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posted February 1, 2006

Why a Management Board for City Outdoor Rinks?

To: All friends of City of Toronto outdoor rinks:

Public meeting Tuesday Feb.7
Dufferin Rink, 7.p.m.

The City's management of outdoor compressor-run ice rinks isnít working.

For quite a few years now, friends of Dufferin Rink and other outdoor rinks have advocated for improvements in outdoor rink operations throughout the city. Sometimes it seemed like we were getting somewhere, but lots of times the problems returned.

Now we seem to have hit a wall. Outdoor rinks are still often poorly maintained. At Dufferin Rink, the zamboni drivers say they canít stand working at any rink run like this one. The city's management, distracted by a problematic departmental reorganization, has let this situation develop with little interference.


The problems:
  1. unacceptably low work standards at many outdoor City rinks
  2. hostility from zamboni drivers toward both Dufferin Rink on-site staff and community people.
  3. inventing special safety rules for Dufferin Rink only
  4. absent management.

The possible solutions:
  1. incorporate any outdoor rink under a community board of management if a neighbourhood requests it or
  2. lobby city councillors and existing City management or
  3. continue to trouble-shoot in the background so the foreground still limps along or
  4. let outdoor rinks, including Dufferin Rink, revert to being run by the zamboni operators without interference


  1. Unacceptably low work standards. Most of the City's outdoor rinks now have ice too thick to allow the compressors to work properly (ice often measures four inches or more, instead of a recommended maximum of two inches). So most City rinks are out of commission whenever the weather is warmer, despite their powerful compressors. When the ice is soft enough to scrape it down (reducing the ice thickness), the zamboni drivers seem to either sit idle in their buildings for much of their eight-hour shift or they drive around in their trucks doing visual "checks" -- looking at the rinks and getting back into their trucks. Our Dufferin Rink zamboni is parked in the garage most of the time. By comparison, City Hall is scraped often and functions well in most weathers. Harbourfront Rink also functions very well. It is not run by the City, and the ice is kept at 2 inches. The current ice thickness of most city outdoor rinks uses up to 40% more energy than necessary because the compressors need to freeze so much more. When on-site rink staff or rink friends question this style of ice maintenance, the answer is: "don't meddle in our work."

  2. Hostility toward both Dufferin Rink on-site Staff and community people. The zamboni drivers seem to regard the Dufferin Rink on-site staff as being far too friendly to community people. They have recently devised new rules that restrict the staff's ability to run the rink for skaters. The zamboni drivers seem particularly displeased about the rink staff's insistence on integrating ice maintenance with the rink program schedule. New rules have made it harder to let skaters use one rink while the zamboni is on the other side. Some of the zamboni drivers have told on-site rink staff that there is no role for community volunteers at rinks and that Jutta Mason in particular must be "removed from the area."

  3. Inventing special rules that only apply to Dufferin Rink staff: The ratio of rink guards to rink users at City Hall and at Harbourfront can get as high as 1 guard per 100 skaters. At Dufferin Rink it has recently been reduced to 1 guard per 10 skaters or less. "Employee health and safety" rules appear and disappear, depending on the zamboni drivers' inclination during any given ice cleaning period. (See the web site Rink Reports). If the on-site staff don't follow the "protocol" devised for them without their agreement, the drivers say they have the right to leave the job site immediately without cleaning the ice at all. Management has not taken this in hand.

  4. Absent management: The city's outdoor rinks are worth at least $60 million, just for their physical plants. They are used and cherished by thousands of skaters, and when they are run right, they can be a wonderful meeting-place for neighbourhoods in the winter. The running of the rinks is entrusted to Toronto's Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Division, which has been preoccupied with its own reorganization since before the last municipal election in 2003. As it stands, there is still no director responsible for the outdoor rinks, nor has a manager been assigned to oversee them in the new organizational structure. There is no mention of outdoor rinks in the current operating budget. City councillors voted in 2001 to cut outdoor rinks to only 10 weeks a year, and that vote is still on the books. Any gains made in running the rinks for the real length of winter are therefore unsecured.

    It appears that the work standards of the zamboni drivers are not seen as a problem to be directly monitored by management. Is there is anybody home?

Possible solutions (for discussion at the meeting):
  1. Friends of outdoor rinks could incorporate as neighbourhood boards of management with an arms-length relationship to the City, and oversee the rinks themselves, including hiring staff. There are existing precedents (eleven community centres are run that way).

  2. Rink friends could once again lobby their city councillors (councillorsí e-mails on the web site at Tell Your Councillor, or on the city website at, the general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation ([email protected]), or the interim outdoor rinks manager ([email protected]ca), to address the problems. (This needs to be done in the short term anyway.)

  3. I could continue to trouble-shoot, plead, shake my fist, phone people, etc. in the background, so that the foreground looks okay. (But this is no longer an option for me without a wider effort to address the problems. I donít even skate.)

  4. Dufferin Rink, and all outdoor rinks, could revert to being run by the zamboni operators and their friends without interference, like in the good old days, only for a shorter period. 8 weeks a year was proposed to city council in 2002. When they were built, the outdoor rinks were intended to run for 15 weeks.

Please pass this along to other outdoor-rink friends, come to the meeting, and/or e-mail your ideas to [email protected]

The zamboni cafť will be open before and during the meeting.

- Jutta Mason

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