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Why bake ovens? Over the years, CELOS has found that these small brick or cob structures bring forth delicious pizzas, bread, and new friendships. They are also a magnet for stories of distant places, for community gatherings, and -- more recently -- for regulations. The following sections present the stories, photos, journal entries, newspaper articles, policies, and other documents that CELOS has collected about bake ovens.
Toronto boasts a number of permanent bake ovens in neighbourhoods across the city. Most are in public parks, although a few are on private property. Each oven has a different story of how it got built and who built it, and each has its own unique programs. All of the ovens on the list below share the goal of being a public resource. We've collected the city government's permit pages here.
In 1995, Dufferin Grove got the first outdoor oven located in a Toronto park. Jutta Mason had that idea as the result of watching this little film at the Toronto Reference Library in 1994. The film was made in 1983 and it's mostly about trains and port wine in the Douro region of Portugal. Near the end (at 35.10 minutes) there is an eyeblink scene about a communal bake oven in a small northern village, revived at the urging of a radical priest. Dufferin Grove Park is in a neighbourhood that has a lot of Portuguese immigrants. An outdoor, communal bake oven seemed like a good thing to try here....read more
Good oven-building advice from our baker friend in Virginia, Heather Coiner
See also: Oven Construction
If an oven is not locally built but imported from a distance and has designers involved, the cost can go up very high: new Christie Pits oven ordered from France, cost $153,800.
Ovens like this one can be made in an hour with loose bricks and angle iron to hold the roof.
Others, like this one, can last a long time even though they are made without mortar.
lframe% | John Polanyi schoolyard has a barrel oven made with cob
What is Tandoor? An enhanced cooking fire
It is an open air cooking device traditionally used in many cultures ranging from the Middle East to Central and South Asia. In a tall clay pot with a fire at the bottom, insulated to keep the heat in, various foods such as bread, grilled/roasted meat and vegetables are made.
The tandoor oven was installed at R.V.Burgess Park in 2013 and first used regularly in 2014.
Here is a short Youtube video showing naan bread being made at the park in September 2014. (:/announce:)
Anna Hill from Together Project came by to pick up some sweets for tomorrow's picnic at Dufferin Grove Park. There will be Syrian families coming to meet with their friends. The next day Anna sent some pictures of the picnic.
Yo Utano, who carried out the CELOS guest baker project in 2010 and 2011, moved back to her home in Japan three years ago. In order to do a follow-up on public ovens in Toronto, CELOS was able to bring Yo back for three weeks in October. On a chilly Friday in early October, our friends from the Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee lit the fire in their park tandoor and had a show-and-tell bake session with us. Our friends are: Zakia Rasa, Sabina Ali, and Asiya Sohail. They brought another cook as well.
June 26, 2011 CELOS purchased a portable Tandoor. The tandoor spent several years at Thorncliffe Park's R.V.Burgess Park, until the park got its own tandoor. Then CELOS brought the tandoor back to Dufferin Grove and continued lending it out from there. Read more...
In 2011 there were eight or nine outdoor bake ovens in Toronto, only a few of which were used regularly throughout the year. The goal of the guest baker project was to learn what assets and challenges each oven has. Each story comes from a baker visiting and baking in the oven, often at a community event where the bread was then served. The process of arranging an occasion and actually baking unfolded according to the characteristics of the oven, logistics of baking, and politics that surrounded it. We hope that our findings help the future use of ovens as well as the building of any new ones. We created a chart from the guest baker project here: Bake Oven Chart
The first guest gig was on Dec.4 at Riverdale Farm, for their annual "Home for the Holidays" event. Yo was the baking assistant to Jeff Connell, and there was a preparatory meeting at Jeff's new restaurant, The Woodlot. Then as Yo visited each oevn she wrote up the story. You can find out about Yo's experiences at the links at the top of this page.
Here is a youtube post that Yo Utano found, called Uzbec cuisine. Cooking with fire, in all its glory!
Our original inspiration for temporary ovens was the work of Bread and Puppet Theatre, who have been doing what they call "cheap art" in New York, Vermont, and many other countries since the 1960's. Their performances always involve puppets and bread, and when they are not at their farm with their own ovens, they build ovens with whatever materials come to hand.
-- the baking day set-up by baker-artist Wendy Trussler at Healey Willan Park in 2002
In 2007, as part of the "Show on the Road" grant, CELOS helped run pizza events in other neighbourhoods using a temporary bake oven. The links below connect to each of these events.
Those ovens were basically a box made of bricks piled on top of each other, with one side left open. Once all the materials are taken to a site, it takes about an hour to assemble the oven. The design was meant to create the simplest oven possible, so that people could enjoy the experience of baking on a brick hearth in their neighbourhood without (or before) going through the much more involved process of building a permanent oven.
The bricks for this oven came from an industrial site that had a lot of foundry bricks left over. Everything has been re-purposed in a most ingenious way. The pizzas baked up in minutes and were every bit as good as those we bake in Dufferin Grove Park's] permanent oven. read more
The City of Toronto put in a new oven at Christie Pits last spring. It was purchased from France, and by the time it was installed it had cost the city $161,000 -- way higher than anything built before. By October 2016 it had only been used 5-6 times, so the cost to the city per pizza was pretty high :-)
To counter the idea that outdoor ovens are complicated and expensive, our group (CELOS) held an outdoor winter cooking lab for which we built an unmortared oven in between snowstorms in December, using found materials (mostly stacked bricks). In addition to what we were able to scrounge, we paid $17 for a piece of cement board for the hearth base and $89 for a ceramic fibre insulating blanket. On January 4, three ex-Dufferin Grove bakers used it to make pizza, sourdough bread, scones, pita bread, roasted vegetables, and ghee, all from the same firing. The quality, as far as we can see, is very good. read more
The official City of Toronto bake oven information page is here.
It appears that Parks management has made a new rule -- that all ovens must have an engineer's stamp. For this reason, only small pre-stamped pre-fab ovens have currently been approved for installation. Publicbakeovens recommends that community groups not try for such ovens, since they don't work well in public spaces.
This has not been stated directly, but the evidence seems to be there. For example, at Christie Pits the original oven, which was in good repair, was removed from its place in the fall of 2015 and placed at the side for apparent disposal. After some discussion, the oven was put back beside the footings for a new prefab oven. See Christie Pits oven correspondence.
In the case of Christie Pits the new oven was not small (although the actual hearth size was not much bigger). But the oven was imported from France and a large housing was made for it, Final cost: $161,000.
New rule: when there's a fire in the ovens, they have to be blocked off.
Reason: so that no passerby or child can jump inside. (Note: in 21 years of oven use, there has never been an injury to the public.)
Effect: On a bread baking day, the bakers have to tend each oven around 10 to 15 times per oven and per firing. That amounts to 20 to 30 times per oven per firing for the two ovens. That adds up to 40 to 60 times of the bakers moving the barricades on Wednesday and 40 to 60 times on Thursday. In addition to that they have to set it up - moving 2 heavy barricades to position them in front of each oven, and afterwards to put them away again.
Note: this new rule appears to be modeled on the Riverdale Farm oven rules. That oven no longer has public use.
The city carpenters devised rather ingenious gates, made of wood, with nice hinges in a barn style. The barriers could themselves catch fire if there were sparks (which there are not), and during baking the gates are left open to give the bakers access -- which means that when there's an active fire in the oven, anyone could still put their hand in the fire. Happily, people don't do that, not before and not now. And the wooden barriers look so much nicer than the metal ones.
Proposed City of Toronto Bake Oven policy: staff report
Response of bake oven users to the staff report: here
Commentary from Dufferin Grove baker Anna Bekerman:
The proposed bake oven policy does not adequately reflect the range of requirements that would foster community use.
Bake ovens can be used for private events like birthday parties, but they need some expertise (more than a BBQ). More commonly, bake ovens are used for a long list of open-to-everyone, community-based events (make-your-own pizza days, community suppers, potlucks, food preserving workshops, community baking, City councillors' community picnics, etc).
The success of community initiatives depends on:
- a) Collaboration with PFR staff. The amount of involvement from PFR staff would vary depending on the needs of any given community, from simply helping access water, kitchen space and bathrooms, to providing oven scheduling assistance, to providing staff. There needs to be clear language in the policy that supports collaboration.
- b) No fees for open-access community events, small as well as large. Open-access community-based initiatives are exempt from user fees in the proposed user fee policy here. If this exemption is ignored, fees will discourage involvement by smaller groups and individuals who are donating their time to provide a service to their communities.
- c) Coverage from the city's insurance. As open-access community-based park activities, these events should be covered by the city's volunteer insurance.
Now that last week's bake oven item at Parks and Environment has been deferred (thank you!) until your next committee meeting, could a couple of us come and see you with a little 15-minute presentation one day next week? We'd like to show you some pictures and a 7-minute video of bake oven users' commentary.
We'd also like to show you our alternative way of gaining revenue for the City through City-supported community use of bake ovens. At Dufferin Grove Park, during the last three months, bake ovens helped bring in over $35,000 ("everyone-welcome" pizza days, farmers' market bread baking, Friday night community suppers). All of this revenue was put back into the park programs: CELOS Financial records. We want to make sure that the City's bake oven policy explicitly enables such community uses, not mainly private birthday parties.
May we come and see you some time in the week of Sept.26 at a time that suits you? (I'll follow up this e-mail with a phone call to your staff.)
by the Parks and Environment Committee -- to charge fees to baker volunteers.
Here are some park oven baker reactions on Youtube: bake oven fees
Here's our deputation (it fell on deaf ears).
Here's our earlier response to the city's bake oven policy. It's in the same format as the policy so that the two documents can be compared more easily. Our approach was to maximize community oven use and stress the need for a collaborative relationship between City staff and bake oven users. This version was not accepted by staff and therefore not considered by the Parks Committee.
Here is our chart of bake ovens in use in 2011
Here is the city's 2011 bake oven policy
A year after the bake-oven policy was passed, here is the census of park oven use in 2012 in Toronto:
Christie Pits: 3 times
Edithvale: about 10 times (new oven, started mid-season)
Scadding -- between 8 and 12 times
Riverdale: 31 times
Dufferin (2 ovens) -- 161 times
New public ovens built according to the policy: 0
When City Council approved the new policy on Dec.1, 2011, they called for a detailed follow-up report from the PFR general manager two years later:
"City Council direct the General Manager, Parks, Forestry and Recreation, in collaboration with the community representatives, local stakeholders and councillors, to report back to the Parks and Environment Committee two years after implementation of the policy on how the details of the permitting, fees, construction and operations are working."
We have asked the Parks and Environment Committee whether this report has been scheduled for the December 6 meeting of the committee. No answer.
The Thorncliffe Tandoor oven was finally installed and used in the fall of 2013.
There was NO oven policy follow-up in 2014 at the Parks and Environment Committee.