Toronto Rink Report 2007

Spring doesn’t seem in any particular rush to arrive so let’s take a final look back at the state of outdoor skating in this town. The city’s Parks and Environment Committee recently received an extensive review (PDF) of its outdoor skating rinks from the Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS), the research arm of the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park. The paper casts an unflattering spotlight on the state of management of the city’s rinks, condemning everything from staffing and policy to signage and maintenance.

Although the problem rinks discussed in the report are rarely identified by name, they sound suspiciously like my two neighbourhood rinks in Riverdale Park and Withrow Park. Mind you, I’m sure that most rinks in the city suffer the same problems.

On the positive side, CELOS mentions that Toronto operates more outdoor artificial ice rinks than any city in the world. Rather than having one or two large central rinks, we scatter ours throughout the city’s neighbourhoods. It’s one of the small touches that makes Toronto unique.

The report provides interesting reading for people who skate — or refuse to — at their local rinks. Although it contains many common-sense and inexpensive recommendations, I anticipate resistance at council. I’m sure that at least a few councillors will interpret this report as “we have problems with many of our rinks, therefore we should close several and concentrate on running just a few.”

(Related: I reviewed some of the rinks I skated at this past winter. See the Rink Review category for the posts.)

Rink Review: City of Toronto

We’re barely half a week into March and already it’s the last day of operation for 42 of the 49 city-run outdoor artificial ice rinks. When I was growing up, the local rink was always open through March Break, but cutbacks have put an end to that. It’s a shame that our elected representatives can no longer bring themselves to properly fund so many of the little things that make living in the city worthwhile.

A smattering of rinks will remain open for another two weeks, but getting on the subway or into the car to go skating is just not the same as walking 10 minutes to the neighbourhood rink and lacing up for a mid-afternoon workout. Most city rinks will melt away over the next couple of weeks and be transformed back into tennis courts, basketball courts, or fountains come the spring and summer. After another productive summer of serving active citizens, they’ll freeze over again in mid-December and I’ll be visiting as many of them as I can.

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

Rink Review: Withrow Park

Toronto’s outdoor public rinks have suffered in recent years. Cutbacks mean that most rinks no longer have a dedicated Zamboni, instead having to share one that gets moved from rink to rink throughout the day. The result of this is that many rinks are only flooded once or twice a day, which can make the ice quality highly dependent on whether you’re skating one or twenty hours after the last ice resurfacing. Withrow falls into this category, but the rink is so little-used for most of the day that the ice is usually in good shape.

The first thing that makes the Withrow rink notable is the general absence of other skaters. I’ve been to Withrow for leisure skating a couple of times this year and have been the only person on the ice each time. The ice is a little busier evenings and on weekends, but there’s still an awful lot of room for each skater.

The second thing you’ll notice at the rink is its location in the middle of one of the east end’s busier dog parks. One end of the rink overlooks the main off-leash area that features an overwhelming array of dogs (and owners/walkers) of all descriptions who arrive, play, and leave in well-coordinated hourly shifts. It’s quite the spectacle to watch.

The standard-issue change room is nothing to write home about, and there’s a small bank of lockers near the door. The washroom is typical of other public washrooms in the Toronto park system — you may or may not get soap, paper towels, or hot water. There are no vending machines or other services inside the rink’s support building. The park clubhouse a couple of hundred metres north of the rink is usually much cleaner.

Withrow Park rink information:

  • Facility type: Outdoor artificial rink.
  • Public skating hours: Various; see page 8 of the Toronto South District skating guide (pdf).
  • Public skating cost: Free
  • Accessibility: A small step down to the ice surface and one up into the change room. Narrow doorways.
  • Public transit: 72 Pape bus (any branch) south from Pape station to Wroxeter; walk one block west to the park; or walk west on Danforth from Pape station, then south on Carlaw to the rink.
  • Parking: Local on-street, paid lots on Pape north and south of Danforth.
  • Lockers: Yes ($0.25).
  • Change rooms: Yes.
  • Washrooms: Yes.
  • Skate rental: No.
  • On-site services: None.
  • Nearby services / after-skate meal / snacks: The Riverdale Perk cafe is a block southwest of the rink at Logan and Withrow. The many restaurants and shops of the Danforth are within a 5-10 minute walk.

On a scale of 1-10:

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

Rink Review: East York Memorial Arena

Leisure skating hours at this indoor public rink on the northeast corner of Cosburn & Cedarvale Avenues in East York are rather anemic — just two hours a week, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm on Sundays. It’s a shame, because the facility provides a high-quality full-sized skating surface without a huge number of people crowding the ice.

The rink isn’t as crowded as many of the higher-profile sites in the city, and the ice was in very good condition for our visit there. Unfortunately, we discovered that the on-site pro shop and skate sharpening booth were closed during the public skating hours, so we had to make do with our semi-dull blades. The rink and facility are both very clean and well-maintained. Many indoor arenas are built with all the ambiance of a bunker, and the East York Memorial Arena was no excpetion. But a mid-90s renovation really opened up the entrance and added a lot of space and light to the public areas of the arena, making it feel very comfortable and inviting.

As at most public rinks, the leisure skates are supervised by barely-interested teenagers who don’t really pay too much attention to what anyone is doing. A couple of kids were roughhousing a bit on the ice, getting in the way of some of the other skaters, and none of the three skate supervisors did anything. I don’t even think they noticed.

East York Memorial Arena information:

  • Facility type: Indoor arena.
  • Public skating hours: Sundays, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm.
  • Public skating cost: Free
  • Accessibility: The facility is barrier-free, but there’s a small step down to the ice surface.
  • Public transit: 87 Cosburn (any branch) from Main Street or Broadview Stations to Cedarvale Ave; or 91 Woodbine (any branch) north from Woodbine Station to Cosburn, then walk one block east to the Arena.
  • Parking: A small on-site lot, local on-street, and another large lot one block north.
  • Lockers: No.
  • Change rooms: Yes.
  • Washrooms: Yes.
  • Skate rental: No.
  • On-site services: Snack bar, pro shop, skate sharpening (the pro shop and skate sharpening seem to be closed during the public skating hours).
  • Nearby services / after-skate meal / snacks: The East York Curling Club is kitty-corner from the Arena on the south side of Cosburn and has a quick-service restaurant and licensed bar. There are a handful of convenience stores and restaurants on Woodbine Ave. nearby, but you’ll probably want to go down to Danforth Ave. to get any real selection. There’s also a short restaurant strip about 1.5 km west of the Arena on Cosburn, just across from Dieppe Park.

On a scale of 1-10:

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