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City Hall is the only one of the city's outdoor rinks that's stayed open over the Easter weekend. At 6 pm it's in very good condition, especially compared to Harbourfront, which has also stayed open. Harbourfront is exposed to full sun but City Hall is not, and it shows. The ice is smooth and people look comfortable skating, not having to worry about tripping. Even so, the number of people are less than half what's usual on a sunny Sunday in winter. People are just tired of winter.
3 pm: About 30 - 40 people on the ice, many others sitting nearby. Lots of youth. The ice looked fine except for right at the edges and in the one corner where the sun shone -- almost all the rest of the rink was in shade because of the tall hotel across the street.
6:20pm There are forty people on the ice. Another twenty are sitting on the benches by the side of the rink. The ice is snowy and is melting in the corners, but people are able to skate without any problems.
3pm There are 60 people on the ice. Many are small children. The ice looks good.
1pm City workers are using a Zamboni and a front-end loader to clear the snow off the ice. A large group of children are sitting on the benches waiting to go on the rink.
The zamboni driver said, "I love this job so much." Good ice, and happy skaters.
The last day of Winterfest, with a remarkable fire display from France:
There was so much fire all over the square -- it looked beautiful but the smoke was pretty intense, and acrid. Happily, there was no one crying out, "stay back," or, "don't touch, you'll get hurt!" But the skate lineups looked like they'd last for an hour, so a little boy at the side set to work making a snowman. He said, "this is the first snowman I've ever made." His father said that's because they've been here in Canada for less than a year. He'd like his son to learn winter things like skating, and even to learn it himself, but the lineups at City Hall are too long.
And indeed the lineups were impressive. Nor was there very much food around -- but fire and food go together! Maybe on another occasion some of the good campfire cooks in the city will make a fire event around City Hall rink that also involves food.
But it was very impressive.
11 am: The ice maintenance supervisor says the ice is fine but the rink staff say it's snow-covered -- light snow since dawn, still falling. But they have their own zamboni....(?)
The ramp that lets the zamboni get onto the ice has been declared unsafe for skaters -- no more going down gradually, a straight step down or forget it.
3pm Low 10, high 15 celsius. There is a lot of water on the rink. The rink guard says anyone who falls is in for a good soaking. However, the ice underneath is hard and despite the warm weather there are 10 skaters.
10am: 8 skaters, no helmets. Great ice.
5.30pm: 70 skaters, few helmets. Good ice.
Diary entry by M. Monastyrskyj
Cold overcast day. Minus 1 celsius. Arrived at 12:15pm. The rink is busy but not too full. The ice is snowy and ready to be cleaned. There are two rink guards on the ice. At 12:35 they ask people to get off and when that's done, the Zamboni starts to clean and flood the ice. The driver is slow and careful. He does a good job. The flooding takes 15 minutes. One guard remains on the ice to make sure skaters stay off. (A Zamboni driver later tells me the guard is necessary, because people tend to treat the Zamboni as a toy rather than the potentially dangerous piece of machinery it is.) I count fifty people wearing skates standing on the side waiting to go back on.
After the Zamboni finishes its job, I put on my own skates. I change on the benches surrounding the rink as do most of the other skaters. The concrete benches on the south side are covered in snow. A lot of people just leave their shoes by the side, but some, including myself, put them in the lockers that are available for a quarter in the change room. The change room itself is just a narrow corridor with lockers on one side and a door to the employees room on the other. There is a long rubber mat, but it only extends half-way into the room. Half the floor is bare concrete. There is no room for chairs or benches. Even though there is barely enough room to sit, a few people do change on the hard floor.
The rink at Nathan Phillips Square is different than a typical neighbourhood rink. For one thing, it is larger. For another, there are no hockey boards. Also, and I wasn't ready for this, there is a one-foot drop from the side to the ice surface. I had to be careful getting on and off the ice. I had trouble the first time, because I wasn't used to it. I saw parents helping their young children get on and off. Also, some of the teenagers would jump onto the ice and the momentum would carry them into the middle of the ice. I saw a couple near-collisions when teenagers jumped onto the surface.
Overall, the ice is good. It's hard but not quite as smooth as I would have hoped. (It's possible my expectations are too high for an outdoor rink at this time of year.) Unfortunately, the ice was not cleaned for at least another three hours. (See below.)
There is now one rink guard on the ice. He appears to be wearing an iPod. Now and again a child without skates goes on to the ice. I see the guard politely tell one father that children can't go on without skates. The father listens. When another father asks the guard if he would mind taking a picture of him and his family, the guard obliges. The guard is sometimes there, sometimes not. At one point, I see the guard sitting on a bench talking on his cell phone.
In general, the skaters are orderly. A few teenagers are playing tag. Pretty much everyone else is skating in circles. The atmosphere is friendly and people are having a good time. Lots of smiling and laughing. Plenty of people on and off the ice are taking pictures. A middle-aged couple is holding hands. I saw one father skating around the ice with his young child on his shoulders. Fun for the child, but hardly safe. I didn't see the rink guard then.
The skaters are diverse: different ages, sexes and ethnic backgrounds. Some are experienced skaters, others seem to be trying on skates for the first time. (Skates can be rented at the rink. It costs $9 ($7 children) to rent skates for two hours. A credit card, driver's license or other government-issued ID is required as is a $40 cash deposit. Helmets can be rented for $5. Hats, gloves, socks and laces are on sale. Skate sharpening costs $5. Fast food is available from food trucks parked on Queen, south of the Square.)
I skated for three hours because I wanted to see whether my first impressions would hold up. They did. The number of skaters varied but the whole time I was there the atmosphere remained friendly. The opening ceremony of the City's Cavalcade of Lights celebration was on that evening and performers were doing sound checks while I was there. There was also music from the radio playing over loudspeakers on top of the building at the west end of the rink. The music from the radio wasn't very loud.
The ice quality, however, began to deteriorate because of the lack of cleaning. At about 3:30 I approached the Zamboni driver and asked him how often the ice gets cleaned. He says they try to clean it every two hours, but it depends. For example, when there's a special event like the Cavalcade of Lights opening ceremony, the number of people crowded onto the ice makes it impractical to clear the rink for the Zamboni. The driver told me he couldn't go on right then, because no rink guard was available to keep people off the ice. When I left the Square at 3:50pm, the ice still had not been cleaned.
The rink was full of snow at this point, and also full of skaters -- maybe a hundred or more. All staff had gone and the skate rental was closed but the lights were still on and people still looked like they were having a good time.