At Fairmount Park, a group of community members is keeping a Canadian tradition alive and well.
The Fairmount Park Ice Masters come together every winter to build and maintain natural outdoor ice rinks at the park. The group of approximately 50 volunteers spends five days and nights a week looking after the rinks, one equipped with boards and nets for hockey and the other for pleasure skating. The rinks are open free to residents, bringing the community together to enjoy one of Canada’s most beloved pastimes.
“It’s definitely something that has jelled the community,” said group member Ray Bernard. “In the winter when all the neighbours don’t necessarily get out much, it gives us all a reason to gather. I’ve met people from all over the community, not just my immediate neighbours, through the rink.”
Originally run by the city, the Ice Masters took over the rink about 20 years ago. Just a few people strong back then, the group has continued to grow and even spawned a band, The Lost Boys, and an annual neighbourhood festival, Winterfest. The group has also inspired and helped other parks to set up their own community rinks.
Volunteers work in shifts through cold and snowy weather to flood the rinks with water. It takes a lot of work, but Bernard said it’s all worth it.
“Everyone is excited and enjoys and uses the rink and that’s what makes it worthwhile in the end,” he said. “Every guy that’s out there putting in the hours, when you see the kids out using it, that really motivates us to keep it up and keep it going ... it’s a lot of neighbourhood dads and it’s a lot of guys that have been around for 20 years working on the rink who enjoy the social framework that it offers. It does a lot for everyone and that’s why we keep doing it.”
Along with putting in time and labour, the group also fundraises to provide supplies for the rinks. While much of the rink equipment was donated by the city when the rinks changed hands, equipment still needs to be replaced or purchased at times. The city still provides electricity and lighting.
The rinks give local kids a reason to look forward to winter every year.
“The kids are out there as soon as there’s anything that can be skated on,” Bernard said. “Even if the whole rink isn’t finished and there’s a half or a quarter of skating surface, kids are out there skating on it ... I’ve walked by there and seen teenagers playing hockey well beyond midnight, and little kids using it early in the morning – it gets used just about any time.”
After last year’s warm winter, which only saw a few days cold enough for skating, the group is thrilled with this winter’s colder temperatures, which have already provided weeks of skating time. Weather permitting, the rink will stay open to the end of March.