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Oakridge residents say bench replacement ‘ripped up the spirit of Calgary’

They were handcrafted benches, ingrained with deep meaning for some dog walkers in the community of Oakridge.

The benches were installed by a local woodworker who frequented the park and noticed there was nowhere to sit and rest.

He built the first bench after a friend’s young Lab was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly disappeared from their regular walks.

“I started bringing him here when he was just seven weeks old and everybody just loved Winston. He was just a rock star,” said the pup’s owner, Paul Toon.

“Winston, Paul’s dog, was Bruno, my dog’s, best friend. We walked every day … and then he was gone,” said Simon Grabowski, the woodworker. “I wanted to do something for him. I figured, put a bench with him — right in his favourite spot.”

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“It said in memory of Winston,” Toon recalled. “It meant so much to me.”

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It was a sentiment that was echoed by community members, as five more benches were installed by Grabowski in the popular off-leash park.

But this spring, the City of Calgary removed them, citing safety concerns.

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“They came in here and ripped up the spirit of Calgary,” Grabowski said. “People loved them and one day I get a call from everybody in the neighbourhood saying, ‘They’re ripping up your benches. They’re taking them away.’”

The City of Calgary said in a statement that the benches were installed without approval.

“While we often work with artists to create unique infrastructure for public spaces, these installations were done without City awareness, as he did not contact us in any capacity,” it said.

“This was unfortunate, as the benches aren’t approved infrastructure for use in a public space. We have legal and safety concerns we must follow; having these requirements in place protects The City (and public dollars) from liability concerns and (most importantly) ensures benches and other items in parks meet current, and required safety standards.”

The city has replaced the benches with some standard park benches it said it had on hand in its inventory.

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The old ones are being held in storage and will be returned to community members, some of whom intend to auction them off for a local charity.

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