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posted December 13, 2009
City staff are considering the possibility of keeping all outdoor rinks shut for Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. This is because it costs so much for the zamboni drivers -- they are paid triple-time-and-a-half for working on any stat holidays.
But keeping the rinks unavailable for skaters on three of the most popular skating days of the season seems like a bad idea. A skeleton staff to keep some rinks open seems better. Cityrinks has compiled rink diary entries for those three big days from other years, and sent them to the city managers.
Weather: sunny, high 0, low -8.
10 a.m.: the first skaters have straggled in, some with new skates. Last night's rain turned the ice into a beautiful smooth sheet, so it's no problem that no ice maintenance staff are scheduled for today. All the skaters are smiling. Inside the rink clubhouse, the coffee is on and staff are just lighting a fire in the woodstove.
By early afternoon there are lots of skaters at the rink, all of them cheerful. It's sunny, the ice is still okay despite the lack of resurfacing, and it's Christmas -- plenty to be cheerful about!
The rink was open and busy from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hodgson Rink was open and staffed on Christmas Day.
The rink is open, with good ice and five skaters, of whom one is wearing a Santa hat and one has a hockey stick. All wave when I tell them I'm taking a photo for cityrinks.ca. It's a beautiful day and the skaters look very pleased.
At 1.30 pm the rink had lots of people skating and parent-child shinny on the hockey pad. The pleasure-skating pad ice looked good despite the scheduled absence of Christmas Day ice maintenance. The rain on Wednesday evening was like a free scrape and flood, so that all the rinks that had their snow plowed off earlier on Wednesday had smooth, hard ice on Christmas morning. On the hockey side, the nets had been pulled in toward the west, suggesting that the ice on the east side might be a bit rough.
The rink change rooms were open, although no staff was in sight. A knock at the windowless office door did not get an answer, but another knock, and opening the door, revealed a building attendant sitting at the desk, with his arm in a sling. He didn't have much to say, except that he didn't know anything about how the ice clearing went on rainy Wednesday. He said he was just filling in for someone.
A hand-lettered sign on the change room door said "No ice maintenance today. Rink closes at 6 pm SHARP."
On the ice, people seemed to be enjoying their skating a great deal -- lots of smiles and "Merry Christmas" greetings, and "bravo's" for the big scorers on the shinny hockey side.
Inside the change room, the new bulletin board had been put up, with a drawing of a proposed rink building renovation, long overdue. The drawing showed a larger "activity room" (skate change room) and a smaller staff room. Right now the staff room is as big as the change room, and it looks as though it may at one time have been a team change room.
The bulletin board also had a request for community ideas about the renovation. Hopefully someone, staff or skater, will suggest a window in the staff room. Invisible staff make no sense! And the staff should be able to see the rink from inside, as well.
Late in the day some more news came from the adult shinny group. It sounds like the large message gap between the maintenance staff and the program staff in this department has had a few particularly bad effects at this rink. The traditional Christmas morning shinny game got bumped by children's shinny, despite assurances given to the adult group, right from the Parks director's office, that their game was a go.
However the rink supervisor made a special trip to the rink to assure the adult shinny group that the Boxing Day game would have good ice and the rink would be open, weather permitting.
Weather: sunny and started off very cold (-14 C in the morning), then milder, eventually up to -5. Low of -4.
The rink had its busiest day since it was rebuilt in 1993. Many of the other outdoor rinks that were open across the city were also very full. Poor North York -- all their rinks except the one at Mel Lastman Square were locked.
The central rinks didn't have any zamboni staff for the day (only the Etobicoke rinks got ice maintenance staff), so the rink staff and users did ice maintenance manually (with the green scrapers) three times: at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
A fine day, cold but clear, with a LOT of skaters, everyone in a good mood and "Happy New Year"-ing each other.
Ice maintenance: zamboni crew were only scheduled for Etobicoke on New Year's Day. So at Wallace Rink there was manual ice maintenance only (snowshovels and green ice scrapers) done by rec staff and skaters: 11am, 6:30pm.
The city holiday schedule says that High Park rink is open but without supervision. In actual fact, there are two staff there -- a zamboni driver and his assistant. They are sitting in the observation office. Because of the holiday, there are no program staff or rink guards where the actual skaters are. But there are plenty of skaters, both on the shinny hockey pad and on the pleasure-skating side, many looking like they're having a very good time.
The change area is not well signed but it has many new rubber mats leading both to the men's and to the women's swimming pool changerooms. Newly arriving skaters are hesitant about whether they're supposed to go to their assigned gender areas, but they soon figure out that the signs are not meant for winter.
The zamboni tent has straw bales at the bottom, to keep the zamboni warmer. It looks a bit like a little barn where goats might be kept -- snug.
The city holiday schedule says that this rink is open but unsupervised. The steps and ramp are unshovelled and the front door is locked as before, but there's a new, more colourful hand-lettered sign saying that the rink must be accessed "by the gate" instead of the door. A few skaters try the door and then look around to where the gate might be. The parked St.Clair Right-of-Way construction trailers are still blocking the gate, but it's possible to slip between the vehicles and find the way in.
Once inside the fence, it's evident that there must be some rink supervision somewhere, since the ice appears to be freshly resurfaced and the speaker attached to the light standard has music playing. There are a few pleasure skaters, and another few shinny hockey players, but more are changing into their skates. No sign of the zamboni driver. His (unlabelled) door is shut and the front desk, very nicely located by the locked front door, is empty. So are the various change rooms, one of which is blocked off by a bench. But some washrooms are open, and they're clean.
11.50 a.m. The game was on, although there were only 11 players, meaning that some of them looked wiped -- two hours with no subs! The rink attendant said he had cleaned the ice with the rink scrapers before 9 a.m. (he said a few people helped), so it was in good shape despite the lack of zamboni staff. On New Year's Day only the Etobicoke rinks had zamboni staff.
There were only four kids and a dad waiting for their shinny hockey time, starting at 11 a.m., so nobody seemed to be put out by this schedule change.
The rink was really full of people, the big parking lot had no spaces left. There was a big shinny game and there were lots of people skating around the tree. The ice was excellent -- the zamboni driver said he's been assigned to work 10 to 6, all by himself -- no rink staff at all! He said it's strange to have only himself there as staff. But the scene looked verv friendly, lots of Happy New Year's, nobody acting foolish, so that they would have needed direction from a rink guard.
The zamboni driver said that they have not lost one day all season so far.
Overnight there was snow, then rain, then snow again. In the morning it was 0 degrees and still snowing and all the rinks were closed. Rink staff shoveled the walkways while a truck with a little plow on it worked to remove the heavy snow from the rink. Under the snow the ice was awful -- bumpy and rutted.
By late morning the rink house was filling up fast, including a large group of Muslim girls in hijabs, with a leader who wore a kind of modern burka -- eyes only. Wonderful, interesting Toronto! Outside, the snow stopped falling and the zamboni began to scrape after the plow was done. By 1.30 the rink was open on the hockey side. By 2.30 the pleasure-skating side was done too -- none too soon, because no more skaters could have fit on the one side.
The trees in the park stayed snowy long after the snow stopped falling, and the little hill near Dufferin Street had tobogganers and sledders going down. Those groups also came to the rink house, to dry off and to eat Mary Sylwester's soup. It was a very cheerful scene, with lots of "happy New Year!!!" and "isn't the snow beautiful in the trees?"
By late afternoon the temperature began to drop fast. Lots of people went home to stay warm. By 10.30 it was -7 celsius. But: the compressors were still running. That's not supposed to happen now that the City spent $10.4 million to do energy retrofits at the rinks. Central computers are supposed to regulate the individual rink compressors so they shut off when it's cold enough for ice to stay frozen. And in the rink garage, when the door opens, the big ceiling heater is supposed to shut off. But it doesn't, so if a zamboni driver forgets to shut the door, the heaters crank it out, heating the great outdoors.
High 1 celsius, low - 1. Boxing Day, with the traditional crowds and then some, skating off their Christmas turkey dinners. So many families, and so many of them apparently knowing how to have a good time.
High -1 celsius, low -3. Christmas Day. Slow pickup but then steady level of rink users all day. The earliest arrivals were the kids who "live" at the rink and who probably didn't get anything for Christmas except a hung-over parent. One of them just turned 18 last week, is still a kid though. He was in a really bad mood, swore at Heidrun when she told him not to smoke on the ice, refused to yield the ice to the 12-and-under-group when it was their time. The staff told him to leave the rink and he refused that too. So the staff tried something new -- they called "Corporate Security," a unit that helps when rules or bylaws are broken and the police don't come.
A corporate security staff person came within 10 - 15 minutes, talked to staff first, then escorted this youth off the ice and out of the building. Everybody was sad to do it to this kid in particular. But it was good to have the security people be seen by the other youth there. They know the police rarely respond to bylaw enforcement calls from the rink staff, and so they think they have the staff over a barrel. But they don't.
The hockey rink got pretty full from afternoon on because the other nearby rinks were in such rotten shape after the rain on Sunday, and the missing ice maintenance.
3 pm Rink locked up with 14 hockey players who climbed the fence. Half in helmets. No 'skate at your own risk' sign.
This rink looks as though there's been no maintenance in at least 24 hours..depending when it was last open.
No schedules up outside.
The big snow from the nighttime stayed on until early afternoon, then the crew cleaned it off, the rink was skateable by 4 pm.
Ice much better after remedial maintenance; rink amazingly crowded, with families, youth, kids with their cousins. This rink is awaking up!
Christmas Day. Quite a few people came to skate but left because the ice had holes in it from before.
2 pm, Boxing Day: The rink was open even though the rink schedule said it would be closed both Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Apparently there had been some confusion in scheduling, in that the zamboni operator was told to come from 10am to 6pm, but the rink guards were cancelled for the day. A rink guard happened to pass by and the zamboni driver asked him to work, so he did.
The ice was in good condition. There were six hockey players and two more putting on their skates, plus six pleasure skaters and three more putting on their skates. There's construction going on somewhere in the area and so the rink is sort of hidden behind construction trailers.
This rink works differently than the nearby City of Toronto rinks in that it has a zamboni operator on site at the rink for at least 8 hours a day. However the ice gets the same amount of maintenance as other double pads. This leaves the zamboni operator with a considerable amount of down time. The rink is also different in that it seems to close completely (be locked) for an entire hour while the rink maintenance happens.
There is an unused changeroom with a door leading right out to the ice, which is kept locked, plus another changeroom with another door that is used only as a staff room. The zamboni operator has his own unmarked office near the entryway but without any window toward the rink side. Meantime skaters must change in a hallway whose lights are not working right now. There is some light from the windows in the exit doors but it's still really dingy.
The rink is accessible for skating from 9 am to 3 pm from an outside gate leading off a kind of construction road that's quite hard to find. Meantime there's a gate leading from St.Clair Avenue right beside the rink building entrance, onto the pleasure-skating side. But that gate is apparently kept locked.
It was tricky to discover what exactly the hours of rink access are, but it did seem clear that there are some elements in the running of this rink that may discourage most rink users from coming very often, or at all. Too bad -- this is a relatively new rink with very good ice.
As we were leaving, an elderly man (who said he's lived in the area for 40 years) was asking the rink staff why the rink is so often locked. He was also unhappy about the lights being broken in the hallway where skaters must change.
11am The changeroom is locked, but the rink gate is open. No one is skating but a man and a woman are changing into skates on the benches at the side of the pleasure rink. During the next hour more people arrive. For most of the hour there are 8-10 people on the pleasure rink. By noon there are five shinny players on the hockey pad. At noon more skaters are arriving. A group of two men and two women are chatting in Russian. Another woman is speaking to her son in that language as well.
The ice on the leisure pad is a bit soft and there is snow at the corners. However, the ice is good enough for a pleasant skate. The ice on the hockey pad is harder and smoother. Between the benches and the rink surface there is a lot of rough ice where snow has melted. This makes getting on and off the ice tricky. People who changed their skates on the benches had trouble making their way to the ice surface.
One of the skaters is a man in his sixties who grew up in the High Park area. He has just returned to the area from Vancouver where he had been living. He says he skates at High Park every day and the rink is never very busy. He also says that about a week ago the ice had turned to mush.
He recalled that when he was a boy in the late fifties and early sixties, it was common for hundreds of people to be skating at High Park. He says High Park rink used to have a lively social scene. Boys and girls would come here to meet each other. He also says the rink used to be open on Christmas. Children would get skates or hockey equipment for presents which they would try out at High Park.
Christmas Day pleasure skating
Christmas Day shinny
High 5 celsius, low 0. Cloudy, but no rain until evening. The ice was good. Despite the fact that no ice maintenance was booked for Christmas Day, the rink got two visits from a zamboni driver. Quite busy in the afternoon -- building closed at 6 p.m. but still many people out on the ice. Lots of people signing the "stair petition." The "City Rinks hot line" is busy -- mostly people calling for information on Nathan Phillips Square, Scarborough Centre, and Mel Lastman Square. Maybe it's time for the City to publish those phone numbers?
Staff closed the rink at 6, went back at 8 pm to find the window in the rink-side door smashed, evidence that someone had been inside and tried (unsuccessfully) to break into the zamboni cafe.
High 3 celsius, low minus 1. Cloudy. Rink very very busy. Broken window was repaired. Many people signing the stair petition, especially youth. Lots of them say they wiped out on the slippery access path in the past.
High 9 celsius, low plus 1, sunny in the morning. Because it had rained a good deal in the evening as well as being warm and sunny, the ice had some wet patches (but not very soft). As soon as the ice gets wet, the many leaves and dirt patches underneath become very visible. Despite the wet patches, the rink was once again very full, and there was a skate-loan lineup almost continuously. The rink is monitored continuously these days because of the crowding, but it's a strain.
Many, many calls in the rink hot line, the majority for Nathan Phillips Square.
During the holidays (Dec.24 to Jan.6), attendance broke all records. This was apparently true at many city rinks, perhaps because of a combination of excellent skating weather and the long break many parents took this year to do things with their kids. Still we were the busiest. So here’s a suggestion: if you like Dufferin Rink, don't tell too many other people about it, so we don't get swamped. Second suggestion: if you live near a city rink that isn't run very well, tell that Park supervisor to do better. Everyone's local rink ought to be a welcoming, comfortable place that enforces skating rules and makes things easier for families. Too many people tell us about rinks where shinny hockey is played during pleasure skating times, where the change areas are dreary and even frightening, where the teenage staff are surly or invisible. A poorly-run rink is a shameful waste of a beautiful winter resource. We'd be happy to pass along our experiences to people in other areas who want to make their rink work better.