Parks Toronto

A failure to communicate: a small, but meaningful example of the terrible messaging during this pandemic

On November 4, signage scattered around Allan Gardens leads visitors to locked doors

The ongoing pandemic, to quote the prime minister, “really sucks.” Ontario has been subjected to various levels of lockdowns and restrictions for nearly eight months now as COVID-19 case counts continue to be high. Restaurants, bars, cinemas, and gyms are currently closed in Toronto, as are most other indoor venues. Many of us are — if we’re lucky — working from home, but shut off from meaningful socializing from family, friends, colleagues, and allies. Many are left unemployed with few job openings out there. Those still working in factories, warehouses, public institutions, kitchens, and stores face increased pressures without many of their supports.

That leaves only a few outlets for selfcare: the support of immediate family, outdoor exercise, and passive entertainment such as streaming shows and movies online. Though I am working on several interesting projects here at home, I can attest that Zoom calls, Facebook chats, and occasional phone-calls are no substitute for in-person social interaction. Regular walks have been essential to my mental health, which has suffered during the pandemic. With so much construction in my neighbourhood, there has been one nearby oasis: the conservatory at Allan Gardens.

Sadly, that’s no longer an option, and I found that out the hard way. Though it is a minor complaint given the much larger failure to control the virus here in Ontario and properly communicate important public health information and advice, it’s just a microcosm of the mixed messaging from all levels of government that we have been enduring since February.

“Urgent notice” – anyone who continues past the signs directing visitors to the designated entrance to the Allan Gardens Conservatory is greeted with this notice indicating that the building is closed until further notice

In August, while Toronto was in “Phase 3” (meaning that restaurants, bars, and banquet halls were permitted to open with restrictions), my partner and I did visit the conservatory, which was very well managed. Parks staff monitored the entrance and exit, a one-way path through the greenhouses was well marked, with plenty of friendly signage reminding visitors of the rules. The limited hours — from noon to 4 pm — ensured that staff were on hand.

“Maskies are the New Selfies” – Allan Gardens, August 2020

It was very disappointing, then, after going on a walk recently and finding the entrance closed. Furthermore, despite the “urgent” notice, there was no explanation for the closure, nor was there a date indicating the time that the closure took effect.

Contradictory signs right next to each other

With the cold weather coming, we need safe places to walk, to refresh our minds and get a bit of exercise. It just seems odd that the city tolerates overcrowded TTC buses (while doing nothing to enforce its face covering rules), that malls and most shops are allowed to stay open, that schools are reopened, and now with restaurants and bars are set to reopen, yet simple pleasures such as the Allan Gardens greenhouses are shut tight.

I can live with the disappointment. What I cannot continue to tolerate is all the mixed messaging going on.

Another sign posted in the Allan Gardens Conservatory, November 4, 2020

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