The rink at Capital Park

By Martha Bowers

The great Canadian tradition of building backyard rinks is thriving in the Glebe this winter. One such rink, although not in a backyard, is in Capital Park. Without a rink at Mutchmor again this year and with ongoing pandemic restrictions, people are creating community skating rinks for everyone to use. And what a joy for all – children, teens, adults – to be outside laughing, playing, keeping a distance and feeling safe, with or without masks!

A team of volunteer neighbours has been building a rink in Capital Park for years so there was no question about doing it again this year. No one can remember exactly when the first one was made, but it was probably 15 or 16 years ago. One recollection is that during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, some of the guys decided to create their own hockey league, and they needed a rink. Why not make one in our neighbourhood park? And so it came to be.

Weather plays an essential role in our winter activities, and the rink has always been dependent on that. As soon as the temperature dips, the crew begins to lay out the parameters. A good base of snow is preferred, but the ground can be tamped down for a start. When the snow comes, it is compressed to make a solid base. This has been done by various means, including skiing in circles pulling a kid in a sled for added weight. One year a tarp was laid over the area, with not very good results. There are no boards, so snow is piled along the sides to help keep the water in and act as a buffer from the play area.

With the arrival of frigid weather, the flooding starts. There is no water source in the park, so a hose is attached to a nearby house. The crew takes turns during cold nights to flood the area, sometimes using buckets as well. One year, the hose stretched across the street – luckily, passing cars didn’t sever it! As ice layers build up, the rink becomes a shiny, hard surface for skating. At first, there may be some bumps and rough spots, but our ingenious crew has methods to fix these, including taking a hot iron and smoothing it over the bumps and holes! There have been attempts to install some lighting, without much success, but it is lovely and bright on moonlit nights.

Everyone takes turns shovelling the snow, and a neighbour has been known to bring a snow blower to remove the heavy stuff after a big snowfall. In true community spirit, neighbours chip in to cover the water bill.

Lucas, this year’s chief of maintenance, has been a dedicated driving force to get the rink in shape. You can see him early in the morning, late at night and even at midday, checking the conditions. “It’s a lot of hard work,” he says, “but definitely worth it. The rink has helped adults and kids not just to survive but also to thrive during the winter months between all the lockdowns.” The benefits to our physical and mental health are enormous.

Everyone is welcome at the rink. Little ones learn to skate, shuffling along at first and before you know it, rushing up the centre. Experienced skaters glide round and round, chatting to each other or just enjoying the fresh air and exercise. And those working at home sometimes come out at lunchtime for a quick game of shinny. Hockey games happen at all times of day. Players rotate on and off to ensure everyone gets a chance to play without crowding the ice.

This community rink makes the best use of a public space. It is inclusive, accessible, cost effective and, despite the hard work, a lot of fun. If COVID has taught us anything, it is to value our family and friends, to appreciate life and to be creative. Capital Rink is a perfect example of neighbourly cooperation to help us get through this difficult time. A big thank you to all those who have made it happen!

Martha Bowers learned to skate in Sudbury on the rink her father made in the driveway. She loves skating and hockey although she has never played.

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