How do we get through the winter in Canada? Some of us find that being creative breaks up the long months of winter.  It feels healthy to challenge the mind to come up with new approaches to doing routine things.  But our bodies get sluggish in winter too. One way to avoid getting bogged down in winter is to lose yourself in exercise, where you can switch off your sadness, get rid of the chills, and warm up your bones. Being part of a community, working towards a common goal, getting out and skating on the ice, seeing and talking with other people, despite the weather, also helps chase the winter blahs away.  Anything that gets us off the sofa and out of our own heads, I think, has just got to be good for us.

In this issue, I’ve looked back at our local community centre — the hub of recreation for our neighbourhood, and dug up the story of its namesake, Mary McCormick.  This led to finding out about the origin of the playground movement in Toronto. Remarkably, our local plot of land has been pumping up residents’ heart rates for decades, with various sports teams and wide-ranging programs for children. And it continues to do so.  If you tracked the movement of people up and down Brock Ave. or Sheridan, I’m sure that most of them would be heading to the rink, the park, or the community centre.  Did you know Brockton has its own hockey team?  Read on to find out about it.

I’ve also focused on what’s been building in the past few years with the Friends of McCormick Park.  These lovely folks give their time to make the park a more engaging place for all and with their creativity and hard work, continue to make this neighbourhood a better place to live.  They’ve helped with the renovation of the park, including the introduction of a cafe and the building of a skating rink. Also, they’ve brought in bocce and the little free library through bake sales.  In this issue, I want to help tell their story and encourage others to join them in their efforts to keep improving our park and our community.

This being the sophomore issue of The Blok, it was a real challenge.  I thought that I could make this into a monthly zine, and I was always cursing myself when week after week I couldn’t get this issue together.  But now here it is, although some articles are put out later than I had originally planned. Mike Mulqueen wrote a wonderful article encouraging locals to get out and skate on the McCormick Rink, and as you read this it is melting away.  There is an article on The McCormick Minstrels, a local minstrel troupe in the 1920s, to celebrate Black History month, which has already passed. But the story is still fascinating and hopefully encourages us to celebrate diversity more than just one month of the year.

Thanks for reading.  If you can see yourself writing or making something for this and want to be a part of it, please get in touch.

Thanks also to all the contributors, and to Amada Estabillo for her help crafting some of these stories and thanks as well to her mother Karen Estabillo, who has donated her time editing all of the articles for both of these issues and deserves much praise!

Last thanks to Aimée Bomers, my 7 year old daughter who created the “Bird Playground” collage above.

The Mystery of Miss Mary McCormick

Mary McCormick is the name of our local park and community centre.  But who is she?  The Blok digs deep to bring you the fascinating story of this mysterious woman.

At the pumpkin walk this year I ran into Joe who lives across from McCormick Park (and is part of the group Friends of McCormick Park) and I told him about this magazine and how I was searching around for some history of the neighbourhood.

During our conversation Joe brought up a question; “Who was Mary McCormick?”  And that idea led to this article. The first problem I encountered searching online was how common a name Mary McCormick was in early Toronto. After a trip to the Toronto Reference Library and wading through old articles from the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail I began to unravel the mystery of this unusual woman.

In the archives there are old photos of McCormick Playground with the date 1911 scribed on the bottom. I searched the Toronto Star database for “Mary McCormick Playground” looking for the earliest entries. Bingo! Here is the headline that I found:


The Gift of Miss McCormick, Promised Recently, Received by Chairman Brown To-day.”

The genial face of Trustee C. A. B. Brown was one broad, beaming smile to-day.  The reason was that lying before him on his desk when he came to his office this morning was a letter which contained a check for $10,000.

It was a gift of Miss Mary B. McCormick to the Toronto Playground Association.  The check was made payable to  Mr. Brown as president of the association, and the $10,000 is to be used to equip the new Cottingham Square playground.

Miss McCormick is the daughter of the founder and head of the famous McCormick harvester manufacturing firm, and is reputed to be a millionairess.  She came to reside in Toronto recently, and bought the residence of Senator MacDonald on Avenue Road hill. She has interested herself in the playground movement, and her interest is practical as well as sympathetic.

The plans for the equipment of Cottingham Square playground have been examined and revised by Chicago’s park superintendent, and it is designed to have this Toronto playground go the Chicago south side playgrounds one better.

“It will be the finest in the country,” said Mr.Brown.  “We cannot say too much for this fine gift of Miss McCormick’s”.

It seems that after this, Mary became well known in the Toronto scene as “Miss McCormick.”  At that time women were usually known through their husband’s first and last name and “spinsters” such as she were known as just “Miss”.  Armed with this piece of Victorian etiquette I had more luck. “Miss McCormick” turned up more than “Mary McCormick” and soon enough I found what I was looking for from the Daily Star, March 1, 1912.


A visual of the structure that existed at the McCormick playground with Miss McCormick’s name attached.  Next I found the following article from the Toronto Daily Star, December 31, 1917:


By searching Oaklands and McCormick I was able to come up with even more information about the enigmatic Mary McCormick.  I learned her middle name, Virginia, and some interesting facts about her home and her personal bathing preferences…

“Oaklands” was the name of Mary McCormick’s house on Avenue Road.  It was purchased by her in 1905 from John McDonald (not John A., but the first prime minister did make him a Senator). Miss  McCormick installed “…a needle shower, her own private bowling alley, and a dentist’s chair.”  A needle shower is basically a stand-up shower, which was very uncommon in those days, as I am guessing a dentist’s chair might have been too!  I also learned that McCormick had “…her own private black band.  She was wont to call upon them at any hour of the day or night to perform in the ballroom.” Additionally, it turned out that Mary would hop aboard any horse-drawn carriage, even a grocer’s cart or an ice cream wagon and drive off.  Each fall, she would leave for California, using 14 limousines to get her there. A particular portrait of Mary McCormick was beginning to take shape in my mind:  an independant woman of means who could afford to indulge her eccentric tastes. I thought about the splash this would have made in the conservative Toronto neighbourhood where she lived.

This was getting interesting.  This Mary McCormick would have been a shoe-in for a reality TV series.

The Full Picture

Armed with Mary’s correct title and name, I had the key to a wealth of information about her and her family. Her story is a sad, unusual one that criss-crosses the continent. Never would I have imagined that my local park’s benefactor had such a history.

Mary Virginia McCormick was the first-born daughter of Cyrus H. McCormick and Nettie Fowler. Cyrus was the inventor of the first commercially successful reaper, a horse-drawn machine to harvest wheat.  He was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia.  By 1858 the McCormick Co. of Chicago was the largest farm equipment supplier in the United States with assets totalling more than 1 million dollars (approximately 28 million today). In 1859, Cyrus married and two years later Mary Virginia was born. In 1880 at age 19, Mary was diagnosed with “…dementia praecox of the catatonic type” or schizophrenia.  Cyrus died in 1884 but his fortune bought land in Santa Barbara, California, and Mary’s brother Stanley supervised the building of “Riven Rock” for her.  Mary lived here from 1898 – 1904.


Wisconsin Historical Society, Gray, W. C., 1901, Mary Virginia McCormick, 42526. Viewed online here

At this time in Mary’s adult life and there seemed to be attempts by her family to protect and support her in light of her mental illness.   No doubt it would have been difficult for a wealthy family during such conservative times to deal with this disease in social circles and perhaps this is why Mary moved among different residences all over the continent.  It’s hard to know how much control Mary had over her own life and which choices, if any, were made by her.  In any case, there seems to be no shortage of funds, and no expenses spared for Mary’s lifestyle.

At the turn of the century, Mary was moved to Alabama.  No doubt, the McCormick family was attracted to the sanitorium and resort hotel there in the town of Viduta (derivative of the Spanish word “Vida” meaning life).  People had been coming to this area near Monte Sano, (the spanish words for “Mountain of Health”) since the 1820s. The sanitorium opened on June 1, 1897 and closed early in the 1900’s.

The closing of the sanitorium coincides with the purchase of the estate called “Kildare” in Huntsville, Alabama.  Mary was supported by a large staff the under the guidance of Grace Walker (the one mentioned in the newspaper snippet above).  Mary McCormick’s philanthropy seems to have begun during her stay in Huntsville, Alabama.  She funded “…several YMCAs in the mill villages surrounding town, an African-American wing for the then-segregated Huntsville Hospital, and a hospital at Alabama A&M University.”  It’s been suggested that it was Grace Walker who influenced Mary’s philanthropy.  Grace Walker remained an assistant to Mary for over 30 years.  Grace grew up in Canada and was the daughter of a minister.  She served on the national board of the YWCA of Canada for 25 years and was a long-time member of the Housing Board of the City of Toronto. It’s unknown when Mary met Grace, and perhaps Grace is the reason she ended up coming to Toronto.  It is also unknown how much time Mary and Grace spent in Alabama during each year (it was possibly a stopover on the way to and back from California?) but the house there was used for many social events, including Christmas parties for children, Easter egg hunts, and a celebration for Virginia’s birthday in May. Eventually, Kildare was sold by the McCormicks in 1932.

The Kildare estate is now known for its ghost stories.  Mary’s ghost supposedly haunts the basement where it is believed that Mary was locked up because of her mental illness.  The last owners had such a problem with ghost chasers that they built a huge fence around the property and fought with city council about it. The estate is now slated for demolition, but there is a Facebook page out there trying to raise funds to save it.


Time in Toronto

By the time Mary McCormick came to Toronto in 1905 she would have been 44 years old and back then a true “spinster.”  Mary did not live in the neighbourhood of Brockton; her house “Oaklands” was near Avenue Road.  Her donation to Cottingham Square was transferred to Brock Avenue because the rail tracks were too close to that park.  It was actually McCormick’s mother who came up from Chicago to the opening of the Toronto playground in 1911.  Perhaps Mary was in a poor state of health or in Alabama or California at the time.  During Mary’s time in Toronto, she was mentioned in the newspaper as attending many events and hosting talks or parties at her home “Oaklands.”  Oaklands is now known as De La Salle College; a co-ed private school.  There are ghost stories about this place too; many people have heard her private black band playing late at night, decades after she had moved away.  You can rent Oaklands on AirBnB!

Mary McCormick’s estate in Toronto “Oaklands” , this picture taken in 1891


Around 1926 Mary McCormick contracted a throat ailment and gave up on Toronto and Alabama and moved to California permanently.  An estate called “Quelindo” was built for her in 1929 in Santa Monica and she lived here as a recluse for 17 years. She died in 1941.

This property is now for sale for $23 million.


The story of Mary McCormick leaves many unanswered questions; the most puzzling for me was why did Mary McCormick come to Toronto in the first place.  Was there treatment for her affliction available here in Toronto that didn’t exist anywhere else?  Was the family trying to hide Mary’s illness from their family and friends in the States?  Did Mary herself choose to come here for a new start in her middle age? How does Grace Walker fit into Mary’s life? Was it her upbringing in Toronto that brought Mary back here? We don’t know the answer to these questions. We can only speculate about the events and motivations for these moves.  In any case, we have the mechanical reaper and Mary and her family’s generosity to thank for our local playground, which at one time was built to be one of the best in North America.  Unfortunately, while I’ve spent many hours at the park and the community centre, I’ve yet to witness the ghost of Mary McCormick.


Blackface in Brockton

While perusing the archives for old pictures of the McCormick Community Centre, I came across something shocking – 2 pictures of the McCormick Minstrels, one dated December 28, 1916 and the other January 29, 1920.  I was interested to find out the history of this photograph.  What was the minstrel show?

Jump Jim Crow

First on de heel tap, den on the toe
Every time I wheel about I jump Jim Crow.
I wheel about and turn about an do just so,
And every time I wheel about I jump Jim Crow.

It’s hard to pinpoint the beginning of white people performing in blackface as its history stretches back to before Shakespearean actors performed Othello, but the beginnings of whites performing slave music in North America can be traced to around the 1820s.  Thomas Dartmouth (T.D.) “Daddy” Rice popularized blackface with his performance as “Daddy Jim Crow” which was based on a folk trickster persona that was popular among black slaves.  The persona was also inspired by a black crippled slave whom Rice met in St. Louis, Cincinnati, or Pittsburgh. He used to sing the traditional slave song “Jump Jim Crow” with a little hop at the end of each verse. Rice took his “Daddy Jim Crow” performance on tour and by 1841 the song became so popular that the U.S. Ambassidor to Central America was played the song as his official welcome in Yucatan, Mexico because the song was actually thought to be the United States national anthem.  The Boston Post wrote, “The two most popular characters in the world at the present are [Queen]Victoria and Jim Crow.”

At this time it was common to see black people mocked as being uneducated, irrational, and lazy.  Rice’s minstrel shows and his stage persona helped to perpetuate this negative and stereotypical view among white audiences.  By 1938, “Jim Crow” became a derogtory term for “Negro” and later in the century when laws were passed for the segregation of African Americans from whites, the laws became known as “Jim Crow laws”.

Researching the minstrel show in Toronto. I read in Adrienne Shadd, Afua Cooper, and  Karolyn Smardz Frost’s book The Underground Railroad: Next stop Toronto!  that 45 members of the black community approached city hall in 1840 to ban the minstrel show in Toronto.  At the time they were denied, but 2 years later it passed council that minstrel shows were not to be performed in the city. Nevertheless, the minstrel show’s popularity grew and could not be restrained.

I decided to talk to someone who knew the history of minstrel shows in Canada and Toronto, and I found Cheryl Thompson, Ph D., an expert on the subject.  Her essay, “Come One, Come All: Blackface Minstrelsy as a Canadian Tradition and Early Form of Popular Culture,” will be published later this year.

■ – In 1842, Minstrel shows were banned in Toronto.  The photo I found from the local community centre was dated 1920.  Was the ban a reflection of the wishes of the wider community and if so, why did the shows continue past this date? Who was responsible for administering and maintaining these bans and were there repercussions for those who ignored them?

Cheryl Thompson – Yes, there is some evidence to suggest that a group of black Torontonians petitioned the city in the 1840s to forbid travelling circuses and minstrel shows, even though many feared that such protest would incite racist repercussions.  But there is no evidence that minstrel shows were banned. My research of Toronto newspapers reveals the consistent presence of advertisements for professional minstrel shows at theatre houses, and amateur minstrel shows at athletic clubs, high schools, girls and boys’ clubs, and lodges consistently from the 1880s through to the 1930s.

■ – I imagine that with this many children dressed up in blackface that this particular minstrel show had a wide support in the neighbourhood. This wasn’t a small group; this was a well- organized troupe.  In your research, did you come across what material a children’s troupe like this might perform?

CT – Children’s groups often performed minstrel shows. For example, in the 1920s, the Eaton’s Girls Club would frequently entertain audiences with a minstrel show. The minstrel show was so ubiquitous in Toronto that the real question to ask is which group was not holding a minstrel show. Whites, but also other ethnic groups, especially Jews, also performed amateur minstrel shows, such as the Jewish Boys and Girls Club in the 1920s.

■ –  What would have been the appeal of a minstrel show in a community like this? Were the shows’ primary purposes to maintain rigid racial boundaries and reinforce racial stereotypes? Was there any other reason for using blackface?

CT – Yes, maintaining rigid racial boundaries and reinforcing racial stereotypes were two primary reasons. It is difficult to speak to intentions or get into the minds of people who put on darkening makeup to appear in performances as supposed black people. Part of the allure was in the mimicry and the distance from black bodies. It was easy to perform these shows in spaces where blacks were absent. Toronto has a long history of de facto segregation, so during the time period of these images, blacks would not have been allowed in spaces where these performances were taking place. These spaces became “safe” white spaces where people could deflect their own subjugation in society by taking on the supposed corporeal features of those deemed to be “less than”… The racial implications of blackface are interconnected with issues related to immigration, a sentimental remembrance for black enslavement, and access to employment.

■ – In some ways, Canadian cities were a haven for Black people escaping slavery in the 19th century, but with the Jim Crow laws passed in the United States at the end of that century, I imagine that some of that racial tension would have been felt in Canada too.  Can you descibe what a Black person’s experience of Toronto after the WWI would have been like?

CT – Before and after WWI, Canada’s federal government implemented racist immigration policies that in not so many words aimed to “keep Canada white.” Blacks, especially African Americans, were overtly named as unwanted immigrants. There are even images of military troops from WWI performing blackface shows overseas during the war. The early twentieth century can be remembered as a time where the principles of eugenics were widespread. Eugenics was a form of social Darwinism which stated that the white Anglo-Saxon race (men, specifically) was superior to all other races and that they, and only they, had the right to teach, build, and own. Whiteness was defined by a superiority that was biological and believed to be intrinsic to the white race. Thus, the experience of blacks in Toronto during this time would have been marked by an astute awareness of this widespread belief. At the same time, black Torontonians during this time opened businesses and ran churches; they organized in the 1920s with many joining chapters of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), so there was resistance to the widespread racism of the period. If you look on the city of Toronto archives you will find a panorama photographic of black community members standing outside what is now Old City Hall in the early 1920s.

■ – When did the Minstrel show in Toronto (or Canada) fall out of fashion?

CT – Some would argue that it has never fallen out of fashion, the reason why every Halloween there is another incident where whites wear blackface at a university party. The difference today is that these performance are taking place at elite universities across the country rather than local clubs, and the newspapers are reporting the incidents as a problem, not celebrating how great the show was. In terms of the minstrel show as part of the community, by the 1960s it began to fade away and few clubs would have performed these shows after this period. The civil rights movement and shifting attitudes toward race and immigration had a role to play in changing white attitudes about the shows, which many had previously considered to be “fun.” In the contemporary, young white kids believe that it is OK or not racist to put on blackface to portray Jamaicans or a black rapper whom “they like and admire” because these white kids have no clue about the history of blackface in the United States nor are they aware of its history here in Canada and right in their own local communities. They think it is OK because there is a geographic distance between those whom they are “imitating” and the practice of blackening one’s face. But in fact, there is not. If you look at contemporary blackface, these white students are darkening their skins (meaning, putting on a black makeup that doesn’t even resemble actual black skin) just like whites did a century ago. These kids are mocking black bodies and culture, just like they did a century ago. And just like a century ago, they find enjoyment in the practice. The only difference is that these performances are no longer behind closed doors, they are made public and are viewed by the very blacks that the shows of the past kept away. Will blackface ever go away? Probably not until we take seriously the history of race and racism in Canada.



McCormick Sports Teams of the Past


Brockton’s Hockey Team?

The Brockton Generals may not have a large fan base but they have a lot of fun. Not that they don’t take hockey seriously. In the game I caught the end of the Generals creamed the Holy Mackinaws Eh 9-2 and were getting complaints that they were trying too hard. The Generals are one of the best teams in the league and play in the “Eh” division. They’ve lost to the Parkdale team in the championships 2 years in a row.

The Brockton Generals plays for the Good Times Hockey League of the Arts, a league that started in 1999 with 2 teams and now has 32 teams in 4 divisions. This is a league where intentional body contact is not allowed and if you rack up more than 4 minutes in penalties in a game you can be ejected and your conduct reviewed by the league. Teams earn 2 points for a win and can earn 1 point for playing a game without penalties. Some of the more famous players for the league have been CBC/Hockey Night in Canada’s “boyfriend” George Stroumboulopoulos, the Rheostatic’s Dave Bidini, and a couple of the guys from Sloan. The ads on the GTHLA’s website are from Zunior, a website to download Canadian independent music.

Two thirds of the games for this league are played at McCormick arena, right in the neighbourhood. The hockey rink here is a little small, not regulation, but bigger than the other rink at Bill Bolton at Dupont and Bathurst area. In the summer, the arena is referred to as the McCormick Slush. Most of the walls to the “barn” go directly to the outside world making ice conditions not as ideal as they could be.

I spent an evening after the game with sweaty naked men getting in and out of the shower and drinking a few pops. I talked to Jeremy Harris, one of the “GM’s” of the squad about how the team started.

The team has been around for three years, but the Brockton Generals are officially in our debut season under that name.  The two previous seasons we were Brockton Hockey Club or Brockton H.C. We’re a group of friends ranging in age from 24 to 52, mostly actors, musicians and engineers. Thanks to our cool new sponsor, The Sister bar and grill (on Queen near Sorauren), we bought snappy new uniforms and thought a team name change was in order.


The Generals name came about this past summer when we researched the history of the old town of Brockton. Major General Sir Isaac Brock (In reality it was actually his cousin) owned the land, and had a history of battles and bravery that we thought might be noble. We’re not military buffs or into war of any sort, but it was an interesting fact. Also a member of our team just happens to have some star tattoos similarly located to a general in the Russian Mafia. He had no idea about that until a teammate informed him of that fact. In a moment of coincidence, and naive laughter, it sort of seemed to fit with the whole team theme.


Two thirds of us play on a team called Sgt. Rock (named after the comic book). The Rock have been in and associated with the GTHLA for 11 years. We’re one of the league’s foundational teams. It became challenging for some Sgt. Rock members to play on Saturday nights, so with a core of Rock guys and some other pals, we formed the Brockton squad.


(from L to R)
nicknames –  BC, Dinzer, Scotty, D-Mac, Steve-o, J’air, Ronny (kneeling), McG, Kanye, Trav, Cammer, Hurlz, Snatchie

real names – Bryce Collins, Chris Dinsdale, Scott Yaphe, Dan MacDougall, Steve Chambers, Jeremy Harris, Ron Fine, Bryan McGahey, Jeff West, Travis Shaw, Cameron Urquhart, Mike Hurley, Thomas van der Bliek


I asked Jeremy more about the GTHLA.  What makes this league different?

The GTHLA, the Good Times Hockey League of the Arts, is truly unique. I’m not aware of another hockey league that promotes its team members to be made up of the city’s artistic community. Most importantly, with a strong focus on fun, fair, competitive hockey and a no BS, no meathead attitude.

A larger extension of the league is the Hockey Summit of the Arts, an annual tournament which is truly like no other tournament in the world. It attracts like minded teams from all over Canada to Toronto over the Easter long weekend. We play on the ice against each other by day, and play music onstage to each other by night (usually at the Horseshoe Tavern). It has grown to now host more than 30 teams. I’d be shocked if there was anything like it anywhere else on the planet.

The people, the encouragement to involve our families, the many levels of hockey and the common community vibe, are just a few reasons why we are proud to be a part of such a great league.

Anything else interesting about this team?

In our debut season we had simple uniforms – golden yellow jerseys with a big black letter B on the front. That same year renowned director, Ridley Scott, put out a worldwide call to submit videos to be the basis of a documentary about Bruce Springsteen fans. We have a few serious Bruce fans on our squad, so we shot a short film about us being a team full of Springsteen hardcores. Although we were really called Brockton, we said in the film our team name was “Bosscocked”. We hoped the big B on our chests would be proof enough. The essence behind that false team name was an homage to Bruce and the E Street Band’s performance during the 2009 Super Bowl halftime show. During the set, Bruce ran across the stage, fell to his knees and slid for a long time kind of out of control, and slammed crotch-first into one of the cameras. It was as if millions of viewers at home had been unintentionally witness to a spontaneous 3-D moment of Springsteen over exuberance. It actually became a viral video and the term “Bosscocked” was born. We thought this might be an original angle to take – realistically, how many other hockey teams would submit something?

So, we shot some fan confessionals in our dressing room, some footage from one of our games, edited it together and sent it off hoping it would be viewed among the thousands of other entries.Well, the production company saw it. They actually liked it. So much so that they contacted us, they wanted us to provide release forms for all those that were involved, they wanted all of our raw footage, they showed interest, which was pretty cool. We were in close communication with the producers back and forth for a few months, but still didn’t think anything could really happen. Then we were told we it was pretty much a done deal. When the trailer was released one of our clips was in it. We couldn’t believe it! We actually got picked! We started contemplating flying to London for the world premiere screening, or at least a team trip to a theatre here in town to catch ourselves in all of our slightly made up splendour. The doc film entitled, Springsteen and I, played in many cities all over the world on one single night. The screening fell on one of our hockey nights so only a couple of guys and their wives decided to go. The excitement and anticipation sitting in the movie theatre was surreal. After the movie was over and the final credits scrolled, that surreal feeling turned to confusion when it was clear we didn’t make it to the final cut. What, how? In hockey terms, it felt like losing in quadruple overtime. For whatever reason (or maybe obvious reasons), we ended up on the cutting room floor. Dang. Still, it was such an amazing team experience riding the emotion of incredulity that our strange little Springsteen hockey movie might just make it to the silver screen.

Hey, you win some, you lose some.


The Generals Roster

1Scott “Scotty” Yaphe – #19 (defence)
Hometown: Montreal, QC
Was well-known as Wink Yahoo on the YTV show, Uh-Oh! Has the longest stick in the league. Stay-at-home defenceman.


2Jeremy “J’air” Harris – #10 (defence)
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Voice of CBC Radio. Drummer/Singer in hard rock band, Uncle Father. Bee-in-your-bonnet D-man.

Travis “Trav” Shaw – #67 (forward)
Hometown: Dundalk, ON
Member of the Canadian National Inline speed skating team. Super fast winger and wit.

4Thomas “Snatchie” van der Bliek – #93 (defence)
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Played professional hockey in Norway as a goaltender with a lightning fast glove hand, thus the nickname. But is a solid rushing, shot-blocking defenceman on Brockton.

5Steve Chambers – #4 (forward)
Hometown: Welland, ON
Power tools by day, power forward by night. Presently, in his rookie season with Brockton, dealt with the team’s hazing rituals quite well, only cried twice.

6Daniel “Danny Mac” MacDougall – #9 (forward)
Hometown: Sydney, Cape Breton, NS
Good with money, great with the puck!


7Chris “Dinz, Dinzer for the Winzer” Dinsdale – #00 (forward)
Hometown: Owen Sound, ON
Canadian Squash Champion, can do that and play forward or goalie. Dinz does it all!

 Cameron “Cammer” Urquhart – #21 (forward)
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Know for walk-off game winners, and walking the catwalk as our token male model.

Mike “Hurlz” Hurley – #28 (forward)
Hometown: Cole Harbour, NS
Hurlz is so smart he has more degrees than a thermometer! Unstoppable power forward, championship scorer.

Ron “Ronny” Fine – #29 (goaltender)
Hometown: North York, ON
With new bionic knees, Ronny is a machine in net. RoboRon!


Bryan “McG” McGahey – #15 (forward)
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Our other rookie, works for Brampton Beast hockey club, semi-pro baseball player, plays like the Fighting Irish he is.

Jeff “Kanye” West – #79 (defence)
Hometown: Beaconsfield, QC
This Kanye doesn’t interrupt awards, he wins them. A master chef and loved by all (except opponents).

13Bryce “BC” Collins – #17 (forward)
Hometown: Kitchener, ON
Speed, shot, sales, BC is the full package!


PrintPaul Aucoin – #76 (forward)
Hometown:Halifax, NS
Musician-composer-arranger-engineer-producer, A-list vibraphonist, centreman, scoring wizard!

PrintMike Greene – #5 (defence)
Hometown: Cole Harbour, NS
Greener could stickhandle his way out of a phone booth. Coach/player, father/son, lover/not a fighter.

PrintMatt Snow – #8 (forward)
Hometown: Cole Harbour, NS
During the recent NHL lock out, Snow played in a charity game vs Sid Crosby, and stole the puck off of him. It’s true! Just ask him, and find footage all over YouTube.

PrintChris “CO” Owens – #11 (forward)
Hometown: Barrie, ON
Star actor has performed on stage, silver screen, and TV, most notably as Agent Spender on the X-Files. Comic-Con sweetheart.

PrintMatt Sharron – #75 (forward)
Hometown:Cornwall, ON
Power forward and power drummer in bands, Brutal Knights and Hacksaw. Huge Springsteen, Dead and Immortal fan.

PrintJeff “Burkey” Burke – #3 (forward)
Hometown: Windsor, NS
Played hockey tourney in Mongolia in -30 weather. Been to the Arctic. Yet, very warm-hearted.

PrintDamir “Creamy”Jezernik – #89 (forward)
Hometown: Zageb, Croatia
Got his nickname for his slick stick work. And for how he likes his hot chocolate.

The FOMP Narrative

I attended a meeting at McCormick Community Centre in early January because  I was interested in finding out more about the Friends of McCormick Park.  I had come to these meetings a few years ago when FOMP began, but fell off going because it was just too difficult to make it at a time when my young kids needed to get to bed.  I still received the email invitations though, and was curious about the first point of the agenda for this particular meeting:  “McCormick Park narrative:  How do we tell the story of FOMP and its initiatives?”

I thought who better to tell the story than the Friends themselves?  I wanted to go to the meeting, record it, and let the members’ conversation reveal the story.

The discussion proved to be a wonderful way to document what the friends of McCormick have done and then to use this narrative or document as a resource for further community action. While the discussion meaders (as discussions do) through different ideas about the park and the history of the park, it clearly shows the passion of our local park group.

(This conversation has been edited and condensed)

The Players

Nicholas Gallant (thoughtful representative of Ana Bailao’s office)
Jennifer Tibbitt (Bank Street gardener, mom)
Heather Maciel (young and friendly Aangen Cafe employee)
Adriana Beemans (new mother, expert grant writer, lives on Gordon Ave.)
Joe Pauker (writer from Middleton Street, father of 2)
Jen Cypher (a spark, a professor who lives on Brock Ave)
Karen Falkenberg (Brock Ave artist, mother, baker, event planner)
Fung Lee (Designer, mother of 2, lives on Dundas, latecomer)
Maria Brum (First timer to a FOMP meeting, but 40 years in the hood, a connection with the past and non-English speaking members of the community)
Jason Bomers (me)


Karen:  So, what’s our narrative?

(everyone laughs)

Jen Cypher:  One of the things that concerns me, not in a worried way, but in a way that I want people to be thinking about, is why are we doing this and who is this for?  Is this for us?  Is this for posterity?  And why?  Is it because someone asked us?  Is it because we are we trying to refocus? Or are we trying to look at where we’ve come from.

Jennifer Tibbit:   Are you talking about the narrative?

Jen Cypher:  Yes, I’m talking about producing a kind of narrative about FOMP.

Adriana Beemans:   As someone coming in new to Friends of McCormick Park,  I feel that it would have been helpful to know something about the history, the context, and the culture of the group.  I don’t necessarily mean a mission statement, but a document with a narrative that  gives a sense of what people are walking into.  I also thought it would be helpful to identify, as we get more formalized, the key specific activities that we’re trying to put into place. If we can get a document or conversation about three things what we want to do over the next year, then it’s easier to pull people out to volunteer because you can ask them what initiative they want to be a part of.

Nick:  I think part of the reason I’m interested in doing this is that it’s a chronicle of things past for anybody who’s interested and it also provides that public record.  Public record in the case of groups like this is really important to show partly where you’ve come from, so people can tap in whenever they want to. On the other hand, it also has a dangerous side; if you write too much of the story and people feel like they haven’t experienced that, they may not want to jump into it. What I hope for from this effort is that it’s seen as an open narrative.  While there certainly are things which have happened in the past, what we want is for people to come in and plug into something that is already flowing and they have their resources there to plug into. My key consideration when thinking about this is how can we create it but keep it open and influenceable by multiple parties around the community and in that way, keep it more democratic.

Jen Cypher:  I think a narrative, especially one that is a multi-voiced one like you are talking about can help us be more transparent too, which is something I’ve always wanted to be here.  It’s difficult because it’s based on a meeting structure and based on actions.  We try to keep the meetings to a minimum and “do stuff.”  It’s harder to be transparent and open and have a record if you’re not keeping one because you’re trying to “do stuff.”  Doing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to write down the notes of what you did. So a narrative might help with that.  It would also discourage people from trying to reinvent the wheel by including in the document, for example, a little history about how to conduct a bake sale.

Nick:  That’s another really good point. When people want to look for examples of how to run a great park group, one of the places where they look is the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park.  A lot of we see happening in this community is people asking “How is this different from Dufferin Grove?” That’s one of the things that the Dufferin Grove example did amazingly well.  Just today I pulled information about the grants they got to put in their own community kitchen – the Zamboni Cafe, several years back.  Having those resources readily available at their fingertips can provide a good example for people locally, but also for people around the world.   In our case it’s a new story; we’re working in a different place than the friends of Dufferin Grove in the early 1990s. It’s a very different city now.  I think there is a lot of opportunity to use the narrative as a means to shape city policy.  If we notice certain themes written throughout that policy, and we think “Why does it have to be like that?” it doesn’t.  It doesn’t.  There are avenues to change that. That’s another one of my hopes for our park.

Jennifer Tibbit:  That’s what I’ve seen Jutta Mason (from Friends of Dufferin Grove) write about a lot.  I think what Jutta Mason has done is really positive but other people don’t always agree with her.  She gets a lot of flack.  She’s always asking questions.  Why do you have to do it like that?  Because you’ve always done it like that – or because these are the rules.  But I also think for our group, there are lots of little things we’ve done, the bollard fight, the bulletin board, the safety walk, that we forget about and it adds up.  It’s the power of a community group when they wouldn’t listen to our individual complaints.  Doing that work as a group is a big deal.

Jen Cypher:  There is no problem too small!

Jennifer Tibbitt:  Nothing ever happened, nothing changed when it was only my whining about it, but as a group, as FOMP, it really did get a response. I really saw it. I think that’s important too, as well as the festivals and the cafe.


Adriana:  I think one of the things that impressed me with this group is the action-oriented versus the meeting-oriented.  Also when asking how the festival was funded, I learned it all happened voluntarily and with in-kind donations. I think that it would be amazing to have the narrative capture that spirit of volunteerism and of civil society.  This is an amazing volunteer- based community group. That’s a really powerful thing to happen for the city as they are talking more about local volunteerism and park stewards. New parks planning is going through their own culture change shift right now and this is going to be a really good example.  I would be fascinated for the narrative to find out why people joined and how long they have been in the group because I’m a newer member. I would love to hear what another member’s favourite thing was or what another member accomplished.

Maria:  Sorry, I just wanted to ask and I know I’m just now coming in … in terms of the narrative or the history of it… Is the objective about the history of this group or is it about the community and the history of the park?  How far back do you go?  There is a lot of history that happened in this park before this group.

Karen:  I think we’re talking about Friends of McCormick and what we’re doing now and not the park history.

Joe:  One of the things we’ve talked about since the beginning is finding out more about the park.  Some of that comes from when we work together, and when we meet other people in the community to do other projects, we do learn about the history of the park.

Jason:  I think that the history of the park is fascinating, whether it’s the history of what’s happening here with the Friends of McCormick or the larger history of the park.

Maria:  Personally as someone who’s lived here all my life and chosen to stay here, I think it has a great history with very positive moments, and then there is some history which is not so positive; however, that was just the nature of the culture of that time.  Especially if you talk to people my age, and you say the “McCormick Boys,” to those of us who lived here, we know exactly what that meant:   the  rumbles and switchblades and knives.  Today of course, it can mean an entirely different thing.  There are pros and cons to the park.  But the park, for me, it puts a smile on my face, because it was a park used so much by the community.

Joe:  I heard a great story second or third-hand that someone told me last weekend.  He was saying when he was a kid at one point the train stopped on the tracks and it was full of watermelons.  Someone broke into it at night and the whole neighbourhood was eating watermelons the next day.  They asked “Do you know who did it?” and everyone is like (puffs out cheeks and shakes his head).

(Everyone laughs)

Maria:  I’d like to share a personal story about the diamond here at the park.  At least once or twice a month on Friday nights, people would come to watch black and white movies. It was one of the biggest community gatherings, even Dufferin Grove has not come close to it.  It was not the kind of movie that would exclude people because many people in the community did not speak English. We had the old and the young and the new and wheelchairs and strollers. People brought their lawn chairs.  That whole park would be full of people coming to watch Laurel and Hardy, because it was something universal; it didn’t matter if you knew English or not.  It’s one of my fondest memories.  Whenever I talk to anyone that’s still in the neighbourhood or has moved away and I say “Do you remember when we used to have the movies on friday?” they say “Oh yeah!”  A whole discussion breaks out with big smiles about that.  If I had a magic wand and a wish, that’s what I’d like to see. It was such a beautiful memory because it wasn’t just the young people coming out. It was everyone.

Jen Cypher:  They do that at Shirley Street…There are lots of resources in the neighbourhood.  It wouldn’t be that hard.

Nick:  That’s what I’m talking about.  You can tell the stories of the past but we’re building a present story. It’s also a great point about precedent.  Movie nights in parks… you don’t want to take out a big permit, you just want to make it happen…

Heather:  The cafe can sell popcorn!

Karen:  Well you know, when we were putting together the festival, I found that it was pretty easy to bring it together because the park is so special to the community.  That’s what I think is important to people about the park.  It’s how it connects people and makes a stronger community.  When I moved to the community, that’s where I met people, in the park.  For myself in the narrative, I’m interested in doing are things that promote that culture of connection with the community.

Nick:  Can we talk about broad brush stroke themes that we want to incorporate? That way each of us can start spinning our heads around these themes and ideas.  Like the park as a community connector.  That’s a key theme in the story and can be woven throughout.

Karen:   And that the park is equal access and everything is free.  So it doesn’t matter how much things cost or what is your family income.  Everybody can come to the park; it’s a place for everyone…and there is no judgement…

Nick:  So it’s an opportunity to reinforce values that we hold dear.  If we say we want it to be an open, accessible, connective space for the community and we keep on saying that through the stories that we tell, it will stay that way.

Jen Cypher:  The things we do enhance and foster that.


Adriana:  Building on what you said, for my partner and me, public spaces are big. They are a common asset and something that you can share among strangers.  We see it as an extended living room or backyard.  Had I known about it, I would have celebrated my kid’s birthday in the summer, so I could have used the park!  For us, it’s a huge common resource. People are always talking about gentrification.  What’s so special about this neighbourhood and this park is that there is such a range of people that have lived here and continue to choose to live here.  There are a lot of Portuguese cafes, bars, and bakeries along Dundas that are not catering to us but that are successful and vibrant.  I think what was very powerful to me when I became a mom and felt like I could hang out in the park more, is that it felt like a counter-weight to gentrification.  As long as we have places where people from different incomes and classes and backgrounds actually interact and engage, then I think that is how we are able to counter the influences of gentrification.  It’s not an us vs. them situation.  We’re all in the park and our kids are all playing together.  I remember when the neighbourhood had a massive influx of Roma refugees and I would be sitting in the park and talking to Roma mothers…. it was such a rare and powerful moment for me.  I really enjoyed doing that during my summer on maternity leave.

Maria:  I like what you said about us vs. them.   I hope it doesn’t become a place where it’s like that because that has been my experience at Dufferin Grove.  I think that what we have here is great.  I’ve been back to the park myself to use neutral space to read or to breathe . I hope that it doesn’t get to the point where we’re excluding people in the community.  I really hope that the group stays in this format…

Karen:  What you were saying about transparency I think is very important because there is this sense that when you tell people about this group they believe that it’s a secret clique. That’s the perception!

Maria:  That was my perception when I came here tonight …

Karen:  We should make sure everyone knows that our meetings are the first Tuesday of the month and that anyone is welcome.  We should have a sign on the community board listing those dates. Something that makes it more open.

Maria:  I find that, as someone who uses the centre, I look at that board all the time just to catch up.  That’s how I found out that this group existed.

Jason:  I think people in the neighbourhood need to realize that with this group, it’s just your neighbour who decided to have a bake sale to improve the park.  It’s not coming from the city; it’s coming from the people in the hood.

Jen Cypher:  I would like that story to be told.  For me this is very political!  This is activism to me.  This isn’t just community engagement.  This is community activism right across the street from my house.  If it didn’t have that aspect to it, then I wouldn’t do it. That story needs to be told.  People need to be encouraged to do it!  To just freakin’ do it.  People ask, “Can I do that in the park?” and I say “Yes, do it!”   Not just reclaim it.  Claim it.  It’s not a reclamation; it is already yours.  You want to participate in a garage sale in the park, just do it!  No one is going to tell you no.  The by-law officer is not going to come along.

Someone:  What by-law officer?

Jen Cypher:  Exactly!  I think that’s another reason this story needs to be told because people need to be encouraged to do what they want in this public space.  I think people want to, but they think that they can’t.

Maria:  About coming here tonight, I debated with myself for 2 hours, should I go or should I not.  There are preconceptions … I wanted to come and try to talk about accessibility in the park.  I think it’s important to empower those who have been here a long time, like myself and say, “Come back, it’s okay.”  It’s okay to reclaim your park.  It doesn’t matter if you’re 60, get to know the new people moving in.  But it’s hard …

Fung:  It’s intimidating and there is cynicism.

Maria:  There is cynicism and there are a lot of misconceptions too.  Some of it is true and some of it is not about people moving into the neighbourhood and being pushy and not respecting the history and respecting that people have cleaned up the community. But you just have to come and do it and take your chances in life.

Adriana:  I like what you said about activism.  We always talk about living local. We shop local.  We don’t have a car.  Part of being in the park is living local.  We’ve only been here a short time, and I talked to a friend who asked me, “Who do you know in the neighbourhood?” and I felt happy about knowing a lot of people.  So I think that’s part of that activism, investing in your neighbourhood and making it better.  From a city councillor perspective, one of the things I’ve learned from FOMP is that if you want your city councillor to listen to you, he or she  will listen to you.  Watching Nick work behind the scenes and doing this work but also knowing the vision that we have for the park can be implemented because we have the councillor’s ear:  that’s a really powerful role that any citizen can take up.  Being a part of the park group is a part of your citizenship.

(phone rings, disrupts conversation)



Friends of McCormick Park is a group that was started in 2012.  They meet every first Tuesday of the month at McCormick Community Centre.  They discuss and act on ideas to enhance the park and improve the community that we live in.  What’s important to know is that everyone in the group is a local resident that volunteer their time to help improve the park.   Anyone is welcome to come to the meetings or bring their ideas forward, old and new residents alike.  Their website is

Upcoming meetings:   April 7, May 5, June 2

Some of the things Friends of McCormick Park have done for the park in the past 3 years


  • Created an outdoor skating rink


  • Organized the first shipping container cafe in a city park
  • Fundraised and paid for the McCormick Park art in the park
  • Organized the McCormick Park Pumpkin Parade (ongoing) which happens on November 1st of every year
  • Organized the McCormick Park Fall Festival (ongoing)
  • Initiated and consulted with the pubic about the redesign of McCormick park playground.
  • Fundraised and Installed the Little Free Library


  • Fundraised and installed the Bocce Court
  • Flooded an outdoor skating rink, the first one in over 20 years (and planning it again this year)


  • Introduced new trees to the park and made sure they were watered through the Adopt-A-Tree program

The Little Stuff

  • had the water fountain fixed (it was removed during renovation and will be reinstalled in spring 2015)
  • had a bollard installed on the west side of the park so that cars and trucks can’t drive into the park
  • park benches were painted and repaired
  • new picnic tables brought into the park
  • had the curb lowered at the crosswalk on Brock ave to make it more accessible for wheelchairs and strollers.
  • had a bulletin board installed in the park

These are just a few examples of how committed volunteers can work together to ensure that our park is the best it can be. Join FOMP! There’s lots to talk about and lots to do!

What a Bake Sale Can Get You

When inquiring about the Bocce Court in the park, FoMP pointed me to Lindsay Somers, the friend behind it all.  I wanted to find out how the heck she had a bocce court built in the park in front of her house. After getting the Bocce court built, she decided a library was in order.  Both initiatives were funded by bake sales.  Another sale was put on in December by another friend of the park Karen Falkenberg to fund other initiatives.  Now McCormick is well known for the quality of their bake sales!  This interview shows you what a bake sale can get you.


■ – How long have you lived in the neighbourhood and how did you end up here?

Lindsay Somers –  I have lived in the Brockton triangle neighbourhood for almost 7 years, moved in with my husband who had bought our house on Brock Ave. before we were together. I immediately fell in love with our area north of the tracks.

■ – The bocce court in McCormick Park was your initiative.  When did the wheels start spinning and what made you decide to try to get a bocce court built here?

LS – The bocce ball court idea started in the summer of 2011. There was a lot of green space in our park, and I often would play bocce on the baseball diamond with friends. The uneven terrain and multiple piles of dog excrement made for a difficult and challenging game. The idea sparked and I started researching the process that I would need to go through to get a court built.

■ – How did the Friends of McCormick factor in?

Lindsay Somers – I contacted our local councillor Ana Bailao’s office and first came in touch with Nicholas Gallant, Ana’s right hand man. He put me in touch with the Friends of McCormick park who had just formed and only had a handful of members; neighbours I knew and some I recognized but had never met. In May of 2012, I stood in front of this small group of people and presented my idea to build a bocce ball court! With full support, the group helped me get in touch with the parks department where I begun my journey into finding someone who would give me a finite answer on how I could pull this off.

■ – Were all of the funds raised for the Bocce court from the bake sales that you had?

Lindsay Somers – I met with Peter White from the parks department who told me if I raised the funds myself, and donated those funds to the city – they city of toronto would arrange to build the court. I was told one court was $3000 – and so my first attempt at the bake sale began. FOMP’s first bake sale was in July 2012 – and we raised almost $900 during our first day. I was elated!! The members of our community and FOMP all helped bake for our sale, and I couldn’t have done it without them. I sat in the community centre for 2 days – both days lasting around 8-10 hours selling treats, and it was more than worth it.

Our second “bake sale for bocce” was held in December of 2012, and we brought in over $1000.  Those two bake sales raised the $1900.00 which I gave to the City of Toronto where they matched the cost and built our Bocce Ball court in July 2013.



■ – The Little Free Library is so cute.  I just used it the other day for a children’s book for my kids. This was something you brought to the park too?   Tell me about it.

Lindsay Somers – With the bocce ball court built and loved by the community, I knew I wanted to take on another project!! I’ve loved the Little Free Library program for many years and knew this was where I wanted to focus my energy on next – for my own selfish benefit of having the LFL in McCormick park, and to make my father happy, who raised me to read with him almost every night.

In October of 2013, I hosted a Bake Sale for Books and had many Book themed treats to sell. We did very well, earning between $700-800 earning more than enough for our Little Free Library. I ordered an official LFL that was already built and pre-registered – and the bake sale funds covered the entire cost of the unit.

I received the Library and had it installed in the park when the ground thawed in May/June of 2014.

■ – Did you do most of the baking? Or were there other people involved?

Lindsay Somers – I did most of the baking for all three bake sales – mostly because I had the time to spare during that period in my life. Preparing dessert up to 4 days before the sale, I calculated over 24 hours of baking done for the bocce ball court alone. Many neighbours – Jen Cypher and our Dancing crossing guard Kathleen Byers – helped participate in manning the Bake Sale and baking delicious treats for our table.

■ –  I’m really impressed with all the people who are building the community with these kind of initiatives.  What makes you do it and why is it important to you?

Lindsay Somers – Both the LFL and Bocce ball court have, I believe, genuinely enhanced McCormick park, and helped spark a great initiative among our neighbours to chime in and help make a difference in our community. I get such pleasure from watching the both the Library and Bocce ball court being used. Even last winter – a large group of neighbours gathered around the bocce ball court and played for hours (my house overlooks the bocce ball court and LFL); and a couple of people skated in the court last winter.

So all in all – just an over enthusiastic and eager neighbour who wanted to bring more activities into the park across the street from her house. A lot of my drive is selfish – I love walking to the LFL everyday and trading books, and I really enjoy hosting bocce ball parties in the summer. Every year, McCormick park gets better and better. I look forward to seeing what we (FOMP) can do next!


The Container Cafe – Two Perspectives

Since the fall there has been a big bright blue addition to the park.  This is the new Container Cafe offering food and groceries to park users and community residents.  I was interested to find out how the Container Cafe came to fruition and the players involved.  I got in touch with Nicolas Gallant and Gurbeen Bhasin.

■ – Thanks for doing this interview… can you describe your what organization you belong to?

Nicholas Gallant –  I work for the Office of City Councillor Ana Bailão which represents the interests and initiatives of Ward 18 residents at Toronto City Hall.

Gurbeen Bhasin –  I’ve been the executive director of Aangen since 2000.  Aangen is a grassroots, not for-profit, and we pride ourselves on self-sustainability and integrity. We work with local and ethical farmers to provide the community and local businesses with fresh farm goods; with the net proceeds we are able to help families in need locally and globally.  I have been committed to growing this organization in a very organic and sustainable manner.

■ – At what point did you or your organization get involved in the Shipping Container Cafe?

NG  The Councillor’s Office was involved from the very beginning. Working with the Friends of McCormick Park (FOMP) we identified the need for food in the park through FOMP’s master plan process, worked together with FOMP and the McCormick Arena to investigate the possibility of opening a cafe window to the park from the side of the arena building, and then the Councillor and Kevin Lee from Scadding Court Community Centre brought the idea to use the shipping container cafe model to the park.

GB – The news about the shipping container city pilot project was announced at our Spring Fundraising Dinner in April by Ana Bailao. At first, we didn’t know what this project would entail. We could not have imagined that after a series of meetings and community collaborations that Aangen would have its own café and market to run by September.

■ – What were the steps involved for your organization in bringing the cafe to fruition?

NG   We first worked with FoMP and the community to identify local needs, and then found the Scadding Court Market 707/Business Out of the Box model.  Next we invited the Scading Court staff to present to FoMP. At the same time, we inquired with Parks, Forestry & Recreation Business Services on possibility of implementation and seeked out potential operators from the community.  Aangen Community Centre and Working Women Community Centre both expressed interest.  Once we knew what we needed, we were able to allocate funding from parkland dedication reserve funds for the container.

GB  There were many steps Aangen had to take before the launch of the café on September 27, 2014. Aangen, FOMP, Scadding Court representatives and Ana Bailao’s office had multiple meetings to ensure everything and everyone was on task. We needed to get a solid team together and at the same time we wanted to ensure we were giving employment to those who would benefit from it and otherwise had difficulties finding jobs.

NG   Before the festival, we worked with Parks Technical Services staff to coordinate delivery and installation of the unit and we helped support the festival and launch event.

GB  Creating the menu turned out to be much more daunting than we anticipated but we needed to ensure the menu aligned with Aangen values and would best serve the community. A big hurdle we faced was applying for organizational insurance as the project was so unique we encountered much unprecedented legality. The day before our launch, at the eleventh hour, our insurance was approved.

NG   Since the launch, the City has been acting on post-implementation requests for improvements to the unit and addressing operator, community, City concerns and requests as they arise.  We are currently working to ensure successful implementation and the follow-up necessary for ongoing success.

■ – Dufferin Grove and MacGregor park also serve food. How does this pilot project differ from what those parks are doing?

NG   The Container Cafe drew inspiration from the successes at Dufferin Grove, MacGregor and other Ward 18 parks where nutritious and affordable food was provided in the park. In these examples, we saw that food serves to further animate our neighbourhood public spaces and wanted to replicate this, while looking at models that could be self-sustaining.

In both cases, a similar amount of initial capital investment was necessary to provide kitchen equipment. At Dufferin Grove, this initiative was funded by the City of Toronto Food and Hunger Action Project Grant and the G.H. Wood Foundation Grant. At McCormick Park, the Councillor allocated parkland dedication reserve (Section 42) funds to purchase the container for the City and outfit it with the necessary kitchen equipment.

On the operations side, Dufferin Grove and MacGregor Park serve food prepared by City of Toronto Recreation Staff. At the McCormick Park Shipping Container Cafe, a local charitable organization (Aangen) is preparing and serving the food. Aangen pays a nominal rent fee to the City. Aangen sustains its own operation through sales of prepared food and market products, fundraising.

GB  In some ways we are like Dufferin and McGregor Park as we serve food in a park. However, we do not have city employees and it is up to Aangen to ensure the sustainability of the café. Our menu items were carefully chosen not solely based on convenience but also on nutrition. We have committed to using as many organic and fair trade options as possible and we only use biodegradable products to ensure the integrity of working in a beautiful and natural setting.

■ – What has your experience with the cafe been since the cafe has moved into the park?

NG  Very positive. The Councillor’s Office has continued to support the project post-implementation, both from City Hall and as customers who love the cafe, the organization. the park and community.

GB  The café has been a lot of fun to operate and also a learning curve as Aangen has never undertaken such a project. In so many ways we are building a hub for community engagement. We are not only a café but also a farmers market as we carry spelt bread, honey, free-range farm eggs, maple syrup and more. Recently we have found a way to integrate our programs and campaigns into the café; the community can drop off used winter items for the local shelters we support or sign a petition and be a unified voice to bring about change to an international issue. We are learning of the needs the community has and every day we are working towards making this project work for everyone.

■ – It seems like that the cafe is planning to stay open all year round despite the cold and dark days of winter. That seems like a difficult challenge. How will you face it?

NG   We have been facing it by preparing the cafe for cold weather, ensuring there are windows to allow the service counter to remain open, while providing protection from the elements. We have also worked with the Community Centre to investigate the possibility of serving some meals inside on very cold days and at times when nobody is in the park.

GB  The community centre, the arena and the park will always have activity and we are going to work with community members to promote the café. With the help of FOMP we are hoping that there will be an outdoor rink this year that will attract many more people even in the colder months.

■ – How long will the pilot last and what would be the next steps if it’s successful?

NG   The pilot is ongoing with no fixed end date. The City will evaluate the project close to the time of contract renewal (September, 2015) . If it proves successful, the idea is to expand the model of shipping container cafes to other parks where community organization, local context and park amenities would lend well to such an initiative. City Councillors from other Wards (32 and 43, to name a couple) have expressed interest.

GB  We hope for this pilot to last a very long time and that it will become an exemplary model for many more park cafés throughout the city. It would be great to have other not-for-profits or grass roots organizations running their own containers and integrate the kind of work they do in combination with healthy and nutritious food for the entire community.

■ – I love the idea of having healthy, reasonably priced food in the park and I wish the cafe great success. Any other thoughts?

NG  It’s important that the cafe serve the community the sort of food/drinks they desire at an affordable price-point and the operators need ongoing constructive feedback as they fine-tune their offerings. It is also important that the community support this innovative local project first and foremost by purchasing the coffee, prepared foods and market products, secondly by spreading the word – informing and encouraging neighbours to participate in the endeavour.

Be My Neighbour: Carrianne Leung

Carrianne Leung is the author of “The Wondrous Woo”, published in 2013 and nominated for the Toronto Book Award in 2014.  She is also part owner of the local “Multiple Organics” shop for locally grown organic food.  I got in touch with her to talk about her writing, creativity and living in the neighbourhood.

■ – How long have you lived in Brockton?  How did you end up here?

Carrianne Leung – My partner, Andrew and I moved to Brockton almost ten years ago. Previously, we were living in an apartment in Parkdale for a number of years and wanted to stay in the west end. When we looked to buy, we found this little row house on Norfolk that we could afford. We were able to make friends very quickly. Our street is tiny, so we got to know our neighbours immediately. Then, we got dogs and were able to form connections with other dog-owning neighbours. The kid came next, and this meant experiencing the neighbourhood as part of a community of parents and kids. Then my friend Nupur and I opened up Multiple Organics, and that introduced us to all the wonderful small business owners on Dundas West. You can say that Brockton facilitated all these things happening for me. When I look back on it, I am so happy that we moved here. The neighbourhood far exceeded my expectations of what “home” is and can be in the city.

■ – Your son is a similar age to my daughters and I know they both go to the after-school program at McCormick Community Centre.  You grew up in Scarborough.  How do you think your son’s childhood will be different growing up in Brockton compared to yours in Scarborough?

CL – Surprisingly, I don’t think Fenn’s childhood will differ drastically from mine in the suburbs. Even though we live in a bigger city, our neighbourhood really does feel like a village in many ways. We are so lucky to have the facilities that we do – McCormick Park, the area, the community centre, Shirley Street School, etc. He is growing up within a tight neighbourhood, and he and his friends will likely be in and out of each others’ houses as they grow. This is not so different from my own childhood in Scarborough where the boundary between house, street, park and other public spaces were blurred.

■ – Why did you want to write a novel and how did that happen?  Have you always been a writer or is this something you came to later?

CL – I’ve always wanted to write. I started my first novel when I was a kid. Writing fiction and poetry was something I did on and off all my life.  I never let myself have the time and space to devote to it before. It was a lack of confidence as well as the need to divert my energy into working. That’s a lot of people, I imagine. Anyway, I had a window of time and decided that finally, I was going to write a novel.


■ – I’m interested in the creative process.  On your blog you mention that writing to you is like sculpture – you form something in an organic way.  For you, what comes first – characters or plot?  Or are they always tied up together?

CL – This is a good question. I am not sure. It changes. Something compelling always come up. It could even be an idea initially and not plot or character. I just follow it along and wait for it to take shape. The revisions are the fine sculpting work.

■ – Do you start from the beginning and work your way through the novel or do you write chapters all over the place and then string them together in the end?

CL -I don’t even have outlines usually! As the story unravels, I follow along. Sometimes I am surprised at what happens. Mostly, the story is chronological in the first draft. I may make notes for later chapters, but I always write in order. Of course, as I revise and edit multiple drafts, I am usually all over the place. It’s actually the same in academic writing too. I have a PhD, so I also write scholarly work once in awhile. To me, writing is all creative whether it be fiction, non-fiction, a blog, poetry, even an email. I have something of an outline, and then I write and watch it grow.

■ – As a creative person, I need time to make things to feel healthy and happy.  You mentioned on your blog that when you don’t write your characters come to haunt you — how do you feel about your own creativity?  Do you think it’s a form of therapy?  Do your ghosts disappear once you get their stories written down?

CL – I am always thinking about writing. My inclination is always towards the written word. It’s how I make sense of things so that I can go from writing personal essay, academic texts, fiction and poetry with fluidity. I suppose you can call it “therapy” in the sense that I HAVE to write. It’s not really even an option for me. Writing fiction is interesting in the idea that I am “haunted” by stories and characters. When I am in the process of crafting a piece, I am constantly thinking of them so that characters and the worlds they inhabit become so vivid for me that it feels like I am being followed. When I finished The Wondrous Woo, I actually had a weekend of saying goodbye to the characters. It may sound weird to some people, but it was something I had to do to mark an ending.

■ – How did it feel once you finished and published your book?

CL – Writing and publishing a novel was the only thing that I ever had on my bucket list, so to finally be able to do it was exhilarating. I didn’t realize that another great part was to come – hearing from readers! I love receiving feedback. The novel belongs to readers now and not just to me, so it is really meaningful to hear how others encounter the world of Woo.

■ – You were nominated for the Toronto Book Awards this year.  Can you tell me about that experience?

CL – It was thrilling! It was already a dream come true to have a novel published and read. Being shortlisted for the award meant that I was able to reach a lot more people. These days in publishing, the onus for promoting books weighs heavily on the writer. I would have never been able to receive the kind of attention that I have without the nomination. It was so cool to read at Word on the Street!! It was also an honour to meet the other writers on the shortlist. They are all people who I admire greatly. Lastly, the TBA nomination gave me the boost that I needed to take myself seriously as a writer.

■ – You mentioned that you are working on a book of short stories. Do you know how long it will be and when it will be done?

CL – I don’t know how long it will be or when it will be completed. Like other things that I have written, I have to wait for these stories to reveal themselves to me. Short stories are more manageable at the moment since I work full-time, teach part-time and am very busy with my family.  They don’t require the length of time and momentum that is required in novels. That being said, short stories demand another kind of attention and are challenging in their own way.  I am having fun. That’s the most important part. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.