Group looks to put oven in park

[attach]4955[/attach]Thorncliffe Park resident Sabina Ali is hoping to heat things up at R.V. Burgess Park with the addition of what would be the city’s first outdoor public tandoor oven.

“Our aim and our mission was to improve the public space, to build a community and to encourage people to use the green space,” said Ali, a member of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, the group behind the oven proposal.

The concept originally arose as part of the committee’s annual spring and summer fair.

The fair, originally just a series of performances, gradually grew into more of a bazaar type atmosphere and Ali soon discovered many women were interested in selling food.

But since there was no nearby public oven, it required commuting to and from the Flemingdon Health Centre and more recently, the Jenner Jean-Marie Community Centre to cook food for the fair. Since Ali did not have a driver’s licence at the time, she would have to commute via taxi.

To make things more convenient for those involved, the committee proposed building a tandoor oven at nearby R.V. Burgess Park because of the area’s large South Asian community.

The oven’s operation and maintenance would be overseen and managed by the committee through a long-term agreement with the city, but groups or individuals could also use the oven for events by requesting a permit through parks, forestry and recreation.

Tandoor ovens are large stainless steel structures with a clay pot or oven inside. It burns charcoal or dry seasoned hardwood, while the food, such as naan bread and tandoori chicken, is lowered into the oven via the top opening.

The city is working on a policy for outdoor ovens in city parks outlining how future requests to build outdoor ovens, including the application process, general design and construction guidelines and safety requirements, would be dealt with.

The draft policy stipulates any applicant for a new outdoor oven in a city park must provide funds to cover all costs. The Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee raised $4,700 in funds through a grant from the city’s Clean and Beautiful City initiative, Ali said.

She said they received the grant because the city saw the proposal as a means of revitalizing the park. Ali said when she first arrived in Canada three years ago, she was shocked when she saw the park.

“When I came here, the park was in a really bad condition,” Ali said. “I was questioning myself ‘am I in North America?’ ”

The park has now turned into a focal point for the community, partly due to the annual fair the women’s committee holds, Ali said.

“It’s heavily being used during the summer months when the weather is good,” she said. “It’s the only open accessible green space in Thorncliffe.”

She said she hopes the addition of a tandoor oven will encourage more residents to feel a sense of ownership over the park.

“We really want to turn this into a kind of community hub,” she said.