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There's nothing like outdoor skating
A project of CELOS
posted March 21, 2016
All the outdoor rinks are now closed for the season.
To read about the problems that challenge the city's outdoor rinks -- and some easy fixes -- see this CityRinks 2016 Outdoor Rinks Report. It was presented at city hall on April 13, with this deputation.
A summary of the meeting outcome is here.
The motions are here.
Some community letters in support of the report are here.
Find your outdoor rink
What makes rinks run well? See our animation.
City Skating programs
Information gathered from Toronto.ca
For drop-in hockey and shinny times, see this schedule (shows arenas as well as outdoor rinks): drop in hockey and shinny.
For pleasure skating, see this schedule (shows arenas as well as outdoor rinks): leisure skating.
For women's shinny see this scheduleWomen's Shinny
Cityrinks Lists of Interest
For the past thirteen years, our small charitable public space group, the Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS), has run a website called cityrinks.ca. It deals with Toronto’s unusually large number of compressor-cooled outdoor ice rinks (53), most of them municipally owned. More recently, our website has also documented a variable number of natural ice rinks, both community-built and on frozen water. We don’t write about indoor arenas. By now, this website is a richly-detailed archive of ice-making and skating and winter sociability in Toronto. We offer this report to share what we feel are the current challenges to the outdoor rinks, and what solutions are available. We'll start with the summary list, and then back it up with the detailed stories.
Challenge: low attendance at many rinks
Fixes: make rinks more comfortable, have family-friendly social spaces, add snack bars, skate lending, better publicity, outreach e.g. to schools, places of worship, agencies with newcomer groups etc.
Challenge: rinks that have few public hours or are not well known in their neighbourhoods
Fixes: increase drop-in hours for rinks that are low, set up skate lending, put in direct phone lines for better communication.
Challenge: environmental, i.e. too much energy use relative to number of skaters
Fix: modify outdoor rink season to fit the sun (return all but Nathan Phillips and Greenwood rinks to mid-November/first-Sunday-in-March)
Fixes: use staff better, set up skate lending and food for income generation
Challenge: insufficient and uninteresting workload for staff
Fixes: restructure the job descriptions to be broader and more challenging, require better performance (e.g. get ice in on time at beginning of season, run more varied programming), allow staff to collaborate, acknowledge and reward successes
Challenge: central one-size-fits-all management
Fixes: experiment with modified local outdoor rinks boards of management, 50/50 decisions between staff and rink friends e.g. for timing of season, hours of operation, permits, programs. Evaluate according to user numbers
The City of Toronto outdoor rink website says that 36 of the outdoor rinks will open on Nov.28. 14 others will open on Dec.5.
Both city hall (Nathan Phillips) and Harbourfront had plenty of ice already by Nov.23. That's because they started doing their night-time floods on Friday or Saturday, seven days before opening day. None of the other 35 city rinks started their ice-making before Nov.24 -- four days before the rinks were supposed to open.
In Etobicoke, there were some 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. ice-making shifts. So they already had some ice thickness on Wednesday morning. Some downtown rinks (for example, Ramsden) were just starting to put water down on Wednesday evening -- three days before opening day! -- and it looked like the staff all went home at 11pm. So on Saturday, many rinks may not be open, or if they are open, they'll have very rough ice. The blame will probably be shifted onto the weather, or even onto global warming -- not on substandard technique, which is the real problem.
Warm weather in late November has not been unusual historically -- see our almost-70-year temperature chart. Even so, for many years, the City of Toronto's municipal outdoor ice rinks successfully opened mid-November, after four days of night floods (no longer the practice). They always closed on the closest Sunday to March 1, when outdoor ice is no longer practical because the sun gets too high.
LeFrak Ice Rink in Prospect Park NYC has been open since October 31.
But whatever collective knowledge there was about ice-making in the 1990's seems to have faded out. Thursday November 26 was cloudy but the high was 15 celsius. It would have been good to have a bit more ice, and it would have been good, also, if that ice had been laid down and frozen in thin sheets instead of two or three massive floodings on Wednesday (that's what happened at many of the downtown rinks). "Many thin layers" is the standard. Pointing the hose straight down so that the water breaks up the new ice is not the standard. But that's also what happens a lot.
In the evening of Nov.26 it was still 15 degrees, but at Dufferin Rink the rink staff came around 8 pm and gave the rink a heavy flooding. So at 9 pm it was still mostly water. Meanwhile the forecast calls for lots of rain overnight and tomorrow in the daytime.
Is it possible that, after all these years of skaters trying to promote better ice-making, many of the next round of staff still somehow don't get how ice is made on compressor-cooled cement?
From: CUPE Local 79 <email@example.com>
Date: February 10, 2016 at 6:46:21 PM EST
To: Local 79 members
Subject: Bargaining update: Raise the stakes - Take your breaks!
Reply-To: CUPE Local 79 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CTV News: "Skating Ban to be lifted at High Park's Grenadier Pond"
"For city hall, $200,000 for rinks is a stretch." Globe column by Marcus Gee. Some excerpts:
Comment from CityRinks: There is a fourth option: do some better housekeeping of the outdoor rinks program.
(1) Open the rinks as soon as the sun is low and people are excited about winter (mid-November).
(2) Turn the rinks into more hospitable places, so that they’ll get maximum use during the skating season. That includes keeping the change rooms and washrooms open on all the stat holidays, and having more skate rentals. Staff can move the focus from rule-enforcement to fostering people’s enjoyment of skating, of the outdoors, and of wintertime neighbourhood sociability.
(2) Then close the rinks when the sun gets too high for good ice, fuel costs go through the roof, and attendance drops off anyway (early March).
Globe editorial "Skating rinks are an essential service."
Globe: "Toronto moves toward making more outdoor rinks available." Excerpts:
Globe: "Last-minute donation needed to extend Toronto's skating season." Excerpts:
The Star: editorial "Toronto should find money to keep its outdoor ice rinks open."
The Star: "Corporate donors keeping 12 rinks open"
The Star: "Eleven Outdoor rinks will remain open until March 16"
The Star -- Councillor Sarah Doucette will ask staff for a report
The Star - a story about writer Richard Sanger's yearly adventures on Grenadier Pond
CBC story and poll about skating on the pond.
National Post editorial about skating on Grenadier Pond
"Get out there and skate" by Peter Kuitenbrouwer.
Star editorial about skating and tobogganing
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
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 ollected 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
Toronto has more outdoor compressor-cooled rinks than any city in the world - 52. But our civic knowledge of the physics of ice maintenance hasn't kept pace with our collective rink wealth. Many people seem to find it amazing, even shocking, that outdoor rinks can be skateable when the air temperature is above freezing, as high as 11 or even 15 - during the low-sun months.
What's the surprise? Collectively, as taxpayers, we spend about $500 a day at each rink to fuel the compressors that cool the rink pad. The rink compressors vary between 100 and 200 horsepower each. You can hear their noise through the compressor-room doors at the sides of the buildings. These compressors push a brine (salt water) solution through a big tank of cooling ammonia, and then out into the extensive grid of PVC pipes underneath the concrete floor of the rink. The cold liquid brings the entire big concrete slab to well below freezing, so any water that's put on the surface of the rink pads sets up as ice right away. The brine liquid in the pipe grid circulates back into a large pipe in the "header trench" right next to the building, underneath where everybody stands when the zamboni is doing ice maintenance. From there the brine gets pushed back into the compressor room, where it passes through the freezing-cold ammonia tank, and out again into the pipes under the concrete, and so on.
The only serious match for this powerful cooling system is the sun. In the months on either side of the December 21 winter solstice, the sun is very weak. It doesn't get to spend very much time above the horizon, and that suits the compressors just fine. By March, though, the sun is getting much higher in the sky, and the compressors labour to keep the ice frozen at minus 4.
Even on a sunny day at the end of February, when the air temperature is minus 8, the ice gets really mushy near the reflective boards, and a bit soft in the middle. The compressors are losing ground as the sun prepares to bring on spring and summer. But on a low-sun Monday in November at 11 degrees, a thin film of water forms on top of solid ice, and the shinny hockey and pleasure-skating are brilliant.
It's not only rink users whose rink literacy is in some need of upgrading. The city's rink staff are also confused. In our travels around the city's outdoor rinks, we have heard some zamboni drivers say in low-sun November that they can't make ice because the temperature is above zero. Over the years, the city's Parks management has blamed a multitude of ice-making sins on the temperature, global warming, etc. Convenient - but most of the time, not true. The compressor-cooled rinks can do their job, and having all those rinks can take some of the sting out of the dark months of winter for Torontonians. But if the zamboni staff tell you that their zamboni sinks into the mush in early March, you'd better believe them -- or just take a look yourself.
Rink-related injury claims against the City of Toronto, 2010 to 2014
Many of Toronto's 52 compressor-cooled municipal outdoor rinks are bare-bones sports facilities, but some are also important wintertime social spaces for their neighbourhoods. People expect to meet acquaintances there, to chat and catch up on news as well as skating together. Double-pad rinks are more likely to have this function, since pleasure-skating is anytime there, not only in restricted time slots. A few single-pad rinks have also become social spaces, either because of a particular location in a neighbourhood or because of programs (such as a weekly community supper) that maximize the friendship possibilities of the rink.
Double-pad rinks that are also neighbourhood social spaces (to widely varying degrees): Rennie, High Park, Dufferin, Wallace, Harry Gairey, Otter Creek, North Toronto Memorial, Hodgson, Ramsden, Dieppe, Greenwood.
Harbourfront's Natrel Rink (not municipal) is both an entertainment venue and a social space where friends often arrange to meet.
The wintertime social meeting-up function of rinks needs to be better recognized, and fostered, than it is at present.
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. This list supplies the fundamentals of ice making.
Contact cityrinks.ca at email@example.com to :
Contact the City of Toronto