In an effort to “perhaps deal with the matter once and for all,” Scarborough councillors have called for a report on how the area compares to others in Toronto when it comes to public ice surfaces and who gets to use them.
Michael Thompson sparked the action this week by saying he’s heard complaints, some of them in the media, that “there isn’t a lot of ice surface” available to Scarborough residents.
The former city’s sole outdoor rink is a small ice pad in Albert Campbell Square, while a total of 20 outdoor rinks operate in Etobicoke and York during winter months.
At Thompson’s urging, Scarborough Community Council directed the parks department to produce facts by April on where the indoor and outdoor rinks are in the city, including those run by community groups, and how many hours of free skating or shinny hockey each provide.
His motion also asked staff which steps or financial resources are needed to provide more time at arenas for shinny hockey, the unorganized pick-up version of the sport.
Scarborough councillors also asked for staff opinion on whether helmets should be mandatory, both for adults and children, on the ice at Toronto rinks.
Thompson said a boy was injured Monday when he hit his head on the ice at a North York rink, and later noted some private arenas in the city won’t let anyone on the ice without a helmet.
Some councillors at Tuesday’s meeting seemed to agree with the explanation, stated by chairperson Michelle Berardinetti, that Scarborough’s residents had asked for outdoor rinks to be covered “since they could use them year-round”.
New residents note the lack of outdoor rinks and think Scarborough compares unfairly with the rest of Toronto, she said, “but there’s no inequity.”
Local hockey volunteer Scott Harrison, however, has been telling ratepayer groups a big inequity exists, and said he’ll keep up the pressure until city politicians do something to correct it.
“The people of Scarborough don’t realize the amount of services they don’t have,” he said on Wednesday.
“This is a low-cost initiative for youth to be active in the wintertime. And Scarborough is being shortchanged again.”
Harrison, a former Toronto District Public School Board trustee, isn’t saying who he blames for shortchanging Scarborough.
Plenty of public schools in the area had natural outdoor rinks in the late 1960s and 1970s, when local minor hockey was on the rise and Scarborough was starting to turn out young stars.
The schools stopped providing space for rinks because of liability issues and Scarborough covered some rinks, but even including those, the number of local ice pads is behind the rest of Toronto, said Harrison.
He said he can’t explain why local politicians didn’t build more rinks before 1998, in the years when Scarborough remained an independent city. “Scarborough was a very thrifty organization back then,” Harrison said.
Scarborough-Agincourt Councillor Norm Kelly also concluded in 2008 that “frugal” City of Scarborough policies had resulted in a lack of outdoor pools and rinks after their numbers were examined in a report, Fair Share Scarborough.
That research said Scarborough two years before had only 10 indoor rinks, fewer than North York (19) or Etobicoke and York (19 combined) but more than Toronto and East York (six combined), though Scarborough also had the city’s largest indoor ice surfaces.
Harrison said he’s presented these facts to Scarborough councillors before, as well as to a “shocked” Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. But while city staff believe existing rinks are serving community needs, Harrison said that isn’t true, particularly for youth in disadvantaged local neighbourhoods.
“It’s like the Kevin Costner movie (Field of Dreams): you build it and they will come,” he said.
Scarborough councillors this week appeared to suggest school boards should take responsibility again for providing outdoor ice, backing a motion by Glenn De Baeremaeker requesting that boards build rinks at all Scarborough schools.
The Scarborough Centre councillor insisted this solution made the most sense. “Build a skating rink where the kids are, and the kids are at the school,” he said.
But Harrison said school boards, without provincial intervention, aren’t able to spend money on anything except education.
Local ratepayer groups don’t have money to contribute to outdoor rinks either, he added.
The solution, Harrison lies in the city paying for refrigerated outdoor rinks in partnership with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and other large corporations picking up part of the costs.