The opening of a shipping container cafe in R.V. Burgess Park is the latest development in the remarkable 10-year process spearheaded by the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee to transform this once-neglected 1.5 hectare park into a vibrant and beloved community meeting place.
The cafe offers everything from snacks to full meals, and even has a catering business. It is open daily in July and August from 5 – 9 pm, with hours varying during the rest of the year.
Kids line up for items like freezies and homemade cupcakes, which are extremely popular.
The cafe and bazaar flank the entrance to the park, which is surrounded by 34 apartment towers. Thorncliffe Park is home to over 34,000 people, largely newcomers. Built in the 1960s, the planned community lacks a town square, leaving the revitalized park to fill that void.
Local teens are hired to work in the cafe, preparing and cooking all the food.
All the food is freshly made and the cafe’s menu features South Asian specialties like chicken biryani and lassi.
Food is priced so the community can afford it.
The cafe builds on the decade-long work of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee to animate the park while also strengthening local economic activity.
One of the founders of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee and its Chair, Sabina Ali is the driving force behind the cafe. She formed the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee as a concerned resident and her work in civic engagement has garnered her multiple awards including the Jane Jacobs Prize. She has been invited to speak about her urban renewal work across North America.
Inspired by the pizza oven in Dufferin Grove Park, the women at Thorncliffe Park worked with the City have a tandoor oven installed. The only one in a Toronto park, it allows residents both to keep their traditions alive and share them with others.
Young women take time out from tracking the orders and delivery of freshly baked naan to share a joke from the internet.
Having been both a Thorncliffe Park resident and newcomer herself, Sabina knows that many of the neighbourhood’s inhabitants are mothers with young children and can feel isolated in their apartments, especially when they first arrive. “I wanted to create a place where they could come and meet one another.”
The cafe builds on the weekly Friday bazaar that the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee spearheaded in 2009. Local residents take turns as vendors over the summer.
The bazaar can attract up to 500 visitors a day and the number often increases during festivals like Eid and the annual Neighbourhood Night Out in July.
A woman buys cosmetics.
Running microenterprises in the park enables women to build their businesses while their children play nearby.
Two women set up the sound system and choose music, which adds to the fun Friday night feeling.
Evergreen Brickworks offers a free Bike Clinic to neighbourhood kids who can come and learn how to fix their bikes. This is just one of the many partnerships that the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee formed to animate the space.
Girls riding their bikes on the pathway. Most families live in apartments, so the park is their backyard.
A boy heads to the park’s splash pad.
The Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee believed that if they made the park welcoming to kids, their mothers would follow.
Two children delight in the park’s playful water fountains. The City of Toronto has made significant investments to revitalize the park’s infrastructure.
A young boy trying to catch a server’s attention.
Three girls wait for their orders.
Because the cafe is still in its first year of operation, the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee continues to test out a variety of approaches to create a sustainable park-based economic model.
Sabini Ali and the Metcalf Foundation Inclusive Local Economies Program Director Adriana Beemans. The Metcalf Foundation has worked closely with the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee over the last five years, supporting its work, which strengthens neighbourhood economic resiliency. More information about the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, and the story of how it revitalized the park and developed the weekly bazaar, can be found in the booklet “The Power of Civic Action”, which can be downloaded here.