years -- and Toronto Parks.

33. From Jerzy Jarmasz to Councillor Adam Giambrone, Feb.19 2007

It has recently come to my attention that the status of campfires in city parks, a popular tradition that has a long and venerable history at Dufferin Grove park and recently began to spread to other locations, has come into question. I understand that steps have been taken to regularize the process of fire permits at Dufferin Grove park, and as a regular user of the park I applaud this, assuming this is true.

However, from what I understand there is still reluctance from city staff to allow permits in other city parks. Of these other parks, I can only really speak about my experience with Susan Tibaldi parkette, down the street from my home on Brock Ave. On November 26 of last year, a number of people from the neighbourhood (probably about 40) came together for a community "wiener and marshmallow roast" that was made possible by the part-time staff from Dufferin Grove (and by your timely intervention regarding the permit). The event was extremely well attended and my family and I enjoyed it very much. I remember that quite a few people in attendance said that this kind of event just never happens in the community anymore, and that it was a great way to bring the neighbourhood together and lift people's spirits. Many agreed this kind of event could help people feel safer and more at home in their community, assuming it could happen with some regularity.

Thus, I and many of my neighbours feel it is important that permits for cooking fires be allowed at Susan Tibaldi parkette again. I understand there is a concern about cooking fires posing some kind of risk to the subway line that runs below the parkette. I find it hard to believe that a cooking fire would do any harm to the subway, which is encased in a thick layer of reinforced concrete. If you take a look at some photos of the November 26 event and the campfire that we used, I think you will agree (please see http://tibaldiparkette.parkcommons.ca). If it is objected that a larger fire that gets out of control poses a risk, then I would suggest that perhaps the staff at Dufferin Grove, who have many years of expertise with campfires, should be supported in they efforts to help other neighbourhood groups with park-related events such as cooking fires.

Of course as chair of the TTC you might have a different opinion regarding campfires over the subway line, and I would have to respect your more extensive knowledge on the matter. But as you know well yourself, our neighbourhood, on Bloor west of Dufferin, is a tough one with many problems. If campfires at Susan Tibaldi parkette can bring the neighbourhood together here, then I feel they would be a good thing in parks throughout the city (with a proper permit system of course).



Wading Pool 2003

Many people who use the park wrote letters and called the city about the pool openings. Isaac Meyer Odell sent us a copy of his letter:

Dear Ms. Tucker Reid

I'm writing to you in hopes that you might reconsider the decision to suppress the early opening of the Dufferin Grove Park wading pool. Today, I spent several frustrating hours at the park, petitioning councillor Silva's office to open the pool. The answer we received from the councillor's office was that if there was sufficient staff there then the pool ought to be opened. Yet the park staff were told keep it closed. This experience left us all with sour feelings about the bureaucratic mechanisms of the city that seem to have no way of responding to the immediate concerns of our community.

As a new a parent I have become keenly aware of what a precious thing it is to live close to such an incredible park with a truly generous staff. My son and I go there every day to connect with our community and seek refuge from the tedium of daily life. As the summer heat has advanced upon us I have discovered that the only cool area of my home is the basement. I do not relish having to keep my son in the basement when there seems to be such wonderful resource just around the corner. Given that weather report does not show that there will be any relief in sight, I ask to please reconsider.

In the wake of so much dismal news in this neighbourhood and city, it seems like such a small and simple thing to do to help build community spirit.

Thank your for hearing my request and I hope tomorrow will be a wonderful day to enjoy for a splash in the park.

Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerly,

Isaac Meyer Odell


Rinks

What Rink Users Say

2001

From Barclay Hope, November 2001

I am a parent of a seven year old girl, a nine year old girl, and a four year old hockey fanatic. I am forty-three years old and still play hockey. I am finding it increasingly difficult to explain to my son why he can't skate on the hockey rinks when there is ice on the streets. He was on the News one year when the weather had turned warm, but not warm enough to turn the artificial ice to mush. The cameraman had other people to shoot, but he chose Charlie, with his crossover turns and his sliding stops at the age of two and a half. When he has trouble going to sleep I lie beside him and whisper, recounting each step of the trip to the rink, the tying of the skates, the conditions of the ice, the hot chocolate afterwards. He sleeps. He wants to sleep with his skates on. Trite but true.

The children in our house don't watch TV. They don't play video games. They don't watch videos. They don't play on the computer. In this day of mass communication, we refuse to let them leave the real world of children. They play and fight and laugh and scream and sing. We try our best not to let them become insulated.

Now we are told the rinks will live shorter lives. Cutbacks. Hmm. I hope there will still be public rinks when Charlie is old enough to get up at 5 a.m. to get in a few hours of shinny in the dark before school like I did. I understand cutbacks, and when you think about it, they're just hockey rinks. They're just Canadian hockey rinks. We'll go and play video hockey.

September 11 changed everything. Let's change the way we think. Let's work for future generations. In Canada, they're not just hockey rinks.

From Jacqueline Peeters, November 2001

I was very upset, disappointed, and discouraged to hear that Toronto outdoor ice rinks will be opening almost a month later than traditionally. They are vital centres of our communities, particularly for families and young people during the winter months. This is particularly true for lower income people who are less likely to be able to afford programs at the indoor rinks or heading off to the ski hills.

2003

From Veronica Pochmursky, Dec.2, 2003

Dear Toronto Parks Staff,

Why is it so difficult to locate the dates when the ice rinks are open on the City's website? I've been burrowing through your website now for 10 minutes and still haven't located it. Is it really so difficult to post a list of rinks and the date they will be ready?

I went to Ramsden Rink today, fully expecting it to be open because I knew that Dufferin Grove was, and they usually open at the same time. Much to my suprise, not only was the rink not open, it appears that ice making hasn't even begun! What is the problem? With the torrential rains last week, it would have been a perfect time to initiate ice making to take advantage of the natural flooding. Free water. Doesn't that count as a good cost savings initiative, not to mention the environmental benefit?

Could you please let me know when Ramsden Rink will be open.

From shinny hockey player Richard Sanger, Dec.15 2003

This seems typical--at 4pm today I phoned the Ramsden rink to ask if the rink was open. I got someone on the other end who said they were just clearing it off (I think I heard a machine too) but then added that the rink was closing at 6 pm and they probably wouldn't be finished by then and if they were there would be at best "half an hour of skating"... Why would it take two guys so long with a machine? I could do it with a shovel in half that time. And why did the guy give me the impression he just didn't want anyone to come skating?

From Ramsden Rink shinny hockey player Gar Mahood, Dec.20 2003

There were problems with ice maintenance last weekend and some folks were upset. I wasn’t there. Snow had accumulated and the attendants would not release the shovels so volunteers could clean the rink. This ran counter to the understanding that we struck last year about the shovels after about a three-year battle. So we thought we had lost ground. It seemed that we were back to the old position that the city would not clean the ice and it wouldn’t let us clean the ice either, a non-option.


Rinks 2003

Dec. 19 2003

The letters have been flooding in.

Dear Councillor, I own the large house that faces the rink and if anyone in the neighbourhood has earned the right to comment about the current state of affairs, it would be me. You will notice in the subject header that I refer to the rink as a Community Centre because that is in fact what it has become--- the least funded and probably the best community centre in Toronto in the true sense of the word community. Living where I do, I am very much aware that Dufferin Grove, as a large inner city park, has the potential to change its character in a heartbeat and become a dangerous force in our neighbourhood. Keeping the park safe is a very tricky balancing act. It's working because everyone uses it, so please do what you can to make sure that this state of affairs continues or the city may well have much more serious problems on its hands than a few health infractions. Annick Mitchell

Dear Councillor, I guess the powers that be at Parks and Rec are just fed-up with this community. It amazes me that they don't regard Dufferin Grove as the jewel in the crown. If things don't get resolved by Sunday, I would be more than happy to help organize a skaters visit to the Mayor's office on Monday morning. All the little skaters will be on holiday and the doors of city hall are open. Also, I am sure Monday will be a slow news day. I think this would be a perfect vision of the grinch who stole Christmas and then some. Kathleen Foley

Dear Councillor, This news is absolutely abominable, backward, and anti-neighborhood. The Dufferin Grove activities have been a model and a beacon of hope for all citizens of Toronto. What can you do to help stop the rink and other activities being shut down? And what can we, as concerned neighbors, do? Michaelle McLean

Dear Mayor and Councillors, I am sending this message to you all in the hope that some quick, sensible action can be taken in the face of what seems to be an idiotic bureaucratic farce. Our park is a shining example of what a park should be. It is a hub of vibrant and lively activity that attracts youngsters of all ages together with adults who participate in the varied and inclusive activities that the park offers. I cannot tell you how angry and outraged the neighbourhood will be if the rink is closed. Where are the youngsters going to go who use the rink? Do you want them to hang out on Bloor Street and in the Dufferin Mall during the Christmas holidays? All this talk about the impact that overweight children will eventually have on our health services ... it seems to me that the kids skating might just save us a few health dollars! Vivienne Smietana

Dear Councillor, For some years now, our foundation has been making grants to the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park to assist them in their efforts to integrate the park into the community. The irony in all of this is that the park applied for and received a grant from the city to buy and install the kitchen equipment which now appears to another governmental authority to be problematic. For what it is worth, we agreed to an $8,000 commitment to help with the kitchen which helped her secure the grant from the city. I am not one to normally harass those who represent me/us in the political process but this situation is ridiculous. Anything you can do would sure be appreciated. John Broley

Mayor Miller, As a resident and regular user of the park and rink, I am shocked to learn that the city once again wants to flex its muscle to close the rink and the park in spite of all the efforts made by residents to build a valuable and meaningful resource within the city. Please look at the facts and stop this madness. Tim Freeman

Dear Councillor, I have just been informed of the potential closing of Dufferin Grove Rink. THIS MUST BE STOPPED! This is a place that me and my family have been going to for years. Our time there is something we look forward to on a weekly basis as it is one of the only opportunities we have to all go to one place and ENJOY ourselves (the challenges of teenagers who rarely want to be seen in public with their parents). I presume I do not have to sell you on its merits. Please do WHATEVER you can to prevent this. IT IS A COMMUNITY BASED PARK, MADE FOR AND BY THE COMMUNITY. THIS IS ONE EXAMPLE OF CIVIC PARTICIPATION WORKING AT ITS BEST. PLEASE DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN! Loren Grebanier

Dear People in Charge, That's enough. No more of this bureaucratization of people's everyday lives is going to happen if I can help it. Dufferin Grove Park and the people who work and volunteer in it have given me a home away from home. It's a place I meet my friends for dinner and where I get to befriend people I would never have otherwise met. I go there and help out so that I can feel like I'm doing something good for the people in my neighbourhood. It is a labour of love. Caitlin Shea

Dear Councillor, “It is a fallacy to think that parks belong to citizens” ?? I feel that our park has always been in the forefront of community involvement. The number of people who use the park, rink, club house is incredible. And now some bureaucrats, who think that this park does not belong to us, want to shut the whole place down. As a tax paying citizen who has enjoyed this wonderful community park for years, I find this completely outrageous. A very concerned citizen who believes that our parks really belong to us -- Shanti Nahata

Dear Mayor Miller, and Councillors, What the community has done at Dufferin Grove stands as a shining example of what community really is ... and it should be duplicated throughout the entire city -- not taken apart. The rink, the farmer's market, the bread ovens, the friday night suppers, the wading pool and every other spectacular event that happens there makes me proud to live in this city. What is going on at city hall to stop this? and why is something so vital to the wellbeing of the city being attacked? Mary Myers

Dear Ms. Tucker Reid: Jutta and park staff have been doing some research, basically visiting rinks to see if they are in a working state. They have discovered many rinks get infrequent rink maintenance and in some parks, the rink guard cannot be found. After the Dufferin Grove group discovered that there was some disarray in Toronto rinks and started reporting this to city types, we got a "surprise" visit from the two employee health inspectors. The bad feeling in my stomach, and I am speaking personally now, is that in the city bureaucracy, there are some people who are unhappy about the Friends of Dufferin Grove. They do not like the idea that we feel it is our place to tell them to do their job. Jane Price

Dear Councillor, I hold up Dufferin Grove as a model of right thinking and action, it's the way communities should be using park opportunities. Please understand that what has been accomplished is sustainable only with support. To hear that anything other than support and gratitude is being offered from paid city officials seems a weird misunderstanding that needs be quickly resolved. Dyan Marie

Dear Mayor Miller, Dufferin Grove is not dangerous to those who treasure it, in any way. We won't slip on the ice, or choke on some fresh warm bread and sue. We love our park. Perhaps when goodwill can be tagged and weighed, we will be able judge real value, and to offset the cost of maintaining all that constructive joy. Then we'll know the real cost of shutting down a community jewel. Until then, it is going too far when you consider harming our treasure. Roscoe Handford


Here is our first letter to the city about the crisis, and quite a few emails that we received from friends and neighbours in response.

Claire Tucker Reid, General Manager, Parks and Recreation

City of Toronto

Dear Claire,

I have just been informed that Dufferin Rink will be shut down, probably tomorrow, if we continue with the mixed use that we now have. Two health and safety inspectors came and quite evidently found the whole scene we run, abominable. I called James Dann to come down and they gave him all the details.

After 10 years of community-building at Dufferin Grove Park, it is a stunning experience for me to find that two gentleman can come and tell us that what our neighbourhood has built in this park is basically a giant heap of safety violations.

It is ironic and sad that as parks and recreation facilities all over the city, especially rinks, are crumbling before our eyes, one of the best outdoor rinks in the city would be closed. The Christmas holidays are set to begin. To have to face the end of our community dinners, the bread, the farmers' market, and much of what makes the rink work so well, will be a very serious blow for our neighbourhood.

The two health and safety inspectors who came today told me that it is a fallacy to think that parks belong to citizens: they belong to the corporate entity called Toronto. I hope that not everyone in city government feels this way. Please let us know where you stand.

Jutta Mason


I have participated in Shinny Hockey. Night of Dread and Harvest show on stilts and have enjoyed the benefits of your community. From the kitchen, market and the park itself. I can't believe that a pair of inspectors can have such power to ruin such a creative and interesting community. I would like to see the great tradition continue of bringing so many different kinds of people and events to an urban park that is at risk of being ignored and destroyed because of some rules that cannot be creatively altered or changed to recognize Dufferin Grove's charm and draw.

Thanks

Drew Simmons

p.s

Don't punish the shinny players for not playing with helmets.

I was at the Edmonton heritage game and the great one did not have inspectors shutting down the game because he didn't wear one.


Dear Recipients,

I'm writing to add my voice to those protesting the confusion around the Dufferin Grove Park.

Here's how the situation appears to me: someone is under the impression that if the park is allowed to continue to build community and serve the needs of as many people as possible, someone, somewhere may sue. The juxtaposition of food, fun, education, and sports so close together could lead to someone getting hurt or eating something unsafe. I'm guessing, here, but I'm probably not far off the mark.

This reminds me of when my children were born, and I was instructed by all the experts to "child proof" my home. After 4 years of attempting to do so for 2 children, I learned the attempt was futile, and a waste of energy better spent actually caring for them. If you remove or pad every corner of your home and eliminate all furniture, placing your child in a bare padded room, they can still trip and put an eye out with their own thumb. Should I then have my children's thumbs padded? If I were to thoroughly child proof my children, they would be liable to become cases of Children's Aid, and I charged with failing to provide the necessities of life.

Dufferin Grove Park feels like a home to me. There's been some child proofing done, and there's been some leeway given because this park grew from the needs of the community it serves. I go there on the bus from Bathurst and St.Clair to enjoy the farmer's market and take my kids skating and to be awed by the Clay and Paper geniuses. This park is a shining gem in the city of Toronto, entity or parent or corporate party pooper. I tell people I meet on the Streetcar about the dinners at Dufferin Grove. What should be done about it? It should be studied and treasured and emulated city wide, of course.

In closing, I'd like to relate an incident that happened last year at the Wychwood Carbarns Park, a fledgling baby park up in my area. Some volunteers were getting up every morning at 5am and going again at 8pm every day for a month to flood a rink for local kids to skate on. When the ice was really beautiful, and kids began to discover this fabulous thing and turn up in droves to skate there, the City Of Toronto's Real Estate Department sent salting trucks over to dump 80 or 100 lbs of salt on the rink. Twice in two days. Seems they'd got wind of the ice being slippery, and were worried someone might slip and hurt themselves. It is simply and truly unCanadian to salt a rink. It is also simple and true that people can slip and fall on ice, but it is also fair to say that salting a rink is going too far.

So, here we are with a fabulous, treasured park that has the admiration of people across the world, and the undying loyalty of the community it serves. Dufferin Grove is not dangerous to those who treasure it, in any way. We won't slip on the ice, or choke on some fresh warm bread and sue. We love our park. Perhaps when goodwill can be tagged and weighed, we will be able judge real value, and to offset the cost of maintaining all that constructive joy. Then we'll know the real cost of shutting down a community jewel. Until then, it is going too far when you consider harming our treasure.


Ms. Roscoe Handford
Helena Ave.

Dear Mayor Miller, and Councillors,

I was extremely disappointed and angry with the news that the rink at dufferin grove is to be shut down. What the community has done at dufferin grove stands as a shining example of what community really is ... and it should be duplicated throughout the entire city -- not taken apart.

The rink, the farmer's market, the bread ovens, the friday night suppers, the wading pool and every other spectacular event that happens there makes me proud to live in this city.

What is going on at city hall to stop this? and why is something so vital to the wellbeing of the city being attacked?

Please help.
Sincerely,
mary myers
ward 18 resident, and weekly farmer's market shopper


" It is a fallacy to think that parks belong to citizens ?? "

Apparently this is what two health and safety inspectors, who came to inspect Dufferin grove park rink communicated to the staff after finding some safety violations.

I feel that our park has always been in the forefront of community involvement. We have wonderful Friday, Saturday dinners (Where the heck are you going to find great food and atmosphere for $5.00). The baking that goes on at that park is simply amazing. The number of people who use the park, rink, club house is incredible.

And now some bureaucrats, who think that this park does not belong to us want to shut the whole place down. As a tax paying citizen who has enjoyed this wonderful community park for years, I find this completely outrageous.

Please make sure that our rink and our club house are not closed down*

A very concerned citizen who believes that our parks really belong to us.

Shanti Nahata

Gladstone


Dear People in Charge,

That's enough. No more of this bureaucratization of people's everyday lives is going to happen if I can help it.

Dufferin Grove Park and the people who work and volunteer in it have given me a home away from home. It's a place I meet my friends for dinner and where I get to befriend people I would never have otherwise met. I go there and help out so that I can feel like I'm doing something good for the people in my neighbourhood. The food prepared there is done by people like myself for the enjoyment of our friends and neighbours. All profits go back into supplies and toys for the kids. It is a labour of love.

And yet the City of Toronto, and especially the exceptionally poorly managed Parks Department, resent and actively oppose anyone who does more than the absolute minimum required of them. When staff use their own initiative to make the most of their time and the resources at hand they get met with opposition by those who resent their efforts, which they seem to notice cast their own mediocre work and commitment into a poor light.

It's time for the Parks Department to acknowledge that, despite most of their efforts, Dufferin Grove Park makes them look good. People in the park see the City of Toronto actually working for them and providing them with a happy place to go. Little do they realize that the City wishes it would go away.

Please, I urge you, work with the people who care about this place and keep it going.

Happy Holidays,

Caitlin Shea
College Street


Hi there,

Yesterday two employee health inspectors from the City came to Dufferin Grove. These inspectors visit work sites to make sure they are safe for city employees. The inspectors visited the new kitchen in the garage and determined that there were health and safety violations in this area and that it was not a sufficiently "safe" area for city of Toronto employees to work in. They advised Jutta that this part of the rink and maybe all of the rink is about to be "shut down."

I see here some interesting coincidences in timing. For the past few weeks, Jutta and company, have been doing a "rink hotline" because right now, unless you live in the Dufferin Grove area, you cannot call your local rink and find out if it is open and functioning. (None of the other numbers are public.) As a result, the only way to find out if your rink is running is to actually go to it.

Dufferin Grove staff got their number put on the city rink recording so that people can phone Dufferin Grove and find out which city rinks are running. To do the hotline properly, Jutta and park staff have been doing some research, basically visiting rinks to see if they are in a working state. They have discovered many rinks get infrequent rink maintenance and in some parks, the rink guard cannot be found. After the Dufferin Grove group discovered that there was some disarray in Toronto rinks and started reporting this to city types, we got a "surprise" visit from the two employee health inspectors.

The bad feeling in my stomach, and I am speaking personally now, is that in the city bureaucracy, there are some people who are unhappy about the Friends of Dufferin Grove. They do not like the idea that we feel it is our place to tell them to do their job.

Now we are in a pickle because, in fact, these inspectors can probably always find another "infraction" to keep our cooking facilities shut down.

So what to do? I am not entirely sure. I called the Mayor 416-397-2489 and my Counselor — mine is Adam Giambrone 392-2012. I told them Dufferin Grove rink was really important to me and I want them to help us keep it running.

So if you feel like making some waves now is a good day to do it. Merry Christmas to all.

Jane Price

President of the Friends of Dufferin Grove


Like many decisions made in this city, this angers me so much that it makes me nauseous — how on earth do these type of people get to make these decisions? Do we have to get together to fight city hall every time something good is happening that some bureaucrat disapproves of? Heaven forbid that we allow something to continue that is good for everyone except for those wanting more money or power..... My husband knows a journalist who was interested in doing an article on the wonderful things that go on at the park. We will definitely let him know about this! Also, our new city representatives.

Keep up the battle!

Jackie Monders


Dear Councillor Giambrone,

First let me offer you my congratulations on your victory. As a supporter, I was pleased to see a progressive voice representing my ward for the first time in quite a while.

Now to the point. I have just been informed of the potential closing of Dufferin Grove Rink. THIS MUST BE STOPPED! As you are well aware Dufferin Grove is a community success which has been written about in both the national and international press. More importantly, it is a place that me and my family have been going to for years. Our time there is something we look forward to on a weekly basis as it is one of the only opportunities we have to all go to one place and ENJOY ourselves (the challenges of teenagers who rarely want to be seen in public with their parents). I presume I do not have to sell you on its merits. Please do WHATEVER you can to prevent this. There are a lot of progressive voices on Council. Call for their support. Surely, it will not be difficult to get them ON SIDE for something as unique and special as Dufferin Grove. IT IS A COMMUNITY BASED PARK, MADE FOR AND BY THE COMMUNITY. THIS IS ONE EXAMPLE OF CIVIC PARTICIPATION WORKING AT ITS BEST. PLEASE DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN!.

Please let me know how I, and my family can help.

Thanks for your support in this matter.

Loren Grebanier
Westmoreland Ave


Mr. Miller,

As a resident and regular user of the park and rink, I am shocked to learn that the city once again wants to flex its muscle to close the rink and the park in spite of all the efforts made by residents to build a valuable and meaningful resource within the city. At a time when city officials should be applauding the efforts of local residents, they appear instead to prefer to antagonize and punish those who have worked to make the park and rink a community within the city. Please look at the facts and stop this madness.

Tim Freeman P.Eng.
Sterner Automation Limited
Hanna Avenue


I have only recently discovered the Dufferin Grove market and rink, dinners and everything else that goes on in the park and the whole feeling of it was so warm and inviting and HUMAN - COMMUNITY. It is a real healing happening I believe, where people can feel they are part of a community life and not just in a big anonymous city.

It is absolutely clear to me that the team of volunteers and workers who have invested so much love and care to build the atmosphere at Dufferin Grove are pioneers looking for a better way of city living. I was so inspired by that and so warmed that it exists.

What a mistake it would be to shut it down because it wasn't sterile enough. I do hope we can share out thoughts and feelings clearly enough, because we make Toronto, and I believe Dufferin Grove makes Toronto special.

Please feel free to pass this on to anyone who may be able to help.

Kathy Patterson


To Gloria Lindsay Luby

Vice Chair, Economic Development and Parks Committee:

I am the Executive Director of a private charitable foundation founded in 1987 by the late Geoffrey H Wood, a longtime resident of Etobicoke ( both personally and business wise). You may remember his famous slogan 'sanitation for the nation'.

For some years now, our foundation has been making grants to the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park to assist them in their efforts to integrate the park into the community. The irony in all of this is that the park applied for and received a grant from the city to buy and install the kitchen equipment which now appears to another governmental authority to be problematic. For what it is worth, we agreed to an $8,000 commitment to help with the kitchen which helped her secure the grant from the city.

I am not one to normally harass those who represent me/us in the political process but this situation is ridiculous. Anything you can do in your new role as Parks Vice-Chair would sure be appreciated.

Thanks for your help.

John Broley

The Geoffrey H. Wood Foundation


I am sending this message to you all in the hope that some quick, sensible action can be taken in the face of what seems to be an idiotic bureaucratic farce.

I have recently heard that the Dufferin Grove Rink is to be shut down this weekend. Through Jutta's efforts and those of other local residents, our park is a shining example of what a park should be. It is a hub of vibrant and lively activity that attracts youngsters of all ages together with adults who participate in the varied and inclusive activities that the park offers.

My two sons have used the rinks for many years. Every time I walk by the rinks which are invariably full, I think how wonderful it is that this city offers these kinds of activities that keep these young people active and fit.

The farmers' market has been a terrific addition to the park and has drawn another group of people into the park. The community suppers that are offered have given neighbours the opportunity to get to know one another .... a valued asset in a large city. Other activities such as the entertainment, the baking ovens, community gardens and so on, have all combined to create a wonderful sense of neighbourliness. The combination of all these activities have also created a much safer park than in the past.

I cannot tell you how angry and outraged the neighbourhood will be if the rink is closed. Where are the youngsters going to go who use the rink? Do you want them to hang out on Bloor Street and in the Dufferin Mall during the Christmas holidays? All this talk about the impact that overweight children will eventually have on our health services ... it seems to me that the kids skating might just save us a few health dollars! I just cannot believe that anyone would be so short sighted and mean spirited. However I do have faith that common sense and a belief in community and neighbourhood will prevail in our newly elected officials. Please prove me right.

Sincerely,
Vivienne Smietana
Havelock Street


Dear Joe,

The email below indicates something very wrong at the Parks & Recreation management level. This news is absolutely abominable, backward, and anti-neighborhood. The Dufferin Grove activities have been a model and a beacon of hope for all citizens of Toronto.

What can you do to help stop the rink and other activities being shut down? And what can we, as concerned neighbors, do?

Best — Michaelle McLean
Massey Street


Dear Councillor Giambrone,

Please re-consider the city's position on the use of the rink house at Dufferin Grove Park. This park is a prototype of what community usage of a park should be. There are many many people in this neighborhood who are very proud of our park, and if you start tearing down what is near and dear to the citizens of this area, and refuse to protect their values, you will alienate many voters, myself included. There will be a groundswell. Fore-warned is fore-armed.

Margaret Mikkelborg


Dear Councillor Giambrone:

I am writing to you, concerned about news about the rink at Dufferin Grove and potential conflict with the City's Health Inspectors.

I own 420 Gladstone Avenue which is the large house that faces the rink and if anyone in the neighbourhood has earned the right to comment about the current state of affairs, it would be me. You will notice in the subject header that I refer to the rink as a Community Centre because that is in fact what it has become--- the least funded and probably the best community centre in Toronto in the true sense of the word community. Living where I do, I am very much aware that Dufferin Grove, as a large inner city park, has the potential to change its character in a heartbeat and become a dangerous force in our neighbourhood. Skating at the rink 12 years ago was not a pleasant affair as teenage boys set the tone for how the facilities were used. Is this a stereotype? Probably, but that was my family's experience. Today the rink is a totally different place that has lots of room for teenage boys as well as everyone else. Bottom line is that the way the place is run( health inspectors or no health inspectors) it supports the activities that are meant to take place and that the community has decided it wants. While I don't appreciate hockey players climbing the fence and playing at 3:00am ( I hear it every time the puck hits the boards) I'd rather hear pucks than gunshots. Keeping the park safe is a very tricky balancing act. It's working because everyone uses it, so please do what you can to make sure that this state of affairs continues or the city may well have much more serious problems on its hands than a few health infractions.

Sincerely,
Annick Mitchell


Dufferin Grove Park is one of the most used, community friendly, parks in Toronto. It has one of the richest varieties of activities, ranging from skating, through wood-fired ovens, to Friday night dinners for the locals, to name just a few. All this has taken years to build up, and the park has developed a well-earned reputation as a result. The Park has learned to do 'more with less', and to more than fill its mandate, at a time when such lessons are much needed.

The City Bureaucrats who want to close it down should be taking the lessons learned there, and applying them to parks throughout the city. Instead, they apparently want to do 'less with less', complaining that the mixed use nature of the park (ie. making greatest use of the resources there) violates regulations. Could they not work with the park in constructive ways instead, to help spread community-friendly and cost-saving benefits to the rest of the city?

Henrik Bechmann,
Gladstone Ave.


I have asked staff for a report on the Health and Safety violations, and I will be receiving this information quite shortly. Please know that we will do whatever we can to ensure that the facility stays open for the residents. I will be in touch as soon as I have the information and a proposed solution.

All The Best,
Claire


Mayor Miller has asked me to respond directly to your e-mail regarding the Dufferin Grove Park. The Mayor understands the importance of Dufferin Grove Park to residents in the area and the role it has played in building and supporting a strong community.

We have received assurances from senior staff in Parks and Recreation that the arena will remain open. Staff have requested a report to address a number of Health & Safety concerns. Once the report is complete, Parks and Recreation staff will convene a meeting with members of the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park early in the new year to communicate further on the issues.

Carmen Smith
Community Liaison Assistant
Office of the Mayor


2004

From Harry Gairey Rink parent Richard Sanger, Dec. 10 2004

3 pm on Saturday December 10th I head over to Harry Gairey rink with my 9 year old son and his 12 year old friend to skate and play hockey; it's snowing so I bring a shovel in case there's no-one around to clear the ice; In the change room there are three young P and R employees: one reading the Sun, two mopping the same spot repeatedly. I ask why the rink is closed. They say because it's snowing. I spend 20 minutes lookiing for the Rink operator who has made this baffling decision. He seems to have disappeared and I give up.

2005

From Caroline Lindberg (Trinity Rink parent), to Mayor Miller, Oct. 18 2005.

I have heard that the opening of the city's outdoor ice rinks will be delayed until December 10 for budgetary reasons. My family uses the outdoor ice rinks several times each week. Already, my kids are saying they can hardly wait for the local rink to open. Not only is the rink a place for recreation, but it is a place where neighbours meet and get to know one another. Even if the rinks open on December 3, it's a short season – please don't make it even shorter.

From Alan Carlisle, Nov.26 2005

When i was a kid in Montreal, we all pitched in to warrant our obsession of skating and hockey...At least 20 snow shovels were available and as the ice became snowy, we would stop hockey and almost everyone would grab a shovel and within a few minutes (many hands make lite work), the game would resume.. the down side was at least once a season, i would get run into by a big guy and get smacked hard to the ice... not good.. we all cried when the march thaw made a lake of our beloved rinks the horse buns from the ice-cleaning froze and we always had a puck.. even if it was made of half digested oats..

From Richard Sanger, letter to Mayor David Miller, Dec.4 2005

What exactly is the city's policy regarding skating on Grenadier Pond? This afternoon I went for a very nice walk with my family through the West Ravine woods and along the shore and saw that ice was already beginning to form on the pond's surface. I also saw those killjoy signs up saying No Skating No Access. Will they remain up all year long like they did last year?

Not so very long ago (but long before "Wintercity", "Winterlicious" and "Toronto Unlimited") the city encouraged people to skate on the pond in winter: the ice was cleared in an oval, and fires were lit on the shore for people to warm up by. I have had many of the best skates of my life on that pond. I even know a now-married couple that first met skating there. But now I go there with my children (who also love skating) and have to explain to them what seems to me a rather complicated (and not very edifying) lesson in legalistic duplicity i.e. sometimes when it says "no skating" it doesn't really mean that; it just means that that is what the city's lawyers told the city to say so that the city wouldn't get into trouble.

Can't we just go back to "Dangerous Ice; skate at your own risk"? And when the ice is absolutely safe, shouldn't we encourage people to skate there?

From Caroline Lindberg to Brenda Librecz, general manager of Parks, Foresty and Recreation, Dec. 12 2005

Dear Ms. Librecz - I was disappointed by the City's decision not to open the ice rink at Trinity Bellwoods before December 10. I hope that next year consideration will be given to opening by the first weekend in December.

With the cold weather we had last week we really missed having the rink available. I wondered about the fact that we didn't see much going on in terms of preparation but assured my kids that the rink would open on the weekend. But Sunday morning, when we headed over to the rink for shinny, we discovered that City staff were there with a hose, putting down yet another layer. The rink wasn't ready! My twelve-year-old daughter would like to know why the rink wasn't ready even though we were promised that it would be. What should I tell her?

2006

From shinny hockey player Patrick Scantlebury, Jan. 26 2006

Just a quick note re Wallace rink.

I use this rink at least 1x per week and the ice is never in very good condition. A couple of weeks ago we [played shinney for 4 hours and no one showed up to surface the ice. During the last 2 hrs the ice really started to deteriorate. I had some time this morning at 11 am and wanted to go skating. The ice was terrible. Staff had not cleared the light dusting of snow (approx 1/2 inch) so I went to Dufferin and the ice was great.

It appears that there are funds/resources allocated for maintenance.

  • Are these resources used effectively?
  • What are the standards of service?
  • Are these being met?
From David Howard, Feb.2 2006

The outdoor rink in our neighbourhood (Rosedale Park) is a disgrace. It seems as if the City doesn't want to have a rink there at all and does its best to discourage the community from using it by failing to maintain it.

A couple of years ago, after a large snowfall, when the rink wasn't shoveled two days later, a few of the local residents showed up with shovels and began clearing the rink so our kids could skate. When a City Works supervisor showed up, he ordered us off the rink and locked the door even though we all agreed that we would sign waivers if we were injured.

The City staff didn't get around to shoveling for another day and half.

From teacher Sally Bliss to City Councillors Sandra Bussin and Paula Fletcher, Dec.12 2006

I'm a teacher at Greenwood Secondary School at Greenwood and Danforth. As you know, all our students are new Canadians. Last year, I started an after school skating program to introduce them to the joys of skating and get them "Active on Ice", during what can otherwise be quite a miserable season for many. With donations of used hockey skates and helmets, we'd walk 5 minutes over to Monarch Park's rink to use during public skating hours. The program was hugely popular! In September when school resumed, the first question a student from Iraq asked was, "When does skating start again, Ms?"

We'll, it was suppose to start today, but because of the mild weather, the rink at Monarch is a mess. I phoned Matty Eckler Community Centre at noon and they said that it would most likely be closed. I stopped by the rink at 4pm and the attendent didn't know if the zamboni would be coming or not.

While I understand that warm weather can be a nuisance in maintaining rinks, I can't help but be frustrated at the inconsistency across the city. Last year on 3 or 4 occasions, Monarch shut down while other rinks remained in operation. The best place to skate in the city is at Dufferin Grove Park because they've got an incredibly involved community. I just phoned them to find out that not only are their rinks open, but the ice is also "great".

I have no doubt that East Enders love hockey, skating, parks and community space just as much as the Dufferin Grove folks. We just might not be as mobilized, or well-resourced. At Monarch there's one lonely bench to tie your skates up on. While there are benches in the changeroom--there's no rubber to walk out on. Last year the attendant told my students to just walk on the concrete with their skates. When I did class field trips in school time, I would take students across the city to Dufferin Grove, where helmets and skates were available for loan, chairs allowed on the ice to support beginner skaters, woodstove and hot chocolate steaming to warm toes...What a difference!

I'm hoping you can put a little pressure on Parks and Recreation to bring the facility and maintenance standards at Monarch Park at least a little closer to those enjoyed by our Dufferin Grove neighbours.


2007
From rink friend Tracy Heffernan, Sept.13 2007

Dear Councillors, I am writing to urge you not to postpone the opening of the outdoor skating rinks. Every year for the past several years we have seen an erosion of the rink season. Yet, like public libraries, rinks are one of those essential services that help maintain a vibrant community. The fact that they are free and open to all is a testimony to the health of Toronto as a city.

I live near Dufferin Grove rink and use it regularly. Throughout the skating season, the rink serves as a magnet for people of all ages and walks of life. It is a fantastic resource for youth - all they need are skates and a hockey stick (both of which can be borrowed from Dufferin Grove) and they can spend hours playing shinny outside. Surely this is good for everyone!

To lose a month of rink time - for very small savings - seems a penny wise, pound foolish, decision. Please reconsider cutting such a vital community service.

Comment from rink friend Jutta Mason, Sept.14 2007:

The fact is, one hopes that the taxes will be passed, since we certainly need them now. But if they're NOT passed, so that cuts need to be made, that means the cuts will be long-term.

So: if you were decision-making city staff, would you rather cut community centres and rinks over the long term ($1.5 million), or would you rather cut one day a month of management salaries over the long term ($1.5 million)?

The top city staff made their choice and Mayor Miller supported it. That means the cuts are absorbed by:

1. citizens who use rinks and community centres

2. part-time parks and rec workers who make $22,000 a year (maybe) but will now lose all those days -- rather than full-time management who make between $67,000 to $140,000 a year (plus 24% benefits).

In whose interest is the city run?

To be fair, most of the management people I've talked to have told me they'd be willing to take a day a month of cuts. But they weren't a party to the Mayor's plan.

From Belinda Cole, September 21, 2007

Dear City Councillors,

My 4 kids and I enjoy the outdoor ice rinks from the time they open until they close – for pleasure skating and shinny hockey. This is one of our most important winter activities. I find it most disappointing that the City can decide to hire more and more people for different "youth work" and "youth" related initiatives, and yet fail to support the basic services that offer young people a place to enjoy themselves amidst the rest of the community. I find it appalling that the budget cuts are designed so that the people who enjoy parks and community centres, and the lowest paid recreation staff who work to provide us with such important services are held for ransom in the budget deliberations. There are many ways to save money that I support, as set out in the September newsletter for Dufferin Park.

We feel it is your job as our representatives to make sure our basic services are kept up and properly maintained. These facilities belong to us - the people of Toronto. It is citizens who have paid to have them built and they should be fully available for us to use. We fully support the funding plan and schedule for the opening and closing of rinks set out at the following site: saveourrinks.ca.

Will you please get back to us to let us know your position on the rinks and to let us know of any initiatives you are taking to protect our rinks. I would also like to hear your response to the alternative budget cuts proposed in the Dufferin newsletter.

Thank you.

From teacher Sally Bliss, Sept.17 2007

I’m currently on maternity leave from Greenwood Secondary School, a specialized TDSB orientation program for adolescent newcomers-many of whom are refugees- who require intensive language, literacy and numeracy support. For the past 6 years, I’ve taught the grades 9 and 10 Healthy Active Living course to teenagers who for the most part have never participated in structured physical activity in their lives. Some are attending school for the first time, as former child soldiers, household breadwinners, girls who were denied education…

Two years ago, I came up with the idea of starting a skating program for my students. It’s such a struggle to find activities that our students can continue outside of school, because of financial constraints, access, know-how and family obligations. Winter is a particularly challenging time for recent immigrants from milder climates. “Active on Ice” started with a call for used skate donations and a few field trips to Dufferin Grove Park’s rink.

We then got organized to skate twice a week during public hours at the Monarch Park rink, a short walk from our school. Youth from the spectrum of our student body participated-from Iraq, Afghanistan, southern China, Bangladesh, etc. One boy from Eritrea commented “Miss—I used to hate winter here, but now I love it. I’m going to skate like a Canadian.” No one was excluded because of skill, or cost. Enthusiasm was so great that students signed out skates, helmets and hockey sticks for weekend and evening use. Another student who could barely stand during the first year got a job as a rink guard the following season. With a ‘healthy schools’ grant from the Ministry of Health promotion and helmet donation from the organization ‘Think First’, Greenwood’s program is now well-resourced with properly maintained equipment.

Just when a good thing gets going, it’s so frustrating to hear that it may be compromised because of City budget problems. Delaying rink opening until January means that our first semester students are unlikely to get on skates. When they return from Christmas vacation in the New Year, the emphasis is on exams, not on trying a new activity. If we get them on ice before the break, it means they are more likely to do it during the holidays, which can be a lonely, difficult period for many of them. If they are introduced to skating and to a free community resource by their teacher, it’s more likely that they’ll take advantage of Parks and Rec. programs in their immediate neighbourhoods. (Greenwood students come from all over the city.) My most keen skater last year had no idea that a rink was literally 100 meters from her door in Regent Park.

I’m an avid shinny player. I brag about Toronto’s rinks to my friends in Ottawa who think nothing compares to the Canal. The rinks make winter magical here. My daughter, Jasmin is two months old today. She’ll grow up skating no matter what because I’ll pay for her to join a league if necessary. But, I’ll accept higher taxes if it means she’ll play with Greenwood students. I want her to learn where people in Toronto come from and let the joys of skating under crisp blue skies be their bond. Please don’t cut the rinks.

From Luin Goldring, Sept.24, 2007:

Toronto's outdoor rinks are a basic resource for the city's population. They provide a place for young and old to gather, converse, and to stay active. Keep our outdoor rinks alive and do not shorten the rink season!

I live near Bloor and Keele, and we use Rennie rink as part of the Swansea Girls Hockey League (my 9-year old daughter plays on that league), as well as the High Park rink (where my 7-year old daughter loves to skate). I do **NOT** support the late opening of the rinks, nor the community centre closings on Monday. Together with many neighbours and friends, I plan to support candidates who respond to community agendas. I'm willing to pay taxes to keep these and other social and community services available in an accessible manner. Why not listen to the proposals generated by the Dufferin Grove folks, who have been looking at the issue carefully and thoughtfully???

My family lives in a fairly well-off area of the city. We have George Bell arena as a back up option for hockey. But indoor arenas are not the same as outdoor arenas! Moreover, I hate to think of what shutting down outdoor rinks and other community services will do in less affluent areas of the city. For a city government that claims to be interested in youth, social inclusion, and so forth, shutting down rinks and community centers has got to be one of the poorest ways of dealing with differences among Council members. Find another way to negotiate, one that does not include using rinks and community services as pawns in negotiations.

From Georgie Donais. September 25 2007, to city councillors

Toronto's outdoor rinks are a basic resource for the city's population. They provide a place for young and old to gather, converse, and to stay active. Keep our outdoor rinks alive and do not shorten the rink season!

As a family that attends outdoor rinks almost every day over the winter season, we can tell you that shortening the rink season will impact us greatly. We invite you to look at some of the well-researched suggestions for fiscal efficiency here: www.celos.ca. Informed citizen opinion and recommendation should be welcomed when making decisions that greatly impact the citizenry. I trust that you will take the time to read over these recommendations and give them serious consideration as you contemplate cutting services in an attempt to cut costs.

From Belinda Cole to Councillor Norm Kelly, Sept.28 2007

I have worked in the federal bureaucracy and I am well aware - from the inside of the organization - of the amount of waste and unnecessary spending which occurs. Merely raising taxes will not address this burgeoning problem. If it is not addressed, the very natural push by the bureaucracy will be to continue to grow and, when faced with a money squeeze, try to close down our programs and services. Despite the rallying cry of "mission statements", any bureaucracy's raison d'etre is to perpetuate itself, not to serve the people for whom it exists.

Would you please review the CELOS suggestions and let me know if you are willing to consider and discuss any of the proposed cuts.

From Pat MacKay, October 4, 2007, cc of letter to the editor, Globe and Mail:

Re: Margaret Wente's column "Fat Chance"-

It's pretty obvious by just looking around that we Canadians are getting fatter just like our neighbours to the south- no need for fancy research to prove it. Clearly diet is a major cause but equally important, is exercise.

Soooo how are we proposing to save money on the city budget? Why of course, don't open the skating rinks until the children are back in school in January! That way they can stay indoors and play computer games and put on a few more pounds during the December holidays. And their parents will be sitting around instead of working off the turkey and gravy.

Brilliant planning!

From Pat MacKay, October 12 2007, letter to the Toronto Star:

I spoke to someone in Health Promotion at Toronto Public Health urging them to speak up. She agreed with my point of view and has forwarded my comments to the M.O.H.

In addition to the valid points made by David Cayley in his fine article about skating and hockey as our winter traditions, there is another compelling reason to have our outdoor rinks open for the longest season possible. Childhood obesity is reaching alarming proportions - as well as adult obesity. Exercise is essential for optimal health for all ages and is a wonderful source of exhilarating pleasure. So why would the mayor and Coucil choose the outdoor rinks as their priority as a cost-saving measure?

I commend Mastercard for coming to the rescue with funding for one month but it should never have been necessary.

From shinny hockey player Janet Morassutti, October 18 2007, after the October 17 rink meeting with Outdoor Rink supervisor Kevin Bowser:

How can it take over 6 months to figure out the cost of the rinks? How can next year's budget be set if we don't know what this or previous years' costs are? How on earth did they arrive at a 2008 budget? How do they monitor if their spending is meeting,below or exceeding predictions/expectations if there are no predictions/expectations?

What would the point of any cost-saving measures be,if no one has the tools to compare pre- and post-implementation numbers??How can MasterCard's money be assumed to be adequate for a month's expenses if no one knows what theexpenses are?

i feel very frustrated by the whole thing. What if the whole city is run like this?

Facebook posting by rink supporters

Facebook Toronto rink supporter group (independent). Note: you have to log into facebook to access this site

2008
From David Cayley, Thursday Night Shinny player at Dufferin Rink,

Dear Mayor Miller, March 2, 2008

I have been for a number of years a frequent user of Dufferin Grove Rink, both as a skater and a hockey player. I don't know if it has come to your attention yet, but I have recently been made aware of a plan to put Zamboni drivers in charge of the city's outdoor rinks. As far as I can see this is a very bad and potentially destructive idea. It is also rather surprising in view of the city's apparent need to save money. It will result in people doing less work for more pay and will probably interfere with the operation of the rinks as well. Flooding a rink three times a day is not a full-time job. When the operators exercised authority at our rink a few years back there was nothing but trouble and conflict between them and the regular staff. This appears to me to be aimed at mollifying Parks workers rather than improving the operation of the rinks. It will also increase costs which will probably result in further cutbacks down the line as well. I urge you to look into this matter and to then use your influence to block this unwise and unhelpful initiative.

From Jacqueline Peeters, March 10 2008

Dear Mayor Miller,

PLEASE PUT ON HOLD THE GRASS-CUTTER ZAMBONI OPERATOR LEAD HAND PLAN http://cityrinks.ca/wiki/wiki.php?n=News2007-2008.IncreaseInRinkCosts until it can be examined more carefully (and publicly). This plan needs Council's oversight.

Please don't put costly measures in place that will be difficult to undue and may have a huge impact on the availability of our rinks to kids, families and others in our communities. Please just "PAUSE" and give time for the needed review and input.

P.S. Please go check out how "mushy" the rinks are this week despite the -14 Celsius this morning...the power of the sun's rays needs to be remembered when determining whether to open in November (or at least December 1) rather than staying on into March. The draw of March Break may make for good publicity, but the reality is that the outdoor rinks really don't work at this time of the year.

From Brenda Librecz, general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, to Jacqueline Peeters, March 12 2008

I am writing in response to your email regarding staffing of outdoor artificial ice rinks operated by Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation.

Please be assured that the 49 outdoor artificial ice rinks operated by our division are viewed by us as a valuable and integral part of the services and recreation opportunities that we provide to residents. We believe the planned operating and staffing improvements will help to ensure both efficient and sustainable rink operations.

The plan is budget neutral with a net zero financial impact on the Division.

The changes will result in significant benefits to the City and improvements to service delivery for residents. In addition, this will lead to more consistent practices for rink operations across the city, increased productivity and allows for greater flexibility to adapt our operating schedule according to weather conditions.

The Division is currently in the final stages of development and implementation of its new frontline structure which is subject to on-going and complex discussions with both its Unions; therefore, we are unable to provide further specific details at this time.

Please be aware that you may have received information regarding these matters from external sources that may not be accurate or complete.

I do wish to thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention and I will ensure that they are considered as part of our ongoing review.

From Jacqueline Peeters to Brenda Librecz, March 13, 2008

Unfortunately, your email doesn't address the concern of proceeding on the issues without giving the opportunity for public and community input. It is the degree of secrecy that is concerning and your "on message" response is no help. I'm aware that the City's position is that the changes will be "budget neutral".

I'm concerned with the comment about "having more consistent practices for rink operations across the city". Does this mean descending to the lowest common denominator or raising the underperforming rinks up to the marvelous standard of the vibrant community rinks that are currently operating with such success? One of my sons has been surveying the rinks around the city and what he has found is appalling. City workers sitting inside in an office together watching tv with no schedules available for rink users--and in some cases almost no hours available for shinny play unless people want to buy a permit. Hopefully your plan will be to overhaul this bleak situation, but I also know that this is difficult with employees who've gotten used to a minimalist approach.

The more resistance there is to providing the information that is being requested, the more nervous the public becomes. If we all share a goal of having a vibrant city resource, why isn't communication more open and the planning transparent? I understand you have to deal with union employees and collective bargaining issues and information must be considered "without prejudice" to what may actually be possible, but the secrecy and failure to include valuable community resources of information in the discussion process only creates the potential for further problems.

All that is being sought by the community is a commitment to reserve any final decisions until there can be a review and input from those concerned. Seems pretty reasonable to me...


Rinks 2009

Letter from shinny player Maria Gervais

I went to Withrow Park last night in hopes that there would be enough bodies for spirited game of shinny as when I initially drove by there were no skaters on the rink, much to my surprise there were about 10 skaters waiting in the rink house. They weren't allowed to on the ice to skate as there was a couple inches of snow (pond like conditions) and in dire need of a hard scrape/flood. I noticed the frost build-up along the boards is getting bad and could pose a serious problem later in the season if this cold snap continues.

The rink attendants said they dispatched the flying squad at 3pm to service the rink, as of my arrival shortly after 6pm, there was still no call back from city dispatch. This same discussion was being had with the rink staff/patrons as more and more ladies showed up to skate only to be disappointed.

I left the rink at 6:45 after waiting around in vain in hopes of the flying squad making a timely arrival, and there were still MORE women showing up to play, I would say there was at least 20 women turned away. Why are there 2 rink attendants on site getting paid to sit around on the tax payer's dime when the rink apparently hadn't been safe enough to use for AT least 2 days?! Talk about a ridiculous waste of money!


2010

Rink User Letters to the Cityrinks.ca Editor.

What rink friends said about the delayed rink openings, November 2010:

S.L. It is a huge waste of resources and tax dollars having rink staff sit around while paid for one week, prior to the rink opening. Our neighbourhood relies on this outdoor space. It strengthens our community.

S.P. Most of us are awfully busy and hard pressed to add being an activist to our list of daily chores. What rankles me though as a parent and coach is that many of our kids don't get the opportunities that we are all paying for ...

In this case I'm talking about the outdoor rinks. They are opening late AGAIN this year. We are all paying for them to be open on time. Many of our house league kids only have a total of 15 minutes ice time a week if we don't find additional ice for them.

A.A. My family has had November 20 marked on the calendar for weeks: Dufferin rink open! I bought my daughter new skates on the weekend in preparation. We use the rink every day (no exaggeration) from the day it is open.

I just learned the opening might be delayed. I am disappointed, because the weather is not above average temperatures, and not warmer than it was last year.

A.H. We have moved out of the Dufferin Rink neighbourhood and still come down to it frequently. We also use the skate rinks at Trinity and Alexander Park too. The longer the rinks can be kept open the more opportunities there are for all of us to have fun. Particularly for our teenagers, it gives them a wonderful and healthy option to have fun and meet others. Please open the Dufferin and other rinks as soon as you can and keep them open for as long as you can. We truly appreciate the free access to the rinks and know that many others do too!

E.G. The rink is essential to many families in our community. It is shameful that everyone is ready for skating and the rink at the dufferin park is closed. Did you know that the Harbourfront RInk is already open? The weather there is the same as ours. There are too few physical affordable options to keep teenagers busy this time of year and the excitement created by the rink is wonderful and thrilling to witness.

F.P.Delays due to dubious reasons are not to be accepted under any city government, but now that half the city's voting population voted for Mayor Ford, "true Canadian", don't we need the rinks to run well and on time all the more?

G.G. Please have pity on us northern Canadian dwellers who longingly search for healthy activities to chase away the seasonal doldrums . We are a product of our environment. As the season shifts from mid fall to winter--cherished events like the "early rink opening" act as hopeful beacons along the journey through winter. Donning tattered leather boots with slightly rusty blades below serve as our passports to this treasured ritual. Neighbours of all ages are prompted to congregate and socialize while gliding along in large oval patterns. This is our awaited ceremony.

Please do not delay the opening. It may have far reaching effects on our collective psyche.

G.S. I believe in community ice rinks and would like to see them open as much as possible. My understanding of the delay in opening the rinks is due to scheduling issues rather than a desire to save money - this reason is unacceptable for a city service and if this initiative indeed saves money that point should be made and it should be handled proactively to provide communties the opportunity to fundraise or seek sponsorship to "save the money" while still opening on time.

H.W. I'm pleased to hear about the new rink equipment at Greenwood and some other parks. Be good to get them going too! How about asking your staff to open Dufferin Rink on schedule this Saturday November 20 as a test of the equipment? This will show for future rink seasons that delaying the rink opening is not necessary for any city rink.

N.L. It seems a waste that the City is investing millions in the installation of two more compressor-cooled rinks, only to not use them to their full capacity.

S.K. As a life long Canadian, i hate politically correct lies that we get told as if any of us believe them.

So, if the plan was to open the rinks nov 20, the weather can not be the reason for delay. We all know that anything under 10 Celsius so long as the angle of the sun is low--like in November!!!--there is no problem making ice.

So, quit with the pathetic excuses and make the ice. I'm anxious to get skating and what is the point of having rinks lieing idle while workers get paid but no one gets to skate? This doesn't sound like an efficiency that our new mayor would approve of, but this old citizen doesn't approve either.

R.E. My neighbours and I suffered through the last summer with closed swimming pools and filthy conditions in the ones that were open. I can't believe that I am hearing that winter sports management is in as bad shape.

E.E. i live near greenwood and withrow but i wanted to skate at Kew which was to open early...alas...the division violated our elected council!

J.T. I certainly appreciate your concern for equipment, costs, etc, but I find it difficult to accept that by November 20th - in Toronto - we can't have an outdoor rink open.

I understand that one voice is unlikely to change your position, and I also understand that only one week of delay will not ruin the ice rink season. Nor do I claim expertise on matters of rink preparation.

But I feel compelled to call your attention to the fact that in Tampa, Florida, a place that almost certainly "shouldn't" have an outdoor ice rink at all, will be opening one on November 19th. One day earlier than Toronto's "early" open date!

A.P. There are many of us that have been counting down to November 20th to be on the skating rink at Dufferin Grove Park. It does not make sense to delay this opening based on the weather...this weather is just about the same as any year...the compressors work fine in freezing the ice through the night.

It has been brought to my attention that the manager of the rinks is off on vacation right when these early-opening rinks are scheduled to open...who authorized that?

S.B. I've recently learned that the opening of Kew Gardens and many other outdoor rinks has been delayed for a week. How disappointing when the skating season is already so short. Last Sunday I skated at the Beaches Sports Complex with a huge crowd, anxious no doubt to be outside on ice. Please consider at least the recent request to turn on the compressors at three outdoor rinks so that community members can get them up and running.

M.D.: I'm concerned by the city's recent responses to those who have offered to help start the rink at Dufferin Grove on schedule. (For the correspondence and other related facts, see www.cityrinks.ca.) Two aspects of this response are particularly worrying to me. First, responses by city officials suggest that they have not taken heed of the possibilities of ice-making that are opened by overnight flooding. City responses discuss the difficulties of keeping ice during the day, but without acknowledging the success last year when they flooded through the night and by facts about the capacity of rink compressors. This success is backed up by remarks made by the company that makes the city's outdoor rink compressors. The city's response indicates that there will be no attempt to flood rinks through the night even during the coming week. I worry that this could further delay opening of city outdoor rinks. Second, the city's responses show a stunning unwillingness to harness an offer of volunteer work. Having been on a number of late-night floods, I know the dedication that is required for someone to flood a rink in the middle of the night. I'm shocked that the city is not willing to try to harness the passion the folks are offering.


hosted by communitycommons.ca | powered by pmwiki-2.2.44
Content last modified on December 19, 2011, at 08:20 AM EST