There's nothing like outdoor skating
A project of CELOS
posted March 17, 2014
Toronto has 56 outdoor Artificial Ice Rinks (real ice, but cooled by compressors) - 53 operated by the City, plus Harbourfront's Natrel Rink, the Don Mills Skating Oval, and Brickworks. No other city in the world has close to that many. Lots of stories to be told.
Find your outdoor rink
click for a map
What makes rinks run well? See our animation.
City Skating programs
For drop-in hockey and shinny times, see this schedule on toronto.ca (shows arenas as well as outdoor rinks): drop in hockey and shinny.
For pleasure skating, see this schedule on toronto.ca (shows arenas as well as outdoor rinks): leisure skating.
For Parent and child see this schedule on cityrinks.ca: Parent and Child Shinny
Cityrinks Lists of Interest
Toronto has many more outdoor compressor-cooled ice rinks than any other city in the world. That means we also spend much more to skate outdoors than other city in the world. According to Marcus Gee writing in the Globe, it costs us about $6 million a year to run those 52 outdoor rinks. When Mr.Gee did his daytime round trip of the rinks in February, he found many of them empty or with only a few skaters. There are more skaters in the evenings, and some rinks are well-programmed and therefore consistently busy. But even those well-used rinks have far fewer skaters in March than during the earlier months of winter.
Before the forced amalgamation in 1997 that jammed incompatible urban conglomarations all together into the new crazy quilt called Toronto, the outdoor rinks season more of less followed the rules of winter weather, including the angle of the sun. From the Toronto Archives, 1978: "With the exception of City Hall rink, which commences operation on the last Saturday of October and carries on until April, the artificial ice rinks are operated from November 15 until the first Sunday in March. Hours are 9 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. except 10 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. Sundays.”
Was there a yearly outcry when the rinks closed? The archive file doesn't show any. But over the last few decades it seems that Torontonians have lost their rink literacy -- they don't understand how compressor-cooled outdoor rinks work. The media and the elected representatives, even most skaters, make no fuss about late rink season openings or poor rink management, but when March arrives and there are some cold days, it's an easy moment for outrage. This year, once again, even with 17 outdoor rinks already scheduled to stay open, the "missing rinks" got their 15 minutes of fame.
If the additional 11 rinks only get 2700 visits altogether (a generous estimate) during those extra two and a half weeks of being open, that means a cost of $100 per skate. According to the instant rink experts among the politicians and the media, we should be able to cover that cost through our taxes from now on.
Well, why not? Toronto is rich, we don't have to be frugal, nor smart. If and when there's less money floating around, maybe we'll become smarter about the rinks.
Go see for yourself how many people are skating at your newly re-opened neighbourhood outdoor rinks today. Two? Six? Canadian Tire and Scotiabank have covered themselves with glory by donating $270,000 to keep 11 additional rinks in ice until mid-March. The Globe's confused editorial this morning says that community groups should emulate Dufferin Rink by setting up public private partnerships with "local community groups." There is no such partnership at Dufferin Rink. And this website, cityrinks.ca, has gathered years of evidence -- from outdoor rinks across the city -- that the long-running pre-amalgamation practice of running the rinks from mid-November until the end of February works the best. Not only does that practice recognize the folly of fighting the March sun with expensive compressors, it also takes account of skaters' inclinations. Winter is exciting in November, tedious in March. Even on the rare good-ice days in a normal March, the rinks have a small fraction of the attendance, while the compressors turn into energy hogs on days when the sun comes out to lick away at the ice.
Councillor Paula Fletcher's idea of having some scheduling flexibility is nice. Maybe it can be tried. But back in December, when new-immigrant ESL school classes in her ward were locked out of the change rooms at Monarch Rink (policy: the change room stays locked on weekday mornings), the same councillor took no steps to change that. Today Monarch Rink has perfect, open, empty ice. The schools no longer come, because their phys ed schedule has moved on. Flexibility would certainly have been good, back in December.
Toronto has far more outdoor compressor-cooled ice rinks than any city in the world. 34 have closed for the season -- that still leaves 17 open right across the city, plus Harbourfront makes 18.
18 open and free outdoor compressor-cooled rinks are still more than any other city in the world. Plus there are lots of natural ice rinks. Our cityrinks list is just the tip of the iceberg.
Most of the 17 rinks still open were not showing a lot of skaters today, nor the rest of this week either. Did any reporters or politicians come skating, or even come to check out more than one rink for a 10 minute visit? The fact is that by this point, many skaters have lost their enthusiasm for winter. Even when the ice is good (which it won't be as soon as the temperature approaches zero on sunny days in March), the rinks get far less use than in the early, excited part of winter.
But the "outrage" of closing outdoor rinks keeps on making good copy for the media. Nine years ago, the Toronto Sun ran a headline when the rinks closed at the end of February: "Pink Finks Sink Rinks." That's because City Council was supposedly leftist and stingy. Now we have an article in the Toronto Sun in which a mayoral candidate deplores any closures. The Toronto Star is a bit more balanced but not much.
There are many ways the outdoor rinks could be made better (see the Feb.13 blog). Keeping all of them open into March -- when so few people come to skate -- is not one of those ways.
A rink enthusiast wrote: "the helmet issue is all about access. The rink must be easily accessible to the community. Must must must."
Yes, access is the big issue. The city has posted rules. When the rules limit access, they should be changed.
Wheelchairs are allowed on the rink "if the supervisor agrees." But wheelchairs should be allowed on the rinks no matter what. The wheels can be easily cleaned of salt, which is one of the worries posted on the city's rules page. Staff can help make the experience a good one. Disabled children wearing their own therapeutic head protection should not switch that for a hockey helmet.
Strollers can be treated the same way as wheelchairs. Forbidding strollers to come on the ice is restricting access for people with young children -- not okay. Staff can help wipe down the stroller wheels, and get on the ice along with the parents if help is needed. Infants should not be required to wear hockey helmets if strapped into a stroller -- a helmet can hurt an infant's neck and head. The stroller is the baby's protective frame.
Change rooms: Some of the city's rinks keep the change rooms and washrooms closed all morning or (in the case of the smaller "tennis-court" rinks) all day every day. That means schools and families have a hard time (and everybody else too). Who wants to sit in the cold snow to change their skates, or to look for a tree to hide behind when washrooms are locked up?
This situation has been improving gradually, with Etobicoke in the forefront -- unlocking change rooms for warmth and washroom access, even when there are no staff on site.
Doors: Some rinks in Etobicoke got in the habit of keeping their front doors locked, without even a sign directing people to the back doors. People "in the know" would go to the back door, but newcomers would be confused or just go home. At West Mall Rink (the main rink in Etobicoke!) the front doors are right by the bus stop, but they are usually locked. People have to walk a long way around to the back doors, near the car parking lot.
At Giovanni Caboto Rink, the front steps were kept unshovelled and front doors were kept locked, for years. This has now been fixed, so people can come inside from the front.
Rink houses that are welcoming :
Many of the rink houses are cheerless and windowless, even scary. The message seems to be "hurry up and skate, then leave." Even change rooms that have windows and visibility toward the rinks are often depressing. Rink houses could, and should, be wintertime social spaces for their neighbourhoods.
Regent Park South Changeroom, nothing to do.
Some rink houses have been converted into social spaces. None of it costs very much. Sociable sitting areas provide access to neighbourhood people of all ages -- families meeting one another at the rink, youth hanging out, seniors who want to play cards -- whoever wants to be in a social space that includes skating but also more. A kitchen for snacks improve access for parents and caregivers and hungry shinny players, who don't have to interrupt their skating for longer than it takes to quickly refuel. Skate rentals provide access to newcomers who don't have their own skates, and also to families with growing children who can't afford to buy new skates every year.
Helmet rules: Mandatory helmet rules are rare at outdoor rinks in Canada, but they are in force at outdoor rinks in Toronto. They interfere with access in two ways:
(1) the parents of small children are forced to buy hockey helmets in addition to helmets they may already have (like bike helmets). Parents who don't comply are ordered off the rinks.
(2) shinny hockey players who choose not to wear body armour for pond hockey (non-contact) are ordered off some of the outdoor rinks. At those rinks, drop-in attendance has shrunk. Access is limited mainly to hockey leagues, with here and there a few hours of drop-in pleasure-skating.
At many rinks, the refusal of shinny hockey players to wear body armour (including helmets) has carried the day despite the official rules. So their access to the rinks has been maintained, although unacknowledged by managers at City Hall.
The City also runs three tuck shops for Shinny hockey gear at Dufferin Rink, Wallace Rink, and Campbell Rink includes sticks, pucks, tape, wax, skate tightener, skate file, and helmets for loan or to keep
The City of Toronto operates three snack bars at Dufferin Rink, Wallace Rink, and Campbell Rink. The fare is reasonably priced and includes hot chocolate, vegan soup and chilli, chocolate chip cookies and mini pizzas.
Do you have Rink Diary material to share?
If you have stories, pictures, rink condition updates, a family or community event, etc. to share about your local outdoor rink, send us the material at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll post it in the rink diaries (subject to editing of course).
an info bulletin about
Rink Shoveling for
Central Toronto outdoor rinks
What is shinny hockey? A little film clip from Campbell Rink.
Our rinks are community rinks. All members of the community are welcome to skate, play hockey, or meet their friends here. Rink staff would be pleased to answer any questions you may have about the programs and policies.
Please observe the following rules so that everyone can enjoy the rink:
In case of a serious disagreement between rink staff and a rink user about any of these rules, the staff may ask the rink user to leave the rink until the matter is discussed with the Recreation Supervisor. If the rink user refuses the staff’s request to leave the rink, a letter of trespass may result.
posted November 12, 2013
City of Toronto website links
For tournmanents, special events, and other one-time bookings, complete a One-Time Use Application, and submit your package to the permit office.
Helmets have lost some of their luster in both the medical and the sports media. It turns out that they have some important limitations in preventing concussions -- which is really their main purpose, as far as many skaters are concerned. The City of Toronto has hung on to its 9-year-old mandatory helmet policy, requiring all shinny hockey player to put on head armour. Little kids under 6 are also required to wear ONLY CSA-certified hockey helmets -- for pleasure-skating. Hockey helmets are designed to absorb impacts from pucks, sticks, and body-checking.
CELOS, the Centre for Local Research into Public Space (the sponsor of this website) has put collected quite a bit of material on all sides of the helmet question.
A Rink Safety Story
The approach of mandating hockey helmets for little kids effectively blocks families from using the rinks if they don't want to buy another set of helmets in addition to the bike (or trike!) helmets most kids already have.
Read this rink user's story
Noncompliance by shinny hockey players continues to rise citywide. The city’s inability to enforce its own policy should be a flag to rinks management.
It's time to revisit the helmet rules, but with a different procedure than the last time. Instead of a staff decision made at a closed meeting at City Hall, the city should welcome wide-ranging rink-user input. Read our latest letter from Kelvin Seow, City Manager for PFR, and the latest letters to and from Jim Hart, General Manager for the PFR, City of Toronto.
Click on correspondence for everything we've received from city management through the years.
Problems with the City's Helmet Policy
City Rinks Special Edition on Helmets
Additional Web links
About Rink Costs
Rinks By The Numbers is a Cityrinks Library section which is a start at extending our investigation of city rinks budgets (a bit over $3M per year). Much of this is a "public filing cabinet" with links to lots of material, including staff allocations, while we sort it out.
Here's an article from our 2007-2008 news: $250,000 more to zamboni the ice: why? See Outdoor ice maintenance costs.
Freedom of Information
Here's an idea of the type of work often involved in getting information from the city.
Women of Winter 2007-2008
About Running the Rinks
The City of Toronto is always behind Harbourfront in getting their rinks open. Here's why: Toronto Ice Rink Story The science is there, the history is there (pre-amalgamation), professionals say it can be done, Harbourfront is doing it, even volunteers have done it. Yet Toronto can't seem to manage the fundamentals of ice making.
See Correspondence 2011-2012 for insight into how ongoing issues are handled.
Here's a basic orientation: Basic "rink literacy".
Read up on the fundamentals of ice making.
The CELOS Outdoor Rink Report:
Prepared in 2007 by CELOS, funded by the Metcalf Foundation, this report provides outlines of city rink operational issues and their possible solutions. The report is still relevant today (2010-2011).
Monday Rink Reports:
Climate and Outdoor Rinks:
To determine the rink season (by ice condition), changes in temperature matter much less than the angle of the sun. Our weather researcher shows why: get the facts.
311 Rink Information Monitor:
Read about the City's rink hotline monitor and 311 rink information monitor.
Here's some material from the City's Archives.
We've kept journals from time to time, such as News 2008-2009 - Extending Artificial Ice Skating Season 2008-2009; Injury Risk at Ice Rinks investigated.
We have our rink news journals going back to 2005.
Remember the Save our rinks campaign from 2007?
There was a Rink Management Board proposal in 2006.
Report cards were created by this website for the 2007-2008 season.
Most Rink detail web pages have diaries to peruse. Some go back several years.
Christie Pits 1923
Contact the City of Toronto
The science is there, the history is there (pre-amalgamation), professionals say it can be done, Harbourfront is doing it, even volunteers have done it. Yet Toronto can't seem to manage the fundamentals of ice making.