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Rink news bulletins, 2008-2009

April 8, 2009

Dear outdoor rink supporters,

This is NOT an announcement of the reopening of the outdoor rinks today, despite the chilly weather.

This is to let you know that, with the encouragement of City Councillor Janet Davis, in the past week there have been two friendly meetings between CELOS (which runs the website) and City staff. One of the meetings included the new Parks director, Andy Koropeski. Outdoor rinks are under him. The outcome of the conversations so far is that there will be a nuts-and-bolts meeting soon, about - the current two-tier outdoor ice maintenance arrangements (twice the staff hours at Etobicoke and North York single-pad hockey rinks versus Central Toronto) - the scarcity of free drop-in skating (including shinny hockey) at North York outdoor rinks, and (to a lesser degree) in Etobicoke.

Also, General Manager Brenda Patterson has said she will revisit the contentious city policy requiring mandatory helmets for adult shinny hockey. This will need public input before the start of next rink season.

And city staff say that updates about day-to-day ice conditions will be much more easily available next season.

This is a good time for some compliments to Councillor Davis and city staff for responding to all those e-mails they got from many of you rink supporters. If you don't want to make up your own letter, here's a cut-and-paste option:

As a supporter of outdoor ice rinks I want to thank you for following up on our requests for improvements. We look forward to seeing the results next season. These rinks are a wonderful civic resource and your work is appreciated!

Send to: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected].

Jutta Mason

March 9, 2009

Dear outdoor rink supporters,

As you will know by now, on Friday March 6 the City shut down all outdoor rinks except Nathan Phillips Square, after a day of 16 degrees celsius.

On the same day, a letter arrived from the City Clerk's office, , saying that City Council had voted in favour of opening the same fourteen rinks earlier next season, i.e. on November 21 instead of (for some of them) December 5. Earlier opening has been one of the goals of outdoor skaters for years. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong re-introduced that motion after it seemed to have already been lost: Dufferin Grove park March newsletter. So it passed --an unexpected score!

All the letters you wrote to Councillor Davis and to Andy Koropeski (new Parks Director) also seem to have borne fruit. I've been told that an invitation to meet with City management about outdoor rinks is soon forthcoming.

With spring on everyone's mind, rinks no longer feel like an urgent issue. But the distance to the next skating season is always shorter than expected (time flies), and I'm hoping that the very inequitable ice maintenance between central Toronto and all other rinks, and the very limited public drop-in use in North York outdoor rinks, can be addressed before next winter.

If you feel like doing your bit to "put the rinks to bed," the best thing you could do is send me an e-mail summarizing the good and the bad at your local rink this winter. I'll be contacting some of you individually as well (if you wrote to me about a particular problem, and I didn't hear back from you to let me know if it was resolved -- follow-up is everything!)

During my winter rink diary observations (example:February 17-24? ), I saw a lot of people having a really good time. What a great thing it is to have these 49 winter rinks as one of our civic treasures -- even more so now, as ever more people have to get by with less income. If outdoor rinks are places where friendship can grow, they can be one of the public spaces that make the current troubles a bit easier to bear. And take the sting out of winter.

Jutta Mason

February 22, 2009

Dear rink supporters,

After deputing at City Hall about the rink season on Feb.6, and meeting with the chair of the "Community Development and Recreation Committee" on February 20, I see more than ever that the outdoor rinks truly do NOT have a champion at City Hall, and they truly DO NEED one. Because of the budget pressures bound to come with the continuing financial sag, that's even more pressing. How to find her/him?

I'm getting pretty tired of this search, but still have a little effort left. If work and wages are going to become scarcer, it would be good (and cheap) at least to be able to go to the outdoor rinks and skate/play shinny/drink hot chocolate/catch up with your neighbours/enjoy your kids/clear your head. Not possible if the rinks are in bad shape.

Here's my report, first, about the February 20 meeting which all your e-mails caused to happen, with Councillor Davis. I had sent a suggested agenda on February 11, but when I got there last Friday I found that most of my questions were out of order. Councillor Davis said that she only deals with recreation matters, and rinks are carved up to fit into three different administrative sections. The issues around inequitable ice maintenance between different rinks were not Recreation issues, she said -- they belong to Parks and would properly be dealt with at that committee. When I told her that last year, the chair of the Parks Committee (Paula Fletcher) had taken our rink report off her agenda because (she said) the jurisdiction over outdoor rinks had been transferred to the C.D. and Recreation committee, Councillor Davis said she had not been aware of that and would have to check into it. Here are the minutes that the Councillor's office sent after the meeting.

So the only items in the agenda that were addressed at the meeting were
1. the extremely limited public (free) access in some of the North York outdoor rinks. A phone call during the meeting resulted in shinny hockey access increased to half the non-prime, weekday hours before 3.30, still none on weekends.

2. the final item in the agenda, about future revenue targets for outdoor rinks. Councillor Davis asked me not to publish her response, so you'd have to e-mail me individually if you want to know what she said.

February 13 2009

E-mail from Janet Davis: Thank you for the detailed list of proposed discussion items for our meeting. I will discuss these with PF&R staff in preparation for the meeting, and determine the best way to deal with them. I look forward to seeing you next week!

February 9 2009

City Councillor Janet Davis, the new chair of the City Hall committee in charge of outdoor rinks (among many other things), has agreed to meet with two people from on February 20. Here is the agenda.

January 30, 2009

Hello rink supporters,

1. The good news: thanks to all of you (so many!) who wrote to Councillor Davis. She has replied to the letter (attached) and said she would meet, but it can't be soon (the City budget meetings are imminent). We wrote back and said it would be fine to wait, as long as the meeting takes place within the current rink season (i.e up to March 15), and preferably at a rink instead of City Hall.

2. The dicey news: Recreation staff at Dufferin Rink and the other two Ward 18 rinks have a special rule applied only to them: they are not to communicate directly with the Parks zamboni drivers about rink ice maintenance. All communication must go through the Parks supervisor. Aah, silos. And maybe too much communication between rec staff and What military secrets need protection?

I'll keep you posted, especially if we find a way to all pull together, city staff and citizens, to get the maximum good from one of our wonderful civic resources -- the outdoor rinks. I've just sent our last year's Outdoor Rinks booklet to Councillor Davis, at the request of Ward 18 City Councillor Adam Giambrone' office. It's kind of a fun read, IMO, and a quick one, with nice pictures.

Jutta Mason

January 28 2009

E-mail: subject line: need your help: and please forward to all your skater and shinny hockey friends has asked for a meeting with City Councillor Janet Davis, the new chair of the committee responsible for outdoor rinks, to discuss the lopsided staffing and other citywide rink problems that need addressing. (See the attachment here for the actual letter). Today, after many e-mails from skaters, she replied, saying yes, but she doesn't know yet when she has time.

In case outdoor rinks fall off the radar again (as they did two years in a row), it would be a big help if you could add your voice (e-mail) to the underline my request for a timely meeting: [email protected], cc [email protected]. If you want to cut and paste:

Dear Councillor Davis, our outdoor rinks are a great resource and need your help. I would like to add my voice to the request by Jutta Mason of to meet with you as soon as possible, before the rink season is over, to discuss the rink issues raised in her letter, and possible remedies.

Thanks, dear skaters!!

January 9, 2009

Response to a letter from shinny hockey player Maria Gervais (her letter is below):

Hello Maria, I'm very sorry to hear about the state of Withrow Rink and its impact on women's shinny last night.

As far as I can understand it, a big part of the problem here is the inequality in both staffing and equipment between different parts of the city. The City spends around $4 million per season in direct costs to run the outdoor rinks, so there's lots of funding allocated. But a couple of years ago somebody downgraded 10 of the 11 central Toronto single-pad rinks to "minor" rinks The 9 single-pad rinks of the same size and type in Etobicoke and North York .are rated as "major" rinks. That means that Et.and NY single-pad rinks have on-site re-surfacing operators for 72 - 112 hours a week, and on-site ice maintenance equipment (ploughs and ice resurfacers), while the central Toronto single-pad rinks like Withrow have maintenance staff at the rinks for 7 - 21 hours a week, and no on-site equipment. The travelling ice resurfacers for the flying crew are often broken and plows seem to be in short supply.

I wrote to the acting general manager, Brenda Patterson, about this problem on December 16 and again on December 22. After the first letter she replied: "Staff is pleased with the availability and assignment of equipment and believes it is more than sufficient to support the needs program across the city." The second letter got no response. (Full text: Cityrinks Correspondence page)

I'm not sure what a "needs program" is, nor who decided on the staff and equipment allocations, but it seems clear from what we're hearing that problems such as the one you've described are very common in the central rinks. Management staff may be "pleased," but skaters are not.

I've cc'd Ms.Patterson and some of the rink management and supervisory staff on this. Hopefully she'll soon begin to see that she needs to help her staff to address this situation.


P.s. I have recently been told that I should be directing rink questions to the City's media office, NOT asking rink staff directly. Staff are being asked to sign the city's media policy statement to show they agree not to give me any "insider" information, i.e what's not working. And posters giving the web address have been ordered removed at some locations. -- Trying to persuade the City to run the rinks better is a strange struggle.

Letter from shinny player Maria Gervais I went to Withrow Park last night in hopes that there would be enough bodies for spirited game of shinny as when I initially drove by there were no skaters on the rink, much to my surprise there were about 10 skaters waiting in the rink house. They weren't allowed to on the ice to skate as there was a couple inches of snow (pond like conditions) and in dire need of a hard scrape/flood. I noticed the frost build-up along the boards is getting bad and could pose a serious problem later in the season if this cold snap continues.

The rink attendants said they dispatched the flying squad at 3pm to service the rink, as of my arrival shortly after 6pm, there was still no call back from city dispatch. This same discussion was being had with the rink staff/patrons as more and more ladies showed up to skate only to be disappointed.

I left the rink at 6:45 after waiting around in vain in hopes of the flying squad making a timely arrival, and there were still MORE women showing up to play, I would say there was at least 20 women turned away. Why are there 2 rink attendants on site getting paid to sit around on the tax payer's dime when the rink apparently hadn't been safe enough to use for AT least 2 days?! Talk about a ridiculous waste of money!

November 15, 2008

Two pieces of news:
1. Harbourfront had advertised that their rink would open today, Nov.15, but they changed their minds (although the web site info hasn't changed) and decided to open a week later instead. The rink staff told me "too warm." By way of comparison, Central Park opened their rink Oct.23. The staff there told me that they've lost 5 days since then, but that most days the ice has been great. (Note, by the way, that they offer a special outdoor ice rental rate of $1500 for making marriage proposals: marriage proposal set-up -- unique New York).

2. Yesterday, the Community Development and Recreation Committee of City Council considered a staff report on extending outdoor rink hours for 14 rinks into mid-March: Outdoor Artificial Ice Rink Season. The staff report says that two extra weeks for fourteen rinks will cost an extra $179,000. The report also says that at those locations that stayed open during last March "there were 25 to 40 skaters on each rink per day.....During most days in March, the sunlight and warmer temperatures deteriorated ice conditions at all locations." Their conclusion? Parks management recommends that the 14 rinks be kept open until mid-March every year from now on. No, really. (This year, March break comes later in the month, so despite the extended season, the outdoor rinks won't be open for the school break.)

To find the money to keep these 14 rinks open to mid-March, the order has already gone out to close all the neighbourhood outdoor rinks on Christmas Day (no, Janey, you can't try out your new skates) and to have shortened hours on all the other winter stat holidays including Family Day.

We found out about this item on very short notice and so couldn't rearrange anyone's schedule to attend the committee meeting at City Hall. When we hear what the councillors decided, we'll post it on the cityrinks website front page.

If you'd rather keep your neighbourhood rink open on Christmas Day, and have the normal skating times on stat holidays, one possibility is to speak to your Councillor about doing a trade. Schedule your local rink to close by March 1, when the sun gets too high, in return for staying open the maximum hours every day until then, including on winter holidays when the weather suits rinks and the ice is lovely. It's worth a try.

Jutta Mason

October 23, 2008

Hello, rink supporters, it's getting chilly and soon the rinks will reopen for the season. The outdoor rink season began today in New York City, at the Wollman Trump Rink in Central Park . When I called, they told me their ice is great. Harbourfront plans to open on Nov.15. City Hall will follow a week later on Nov.22, then Dufferin, Rennie, Mel Lastman and Albert Campbell rinks on Nov.29, then all the rest will finally open their ice on December 6.

Timing of rink season:
City management is perhaps still traumatized by the "keep the rinks open" media storm last March, with the Toronto Sun's killer headline "Pink Finks Sink Rinks." Many more outdoor rinks are scheduled to stay open to mid-March this year. In other words, so far, the climate/angle of the sun/rink usage research we did for the past three years INFORMATION BULLETIN, MARCH 2008 seems not to have made much of an impression at city hall. But energy costs and compressor stress may yet force the city to shift the rink season back to its proper time, linked to the season and the sun (i.e. open early in November, close at the end of February). Please pass this link along to your City Councillor or anyone else, to keep spreading the word. (You could be skating today, the light is so low already and it's bracingly cool!)

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Content last modified on December 23, 2008, at 05:40 AM EST