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A Manual for Running Compressor-Cooled Outdoor Rinks Really Well. Read more>>

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How To Fix It

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See also What Needs Fixing and Alternative Proposals

The weather page

Weather Note for November/December/January: Neither rain nor warmer temperatures are a problem for compressor-cooled rinks during the short daylight hours of November, December, and January. While it's raining the ice is fine, underneath a thin layer of water, which freezes as soon as it stops raining. And warm weather in winter is not necessarily because of global warming: see our late-November Weather Data 1940-2011. It's the angle of the sun that matters.

See also Interview with CIMCO and the CELOS Outdoor Rink Report

posted March 04, 2008

Why it's a bad idea to keep outdoor rinks open in March
...and a good idea to open them in mid November

To get your own copy of our research presentation, download the pdf version (2.7MB), or the powerpoint version (4.4MB).

click for an info bulletin
about rinks in March

The angle of the sun in March is already high enough that it fights the ice, very successfully. Here's a graph to show how much lower the temperature has to be in March to counteract that sun angle. March temperatures are seldom cold enough to keep the ice skateable. And energy costs go through the roof.

Our weather researcher, Corey Chivers, has created a research presentation that you can download. Download the pdf version (2.7MB), or the powerpoint version (4.4MB). You can also download the technical background paper.

Here are some observations from March 2008 that support this anaylysis: Rink Conditions March 2008.


*Note -- the graph below shows hard-ice temperatures at high noon. But in the morning and from 4 pm onward, hard ice is maintained at higher temperatures - 10-12 degrees celsius.

Chart by Corey Chivers


posted October 21, 2008

Outdoor Rinks And Weather

Recommendation: Conform the rink season to the angle of the sun. Based on over 10 years of tracking, the outdoor rink season should be early November to the first Sunday in March.

Comments: In the most recent (2006/07) rink season most (21) of the city-run rinks which we tracked did not open until December 9. Three rinks opened on November 25, December 2 and December 3 respectively. Two other rinks did not open until January due to delays in construction.

December 2006 was unseasonably warm and served as an instructive experiment on the effects of October/November-like temperatures on compressor-run outdoor ice rinks. Taking Dufferin Rink as a sample rink: Toronto’s December temperatures ranged from 0°C to plus 13°C. Throughout December there were no days when the rink had to be closed. In January the temperatures ranged between minus 12°C and plus 11°C. The sun was still low enough that there were no days when the rink had to be closed, even on sunnier days. In February the temperatures were, for the most part lower (ranging from minus 13°C to 0°C). Yet staff had to close Dufferin Rink by 1 pm on 3 days due to soft and slushy ice. In March this became even more pronounced with temperatures ranging from minus 20°C to plus 15°C – but 6 days of afternoon rink closures (often on cold days). Since the rink closing date was March 18, six closures actually represent 33% of the month closed during peak hours.

The angle of the sun in the late fall and early winter makes for dreary days that could happily be spent skating regardless of temperature (anywhere under 18°C) or clear skies (low sun). The compressors are designed to keep the ice frozen and are very well suited to countering the force of higher temperatures. But they are unable to counteract the effects of higher sun. Another example: on November 29 the ice at Harbourfront Rink was in perfect condition at plus 16°C, with over a hundred skaters when we visited, and no puddles. Similarly on December 17 when the high was plus 13°C and it was mostly sunny, the rink at Dufferin was in perfect condition, and full of skaters. Compare: Dufferin Rink staff were forced to shut down the rink during peak hours on March 7 on a sunny day when the high was only minus 6°C. The chart below demonstrates the increase in rink closures over the late winter months, and the fact that this increase happened despite overall lower temperatures.

Using the average daily temperatures that Toronto experiences between November and the end of March, along with the angle of the sun at noon hour of each day, the melt rate of the surface ice was calculated. The following chart illustrates how under average seasonal conditions, outdoor rinks work best from early November until the end of February.

Click on the graph for a larger image.

Comparison of rinks seasons, pre and post amalgamation:

When these rinks were built, they had a fixed season: November 15 to the end of February. After amalgamation, City Council began to shrink the season, so that in 2001 most rinks didn't open until December 22. Then the season was increased again, but at the wrong end. In 2006/2007, and 2007/2008 the rink season was about the same length as the original rink season (106) days. But because so much of the season was in March, the ice was often bad and rink usage was very low.

Interesting weather

Weather Forecast Toronto Dec 4, 2012

Toronto 7 days forecast

Hours of operation

Outdoor rinks are often locked. Some rinks don’t open until noon or later, which means that people whose leisure time is during the day - school groups, shift workers, homerschoolers, etc. – can’t skate in the mornings. And despite the fact that Sunday evening is a time when most people are off work, most rinks close at 5 or 6pm – a leftover from the Sunday Closing laws?

Many youth who want to play shinny hockey are very frustrated trying to find ice time, and it’s even more unpleasant for them when they find a rink empty and locked.

Rinks being closed too often leads to another problem: if rinks users arrive a number of times with skates in hand only to find the gates locked (although the ice looks fine), they give up going to the rink.

Recommendations: - Use the rinks to the very maximum during skating season. No rink should be locked and empty during the hours when a park would normally be open for the public. - Keep rinks unlocked during normal operating hours even when there are no staff on site. (Post “rink unsupervised” signs) - Investigate whether the City shoulders greater liability for a claim made at an unsupervised rink that can be locked but isn’t vs. one that cannot be locked (eg. Nathan Phillips Square). How much has the city paid out in claims at unsupervised outdoor public skating times at lockable rinks and unlockable rinks?

Design & maintenance

a rink house shelf of storybooks makes a nice break from skating

An outdoor rink should be one of the many public spaces in Toronto where the widest variety of Torontonians can be seen together. We envision a rink with young parents and toddlers trying to balance on skates for the first time, a rink with grandparents keeping fit, a rink with teens playing casual shinny and staff on site, visible, friendly and in a position to create such a neighbourly rink. As the Municipal Outdoor Rink Report (2007) points out, there are many problems with the design of some rinks and buildings (p.13). However, small changes can make a big difference. And if we don’t make some of these changes, outdoor compressor-cooled ice rinks will remain underused, unsafe and a far cry from the vision of Torontonians skating together.

Health and fitness, safety, and community development are the three goals which are encouraged by the recommendations, facts and stories reviewed here. Our Mayor has underlined these three substantial goals in developing a better Toronto, we stand by him.

Rink Change Rooms Recommendations:

no window at Greenwood Rink changeroom

windows at Dieppe Rink changeroom

a) Using eight outdoor rink change rooms with adequate windows as guides for the variety of the windows available, the following rinks could have a window easily added to the change rooms in time for the 2007/2008 rink season: Jimmie Simpson, Kew Gardens, Hodgson, JJP, and Withrow.

b) The City should order signs for identification of change rooms to be installed in advance of the 2007 rink opening dates.

c) Staff rooms need to be reassessed and repositioned with the aim of connecting recreation staff with the community. The quick, necessary fixes are:

- Staff room signs, which should be installed by the beginning of 2007’s rink season.

- the staff rooms with the potential for a simple window are: Kew, Hodgson, Ramsden, Withrow, Rennie, and Regent North.

- When staff rooms are remote, or until a new window can be installed, rink staff should get set up in the change rooms to provide a more pleasant and safe atmosphere.

benches around a rinkside campfire, with hot chocolate

d) Outdoor benches (or picnic tables) should be delivered to those rinks with no existing outdoor benches. Mats should lead to outdoor benches as well as change rooms and washrooms.

e) Old, non-functioning vending machines should be removed in advance of the rink season. Vending machines should not be favoured in locations where other, healthier foods are available.

f) Food in rinks should be reassessed considering the needs of communities and the models already in existence:

-Wallace, Dufferin, and North Toronto should be used as potential models for snack bars (and their staffing) for the following rinks where kitchens already exist (either in the rink or in an attached community centre), but could be used more often: Christie, Jimmie Simpson, Rennie, and Harry Gairey.

- Installation of small community kitchens usable as rink snack bars ought to be considered for Trinity, Regent South, High Park, Riverdale, Greenwood, Monarch, Hodgson, Dieppe, and Ramsden.

Windows in change rooms (23 rinks visited)

Windows are very important for making a rink safer and comfortable for skaters and staff. Ideally rink change rooms should have large, eye-level windows onto the ice and staff rooms should have the same visual access to the rink and the change room.

The rinks with adequate windows had many different kinds, from simple windows within doors, to the wide walls of windows at Regent South, and the well placed window inserted into the wall only this year at Wallace Emerson. There are many solutions to the problem of visual access, and while minor construction always seems arduous, the rewards are worth it.

“My wife hates skating, I don’t mind skating with our daughter but I can’t all the time, so when she goes to Kew or Jimmie Simpson and can’t sit inside and watch Andrea skate around she just doesn’t let her skate for more than 20 minutes before she is frozen and mad from sitting in hockey boxes” (East End skating father)

Clear signs are informative and make a place more accessible to all Torontonians. Good signs give workers and citizens a sense of pride in their public buildings and programs. It seems obvious to have a sign saying “rink change room” or “women’s washroom” but many rinks do not have such signs.

As we visited rinks we saw that many workers tried to solve this problem on their own by making signs and taping them up, to direct skaters. While a hand-written sign saying “rink closed, due to sun, try back at 5pm or call…” is clearly appropriate given the specificity of the information given, workers should not have to make and tape up little pieces of paper saying “women’s washroom”. Citizens expect and deserve more. We therefore assessed those change rooms and washrooms with only hand-written signs as inadequate signage, while we applaud the rink staff’s effort given the circumstances.

Kew Rink staff room - no window, hand-lettered sign

Staff rooms which are separate, locked-up and without signage, are a major stumbling block between recreation staff and the public working together. When staff rooms are far from the change rooms or windowless, like at Rosedale Rink, Ramsden or Jimmie Simpson, it would be better if rink staff could leave their closed up, windowless offices and work out of the change rooms instead – as they do at Regent South and Harry Gairey Rinks. While staff storage in a separate, locked staff room is important, to keep records etc safe, staff locking themselves up in windowless rooms where they cannot participate with skaters is undesirable.

Recreation staff are often alone or working with one other staff member, often from a different union local. Staff may have trouble enforcing rules, and fear reprisals from those they discipline in the name of the City of Toronto. Their solution is to draw back, let kids swear, or litter, or fight, and lock themselves in their staff office.

A different, more successful kind of staff room is at Regent South where staff have a table and work equipment in the general change room. They have a good view of the ice and sunlight pours in all day. Staff can interact with skaters more easily and keep an eye on the ice.

At one rink the locked staff room had very good windows, with wire mesh both inside and outside the glass; however the staff choose to cover the windows with black garbage bags, which meant that they could not monitor the ice. We found these windows adequate, but encourage staff to put public service over privacy and uncover the windows.


If there are benches outdoors, parents may choose to watch their kids skate or play shinny hockey. Benches also offer another place to change to skates if the change rooms are locked, or unpleasant or sex-segregated. While benches and picnic tables are perpetually in short supply in the summer, many picnic benches during the winter are chained together, waiting for summer events. If these picnic benches were distributed at the rinks during winter, there could be outdoor places to sit at every rink with no extra cost.

At Jimmie Simpson, on an otherwise wonderful afternoon when City Councillor Paula Fletcher had her annual Neighbourhood Skating Party with hot dogs, popcorn, hot chocolate, buttons, ice dancing and a DJ, the small change rooms were full of people warming up and changing into their skates. There were no benches outside, so people hopped on one foot trying to put on their skates while standing up. Others hobbled over the extremely icy, bumpy pathway to find a fence to sit on to change their skates.

Food: vending machines

Ramsden Rink vending machines - all out of order

Dufferin Rink Zamboni Cafe - soup and muffins

Vending machines are a cheap, but ineffective, solution to the challenge of food at a rink. Vending machines break, run out of items and present staff with irate and hungry skaters who lost their quarters and have no recourse other than arguing with staff. Of total of 25 vending machines in the change rooms at Toronto’s rinks, less than 50% of the actually work. They sit taking up space in small change rooms.

The foods and drinks offered by vending machines are by definition limited. Vending machines offer chips, candy bars, Gatorade, pop and water. Vending machines should be phased out where possible and maintained to a much higher standard, wherever a healthier alternative food provider is impossible to establish.

Food: community kitchens, snack bars Food available in rinks around the city varies a great deal and provides a spectrum of models to use when thinking about providing opportunities for healthier, more diverse, and tastier foods.

Dufferin, Wallace, Rennie, Campbell and North Toronto Outdoor Rinks should be used as potential models for snack bars. Presented here is one model in addition to the three models listed on pages 14-15 in Municipal Outdoor Rink Report (2007).

Wallace Rink is attached to a community centre. This past winter, Wallace Rink staff collaborated with Dufferin Rink staff and volunteers to create a “Sunday Family Day” snack bar and campfire program. From 2-4.30pm every Sunday in January and February 2007, rink staff worked with young teens to make cookies, little pizzas, and pasta with sauce in one of the two community centre kitchens, plus hot chocolate and hot dogs over a campfire. The teens were easily engaged in helping out with the cooking and preparing but also in creating and posting menus and practising counting out change under the staff’s supervision. What were the benefits? For the teens: a little casual kitchen training, a little design and drawing practice, honing some math skills. For the Recreation staff: they came out of their staff offices and made friends. For rink users: some tasty food when all that fresh air made them hungry, and a sociable gathering place around the campfire. Public service at its best!

A number of rinks have the potential for innovative food programs. Some are attached to community centres with public health certified kitchens, some have a snack bar already installed. Some rinks that have minor food programs could increase the regularity of the snack bar hours. Some rinks with accessible kitchens nearby are Rennie, Wallace, North Toronto, Christie, Jimmie Simpson, and Harry Gairey.

In some rinks a kitchen could be added easily. When outdoor rinks and swimming pools share facilities (Greenwood, High Park, Christie, Monarch) there are large buildings with plenty of extra space. A new kitchen would have year round possibilities. Other rink change room areas that are large enough to accommodate a simple snack bar are Campbell, Trinity, Regent South, Riverdale, Hodgson, Dieppe, Harry Gairey, Wallace, and Ramsden.

rinks are places for friendship

rinks are places for friendship

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Content last modified on October 08, 2007, at 07:06 PM EST