See also Site Map
The rink is supposed to open tomorrow but we don’t know how it can. There were three nights of flooding, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but the ice looks very thin. And this morning the mechanics came and turned off one of the compressors. That makes it cheaper to run this place because it puts us under 100 horsepower and so we don’t need RCOs. This year, we won’t have an extra person with hardly any work to do at the rink for eight hours a day. Instead, the flying squad will come and do the ice at scheduled times and then leave again.
Good, but too soon! The technical services supervisor promised a month ago that they would keep both compressors running for the first week to build up a good layer of ice. But that's not what they did.
Rink opening day, but the ice looks poor. We need the second compressor to be running but there was no mechanic available to restart it until 2 p.m. Then when he came he found that the belts were defective and there were no spares. So he left again. But before he left he told me that even though he agrees the on-site RCO sits around most of the time, there’s a problem with the flying-squad method too. The zambonis don’t have springs, and the trailers they’re carried on don’t have springs either. The mechanic said that 70% of his repair jobs have to do with damage done to zambonis during transportation to and from the rinks. He thinks that the metal fatigue caused by this flying-squad business may make the machines a danger to the operators.
Every solution seems to bring along two new problems.
The ice was flooded at 8.30 this morning. The good news is that we were able to keep the rink open all day. The bad news is that by 9.30 a.m. we had to start putting up pylons. By 2 p.m. cement was showing along all north boards.
The flying squad dumped the snow they took off the ice right in front of the wood oven. So the rink staff had to shovel that big pile away before they could start the Sunday bread fire. A message?
There was no water put on the rink last night, none until this morning, 24 hours after the last one. So the ice is still really thin. The snow that the crew scraped off the ice this morning was dumped in the community garden. The rink guards had taped a reminder note to the zamboni hose last night, “please dump the snow beside the basketball court,” but it didn’t help. The mats for the skaters to walk on are so shredded that people trip on them. The rink lights don’t go on at the right time. There’s so little scraping of the snow that collects on the ice that by 8 p.m. last night most the hockey players just left. Zambonis have already begin to break down so that when we have a rink operator, he may not have a vehicle. I’ve asked the rink supervisor for four of the City’s long green rink shovels, so skaters can clean the ice themselves.
The rink supervisor got his crew to do an extra rink flood every day, so the ice is getting better. But Danny, the foreman, told Lily yesterday that he won’t bring her a case of toilet paper for the rink house washrooms. He’ll only bring six rolls of paper at a time; any larger amount requires approval from his boss. E-mail to the supervisor: We have a lot of people using the rink house, including the washrooms, and if your forepersons have to deliver the toilet paper a few rolls at a time, that will keep them from more important duties. Could the toilet paper supplies come by the box instead of the roll?
The foreman came by with a box of toilet paper.
Snowstorm yesterday evening and overnight. It’s cleared up now but only two City rinks have been plowed.
We called around to other rinks to see if they had been told when they’d reopen. Most of them didn’t answer their phone. The ones who did, had no idea when the plough was coming – nobody had called them to let them know, so their staff just sat inside the closed rink house all day.
The maintenance supervisor said that park sidewalks have priority over rinks, and he has about 28 km of sidewalks in his region. The City has only one Case-loader, and the supervisor said he also has a tractor, a jeep, and a four-by-four with a shovel mounted in front. But, he said, even if he had more vehicles he has no drivers to run them. We said, “with 5000 Parks and Rec workers you have only four people who can clear the snow off the rinks?” He said, “you heard what I said.” So the remaining City rinks have to stay closed.
We got a rink operator today, but the rink was still not ploughed out. He waited in the rink house all day until the tractors came to clear the snow. By then he only had half an hour left on his shift. He called the foreman and said he could do our rink in two hours, but the foreman said no one was allowed to do overtime and so he left without getting much done.
Meantime we resumed calling the other rinks. Some of them had been cleared of snow the day before but no zamboni had followed, not even the day after. At one rink a foreperson told us that the City has only two zambonis to clear 25 rinks, and one of those two is in for repair. He may not be right, though.
We talked to the full-time rink operator at Rosedale rink. He normally grooms that ice with a tractor pulling a “Champion” resurfacing unit, so the zamboni is not needed there. The Champion can be unhooked and then the tractor could shovel off the snow. But the rink operator said that even though he uses a tractor to push sand around all summer when he works in the parks, in the winter he’s not allowed to push snow off the rink. That’s the union agreement: the rink operator is not allowed to use the snow-removal capacities of his equipment if he’s cleaning ice for the winter.
The City agreed to that in the negotiations! But the rink operator says he’s so frustrated, to have to sit around and wait, and turn away the skaters on this beautiful, cloudless winter day. The front end of his machine and the back end are covered by different union contracts.
Another 6 inches of snow fell last evening and in the night. We became curious to find out how the rinks outside of the downtown area were doing. There was a rink that gave a recording loop: one message giving the number for another recorded message, which gave the first number again. Another listing was a wrong number. At another rink they had been trying to clear off six inches of snow with a zamboni all morning, and had now gone to get a tractor because the zamboni was stuck. (Overheated?) Zambonis are not meant to be snowplows. There were rinks where it didn’t matter as much whether they were open or closed because there was almost no public skating anyway, just paid classes and hockey programs.
But in area to the west of downtown, there was good news. Their ice maintenance crew goes around from rink to rink after a snowstorm, but the equipment stays put – each rink has a tractor with a snow-blower, and another tractor with a simple ice re-surfacer attached. All those rinks had been open since morning and the ice was good. So it can be done.
One of the adult skaters came to the snack bar tonight and said – “how much would it cost to staff the rink an extra two hours on weekend evenings, so the kids could use the rink longer?” The staff said, “too much. The City won’t go for that.” He said, “young people could find worse ways to spend their evenings than playing hockey. Let’s figure out the cost, and I’ll donate the money.” They got a pen and a piece of paper and did old-fashioned multiplication. An extra two hours Fridays and Saturdays for the rest of the season came to $723. He pulled out his chequebook and wrote out the cheque. The staff said, “are you sure you’re in full possession of your faculties?” He laughed and said he did well on the stock market in the past year. But nobody’s supposed to know his name.
So Lily will have to redo the schedule. There will be a lot of very happy shinny players, and the ice won’t be wasted after nine p.m., lying there glistening in the dark, empty, with the gates locked.
Nor will any young guys break their necks climbing over the high chain link fence to get into the rink after it’s locked, hockey bag and stick under the arm. Sometimes people climb the fence in skates. The urge to play hockey is powerful.
From Jutta: We’re back to getting water put down only once in 24 hours, most days, and the ice has got so thin that there’s cement showing along the boards. If there’s no water, there’s no ice. The staff put pylons on all the thin spots. But they finally had to shut the rink down in mid-afternoon despite the wintry weather. Since the holidays have begun already, people are pretty mad. I’ve been giving them the phone number of the City Rinks manager, and the City Councillor, and saying – don’t tell me what you think of this, tell them.
Lots of people called the Councillor. Today the rink got four floods, and that fixed the trouble.
This past weekend, there was no rink operator, which meant the rink was only allowed to run at half power. So much water accumulated that half the ice was unusable even on Sunday after rink operator came and the second compressor was turned on. However, since the weather was rather raw and nasty, there weren't that many skaters out anyway.
We wondered last week how the flying squad could get the zamboni over those big snow heaps that were left across the track they use to get into the park. The protruding curbstone blocking part of the track never did get removed before the snow fell, and the crew didn’t remember its location under the snow heaps. So when we saw all the hydraulic oil and the muddy ruts on Saturday morning, we guessed the bad news – another zamboni into the shop for repair. The curbstone has now been moved a few feet, and all that red fluid on the snow – looks like blood! – will remind the flying squad what to stay away from.
We hear that the repair is going to cost a bundle. Live and learn for next year. The City’s going to have to be better prepared with manual snow shovels too. On Friday the rink staff used snack bar money to buy a couple of snow shovels to clear the rink paths. They cost only $14.98. The City’s Parks and Recreation budget this year is either $124 million or $182 million (it’s not clear from their budget report). They can afford to buy the recreation staff a few snow shovels.
The rink supervisor booked in an extra rink operator for both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, although in other years the rink has managed without operators on that day. With the overtime, those operators cost the City $480 for each of those shifts. They cleaned the ice once or twice in that shift. Meantime the supervisor closed all the rinks early on Boxing Day to save money. The staff kept the doors unlocked on that day and counted 181 people after 6 p.m. They found some slightly-rusted old rink scraper-shovels in the storage area, so the shinny players cleaned the ice with them.
This evening there were two neighborhood shinny hockey permits, both including kids and adults. The second group made a campfire beside the rink and sat around with hot drinks until a few minutes after midnight. A perfect, starry night.
Downtown Toronto's acting director of Parks and Recreation, John Macintyre, was quoted in the Toronto Star on December 23 saying that outdoor rinks are considered a "fundamental service" and are therefore still free for the citizens. He said "it gets people out and being active."
We agree the rinks should be free, and for more reasons than that they get you out moving your knees and your elbows in the open air. Rinks are also a great place to see who your neighbours are, and maybe talk to them. That's why we put effort into making the rink house a comfortable, friendly place. There's no extra money to do this: our rink has two staff at a time just like all other rinks, sometimes only one staff. Some of those staff are pretty young and working at a paid (minimum wage) job for the first time. But they are trying hard. Often our rink house is a happening place, with lots of people talking or eating oatmeal cookies or playing chess or reading stories to their kids by the wood stove. These inside activities are just as popular as the outdoor skating - they go together! Sadly, most rink buildings in Toronto are mainly just places (sometimes pretty squalid-looking) to change your shoes: a great opportunity for building up a neighbourhood, lost.
From Jutta: I heard today that there’s a rumour going around – that City Council is going to cut the rink season from 16 weeks to 10 weeks next year. In a city with four months of winter, it can’t be true!
But I’m worried. I’ve written a deputation for the Parks Committee, to present to them on Monday when they meet.
I don’t want to go. The last time I went to City Hall to give a deputation, the experience was so humiliating that I resolved NEVER to do it again. They give you five minutes to tell them everything you know. If you go over that time, a bell rings. They talk to each other the whole time, and laugh, and don’t listen anyway. At the end they say “Thank you very much. Next…” But what else can be done now?
I’ve e-mailed a copy to the new director of Parks and Recreation, to give him a heads-up but also to test out what he thinks.
A long e-mail response from the director:
Thanks for the e-mail…I enjoyed talking to you last week....I have asked the manager in charge of outdoor artificial ice rinks to review the current operations and produce a layout of all the resources allocated to outdoor rinks…then review how other Districts provide rinks…then review your expressed needs and concerns and finally to provide a planned approach on how we can provide the outdoor rink service in our District with improved service levels…at perhaps a better cost. With concerns to your deputation, I like it and will follow up on it. I believe I can deliver what you are looking for and as such I would prefer it if you held onto it for the moment as it will require a formal response and consume a lot of time which would be better spent fixing the problem…If I don’t perform you deserve the option to go public with it…I plan on being here for a while and seeing the improvements through…I know I can count on you to ensure that I keep my word and I hope I can count on your support and guidance in seeing it happen. Have a great day!!
So no deputation, for now.
It snowed four inches last night. When Lily arrived this morning, the snow had already been cleared off the rink and the ice was perfect. So it can be done. We sent compliments to the City rinks supervisor. Every year now there’s a new supervisor for the downtown rinks. It seems to take about this long to get the hang of choreographing all those vehicles and all those people.
Today the news is crazy (bad). The Economic Development and Parks Committee has indeed voted to cut the rink season back by more than a month, to ten weeks a year, starting next season. It looks like they’re using the money they save from the rinks to hire more parking ticket officers. Instead of letting people skate, they’ll catch them parking on the wrong side of the street in front of their houses, and make them pay. That golden goose needs more exploiting.
Even worse: the Parks and Recreation director sent word through Tino that our park has to spend less. The park has no budget of its own, it’s just one location in the playground-and-rink cluster. Tino has been acting as though there’s a budget line for Lily, but it doesn’t exist.
Lily has had an offer to work as a full-time class assistant for the Catholic School Board. It means some security, and even benefits, unlike at the park. That's a lot better than her work here. Lily basically works full time if you count the things she does from home, and it’s been clear all along that no matter how good her work is, she has NO chance of moving from casual staff to permanent status. Too many are ahead of her in seniority, and merit doesn’t count.
So lily is going to leave. It's hard to see how the park can run without her. And the rink can’t run only ten weeks a year. This is the sequel to the director's promises.
Some park friends who heard about this said, we can’t just let this die quietly. At least we have to give people a chance to come to a meeting, to hear the details.
So we ran off some posters and stuck them up in the rink house. The posters carry a double announcement: on Sunday February 18 we’ll have a goodbye party for the rink, with soup and bread, and singing by the Darbazi Choir. That’s the a capella choir that practices its soulful music from the Republic of Georgia, every Sunday at the rink house, after the rink closes for the evening.
Then on Monday night we’ll have a community meeting about “The Fate of the Park.” Who knows whether very many people will turn up. But at least the meeting’s title should give fair warning.
Lots of people came to the party this evening, to skate and eat and listen to the choir. Word had got out about Lily leaving, even though it wasn’t on the poster, and she got nearly squeezed to death with embraces.
The rink house was pretty well full. Jane Price chaired, and then there were small groups all over the room, which deliberated and reported back, all very official.