Dufferin Grove residents stage a sleepover protest to show they’re not going to take the City’s proposed changes lying down.
Campers raced to set up tents as dusk fell over Dufferin Grove Park last Friday. On the sleep-in agenda: an outdoor movie, a campfire sing-along and an arts-and-crafts table. The CYCLOPS (Cycling Oriented Puppet Squad, pictured below) showed up with puppets, an accordion and a song.
The commotion caught the attention of passersby. “There’s a protest happening here,” one man said into his cellphone. ”It’s camping.”
From the makeshift campground, you could see a busy basketball court and the adjacent skate park that turns into a rink in the winter. Couples picnicked beneath trees, kids shrieked by the wading pool and one woman with copious supplies worked at the fire pit to the south, preparing a feast.
This is what the organized sleep-in is trying to save, in light of an ongoing dispute between the community and the City of Toronto about how the park should be managed. The diverse and family-friendly programming in Dufferin Grove includes a community kitchen and garden, farmers markets and outdoor theatre. Its vitality is largely attributed to an informal group called the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park and to the non-profit CELOS, which funds food programs and skate rentals.
Sleep-in organizers Jonah Gindin and Jessica Lyons are not affiliated with the Friends or CELOS. Gindin explains that CELOS started the Dufferin Grove programs as an experiment, to be taken over by the City if they were successful. This summer, the City began to do so. But Gindin and others strongly disagree with their approach.
“They responded in a unilateral way,” Gindin said. “An enormous bureaucracy that runs a hundred parks is trying to take over locally built program, not recognizing that what makes programs work is specific to this park, this community. It’s different for different parks.”
The City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry & Recreation could not be reached for comment at press time.
Gindin added that the City’s re-allocation of staff and implementation of stiff policies threaten the programs. “As an example, an important component is that food sold here is pay-what-you-can. The neighbourhood is economically quite diverse. The city has no provision for pay-what-you-can, so it would be a flat rate. That takes away the accessibility.”
Residents weren’t going to take the proposed changes lying down. “I’ve been coming to this park since I was six months old,” said 15-year-old Samantha Stauber-Nichols, who camped out with her mom. “It’s getting popular, there’s hundreds of people for dinner when there used to be 20. It’s a bigger community than it’s ever been.”
On Saturday morning, spirits were high. A man with a guitar serenaded campers who gathered around for pancakes and waffles cooked in cast-iron pans over a fire pit. Gindin, standing by a picnic bench, listed the food programs that sprung from consultations with people in the neighbourhood: Friday night dinners, the wading pool café, pizza-making on Sundays. “All parks should have this stuff,” he said.