On December 18, 2003, three short weeks after the Parks and Rec restructuring plan was announced, and contested, City of Toronto employees arrived to conduct a health and safety inspection of the rink house.
On Dec.18, occupational health and safety inspectors Jim Mackay and Danny Neill came to the park and made it evident that there were big problems with the way we use the rink house. They wrote a report asking that the new community kitchen be destroyed and the locks on the garage door be changed so that no one other than the zamboni driver could go in there. They ordered all the giant puppets to be removed from their perch in the garage rafters, and these were carted away to other parts of the city. A sad week!
The outcry that followed, the newspaper coverage, the intervention of our new councillor, Adam Giambrone, and the many thoughtful e-mails sent by so many people, all contributed to producing a silver lining that at times seemed to engulf the black cloud almost entirely. Parks and Recreation director Don Boyle gave our area's parks and rec manager James Dann a free hand in making all possible accommodations to the workplace safety suggestions in the report. The blue propane Olympia ice-resurfacer disappeared and suddenly there was a shiny white gas-powered zamboni instead, sent by rink supervisor Brian Green. The jerry-built shelves in the garage were replaced with strong, elegant ones built by city carpenters. When the public health inspector came, he ordered a fourth sink in each of the two little rinkhouse kitchens. The city paid for these to be put in, and for the dishwasher to be moved to a better location. All the clutter of years of storage by all the many folks who use the rink house – even the old cans of paint from when the rink was first built – were carted away from the breezeway, with the help of 8 maintenance staff. New fire extinguishers were brought in and mounted, hooks were put up to coil the giant zamboni hoses, broken kitchen equipment (donated, but at the end of its useful life, as donated items often are) was carted away. The whole place looks great.
The clean-up and reorganization were one part: finding the boundaries between the legal regulations and the one-size-fits-all philosophy was another. The workplace safety inspectors and the fire safety inspectors all made it clear that in their view, a building built for one purpose ought to be used only for that purpose. Public health raised their eyebrows. Mixed-use adaptations were just seen as wrong. But no rule could be found to back up this approach. It was the same with the lack of clear boundaries between staff and volunteers, which the inspectors identified as too risky. But Don Boyle said: "we have to work closely with volunteers, all over the city. In each neighbourhood, the boundaries are worked out differently. If it works well, we'll try to support it – that's the point of parks and recreation." That's his decision, and he's sticking to it.
As it stands now, all inspections done to date have concluded that our clubhouse activities are within range of what the regulations require. We don't know how many other inspectors are still to come and what they will identify.
Here's a bit of history:
Claire Tucker Reid,
Parks and Recreation,
City of Toronto
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.