For better use and better management. The UNOFFICIAL Website of Toronto's Outdoor Skating Rinks
< Diary 2003 - 2004 | | Diary 2001 - 2002 >
Letter to the Parks and Recreation director from Jutta:
"A few days ago I met with the two managers responsible for the outdoor rinks. The good news was that the Technical Services manager intends to have the ice maintenance staff move between rinks so they no longer spend most of their time sitting. The bad news was that you have once again decided not to open the rinks on time (meaning Dec.1 at the latest). The manager said that the decision has been made, it's irrevocable, and there will be no exceptions ("harmonization").''
I'm sure there are ways in which the desires of park users make administration more cumbersome in the short term. However as you know from our two spring meetings, the people in our neighbourhood see the park as a social space that is vitally important for our community. We think of the park staff's role as helping us just enough to fulfil our intentions.
But once again it seems to be the role of the staff to interfere with our intentions, to make them difficult to carry out. The rink is our social space for the winter, and winter begins when it's cold and dark, not when it's administratively convenient. It's already cold and dark. We are ready to use the rink from Dec.1 at the very latest.
At the end of our meeting the Technical Services manager said that another reason he won’t budge is that I am saying a thing he hasn't heard from anyone else – as far as he knows, no one else in the whole city feels the way I do about opening days.
I said to him: “Those are some odds. Me against two and a half million people who think differently. I don't know how I can make headway in such an uneven contest.”
It could be that the manager is mistaken, though, about how many people care about the rink. He may be right that the city can hold off the rink opening in other parts of the city without any public reaction. People may not know how to explain their neighbourhood interests to your staff. But in this neighbourhood, people are so attached to the park as our social space that they wish to work out what they want with park staff. That doesn't mean we are a big pain in the neck, that means it's working, the park is working!!"
The director he'd like the rinks to open earlier, but he can’t go against the instructions of City Council.
Tino called to let the staff know that the director changed the plan and the rink is opening on Nov.30, one of only two rinks in the city. That’s good, but of course everything is at sixes and sevens, because no one is ready.
First day of rink season. The ice was still very thin and the hockey side had to be closed after half an hour of play.
The ice was a bit better today, and since there’s no hockey on Sundays, it survived despite being thin. There’s a nice new foreperson named Peter White, who seems like we can talk to him. The rink was packed today and the Councillor topped it off in the evening, with his Santa and his Christmas tree lighting and his slow-moving hot chocolate give-away line.
FUN WITH SNOW SHOVELS: during the two big snowfalls this winter so far (Christmas Day and Jan.3), rink staff got out the old green rink shovels that have been rusting quietly in the rink's storage breezeway. With the help of rink users, the staff were able to clear enough ice to make skating possible and even to let a hockey permit go on. Both times all rinks in the west end - except Dufferin Rink - were closed. Rink shovellers got a great work-out and then they had the pleasure of the rink.
For hockey players, we have the green rink shovels available when there's too much snow to move the puck (e.g. a sudden snow flurry) and no zamboni. The shovels can only be used with staff working alongside and all the snow MUST be shovelled right off the rink, not left in piles that would obstruct the zamboni when it comes later. But using those big shovels is fun when it's done right. And a successful rink clearing yields a food reward: one mini-pizza, one cookie, and one juice box, free for every shoveller – to keep their strength up.
FOOD PUZZLE Park staff and park friends started making cookies at the park back in the winter of 1995 because we wanted to civilize the rink and we thought the pleasant smell of baking in the change area might help. The cookies made such a difference that we realized that part of the reason for the bad behaviour of some youthful shinny hockey players might have been that they had been skating for three hours and they were HUNGRY. So we added apples and then we added mini-pizzas and fruit juice, and when we started baking bread in the outdoor oven we added the 25-cent slices of organic bread and butter. The mood of the youth at the rink improved hugely. At the beginning we didn’t think so much about what rink-house food would mean to families with little kids. But now many people tell us that they can get their reluctant kids out of the house to the rink very happily if they just promise them a mini-pizza. (A humble incentive indeed.) But what’s the good of that if there are frustrating line-ups and when you get to the head of the line, the last mini-pizza has just been sold? The staff practically trip over each other in the minuscule kitchen; sometimes the pace is so intense it’s hard for them to even get out to restock toilet paper or apply a band-aid.
The food at the park is meant to bring people together, not to annoy and frustrate them. We have to change some things to make it flow better. The park staff are meeting as this newsletter is coming out, to try and put their finger on solvable problems. All suggestions on how to structure the kitchen better are welcome. Please, help out here if you have good ideas!
Beyond that, if you, dear reader, live close to another rink and you find that the crowds at Dufferin Rink are getting to you, consider trying to make your own neighbourhood rink work better for you. It’s not rocket science, and if you want to know some simple hints about what worked for us, who the city contacts are, and how to groom your rink staff so they work with you instead of against you, we’re happy to tell.
It’s been seven years since the year Tino hired Intelligarde to come with their dogs and help the staff make the rink rules stick. That winter the staff made 21 calls to that company or to police. Now we’re down to one or two calls to police per season. And some of the young folks who worried us in those early years work at jobs now instead of failing at school. They come to the rink to play hockey, not to make trouble. Many of them seem to have grown into fine young men. Maybe we over-reacted, in the early days. But the days of fights, drug deals, tables and chairs flung upside down inside the change rooms, seem to be largely behind us.
Every once in a while we get a reminder of how it used to be. Today a group of St.Mary’s High School students and their hangers-on came onto the rink and started a fight right out on the ice. They were pushed off the rink and went into the rink house, continuing the fight inside. One had got hold of the metal hoe from the bake oven. Jenny Cook(staff) grabbed it away and the rink staff booted all of the kids outside. Then there was a stand-off, in front of the rink house and across the street. When rink staff called Tony DeSouza, principal of St.Mary’s, he came running with his special camera and all the kids hurried away toward the mall.
Today when school let out, the warring groups tried to pick up where they left off, in front of the rink house this time. An extra staff person, Lea Ambros, was assigned to stand outside and not let those young people come inside: today is market day, and the thought of the broccoli and meat pies flying through the air was pretty distasteful. When the groups refused to leave the park, police were called.
Since no guns or knives were reported, Fourteen Division sent only one small policewoman, who chased them into the mall.
The rink had something new tonight: “Friday Night Supper.” From Jutta: Since park cook Dan DeMatteis is back, I asked him and Lea Ambros a couple of weeks ago if they’d like to try cooking a big meal once a week. The weekends have been so crowded at the rink, but Friday nights are different. The kids who don’t have dates at clubs come to the rink and hang around looking dissatisfied and swearing at each other. We need to get some families in there, to mix it up a bit better. Lots of people with young children are worn out at the end of the work week. I thought they might like to come to the rink and eat supper there and have a skate, get the kids good and tired, and then go home with no dishes to wash. Even for people without kids, a skate around the rink, with a cheap, tasty supper might be a nice way to end the week.
So Dan and Lea worked all day cooking dinner. Their idea was that they would use mostly market food, so I put it into the market newsletter for this week: Seasonal food from the Thursday organic farmers’ market: $5 a plate. Depending on what’s available at the farmers’ market, the cooks may also offer soup, antipasto, and/or dessert, which will be extra.
The temperature dropped to minus 18 celsius in the evening, and we thought nobody would come. But over forty people came, counting the kids, and there was only a little bit of food left at the end. The staff had set up some long tables, with tablecloths. Strangers talked to each other, the windows were all frosted over with the cold, the rink house was full of good food smells, red-faced skaters got to thaw out by the wood stove – beautiful. The Friday night loudmouths were there too. They were puzzled but not hostile.
NEW HOT LINE FOR CITY RINKS When the weather is snowy or rainy or unseasonably warm, outdoor rinks are sometimes closed for a few hours or days. People who call the city's rink information line (338-RINK) to find out which rinks have re-opened after winter storms or warm spells, are now being directed to call Dufferin Rink (392-0913). The City rink forepersons will keep Dufferin Rink staff informed as each rink re-opens. Our staff will put that information on the rink's voice mail. Tell your friends. It saves people time and trouble if they can call ahead to make sure they're not bundling up the kids and the skates and the hockey sticks only to find out when they get there that the rink hasn't been plowed out yet.
The rink hot line is getting lots of calls. It's fun for the staff because people are both incredulous when they get through to someone (“wow, a real person”) and appreciative. But apparently some of the other rinks don’t like it when we give out their phone number and they get calls from skaters in their neighbourhood. They believe that it’s “not part of their job,” to answer the phone, unless it’s their girlfriend calling. the manager i cahrge of rinks says he’s told them that talking to skaters is definitely part of their job.
Apparently city council is considering next year's budget, and they may vote to shrink the rink season again, to 8 weeks a year. All of the Parks and Recreation staff including the director think that’s just crazy. The ten-week rink season is still on the books, even though we’ve been able to stretch it back to 12 weeks for the second year now. The rink has had so much use this winter, and with Peter White there as the foreman, it works pretty well. But there is a big gulf between what we do and what hatches out at City Hall. The question is, how much bad news can people take?
I got hold of a copy of a City of Toronto report on outdoor rinks done last year: “Outdoor ice Facilities Harmonization Study January 2002.” The City hired a consulting company called Leisure Plan International to do this report, but it sounds like the consultants had trouble finding the information they needed:
P.75: re ice rink operations: “It should be noted that information was not readily available concerning the municipal operational approach and as a result it was not possible to undertake a more thorough discussion of current municipal operational approaches and practices.”
p.78: “Comprehensive data concerning the operational expenditures and revenues associated with municipal outdoor ice rinks was not available. The cost to provide the current level of municipal outdoor ice rink service could not be identified for either the City as a whole or on a district basis.”
Well, that's the problem, isn't it. As far as the compressor-run outdoor rinks go, the City managers are working blind.