The City is sticking to the 10-week rink season idea. Those far-away folks at City Hall are making several arguments: first, that the weather doesn’t get cold enough for skating until late in December; second, that even if the weather is cold, people don’t come to skate much until the Christmas holidays; and third, that the City is only shortening the season by a couple of weeks.
We went through the old log books and looked it all up. The weather was often quite cold in December, with warm spells in both January and February. Our census has always been highest in December, starting from the day we open. And the opening dates for city outdoor double-pad rinks in the past five years: 1996: November 24. 1997: November 22. 1998: November 22. 1999: November 25, but ours opened Dec.18 because our 6-year-new rink needed emergency repairs. 2000: Dec.1. In the seventies, when a lot of these rinks were built, there was a set formula: opening day was November 15, closing was the first Sunday of March.
So we sent all this to the Parks and Recreation director, and asked him to open at least some rinks all over the City by the end of November.
Still no movement from the City. More and more people are writing in, though.
A call from the City Councillor: “I’ve got some really good news. Don Boyle has told me that they’re going to open the City rinks two weeks earlier.” The director told him that’s almost the same as last year.
Letter to the City Councillor: When the director refers to a “two week reduction” in the rink season, he cannot be referring to Toronto -- evidently. We are looking at a one-month reduction. It’s like closing the swimming pools for the first month of summer. We think this is a shocking waste of our community’s winter resources, hence all the letters people have been sending to you and to Parks and Rec management.
If our city is so broke that we have to mothball our public facilities during their peak time, you'd better straight-out say so, and go from there. But perhaps you can see that if there is a pretense that opening on Dec.22 constitutes a “two week reduction,” then this whole affair begins to seem a little shady to the rest of us.
E-mail from the director: “We are opening up on Dec. 1st. without any reduction from last year. It only figures that last year was the latest its opened, Ha Ha ....I know its not really funny but sometimes I just need to laugh or take a long walk in the park to remember what business I am in. Have a great day!! :)”
The first rink day started off at seven a.m. with Andrew MacDonald baking bread for his wedding later this month. He’s going to freeze it. He was interviewed about it for a province-wide morning radio show, in a live item broadcast from the park. The interviewer said he was skating and kneading bread, but he wasn't - he was just holding the cell phone and pretending to do those things.
The ice was amazingly good despite the warm weather (11 Celsius). In the afternoon the park had basketball, hockey, frisbee, soccer, and baseball, all going on at the same time. The scene looked as though Dufferin Grove Park had moved to Florida - green grass, flowers still in the gardens, and warm sunshine, all in December.
There was a robbery last night. Somebody either hid inside the building just before the staff left or got in through a sliding window, and then perhaps they let their friends in and they were able to force up the metal hatch to the office. The metal around the lock is broken. When staff came in this morning, the fridge was open, the butter dish was smashed on the floor, all the juices were gone, and the money pouch (with all the change and snack bar money) was also gone from its drawer. That was a low trick.
One of the rink staff went across to the mall and bought a new fanny pack, and the change built up pretty soon. Today was the double celebration of the rink opening and the Christmas tree lighting. It went up to 9 Celsius, but the ice was fine. A lot of people came. At 4 p.m. the Nyamamusango marimba band set up beside the campfire at the big oven, and soon a big, appreciative audience collected there; at 5 p.m. 40 loaves of hot bread (rosemary and 6-grain) were taken out of oven and sold there within 10 minutes; at 5.15 the city councillor came to the big evergreen near the wildflower sign, along with a carol choir; at 5.30 the Christmas tree was lit (Santa was there, with a giant sack of chocolate bars); at 5.45 people came back up the hill to drink free hot chocolate and listen to the Darbazi Choir inside the rink house. Then until eight p.m. there were people all over - around two campfires, in the rink house, and out skating on the rink: a lively park. This might be the year to keep the rink open later than 6 p.m. on Sundays, always.
Skaters have been giving unsolicited donations to cover the robbery loss. Tonight the women’s shinny hockey group passed a basket around and came up with $40 in five minutes.
Also we've been keeping the hockey rink open after the change rooms close, so people can have an additional 2 hours to play shinny. We’ve been asking those people if they can give a toonie each, until we get the rest of the stolen money collected. Most people seem very happy to donate a toonie: the joy of a simple, practical remedy.
In a few days, when we’ve got the money together, we’ll stop asking for donations but keep the after-hours hockey. People are playing hockey until eleven every night: the joy of play.
The new City rinks supervisor has decided to have a zamboni driver stationed full time at this rink again this year. This is despite the change in provincial rink regulations. The supervisor said they had already made their staffing allocations before the final word came through. This is really the funny farm: we went through so much grief about the late rink opening, and now it turns out that the rinks will have zamboni drivers doing two hours of work for eight hours’ pay, again. However, we’ll have a zamboni here most of the times, so maybe we’ll get better ice maintenance than last year.
Tino asked the staff to specify in an email before the rink opened, when we would need the ice cleaned, to fit the rink schedule. But the scheduling hasn’t worked too well. It turns out that the supervisor doesn’t actually read his e-mail. So for the first days the zamboni driver came at the wrong time. In the second week the replacement driver came at the wrong time. That meant the City had to pay him to stay overtime after his 8 hours ended, so we could get the ice cleaned for our permits. So for four of the 13 days since our rink has been open we had two zamboni drivers hanging around with very little work assigned between their three times cleaning the ice. They get paid over $20 an hour plus 45% benefits.
The zamboni this year is propane-powered. On the third day of the rink, we got a driver here who didn’t have his licence to operate a propane machine. So the supervisor sent another guy to clean our ice that day, but the first driver still stayed at our rink for the rest of the shift, collecting his wages, with nothing to do.
After all that yak about shortening the rink season, to save money! Even with the zamboni drivers generally having so much time on their hands, we couldn’t get our ice cleaned in time for our learn-to-skate last Sunday morning. From Jutta: When I said to the supervisor that our ice has to be cleaned and flooded before 9 a.m. on Sundays from now on, he said we’re lucky to get any flood at all. This repeats a theme I have been hearing around the rink for years: that ice maintenance is a kind of favour, a lucky break for rink users. If I had a dollar for every time a parks employee responded to a request for a proper level of service by saying we’re lucky to get any [fill in the blanks: trash pickup, ice maintenance, snow clearing, picnic tables] at all, I’d be able to buy something really nice by now.
The supervisor says I ought to lighten up, laugh a little. It’s true that the City runs the rinks like a Polish joke. Ha ha
Our main zamboni driver this year is a lonely soul. His car, parked by the side of the rink, is full of boxes and bags, clothes, shoes. It looks as though he may live out of it. He is slowly learning how to use the propane zamboni. He hit the boards often enough at the beginning that the carpenters were out every few days to fix the gouges. The supervisor keeps coming out to go over the training again, and the driver is getting slower and slower, trying not to screw up I guess. The skaters grumble a bit but on the whole they’re amazingly patient, having to stay off the ice so long.
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.
The zamboni driver has gotten pretty fast at doing the ice now, and he’s talking a lot more. He now likes to say that he knows more about running a rink than anyone else in Toronto. At first it seemed like he was making a joke, but he expounds on ice and zambonis a lot, and people back away from him after a while.
Yesterday all day there was a big winter storm warning. By dawn this morning, enough snow had fallen that the rink was closed, and by lunchtime when the snow tapered off, there was more than a foot of snow on the rink ice. Apart from the brief appearance of a park worker in the morning, to raise the lift gate and open the chain link gates in preparation for the ploughs, there was no sign of any rink crews all day. Our zamboni driver didn't turn up and by noon there was a message from central command: all rink staff were cancelled, across the city, and rink users were to be told that the rinks might reopen by 4 p.m. the next day.
But then at 6.30 in the evening to, a truck came with a plough. A few minutes later a giant caseloader appeared, and then a jeep. Between the three of them, they made short work of the snow. In half an hour the ice surface had reappeared.
The plough operators said they hadn't even been told to start plowing the rinks until 4 in the afternoon. But in Etobicoke, rink crews were clearing snow all day, and so by 5 p.m. all their rinks had been flooded and were back in operation.
Most of the other rinks didn’t answer the phone. A lonely rink tractor driver at High Park said the ploughs had been there, but now he was on his own, since all the other rink staff had been cancelled. He couldn't finish the job by himself (shovelling and out the gates and flooding the ice). He was there and his tractor was there but the rink would stay closed.
The few other rinks which answered, acted as though the question: "are you open?" was pretty silly. Of course they weren't open. Rinks can't open in the snow. Etobicoke rinks are open? What? “Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with us.”
Once the snow was off our rink, we got anxious that there would be no flood because the zamboni driver wasn't there, and so the ploughing would have been wasted. We paged the supervisor, and he said, all right, one of the plough operators will stay and flood the ice. In the end, all three of them stayed and did the job. (One flooding, two watching, instead of going to any other rinks.) Our rink opened in the evening, one of only two in the west (or perhaps anywhere in the former city of Toronto).
The zamboni stank of overheating (rumour says that North York gets new machines and we get the cast-offs, machines on their last legs). Later, in the garage, there was a big rainbow-coloured oil patch on the floor under the machine.
This was the night of the over-35 neighbourhood shinny permit. When they got the call that the rink was cleared, twelve people came out at short notice. The ice was smooth, the air was crisp, and the game went on until the timer turned the lights off, at eleven. The players said afterwards that it was a perfect game.
That's wonderful. But this is no way to run a rink system.
One of best things this winter is the after-hours permits. The rule is you have to book at least a day in advance, so that the staff can make arrangements for late closing. But the night Canada lost to Sweden in men's hockey at the Olympics, a regular shinny player called and asked if he and his friends could please have a permit on short notice, right away. He and his friends had just watched the on TV and they were really frustrated. They were itching to replay the game better.
But there was already another group using the hockey ice. "Would you be able to use the pleasure-skating side? People are allowed to use it for shinny hockey if it’s after hours.” That was all he needed to hear. That night, anyone who went by our rink could see two separate groups of shinny players, one on each ice pad, replaying the Canada-Sweden game better.
The zamboni driver insists to anyone who will listen that he’s the world master at ice maintenance. He goes on for a long time, so most people are giving him a really wide berth. Tonight he took another step in his lonely fantasy. He got a cousin to come with her camcorder and video him going around on the zamboni. They explained that he wants to send the video to his mother.
Thankfully they didn’t start the filming until after the rink house closed, and only on the pleasure-skating side. The zamboni driver made his cousin film him, going around and around, for almost an hour, until the propane got low and he had to stop. By the end, the cousin looked so impatient we thought she was going to slug him.
Last day of the season. The rink was covered with water until about noon (temperatures too mild, too much bright sun yesterday afternoon, too much rain yesterday night). The staff thought the rink would be closed all day, but then in mid-morning today a strong wind came up and soon after, the temperature began to fall quickly and the ice reappeared. We’d advertised a closing-day feast, and one of the park cooks had made special food including a casserole with tripe, and cauliflower risotto.
The zamboni driver was picked up in a city truck by another zamboni driver soon after his shift began at 11, perhaps to go to a final-day lunch (they just grinned and wouldn't say what they were up to). After a while the rink compressor alarm went off and a rink foreman came to check on it. He said the problem was not serious and he just reset it. While he was there, he told us that all the zamboni drivers have gone off duty, and there would be no more ice maintenance that day, anywhere in the city. The rink staff paged the rink supervisor, but he wouldn't talk to them.
Around four o’clock the zamboni driver did return after all. But he said he wouldn't fix the ice, he didn’t have to. Then the skaters got really angry. They told him they'd try to make sure he never worked at a City rink again. So he got the zamboni out and went on the ice. He did one big swath, and it looked much better. Then he said he was going home. A group of skaters followed him around and argued and pleaded with him. He eventually did a few more rounds, which worked pretty well. But before he had done the whole ice, he suddenly turned the zamboni around and drove it off the ice as fast as it would go, into the garage. He gathered up his gear, put it into his car (two and a half hours before the end of his shift) and left, for good.
The family shinny permit time came but they couldn’t skate so they went away. It got even colder. Around seven o’clock another zamboni driver came and said he’d do the ice. So when the adult learners shinny hockey permit came on the ice for their last game of the season at 7.15, they had good ice.
The staff had put a recording on the message machine, saying they would keep the hockey rink open and the rink lights on right up to 11 p.m. Despite the bitter cold that developed by 8 p.m., some of the rink rats came anyway. They stayed until the lights went out and the hockey gates were locked, right to the last minute of the last official day (and the coldest night of the whole winter).
Someone got hold of the zamboni driver's padlock key (did he come back for revenge in the night?), got into the hockey rink, and poured so much salt on the ice that there’s a long gash on the west side. But it was so cold this afternoon that the rest of the rink stayed well frozen even though the compressors had been turned off. Some young guys just moved the nets away from the salt damage and made a smaller rink to play on.
The staff noticed today that some of the salt bags in the garage are gone. So maybe the zamboni driver really did come back. Last night it snowed, but some kids brought shovels from home and shoveled the snow off to the sides of the smaller rink. This afternoon was pretty cold again and so these kids still kept playing.
Hopefully the driver – if he wanted to do damage – doesn’t do any worse.