DON'T EFF WITH THE DUFF

ILLUSTRATION BY  Frank Fiorentino

ILLUSTRATION BY Frank Fiorentino

Rethinking the rink house at Dufferin Grove

Do not. Fuck. With. The Duff.

That message came through loud and clear at a community meeting on the future of the rink house at Dufferin Grove, held on the night of Wednesday, Feb. 6 at St. Wenceslaus Church. 

After the ice storm, more than 60 people slid down to Gladstone Avenue to hear about proposed renovations to the rink house, which is the epicentre of activity in what surely must be the most active park community in the entire city. 

The rink house, built in 1994, was originally designed to house only a skate-changing room, bathrooms, and the mechanical equipment required to operate the rink. It now has a multipurpose community room (which houses the farmers’ market in the winter), skate rentals, and a kitchen that serves approximately 80 people every Friday at the community dinner. 

The third-party facilitator hired by the city, Liz McHardy, had barely started speaking when someone raised their hand. “I’m extremely uncomfortable with the agenda for the evening,” said the local resident, before the variety of options was even unveiled. “I’m really, really unhappy.” 

This would become a recurring theme. Another woman said she felt “an enormous sense of frustration” at this first of four scheduled public meetings. The meetings involved listening to proposals and then breaking out into small groups for discussion, reporting feedback at the end. Sounds innocuous, right? After taking very Canadian pains to not blame anyone officiating the meeting, the frustrated woman went on to describe the process as “diabolical.” This got loud applause. 

Architect Megan Torza’s proposals ranged from mild renovation of the existing building—the HVAC and plumbing definitely need work, everything else is adequate at best—to a reno that would remove the Zamboni storage and other mechanical necessities and house them in an exterior shed. That would allow for a proper kitchen in the building and better flow of people through the rink house. A full tear-down and reconstruction was also on the table. All of these options were formulated with prior input from a community resource group that included reps from the park’s most active users, including the farmers’ market, Clay & Paper Theatre, skateboarders and bike polo players. 

Yet this was news to many people assembled, who bristled that anything at all had been done without consulting the entire community—never mind that the plan won’t be finalized until this summer. Whatever form it takes, the reno or rebuild is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2020.

Even modest changes sparked concern, if not outright consternation. One plan called for upgrading the existing hockey rink to be regulation size—it’s currently two feet longer and nine feet narrower. 

“Why does it have to be official size?” asked one resident. In the big city that keeps getting bigger, small is precious. 

Make no mistake: The park’s population is about to get a lot bigger. One new development at Bloor and Dufferin, in the corner of the mall parking lot, will have 2,098 new units (presumably housing between 3,000-6,000 people). On top of that, because of the park’s size, its beauty and its amenities, Dufferin Grove has always been a destination, like Trinity-Bellwoods, people come from all around the West End and across the city. It’s not exclusive to residents of the Grove—although it’s indisputably those residents who make it the success story it is. 

One man said that everything good about Dufferin Grove was built from the ground up—he gets worried when the city makes plans from the top down.

Perhaps rightfully so. The crowd asked more questions than the facilitator expected, adding 30 minutes to the meeting’s expected run time. The official responses were for the most part understandably vague—no decisions have been made, everything’s on the table, we’re here to listen—but vagaries don’t cut it when it comes to some of the more easily answered questions. 

“What is the official capacity of Dufferin Grove?” one man asked, without malice. He raised a parallel with AfroFest’s use of Queen’s Park, the extremely popular festival that had to relocate to Woodbine Park in 2012. There were concerns from city staff about the impact 50,000 attendees would have on the park grounds’ turf. At this meeting, there were six representatives from City Hall present, sitting together at a table off to the side, all with arms crossed, and no one had an answer for the man. 

Washrooms were a huge issue. There are no washrooms near the popular children’s area, so some kids just pee on the fence. The washrooms in the field house, located near the soccer pitch, are filthy, “like something out of [Turkish prison drama] Midnight Express,” said Tamara Romanchuk of Clay & Paper Theatre, who stores equipment in the other half of the building. Some residents would rather see the money spent on more pots to piss in, rather than rethinking the rink house. 

“We want to know these meetings are worth it,” said former MP Andrew Cash, reporting back from the table where he was sitting, after the free-for-all discussion had been shifted to smaller groups. 

Are they worth it? Most speakers wanted to talk at the room, and not necessarily with each other. But this is a close-knit community: In a city where most people don’t talk to their neighbours, these people seem to talk to each other all the time, and that’s why the park works. 

But on Wednesday night at this meeting, it was time for the outsiders to listen. 

Soundtrack to this column: “This Old House is All I Have” by Against All Logic; “Always Trying to Work it Out” by Low; “Spell to Bring Lost Creatures Home” by Christine Fellows; “Fluffy Kosmisch” by Kikagaku Moyo; “Your Small Home” by Foxwarren

This ongoing online column will be about those who make it their job to make this city work. I’ll be following not only representatives at City Hall and Queen’s Park, but also the neighbours who run businesses, sit on committees, spearhead projects and light up our lives. Hit me up with tips at michael@westendphoenix.com.