The city of Toronto is guilty of a false economy in having closed most of its outdoor ice rinks last weekend, at a time when temperatures are decidedly below the freezing point, and before the March school break when kids and families would be especially likely to head out for a skate or a game of shinny.
Councillor Paula Fletcher is right to be urging city staff to find money to keep all of the city’s 52 outdoor rinks open, and to have introduced a motion to prevent this from happening again. John Tory, a mayoral candidate, has accurately called this state of affairs “nuts.” It is. And it has been for years.
A generation ago, Toronto built a network of artificial outdoor rinks, whose refrigeration units allow for a full season of skating and hockey, even in a city whose winter temperatures frequently rise above freezing. And then, in an act of penny-foolishness, the city started closing most of the rinks in February – before winter is actually over.
On Thursday, Canadian Tire and the Bank of Nova Scotia announced they were funding a plan to reopen 11 more of Toronto’s outdoor rinks: together, a donation of $250,000. The two corporations also encouraged others to join in, in the hopes of finding money for the two dozen other rinks that have yet to be provided for.
There’s a common-sense issue at stake here: if you build rinks, find the money to operate them. But there’s also an issue of policy: Why can’t local community groups, organizations outside of government, run the show, taking things out of the hands of distant politicians and bureaucracies? Surely it is no coincidence that one of the few Toronto rinks open until mid-March is at Dufferin Grove Park, where an active group of volunteers, after years of agitating to be allowed to improve their neighbourhood park, are now involved in running it.
It’s a public-private park partnership, and Toronto needs more of them. Hamilton has a good model; outdoor rinks are operated by community volunteers. Toronto’s strange haste to close the rinks makes it an outlier in the wider region. Mississauga, Vaughan and Markham all keep their rinks open until the middle or the end of March. As for other major cities in central Canada, Ottawa welcomes and encourages volunteers for rinks, and for parks generally. In Montreal, 92 per cent of the city’s 275 outdoor rinks are still open.
In Toronto, meanwhile, excellent ice is going underused. It’s nuts. The Canadian Olympic Committee’s slogan this year was WeAreWinter. Yes we are. Even in Toronto.