By: Catherine Porter
Published: February 25, 2010
Source: The Star
Down the path north into Christie Pits Park, you stumble upon a little gnome's house.
It has wooden sides, a shingled, peaked roof, a little chimney and a window shuttered in black metal and locked tight with a padlock. It's a community bake oven.
It was built 10 years ago by park staff and volunteers. The staff did the building; the volunteers brought the architectural drawings, construction supplies and refreshments. It was an ideal collaboration – community fundraising and spirit, city land and sweat. A win for everyone. That spirit is captured by the words on the commemorative plaque that celebrates the parks worker who built the oven. It reads: "This bake oven is dedicated in loving memory of Luis Antonio Andrade."
Two summers ago, some parents watching their kids at the playground nearby noticed the little house. They looked at the plaque. They looked at the padlock. A great idea struck them: community pizza nights.
How could that not go off like wildfire? Just think – fresh pizzas under the trees with your neighbours after a long week of work. Moms, dads, kids all lounging on picnic blankets. Beautiful. Who needs a cottage? It did go off beautifully. The volunteer group Friends of Christie Pits Park stretched out the dough every week, slathered on the tomato sauce and sprinkled the pies with mozzarella they'd brought. A city recreation staff member worked the oven. Some nights they baked as many as 80 pizzas. Everyone was happy. The city paid for a staff worker, true. But how can you quantify what was achieved by having up to 100 people sitting in the park together every Friday night – the reduced crime, the cigarette butts and empty pop cans removed, the sense of neighbourhood pride and park ownership.
"We've become a community," says Monica Gupta, a mother of two and the chair of Friends of Christie Pits. "It shows what passion we have for our community. We want to keep it going."
Why wouldn't they keep it going?
Well, they've fallen prey to a recent crackdown by the city on irregular recreation programming.
That means that if they want to keep running pizza nights, they will have to get a permit every Friday and pay city recreation staff to work the oven, Gupta says.
That will be expensive. A permit alone costs almost $100, she says. And rec staff? "We can't afford it. We are all just volunteers."
This is a repeated refrain I've heard this week.
Three weeks before the ninth annual "Icycle" event at Dufferin Grove rink – which features 50 people on bikes racing across the ice before a crowd of 200 – earlier this month, organizer Derek Chadbourne was told it was no longer considered part of the recreation programming and he'd need a permit and insurance. Same thing for the family skate day at the Wallace Emerson rink. And the Women of Winter Outdoor Shinny Tournament, which has been considered the showcase event for women's pickup hockey in the city for five years now. (In the end, the city waived the fees, organizer Deirdre Norman said, but told her she would need to pay next year.) "When you add fees to volunteer events, you effectively end them," says Norman. "Why would you discourage things that cost the city nothing and bring so much to the community and facilities that are underused? We do this for the love of our community."
That's a very good question. The response is vague.
Malcolm Bromley, the city's director of recreation, said his aim was to build more programs, not destroy existing ones. But he also said programs need to be regularized.
He didn't think the Christie Pits pizza nights were delisted from the city's recreation program. I'm still waiting for him to get back to me.
The evidence shows the easy days of collaboration between people who work in the parks and people who use and love them are over and that – if not this summer, then next – the Christie Pits community pizza nights are doomed.
That padlock will rarely come off.
The irony, of course, is that the city never owned the Christie Pits bake oven. Further down on that plaque, right after that parks worker's name, is a single line.
It reads: "Created with love for all to enjoy."
If you are as outraged asI am by this, send a protest email to Janet Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She is the chair of the city's recreation committee.
Catherine Porter usually appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: email@example.com
Thank you for your e-mail about Christie Pits Park and the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings that may have arisen about the situation.
First, I want to assure you that the City welcomes all residents to enjoy our parks, green spaces and recreation facilities. We encourage communities to become involved in local park activities. We value the role that many volunteer groups play in making our parks vibrant and animated spaces for the community to enjoy together.
Unfortunately, the column in the Toronto Star written by Catherine Porter was factually incorrect. Just to be clear, there has been no change with respect to the operation of the bake oven and programmed 'pizza nights' at Christie Pits. As has been our past practice, this undertaking continues to be a partnership between Parks, Forestry and Recreation staff and the 'Friends of Christie Pits'. Never, at any time, has the Friends of Christie Pits been asked by recreation staff to obtain a permit or pay a permit fee for the community pizza nights that have been hosted at the park. We consider these events as part of our recreation programming offered in partnership with the community. We look forward to a continuation of this program and can assure you there are no plans to change this arrangement.
Again, I thank you for your correspondence and trust this clarifies the facts pertaining to this matter.
I'd love to know what Ms. Porter has to say about this.
Thanks for your messages on this. I am painfully aware of Janet Davis' replica responses.
It seems Janet has not spoken to either the Friends of Christie Pits or the parks staff there. Her source is Malcolm Bromley.
I am very sure that the Friends were given this message from the people running the program. Now, whether the people running the program were mistaken, I don't know.
Mr. Bromley did just tell me that during the strike, it came to parks attention that many of the permits were done in a unregulated way -- undocumented, with "ghost permits."
So the department has been working that out, he said -- hence many of the recent requests for permits where they were not requested before.
Was it a miscommunication or a backtrack? I don't know.
What I do know is the Friends of Christie Pits have since been told they will not need to get a permit or pay for park staff.
That's the good news.
All the best,