Rink Review: Harbourfront

The rink at Harbourfront has, together with the ice pad at Nathan Phillips Square, become one of Toronto’s iconic skating spaces. Many rinks throughout the city have captured locals’ hearts, but this is one of a very few that every winter visitor to the city should set blade to. It’s difficult for me to imagine going an entire winter without gazing at that beautiful backdrop of the harbour and islands while I stumble counter-clockwise around a rink.

Harbourfront advertises two major attributes of this pad: the size and the view. Neither disappoints. As Canada’s largest outdoor artificial rink, there’s a good deal of room for the huge numbers of people that are drawn to skate here by the beautiful surroundings. But despite its size, it always seems just a little too crowded for me. There isn’t much room to learn new tricks or do anything unexpected. If you want to land graceful axels in the centre of the ice or learn to skate backwards, you’ll probably be better off at a quieter rink. The rink itself is resurfaced regularly throughout the day, making it a pleasure to skate on.

On the down side, the indoor change room, while serviceable, is noticeably dingy and unkempt. The restaurant, while serviceable, offers standard greasy-spoon burger and fries fare. Just don’t expect the on-ice ambiance to extend into the change room or restaurant and you’ll be fine.

Harbourfront is not quite the desolate wasteland that many think it is during the winter, but it is noticeably devoid of much of the life that abounds during the warmer months. The only real crowd in the neighbourhood is on the rink.

Judging by the near-complete lack of people in local restaurants when we’ve eaten there after a skate, it seems like most people drive down, skate, and drive away again. Their loss, because the winter view from Il Fornello in Queens Quay Terminal is almost equal to that from the rink itself, but without the wintry wind off the lake blowing in your face. The lack of diners seems doubly strange to me given the number of people that live in condos within a five-minute walk of Queens Quay Terminal. Don’t those people ever eat at the local establishments?

Spending an hour skating within spitting distance of the lake should be a winter ritual for Torontonians and visitors alike. Forget what you know about the inhospitableness of Harbourfront in the winter and plan to spend the day down there.

Harbourfront rink information:

  • Facility type: Outdoor artificial rink.
  • Public skating hours: Monday – Thursday 10 am – 10 pm , Friday – Sunday 10am – 11 pm.
  • Public skating cost: Free
  • Accessibility: The restaurant that overlooks the rink has an accessible indoor seating area and patio. Otherwise, the rink and facilities are not accessible.
  • Public transit: 509 Harbourfront or 510 Spadina LRT from Union Station; get off at Lower Simcoe and walk south to the rink.
  • Parking: Paid parking lots abound in the area.
  • Lockers: Yes ($1)
  • Change rooms: Yes.
  • Washrooms: Yes.
  • Skate rental: Yes.
  • On-site services: Skate sharpening, restaurant.
  • Nearby services / after-skate meal / snacks: Many restaurants line Queens Quay within a block or two of the rink. Shops and restaurants in Queens Quay Terminal next door provides a quick respite from the weather.

On a scale of 1-10:

  • Crowding:5
  • Ice surface: 7
  • Ambiance: 9
  • Cleanliness (washrooms, change rooms, etc.): 6
  • Ease of getting there: 8
  • Overall: 8