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Withrow Park campfires

19-Nov-2011 [793]

-------- Original Message --------

Date: Sat, 22 Oct 2011 00:09:03 -0400
From: Friends of Withrow Park <>


The City has decided to remove our campfire pit due to concerns about un-permitted fires.  Below is my email to the City in response to this decision.  Please take a moment to let the Parks Department know how you feel by sending an email to the Supervisor of Parks for East York and Toronto, Colette Martin,  at and copy Councillor Fletcher at

Colette, I am frustrated and disappointed by this turn of events.

I agree that the illegal fires have been a concern.  I had hoped that we could find a way to address that concern in a way that punished the people who were up to the illegal activities and not the community members who want to put our public space to a positive use.  One suggestion, which I don't believe has been fully explored, would be to put a grate across the top. On Wednesday I had left a voicemail message for Mark Hawkins and I had sent him an email asking that he speak to me about this.  I believe we could arrange for funding or donations to cover the grate as this issue was discussed at a Friends of Withrow Park meeting last week.  We just needed to figure out how to get it done.  My call was never returned and I did not have a response to my email. 

I believe many of the complaints that you received about the fire pit are with respect to the sorrowful  state of the campfire pit area over the Thanksgiving long weekend.  For the record, the couch was dumped in the park for over a week before it found its place near the fire pit.  It was at the field house for at least part of this time.  I had assumed, obviously wrongly, that someone from the City would remove this dumped couch which was in plain sight. I can't understand how it was allowed to remain in the park for such a long time, including four days near the campfire pit where it clearly would only invite trouble.  If we want people to respect park rules and park spaces we should show them that we respect the park.  Letting people dump garbage in the park and not removing it does not invite respect.

I left a message earlier today to speak to our Community Liason Officer at 55 Division, P.C. McDonald, to speak about the policing aspect of this issue.  It doesn't seem like the police have become involved in this issue and I expect that a few interventions by the police would put an end to this activity.

It seems to me that the City has chosen the expedient solution but not the one that serves the community.  There is strong support for community campfires in our park.  I have heard many people comment that the fire pit is an attractive addition to our park.  People are not upset by the campfire pit but by the illegal use to which it has been put.  Why don't we address the illegal behaviour? Also, I am tremendously upset that no one has contacted me.  The members of Friends of Withrow Park are willing to contribute to viable and sensible solutions so I cannot understand why we are cut out of the process.  We all want a safer park that is put to positive use by the community.  I wish we could find a way to reach that result together.  If you simply dismantle the fire pit without any discussion or consultation you are cutting the "community" part out of that equation.

Julie Dabrusin

-------- Original Message --------

Date: Sat, 22 Oct 2011 08:30:22 -0400
From: Jutta Mason <>
To: Friends of Withrow Park <>
CC: Councillor Paula Fletcher <>,, Staff>, Mark Hawkins <>

Thanks for passing this along. For the record, illegal fires at the three designated campfire sites at Dufferin Grove Park are very rare. Same at the designated campfire sites at Wallace Emerson Rink, Campbell Park, MacGregor Park, and Susan Tibaldi Park. This is our experience over the course of 17 years.

A bit more common, perhaps also at Withrow and other parks, are illegal (by definition) trash basket fires. Here and there, in a city as big as Toronto, a few silly people have some fun starting trash fires. The fires can leave a mess of melted plastic, but even so, the Parks staff don't remove trash baskets. By the same token, there's no need to grass over campfire sites.

Hopefully this non-consultative action of the Parks staff will be reversed this coming week, replaced by a bit of good conversation between park users and park staff. The "first piece of litter" phenomenon is no doubt heightened when the litter is an old couch that stays in a park for days -- is there a prominently posted park staff phone number where such unwelcome additions to the park can be reported?

October 25 2011, from

It has been an eventful week (and it is only Tuesday!)  I want to thank everyone who took the time to write letters to the Parks Department and to Councillor Fletcher.  You made it clear that campfires are important to our community and your voice has been heard. The Toronto Star even picked up the story and published an article today (see the link below).  The City and our Councillor have voiced their commitment to maintaining authorized campfires in our park.  That is the good news.

The bad news is the City wants the campfire pit structure to be dismantled, stored in the fieldhouse and put back together each time we want to have a campfire. 

We can still save our campfire pit.  Installing a grate over the campfire pit remains, to my mind, a viable option to address concerns about unauthorized fires.  It seems like Councillor Fletcher agrees and intends to present the issue to the Parks and Environment Committee on November 2.  You can have an impact on the outcome by writing to the Committee.  I will provide the contact information shortly. Below is the correspondence from the Parks Department requiring the removal of our campfire pit along with Councillor Fletcher's response.  I have also attached the Open Air Fire Burning guidelines.  Finally, I have attached a link to an article published in the Toronto Star about our campfire pit.

We have not had a fully satisfactory resolution of this matter but the lines of communication are opening and progress is being made. 

Sent via email to Councillor Fletcher on October 25, 2011.

Dear Councillor Fletcher,

Thank you for raising the issue of the fire pit in Withrow Park to my attention. I understand that there has been some confusion about the status of fires in the park, and in particular about the status of the bricks and pavers that have been installed as a firepit in the park.

As you know, we allow outdoor fires in Withrow Park around a fire by permit and under certain conditions. This process is to ensure that outside fires meet the necessary conditions to ensure public safety, prevent conflict with the adjacent community and other park uses, and to protect the trees and other park assets. The past practice for these permits, as required by our policies and Toronto Fire Services, is for temporary edging to be installed for the time of the permit only, and then removed when the permit is over.

Earlier this fall, some pavers and bricks were installed for a permitted fire, but remained on site after the permit without permission from our Parks staff. This installation has attracted some unwanted late-night activity, including fires and some garbage on site that residents complained about. In consultation with the Fire Department, a decision was made to remove the pavers from the site.

Just to be clear, we will continue to support fires in the park, as long as they abide by the permit process. Further, the pavers that are currently in the park will be stored in the field house and made available for groups to use as temporary edging around their fire.

I hope this clarifies the issue, but please feel free to contact me if there are any other questions.



Richard Ubbens R.P.F. Director, Parks City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation 4th Floor, West Tower City Hall

October 25, 2011
Richard Ubbens
Director, Parks
City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation 4th Floor, West Tower City Hall

Dear Mr. Ubbens,

Re: Withrow Park Fire Pit

Thank you for your letter regarding fire pits in parks and the situation with the Withrow fire pit. I see from your letter that currently the fire code and PFR policies prevent a permanent fire pit structure. Of course the concern with a permanent and open fire pit is that non-permitted fires will be held in the park. Understandably this is a worry. However, another solution would be a locked grate over a fire pit - one that would only be opened for permitted fires. This is an option that has not yet been explored.

I will be sending a letter to the Parks and Environment Committee on November 22, 2011 asking for this option to be considered and that the policy of Dec 4, 2007 on "Parks Open Air Burning Policy" be reviewed to this end. I will be forwarding your letter, the current policy and my letter to you to the Friends of Withrow Park and the many residents who have written to me on this matter.


Paula Fletcher
City Councillor
Ward 30 Toronto Danforth

Date: November 4 2011
To: City Councillor Paula Fletcher
From: Jutta Mason

I read on the Friends of Withrow Park website that you plan to send a letter about park campfires to the Parks and Environment Committee on Nov.22. I would like to suggest an alternative way to have campfires in parks, one that may work better. As it stands, at parks outside of Ward 18 the cost of a campfire permit is prohibitive for more than a rare community gathering.

At Dufferin Grove Park, campfires are run in conjunction with recreation staff, without the staff necessarily having to remain on site during the entire duration of the campfire. Each campfire volunteer-lead is trained by park staff, and the Fire Department's safety tools are set up by staff. (One shovel, two buckets of sand and two buckets of water). The campfires are required to be small cooking fires, NOT bonfires. All campfire users are informed that the campfires contribute to park safety because of the increase in evening use of the park. Campfire participants are important park safety volunteers: and a staff person is always available by cell phone, ready to come if needed.

Payment is by donation, PWYC, $20 suggested. At Dufferin Grove, from mid-May until Sept.30, these donations totaled $2224.75, deposited directly back into the city's revenues. The staff training, set-up, telephone contact and clean-up amount to about 1 hour per campfire. There were about 140 campfires during that time, so at $14 an hour for staff, that means the cost of staffing was about $1960. $264.75 extra remains, to be put back into updating the city website's campfire information, into the city's self-insurance fund (for staff-led activities), and into the twice-yearly site cleanups.

People came from all over the city to gather with their friends or family or work group or agency -- 140 occasions of cheerful community development, at a net cost of $0 to the City. In 18 years of frequent campfires, there has never been an injury or a claim against the city. However, campfire participants have alerted city staff to four potentially serious situations over the years, as well as increasing park safety in a proactive way every time.

If you agree that this model could be adopted in a few other parks (to keep the fun in people's own neighbourhoods), would you be willing to add that suggestion to your Parks Committee letter? Withrow Park would be a good candidate since some recreation staff work there already both summer and winter (and very nearby as well).

Date: November 4 2011-11-05
To: Jutta Mason
From: Susan Serran, assistant to Councillor Paula Fletcher

Thank you for contacting Councillor Fletcher. The Councillor recently had a very constructive met with Julie Dabrusin/Friends of Withrow Park to discuss campfires in Withrow. It was decided that a letter would not be going to the upcoming meeting of the P & E Committee at this time.   We are aware of the Dufferin Park model but I do appreciate you taking the time to share the information.  

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