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‘I figured I’d do something nice’: Carpenter builds benches for dog park, city takes them away

Carpenter Simon Grabowski wasn’t looking to spark controversy when he built six park benches for his favourite off-leash dog park this past fall.

“I had a month off and I figured I’d do something nice,” Grabowski said.

“I had some spare material, so I figured I’d help out the community.”

Grabowski says he was told in January the benches did not meet the city standards but never heard back on what changes were needed.

He learned the benches were being removed this past Thursday – as the removal was taking place.

“I got an email after the work started already that they’re on site, and they’ll give me a call when the work’s done. Then they left for the weekend,” Grabowski said.

“I’ve been stressing out all weekend. … Hopefully, they’re not damaged.

“Now, I get to take time off of work and go pick them up when I could have just took three of them home every day, cleaned them up and placed them away.”

In a statement to CTV, a city communications staffer wrote:

“The benches that were in the green space have now been replaced by new benches that meet city standards to ensure public safety and liability concerns.”

The statement goes on to say:

“Since last fall, we have been working closely with the bench maker on plans to replace the benches, which were placed last year without prior approval of the city.”

Grabowski’s benches were all meticulously handcrafted, each taking the professional carpenter more than a week to construct.

All bore a plaque marking them as special to the area.

One of the benches was placed in remembrance of a one-year-old Labrador named Winston, who died of cancer.

Winston’s owner, Paul Toon, is both shocked and upset the bench was removed.

“We’ll never forget Winston, thanks to Simon and the engraving he did on the bench. It was a special part of the park. So I really, really enjoyed them. And now they’re gone,” Toon said.

“I look at them (the new city benches). Utilitarian. They are something I think you would find in a prison. I understand it’s city property, but come on – a bit of common sense, please.”

Dog owner Lindy Gloor-Cox says Grabowski’s benches were well-used and never appeared to pose any safety risk.

“They were very sturdy benches and people sat on them. They used them. There were a lot of elderly people that come here, too, that really need a place just to stop, get their breath and then go chase the dogs again,” said Gloor-Cox, who maintains the park’s beauty is diminished by the replacement of the handcrafted benches.

“They were all different kinds of wood and as I said, individualized. They meant something.”

The city says it has taken the benches to a nearby parks facility, and Grabowski can retrieve them.

Grabowski says he will clean them up and refinish them.

After that, he aims to work with the community association to arrange a charity auction, selling off the benches to raise money for Wounded Warriors Canada, a charity that uses dogs in its treating of veterans and first responders affected with PTSD.

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