Building Community Through Our Market

Building Community Through Our Market

At the heart of the Thorncliffe Park community, the Thorncliffe Park Community Market has been an energetic and vibrant hub for the past 15 years. Every Friday from May to October, hundreds of our neighbours gather in R.V. Burgess Park from 3 p.m. until sunset, fostering connections and strengthening our community fabric.

The Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, a grassroots not-for-profit organization, is proud to orchestrate this unique event. We are committed to empowering newcomer women, promoting their integration through education, entrepreneurship, food security, and civic participation. Our market is a reflection of these commitments and the rich diversity that defines our wonderful community.

From its inception, the Thorncliffe Park Community Market has aimed to provide entrepreneurial opportunities to newcomer women. This vision aligns with our mission of enhancing self-esteem, improving conversational skills, and fostering learning among peers. It also provides a platform for supplemental income, supporting families and stimulating our local economy.

Our beloved Park Café has emerged as a natural extension of this model. We firmly believe in addressing community challenges such as unemployment, poverty, social exclusion, and food insecurity through grassroots solutions. The café is a testament to this belief, serving up delicious Bolani and Tandoor bread, and acting as a melting pot of cultures and cuisines.

The Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee is driven by the belief that our community’s cultural mosaic is its greatest strength. Our ultimate aim is to improve the quality of life for every community member, regardless of economic status, ethnicity, ability, or gender. We strive to foster a sense of inclusion and diversity, which we believe is key to a thriving community.

One of our significant achievements has been the transformation of R.V. Burgess Park. Once neglected, this park is now a vibrant community meeting place, thanks to our advocacy and the City of Toronto’s commitment. The park now boasts playground equipment, a renovated splash pad and water fountain, new swings, benches, bins, light poles, picnic tables, a community garden, electricity, and a first-of-its-kind permanent outdoor tandoor bake oven.

Our integrated model of community and economic development has garnered recognition both locally and internationally. In 2013, R.V. Burgess Park was named a “Frontline Park” by the Washington, D.C.-based City Parks Alliance. This honour, the first given to a park outside the U.S., acknowledges our creative revitalization efforts and our commitment to building safer communities.

Every vendor, every visitor, and every conversation at our market contributes to this vision. We invite you to join us in celebrating our community’s diversity and strength, one market day at a time.

Running a Sustainable and Educational Garden

Running a Sustainable and Educational Garden

A Community Garden is a city-approved area run by the neighbouring community as a group. Gardening has slowly become a popular recreational activity in Toronto, with more people having a growing understanding of its importance due to its environmental and social benefits. Furthermore, the educational opportunity visiting a garden provides is valuable especially to younger children, who can benefit from an engaging, hands-on learning environment.

The Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee (TPWC), helped establish the Thorncliffe Family Garden located at R.V Burgess Park in the year 2011. The purpose of the garden was to provide an opportunity to people in the Thorncliffe Park community, which consists mostly of newcomers and immigrants, to grow plants in their local community. Throughout the following years, TPWC has been able to grow and expand the garden allowing for greater involvement from the community.

Every year since 2011, the Thorncliffe Family Garden has hosted educational programs for elementary and kindergarten classes as part of their learning, as well as a drop-in program every Tuesday during the summer vacation which is led by the Garden Coordinators. Tours during the programs cover what plants are being grown and their significance. TPWC utilizes some of the plots to grow organic fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, raspberries, peppers, corn and much more, all of which is used in the Park Cafe in food preparation. Some of the produce is also shared with the participants of the programs. Aside from food plants, a portion of the Family Garden is dedicated to the Thorncliffe Pollinator Garden, wherein native plants to Ontario, such as Blazing Stars, Blacked-Eyed Susans, Coneflowers and much more are grown. The purpose of the Pollinator Garden is to provide a suitable habitat for pollinators, helping to support the local ecosystem and food web through reproduction of important plants.

In addition to the tours, each session delves into environmental issues as well as establishes the importance of nature to humanity through discussions and interactive activities.

This past summer, topics and activities included:

  • Biodiversity – drawing relationships between animals and plants in the garden
  • Invasive Species – how they reproduce and why removal is important, finger painting
  • Pollution – different kinds of pollution, what we can do about it and clean-up of garden
  • Nutrient Cycles – how plants are important to various nutrient cycles (carbon, nitrogen) and what nutrients they need to grow, basic care for gardening

These sessions enable children to become more conscientious of their surroundings and understand nature better which enriches a new generation of ecologically-aware individuals.
Ultimately, a garden contributes to a community in various ways. An outdoor classroom, a home to pollinators and a place for growing food sustainably is an invaluable resource, one that continues to bring the Thorncliffe Community members together.

Special guests in R.V. Burgess Park: City Parks Alliance

Special guests in R.V. Burgess Park: City Parks Alliance

Since 2008, the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee has strived to revitalize our community public green space – R.V. Burgess Park. With the efforts of the community, we’ve lobbied the City of Toronto to help improve our park. We’ve been extremely lucky to see a multitude of improvements to R.V. Burgess Park, including benches, a water fountain, and picnic tables; newly planted trees, flowers, and sod, paved paths, power outlets, and an additional storage shed; as well as updated playground equipment and a splash pad.

Thanks to the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee’s community revitalization projects, R.V. Burgess Park was the first Canadian park to be named a frontline park by City Parks Alliance – a recognition awarded to “standout examples of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship.”

City Parks Alliance is “the only independent, nationwide membership organization solely dedicated to urban parks” – by bringing together community leaders, governments, funders, and park authorities, this collective works to “engage, educate and nurture a broad-based constituency to support the creation, revitalization and sustainability of parks and green spaces that contribute to dynamic cities.”

This past July, the folks from City Parks Alliance paid a visit to Toronto on a sunny Saturday morning, during which the members of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee led an in-depth tour of our community greenspace – R.V. Burgess Park – exploring its past and present, demonstrating naan baking with our famous tandoor oven, and sharing important, exciting ideas, as well as delicious food!

After this successful action-packed visit to our community, the folks at City Parks Alliance have extended an invitation to Sabina Ali – the chair of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee to speak as a part of the plenary session at their upcoming international urban parks conference in Minneapolis next summer. The “Greater & Greener 2017” conference seeks to explore the “issues, challenges, and opportunities facing today’s urban parks.” As a featured speaker on the plenary panel, Sabina will be presenting the TPWC’s work in R.V. Burgess Park, discussing the positive impact that parks and green spaces can have on our urban communities.
Promoting environmental leadership – a peek into our Youth Stewardship Program

Promoting environmental leadership – a peek into our Youth Stewardship Program

Our youth stewardship program took place over the course of two weeks during the summer season. A number of youth from the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood participated in the annual program which engages young community members in environmental stewardship and conservation projects through hands–on learning opportunities.
Over these two weeks, youth involved in the program had the opportunity to connect with nature through hiking, exploring, and cleaning up the Don Valley Park and ravine systems surrounding our neighbourhood. They also had the chance to visit an Ontarian farm to learn more about our local food systems and agriculture.

The youth stewardship program also allowed youth participants the opportunity to gain new skills through participation in a leadership program led by Toronto Public Health. During theses sessions, the young community members learned about working as a team, speaking in public and making presentations, styles of leadership, as well as advocacy, activism, and education.

Why Urban Gardening? Building Food Security, Friendship and Community

Why Urban Gardening? Building Food Security, Friendship and Community

I love seeing this contrast between gardener Davina’s ceiling of cucumber plants and the high-rise infrastructure in the background. This varied landscape carries a long history of growing food in cities on Turtle Island and in modern Canada. At the community gardening sites managed by the Thorncliffe Women’s Committee, we offer a space to continue this tradition of urban agriculture and to cultivate relationships with the land and our neighbors. Our organization’s mission that seeks to create healthy and vibrant communities by providing opportunities for newcomers to Canada is integrated within a rich tradition of community development that centers food as a medium for connection and solidarity.

The ongoing stewardship and innovation of Indigenous societies; the diverse contributions of Black communities; generations of settler migration, many of whom arrived as farmers and gardeners; and the ongoing migration of new Canadians from all corners of the globe, have introduced new ways of sharing food that are invited to grow at our garden projects. For many of our gardeners that have arrived in Canada from different areas of the world, our projects offer a space to nurture ancestral relationships with their home countries by growing staple foods, and to build a sense of home through the inclusive social network that is at the heart of our grassroots efforts. This 2020 season, our participants include families from the Philippines, Pakistan, and Syria who have worked to create a productive garden filled with vegetable varieties from different parts of the world. Bitter melons, a key ingredient in many dishes in the Philippines that has become prohibitively expensive in Toronto’s grocery stores, is grown for a low cost by our gardeners. This exercise allows gardeners to meet new friends and share their heritage with others. Our gardeners describe this space as a site of “therapy,” providing both relaxation and energy through garden labor.

Operating at the grassroots level, our gardens are sustained by the ongoing dedication of our gardeners, volunteers, staff, and all Thorncliffe residents who provide their support. We practice urban gardening to connect and engage; to collectively survive and thrive in our city spaces. Urban gardens breathe new life into seemingly forgotten spaces. Through our creative practice, collaboration, and hard work, we transform unused areas into “people spaces”. Observing the green canopy of Davina’s garden in the foreground of high-rise infrastructure allows us to imagine new ways of making our living spaces into “home

What We Learned This Year in the Garden!

What We Learned This Year in the Garden!

With the first day of school fast approaching, our children’s drop-in gardening program is coming to a close. Let’s take a quick look at some of the exciting things we’ve learned this summer!
Some of the veggies we got to enjoy were lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, and beans. We also picked and tasted some sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb.
It was a really great way for us to learn about where our food comes from – through playing games, like a farm to plate relay race, we talked about all of the miles our food often travels before we get to eat it!
We also learned about how we can grow our own food locally and the ways that it’s helpful for our pockets, our health, and our environment.

We also got to explore our community garden space this summer, discovering all of the critters and creatures that live in our backyards.

Acting like bees and butterflies as we played pollination tag, we got to learn about why pollination is such an important natural process for nature and for us!
We teamed up and did a bug hunt in the garden, too! Drawing and naming the insects we came across helped us to discover more about how bugs aren’t just creepy or crawly, but do a lot of stuff that helps our food grow healthy and strong!
We also got to work on beautifying our garden, an important task because we learned about what an important community space it is in our urban neighbourhood! We built and decorated recycled bird feeders to attract more animals to our garden, and learned how to weed our plots and cut the grass!
We can’t wait until next spring so we can learn more about the amazing things that can happen in our own backyards here in the Thorncliffe Family Garden!