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Sunday Feb.26 Campbell Rink, 12 noon. Dufferin staff person arrives with her shopping buggy full of hot dogs and firewood for her regular Sunday afternoon ‘family pleasure skating’ mini-event. But the rink house is locked and there’s no staff in evidence. No note either. So she returns to Dufferin Rink, which is full of skaters.
Dufferin Rink, 3 p.m. DJ is playing old rock tunes, and staff plus volunteers are out on the ice, dancing, wearing Clay and Paper Theatre’s puppets. Everybody’s got red faces – it’s minus 7 C. Sun and cloud. The ice is hard in most places except along the boards. There are wet craters along there, where you can put your foot deep down. Craters with water, at minus 7?! And the compressors are running.
6.45 p.m. zamboni drivers arrive 45 minutes early to do the ice. At the 4.50 p.m. maintenance time they didn’t come until staff called them, and so the ‘family shinny’ permit went on 25 minutes late. The schedule is posted all over, the rink season is in its 14th week, but the times are still contentious.
9.30 p.m. Compressors still running, at minus 10 C.

Saturday Feb.25: Dufferin Rink, 3 p.m. Most of the ice is good except along the sides where the sun hits the boards. It’s minus 5, sun and cloud, and there’s a shinny hockey tourney with Jimmie Simpson Rink’s “hockey in the neighborhood” program. When the kids step out of the player’s boxes, they sink deep into the slush. Rink staff say they can see the cement. The dasher boards can be seen again there, but on the other side the ice still hides them completely. Freezing cold and mush in the ice! Who can understand it?

Friday Feb.24: Nathan Phillips Square Rink, 1 p.m. Minus 3 celsius, with sun and cloud. Ice good. One of the on-site rink staff went down to learn some more, but the zamboni driver there said they’ve been told not to answer any questions from anyone who comes from Dufferin Rink.
Harbourfront Rink, 1.30 p.m. Ice good there too, but with a cold wind off the lake. The zamboni driver told our staff person that the Siemens control system monitors the ice temperature and sets the compressors automatically. He says that a lot of their ice is 7 inches thick too.
Wallace Rink, 5.p.m. the ice is so bad, the hockey side’s been closed all day. Not many people on the pleasure-skating side. Although the lore is that direct-ammonia rinks freeze the ice better, it’s not evident this year.
8.30 p.m. Zamboni did a slow scrape and then a flood – then they opened the hockey rink, ice is okay again. Meantime there’s been a meeting with a youth who is really mad about the bullies that hang out at the rink. He says they intimidate the rink guards so much that they even sit in the rink house smoking and drinking. He insisted that the meeting should happen somewhere else than in the rink house, otherwise, he says, the bullies will beat him up later.

Thursday Feb.23: Dufferin Rink, 3.00 p.m. It’s 4 degrees celsius and the sun was out for a while. Now it’s clouded in but the damage was done – the ice is mush all over. People can still skate but it’s messy. No ice maintenance since the early morning, and the zamboni supervisor came to check at 2.30, but says they can’t go on the ice until much later.
Harry Gairey Rink, 3.15 p.m. Mushy like Dufferin.
College Park Rink, 3.30 p.m. All covered with water, and mushy underneath.
Nathan Phillips Square Rink, 3.45 p.m. Good condition, maybe 15 people skating. The zamboni driver told me it was last done around 1.30. Then he went on with the zamboni, tried to flood it but stopped after the first round. The rest was just a scrape, but it looked a bit rough after.
Harbourfront Rink, 4.00 p.m. It’s started to rain. The rink looks rough and mushy. About six skaters on the ice are scrambling to get off , out of the driving rain/snow. I talk to the zamboni driver. He says he did the ice at 2 p.m. It looks ridged, though, and rough. Maybe it is better to stay off. The guy at the rink says they have a problem with too much sun.
Trinity Rink, 4.20 p.m. rink closed. It looks just like the others – mushy with a puddle on one side.
Dufferin Rink, 6.30 p.m. It got colder, now it’s about minus 3 C. The zamboni is scraping the ice, and it’s very smooth, no ridges. Wallace rink, 10.10 p.m. Women’s open shinny. The players are cursing when they go around near the net – big gouges and chips in the ice, front and back of the net. Scary.

Wednesday Feb.22: Dufferin Rink, 2.15 p.m. Some kids, aged maybe 13 or 14, who have been causing lots of trouble at the rink, came into the rink house. The staff told them to leave, but they wouldn’t. An older friend of theirs said, “you don’t have to listen to the staff, they can’t do anything.” So one of the staff called the police, and told them that one of the kids had been seen with a knife in the past.
Three cruisers arrived in about 4 minutes. The kid who had been seen with the knife last week was clean, but his friend had a pretty big knife in his pocket. So he’s out of circulation for a while. Probably spending the night in the cells behind the courthouse.
Yesterday at a meeting, everyone had discussed whether to involve the police if these kids kept up their campaign of trouble. Opinion was divided. Some of us thought that we could make the kids leave if we just surrounded them with staff.
But it might not have gone so well, if we had done that. Now the trick is to contact the probation officer and see if they’ll let us work with the kid doing his community hours. That might help him turn a corner. But who knows?
I told one of the other parents about it afterwards, without names of course. People are often surprised when they hear there’s trouble at the rink. They see it as a very orderly, friendly place. I told her, “the snack bar is just a front. It’s there to attract the mixed-up kids so the staff can work with them if they’re going through a bad patch.”
Of course the snack bar is also there to serve food to hungry skaters, but in another way I was telling the truth. It’s those goofy kids with their cursing and their fights (and their knives) that really absorb a lot of the staff's time. They care about those kids, and they're bothered about the guy being in jail tonight.

Nathan Phillips Square, 10 p.m. There were maybe 15 pleasure-skaters on the ice, about the same as at Dufferin Rink. Plus there were six hockey players at the sidelines. Two of them told me they were just waiting for the lights to shut off, and then the nightly hockey game would begin. I asked about light. They said there’s enough from all the tall buildings around. I asked them if they ever play at Ryerson – “sure we do. Wherever there’s hockey, we play.”

Ryerson Rink, 10.10 p.m. A sign at the side of the rink said “skating prohibited between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.” But there were two groups of skaters just lacing up their skates – more than I’ve seen there in the daytime. As I watched them, one of the zamboni drivers from City Hall walked by. I asked him about the sign. “That’s nothing, that’s just to protect them against lawsuits.” He said he loves to see the hockey at City Hall, that rinks should be used as much as possible.

College Park Rink, 10.20 p.m. nobody was skating. There were just three or four street kids sitting on a bench, interested doing some business, maybe.

Tuesday Feb.21: Harbourfront Rink, 3 p.m. Good ice. Much less crowded than on the weekends. The rink supervisor told me their ice is pretty thick now too, after the last few rainfalls. He said they put on an extra operator early morning for the past two days and did 5 scrapes with the blade all the way down, and that helped. Five scrapes a day wouldn't be impossible at Dufferin Rink if the extra zamboni driver would split the scraping with the other guy. No such luck though -- Dufferin has been getting one deep scrape every two or three days.

Sunday February 19:

Dufferin Rink, 12 noon. Sunny but still only minus 10 celsius. The compressor has started running again.
Campbell Rink, 2 p.m. Family time, no shinny hockey players allowed. Only one family plus three more skaters.

Saturday February 18:

Dufferin Rink, 9 a.m. The temperature is minus 16 celsius, the coldest day of the winter so far. But the compressor is running. Maybe the ice is so thick that the minus 16 can't reach the temperature sensors in the rink slab?
2 p.m. Temperature: minus 13. Compressor still running.
7.p.m. Temperature: minus 12. Compressor still running. It's the bike race tonight, and the race has lots of people watching, stamping their feet trying to keep warm. But the compressor is still trying to cool the ice!
11 p.m. The compressor is silent. It took that long for the ice to cool down.

February 17, Friday

Wallace Rink. The hockey rink was locked all day. The Dufferin Rink staff person told me she went over in mid-evening to find the flying squad looking at the padlock to the hockey gate, which was frozen. They said they were just going to leave because the lock wouldn’t open, but she suggested they get some hot water and thaw out the lock. She had to return to Dufferin Rink, but phoned the Wallace Rink office from there to see how it was going. No answer, although she tried repeatedly.
9.10 p.m. When I came to the rink, skaters had the nets on the pleasure-skating side. The hockey side was still locked. The hockey ice looked as though it had not been done since yesterday’s rain froze on it. The skaters told me the flying squad did get the lock open but said they couldn’t zamboni the ice because it’s too cold, so they left without taking the zamboni off its trailer. Skaters also told me that the gangster-boys had gone into the change room with the Wallace staff after the Dufferin staff person left, and appeared to be having a party in there and in the garage. Maybe that’s why they didn’t want to answer the phone.
Campbell Rink 9.30 p.m. permit on the ice. Ice looked okay but fairly snowy. Building attendant had rigged up a TV reception dish and was watching TV inside the rink office with a friend.

*A note from shinny hockey player John Dondertman: We had our game Friday night but the conditions were marginal at best, the ice had very large cracks and holes. I was told that the zamboni had been by at one point but I am not sure when. I had been at Dufferin Grove earlier and the ice was actually as good as I have seen it this season. Overall the ice conditions have been poor at Campbell Rink, is it possible to get a flood closer to our 9:00 pm permit? Is there some one else I need to get in contact with about this? Also would you normally charge for last Friday as the ice was as I mentioned extremely poor.
Response to John, from Jutta --
1. as far as I know the city's policy is to charge full price for the ice whether the ice maintenance was good or bad.
2. I'm not sure the evening crew of zamboni drivers works their full shift. Campbell Rink is looked after by a "flying squad" -- two zamboni drivers with a truck pulling a zamboni on a trailer. They do Campbell, Wallace, Trinity and Christie rinks, I think. Despite the rain on Thursday night, by Friday evening the rinks should have been okay. I checked them and noticed that Campbell and Christie and Trinity rinks had lots of snow on them but they did look like they had been serviced at some point earlier during that shift. Wallace Rink had not been serviced at all.
I thought that the evening shift for zamboni drivers is until 10 p.m. but there are signs from your reports and those of other rink users that they stop earlier. Whether their shifts have changed or they simply leave early every night is something that management ought to verify by checking the log books against rink user reports. I'm not sure they will, though.

Christie Rink 9.50 p.m. Large group of youth with bottles standing outside the rink house, knocking and calling rink staff’s name, but he was gone. Large group of shinny hockey players on ice. Ice looked okay but snowy.
Trinity Rink 10.10 p.m. Rink locked. Ice looked okay but snowy. I wonder when the flying squad staff go home at night? Does anybody check?
Dufferin Rink 11 p.m. Temperature minus 9 but compressor running. I guess the ice is so thick the compressors can’t tell the temperature. Tech services says the compressors turn themselves off half the time during winter, when it’s cold enough, but maybe that’s quite a bit less than half the time when the ice is this thick.

February 16, Thursday.

Dufferin Rink, 7.30 p.m. Today the zamboni was used to scrape down the ice for more than half an hour. Wonderful. That’s the third or fourth time since the rink meeting ten days ago. All the other times the zamboni is just used for giving quick floods, and the ice gets higher. The dasher boards in the corner are disappearing.

There was a light rain for most of the day and around 6.30 there was some lightning, maybe two or three times, with very feeble, distant thunder. The zamboni supervisor called to say there would be no more ice maintenance that day – he was sending the drivers home because of the lighting.

At 9.00 a couple of hockey players went out with rink shovels and pushed off some water. Most of the water that had been on the rink when the zamboni drivers went home had already frozen solid, except for one side where a pool of water had collected. The ice is so high there that the drain holes are blocked completely. Since the zamboni drivers never came back to the rink to push off the water, the ice is higher again.

11.00 p.m. When I went to lock the gates, the timer had just cut the rink lights off. Two children were skating on the beautiful smooth ice of the darkened rink, now frozen completely. Their parents -- very elegantly dressed -- stood and watched them. I told them I was locking up, and they said -- "they're having such a good time -- a few more minutes?" So I showed them how to lock the padlock when they were ready to leave. They said they're Hungarian. As we talked, the lightning began again -- with barely any thunder. The two children cut circles and figures of eight in the ice with their skates. I left the four of them there, with their enjoyment, Hungarians in the Canadian winter.

February 9, Thursday.

Dufferin Rink, 6.30 p.m. one of the zamboni drivers was feeling chatty. He said to the rink house staff: “this ice thickness argument of yours is all wrong. Think about it – if there were two ponds and you had to walk across one of them, and one had two inches of ice, and the other had seven inches of ice, which one would you rather walk across? Think!”

February 7, Tuesday.

An e-mail arrived:

Hello Ms. Mason,

One of our readers pointed me towards the Friends of Dufferin Grove website, where you state that I misquoted you in yesterday's article.

I'd appreciate an opportunity to discuss how I may have misquoted you. You can well imagine that it's not something I like to do!

Phinjo Gombu
Reporter - Toronto Star
Newsroom, One Yonge St.

Hello Mr.Gombu,

Wow! A journalist who follows up on an obscure posting on a web site! I'm surprised and impressed.

I even experimented with writing a little clarifying note to the Star's editor yesterday, but it made me mad again about the whole situation (i.e. the rinks fiasco, not your article) and I dropped it. I also decided that the "low work standards" of folks that "spend a huge amount of time doing nothing" is -- sadly -- fairly descriptive of zamboni drivers over the years for many parts of the city and many rinks. It's not as much the case for Dufferin Rink. We have been the squeaky wheel for so long that we do get four regular ice maintenance visits a day, except when there's warm or wet weather (which is when they could scrape off ice to get it thinner, but they almost always refuse).

Very few of the 49 compressor-run outdoor rinks get the kind of maintenance that Dufferin Rink gets. Some are lucky if they get a zamboni once a day. But the zamboni drivers will be upset about this detail -- of me apparently denying their regular ice maintenance work at Dufferin Rink, which gets more frequent maintenance than other rinks -- and feel unjustly accused. Which I don't want.

An outdoor rink needs responsive ice maintenance, and that's what's deficient, more than regularity in the case of our rink. The zamboni driver who came and flooded our ice on Saturday as it was raining is a good example of the problem. The schedule said to flood the ice, so he was bloody well going to do it, and woe to the people who questioned him. Another part of the problem is the zamboni drivers who don't scrape the ice when it's soft on top, or when there's water on it, and who mock the on-site staff (and rink users) for even suggesting it. The supervision is also the problem, and up from there, the management, which has more or less abandoned the $60 million-worth of compressor-run outdoor rinks as something that needs their attention. In the restructured parks bureaucracy, these outdoor rinks have not yet even been assigned to anyone as their responsibility (unless that got done in the last few days, as a result of your article).

So it's a big ball of wax, and singling out the zamboni drivers for a mess that is so much bigger is unfortunate. As I said to you on the phone, describing a complex situation (i.e. almost any bit of reality) is tricky. I can see it takes practice, and I haven't had that practice enough. So, although I believe I did say to you that Dufferin Rink usually gets the zamboni four times a day, I was unable to convey that responsiveness to weather is just as important, as is collaboration with other people, as is trying things (instead of just shutting down suggestions in favour of what's always been done).

The other way I probably confused the picture for you was by telling you that the zamboni drivers complained about having to fit themselves to our regular ice program schedule, i.e. not being able to cut into a program or a permit as they often do at other rinks, to run their zamboni. Overall, they complain about Dufferin Rink a lot but they do fit themselves to our schedule (squeaky wheel again). But almost every winter there is a revolt by them. My presence there, as a highly involved outsider, is a big irritation for many City workers too, and that becomes a lighting rod for the many frustrations that bug people who work inside a bureaucracy. This winter their irritation/frustration has come to yet another crisis.

The compressor-run outdoor rinks are only one little instance of how people end up frustrating one another. The issue of dysfunctional union/management arrangements is a bigger one, and getting it out in front of people, as your piece did, is the main point here. I will have to mop up with City staff, to tell them I'm aware that Dufferin Rink gets good treatment by their standards. But I am very grateful that your piece was as open and detailed as it was, and I think it's way over on the good side of the media ledger (of the influence of journalism in fostering public discussion). So we'll see how the meeting goes tonight.


February 6, Monday

Dufferin Rink, Today an article about my proposal to put outdoor rinks under community boards of management came out in the Star. It got people's attention at City Hall, like no call or e-mail by me ever could. But it also made it sound as though the irregularity of the ice maintenance is the big problem at Dufferin Rink, which it isn't. Sigh.

This afternoon they removed the new rule about all the rink users having to be shut up in the rink house when the zamboni's on the ice. But the on-site rink staff are not to talk to the zamboni drivers directly. I asked the Parks director -- should they communicate through hand signals?

Plus any section of ice not fenced with chain link is supposed to be cordoned off during ice maintenance, with special yellow ropes. Will this practice now migrate to the other outdoor City rinks with much more open area -- City Hall, for instance? What a fuss, always explained by the elastic, roomy excuse of "liability." But nothing happened to justify this fuss, not at our rink or elsewhere, and there were no lawsuits against the City for zamboni accidents. At City Hall, at Harbourfront, or here, people understand that you should get out of the way of a moving vehicle.

11:00 p.m.: It snowed a lot of the evening, just tapering off around 9.30. Around 6 the kids at the rink got bored and started shoveling, with the rink house staff supervising. Shoveling is a good way to earn a mini-pizza, drink, and cookie, but the kids also like to do it because pushing those long rink shovels is a way to test your strength. Two zamboni drivers and the supervisor came at 7 and they went around and around with the zamboni and shovels, working really hard, taking off snow for a couple of hours. So when the permit guys arrived (Mondays it's the musicians and the engineers), they had a game. At 11 they were tired, but sometimes I think they'll just float away with the joy of the game, out under the open sky.

February 4, Saturday. Dufferin Rink, 1.20: a lot of rain in the forecast, and it’s begun. Two zamboni drivers come, we ask them to wait to scrape the ice until the end of the under-12 shinny time (as it says on their schedule). The zamboni driver comes out on the machine right after, doesn’t wait for rink guards, starts flooding the rink even as the rain is falling hard. Rink guards try to talk to him, ask him why he’s flooding in the rain, but he won’t stop the zamboni, the rink guards have to get out of his way. The on-site staff (rink guards) call the zamboni supervisor. Twenty minutes later the supervisor calls back to say that from now on his crew will handle all the ice maintenance. Here’s the new rule to top the previous new rule: both the rink on-site staff and the skaters will be confined in the rink house during the whole time of ice maintenance. He says there can be no interference, and if people even come out of the rink house during ice maintenance, the zamboni driver can leave the zamboni right in the middle of the ice and go away.

Astonishing chaos. How deep will it go? Is there anyone home in parks management?

February 3, Friday

Rain, 4 degrees, until about 2 p.m. then clearing, with a few bits of showery clouds from time to time.

Dufferin Rink, 3 p.m. staff shoveled water off pleasure skating side for the skating lessons. Then zamboni came and got some more off.

6.30 p.m. ice is good, lots of skaters, Friday night Supper.

9.00 p.m. the clouds are gone and there’s a moon over the rink – permit is made up of young guys who used to get kicked out of Dufferin Rink when they were teenagers, troublemakers – now they get to borrow the key so they can get into the change-room afterwards. Lovely fellows. Wallace Rink, 11 a.m. Zamboni driver is inside, says that later he’ll get a zamboni to use so he can get the rink in shape. Rink is already very wet from the rain, no drainage holes.

8.30 p.m. I guess the zamboni driver never did get a zamboni, before he left at three. He spent his whole shift without a zamboni. The hockey rink has so much water on it that it’s closed. The rink guard tells me they never opened it all day. People are playing hockey on the pleasure side.

Harry Gairey Rink, 8.45 p.m. Good, fast shinny game on the hockey side. Ice looks okay.

City Hall Rink, 9.30 p.m. Quite a few skaters, music by a d.j., the ice tent (Winterfest) is open, but the whole scene looks a bit listless. Ice looks fine.

Harbourfront Rink, 10.10 p.m. Packed. Coloured lights, music – people are dancing on the ice, it looks like a big, energetic club. I ask the rink guard – when did your rain dry up enough so the ice got hard? He looks at me funny. "Our ice wasn’t wet. If it rains, it freezes right away." And he starts to explain about compressors freezing the ice.
That's how things are when the ice is the right thickness. Harbourfront keeps their ice around 2 inches, versus most rinks' (including ours) 6 inches. So their compressors can work properly, while the City's outdoor rink compressors gobble up energy and they still can't manage if it rains or the sun comes out. A sad story.
However, the music and the dancing on the ice are worth imitating. We'll try it at Dufferin Rink soon.

Christie Rink, 10.45 p.m. the ice is fine, with three players, but the plexiglass is so fogged up that you can’t even see it. Why?

February 2, Thursday

Wallace Rink 9 p.m. 10 women there for hockey. Two families on the pleasure skating side. 27 shinny hockey players. Rink guard told them they could go on the pleasure-skating side. One family doesn’t mind, say they were leaving anyway. The other one is an off-duty zamboni operator with his three kids – is very angry about the change made after 9 p.m., calls the supervisor, tells the rink guard that I can phone him if I want to change the schedule. Rink guard asks his name but he won’t give it, just says: "she knows who I am." But I don’t know who he is. I guess we’d better post the sign bigger.

Rink guard told me that a bunch of the shiny hockey players got in their cars and headed down to Dufferin Rink, which was also pretty full.

February 1, ’06, Wednesday

Dufferin Rink: The ice is even thicker, but good as long as the temperature stays near freezing. Dufferin Rink has been getting too crowded again.

3.30 p.m. zamboni operators come and insist on two rink guards. Agreement was only one, but they say they have a piece of paper "from your supervisor" that says the rules have changed again. Rink on-site staff ask to see the paper, but the zamboni drivers say no. They say they’ll leave if the rink guards don’t stay out there. Not very many skaters, but they stay out.

Wallace Rink: not as crowded but tonight there were thirty players on the ice at 8 p.m. There's the usual group of young construction workers, who are still rubbing their eyes from their post-work nap when they get to the rink in the evening. When they fully wake up, they’re really eager to play. The rink supervisor has agreed to try closing the building at 9 p.m. and taking the pressure off the permit groups and women’s shinny players that way, so there won’t be a huge number of unhappy hockey players being kicked off the ice. If the building is closed when the permit starts (as it is at most rinks anyway), the other hockey players can move over to the pleasure-skating side – it’s like being on the pond. So there’s no brawl. Hopefully the women won’t get the stupid comments, either, if they don’t have as many players as the male shinny players they’re displacing on Thursdays. As long as people are allowed to keep on playing, and it’s not too frustrating with the crowds, things stay peaceful.

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Content last modified on November 06, 2006, at 06:39 PM EST