Corktown mourns cancellation of annual fete due to permit fees

Councillor describes permit costs as ‘impossible situation’

By Dennis Hanagan –

Francine Barry.

Francine Barry.

Another community festival has bitten the dust because its organizers can’t afford to pay the city fees to hold it in a park.

As it has done for years, the Corktown Residents and Business Association (CRBA) planned to hold its annual barbeque and Octoberfest fundraiser in Sackville Park on King St. E. in early October.

But in addition to the regular costs it lays out for the festival, the association was told it would have to come up with an extra $2,500 this year to hire police to patrol the event.

Last month, The Bulletin reported a similar snag the Men can Cook barbeque encountered with the city’s permit department.

That event was to be held in Alexandra Park near Bathurst and Dundas on Aug. 29. But it was cancelled because organizers couldn’t muster the required city permit fee, reported to be $1,000.

At the time, Men Can Cook organizer Dwayne Williams, CEO of 1st Planet Productions, said the city’s dealings with communities trying to hold festivals was “like a bully pushing around little kids.”

CRBA secretary Francine Barry was also uncomplimentary about the city. “They’re party poopers. They priced us out of our fundraiser.”

Barry estimated that with the permit fee, the cost of providing portable toilets and acquiring insurance and now the new fee to hire police, the event would have cost the CRBA more than $3,500.

But on a good weather day with a good turnout the best the CRBA can hope to gain for the association’s coffers is about $1,000—or even as low as a few hundred dollars if the weather is bad.

The CRBA’s coffers aren’t big. They’re at less than $4,000, says Barry. She said all of the money is spent on the community, the largest part going toward the annual Christmas party.

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The barbeque takes months of planning and features live music from local musicians, neighbourhood artisans, kids games, clowns, face painting, and an auction to which Corktown residents donate items to bid on.

Beer, wine and food are often donated or subsidized for the CRBA to sell and make a small profit. Neighbours adjacent to Sackville Park offer their electrical outlets to power the microphone and music system, and the nearby Art Café on King St. donates urns of coffee.

“It’s been a wonderful family event every year,” said Barry. “People even bring in their grandparents from outside of Corktown. It’s a load of fun.”

The festival is also a way for the CRBA to build its membership. “We get new members every time.”

Barry said in past years police on their regular patrols would drop by the park “and say hi. They like to mix with the neighbourhood, too.”

But as for needing them on site in the park for the entire festival Barry noted, “the cop shop is just a block away. We’re adults. We have cell phones. If we need them we can call them.”

She said the city seems to be using a “one size fits all” policy for policing public festivals. While a heavy police presence might be required for events in some parts of the city, she questions whether that’s the case for Corktown.

“There has never been a question of misbehaviour by anyone at this event,” she said in an email prior to The Bulletin’s interview with her.

Toronto Centre-Rosedale City Councillor Pam McConnell told The Bulletin, “local groups shouldn’t be placed in impossible situations like this, and they shouldn’t have to bear such high costs.”

She said festivals like the CRBA’s bring neighbours together which makes communities “healthy and vibrant. We need to encourage festivals like this.”

She said local police divisions can patrol and oversee neighbourhood events “as a logical extension of community policing.”

Although 2010 will go down as a hiccup in the Corktown barbeque’s long-standing history, Barry said the community-building event won’t be stymied next year.

“We’ll look for a venue where the city can’t interfere. We’re not going to let the city do this to us again.”

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