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Civic Impact

First Tandoor oven in a public space to open at R.V. Burgess Park

Over two years ago, Sabina Ali and her colleagues at the Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee (TPWC), had an idea: "Why not open a Tandoor oven in a public park?"

For Ali, building a Tandoor Oven--an open air clay cooking device--seemed the obvious expansion of the work TPWC had always done in the Thorncliffe neighborhood; namely working to animate RV Burgess Park, the neighbourhood's only public green space.

"We've always done lots of programming in the park," says Ali, project coordinator at TPWC. "A big part of our programming is these cooking fires we hold throughout the year. We usually have a least five. We invite residents  to come and try different foods and hot chocolate and we have games and activities for kids and adults."

"It's great. We are gathered, we are talking, we are rolling bread, we are exchanging ideas and information, and talking about the best dishes in our home countries. And it just made sense that we should build a tandoor oven, which is very common in many Middle East, Central, and South Asian cultures."

Throncliffe Park, which is one of Toronto's densest areas, is also home to a large community of new immigrants, hailing predominantly--though not exclusively--from South Asia.

But, says Ali, though the project "suited the neighbourhood perfectly," building the first public-space Tandoor oven in North America proved surprisingly complicated.

"We got lots of help from the Center for Local Research on Public Spaces [a Toronto-based non-profit] city staff, and councillors who helped us put things together and apply for funding. But it was surprising how long it took to get the proposal approved by the City. We had to keep changing polices. This is the first Tandoor oven in a Toronto city park and there were a lot of different things that had to be worked out."

After two years of back-and-forth, the leasing agreement has been finalized, the oven has been purchased, and TPWC is ready to show-off the oven to the Thorncliffe community.

This coming Friday (September 27th), the Thorncliffe Park Women's will celebrate the achievement of a new milestone: North American's first Tandoor oven in a public space.

From 3-5:00 p.m. in RV Burgess Park (behind Thorncliffe Library at 48 Thorncliffe Park Drive), TPWC will be deomonstrating the new oven by baking naan in the Tandoor and handing out samples. The tandoor oven opening coincides with TPWC's regular Friday Bazaar, where vendors from the neighborhood sell food, clothing, jewelry, henna and fresh produce in the park until 7:30 p.m.

While the oven will be open to the public, TPWC will monitor its use closely.

"For the first two years it will be us who will be coordinating the programing because the tandoor is a very different kind of oven and its very delicate: you have to have a set of skills to use that oven, but we will provide training for the community members who are interested in using the oven," says Ali. "We will draft some kind of permit application and create a monitoring system. It's a lot of work, but we will do it."

Writer: Katia Snukal
Source: Sabina Al, Project Coordinator, Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee 
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