By Jutta Mason
In 1995 it was observed that attendance at the park's skating rink had been steadily dropping for some years. The "McCormicks" and the "Brock Boys" may have contributed to this situation by claiming the rink as their turf. The rink staff either hid in the garage or were part of the ruling faction. This situation, while not uncommon in city rinks, seemed unacceptable, and together with the new manager of the park, some people in the neighborhood resolved to change it.
We worked out a number of approaches, including making the rink more family-friendly, introducing a snack bar with nutritious food, adding special events, hiring more mature staff, hiring some female staff, and stepping up rink supervision. Rules of acceptable behaviour were prominently posted and staff began to make them stick. Changes were made to the building with volunteer and city labour, to eliminate hidden areas and to make the rink house a more pleasant, neighbourly place.
Attempts to work with police on park safety were up and down. So in November 1997, a group of us went to call on Superintendent Cowling of Fourteen Division to ask for a particular type of assistance in our clean-up project. We wanted to get a timely response for the occasions when we needed help with rink users who wanted to defy staff authority and bring back the old ways.
We were told that public space has no special standing and that calls from the park would have to be treated the same as calls from any other citizen. We could get no acceptance for the idea that public space faces particular, sometimes unique, problems.
Because we needed an assurance of a timely response as we were working on he changeover, the city's Park Department stopped trying to rely on the city's police service for help and hired a private security company to be on call, for the first winter only, whenever a rink problem came up.
That year, the number of recorded rink confrontations rose sharply, to 21. This showed the early struggles of our resolve to address unacceptable behaviour. In subsequent years the number of recorded incidents of unlawful behaviour during the rink season decreased to 9, to 3, and then to 1. Rink attendance increased correspondingly, to the point where there were many weeks with over 1500, sometimes as high as 2400, visits a week.