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[Jan.2002] Rink use:
In December there were many days and evenings when the rink was very crowded, and some other days that were not. Then 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. Also this year the city started centralized skating class registration. People from elsewhere in the city were assigned to classes at our rink, liked what they saw, and came back in large numbers the next day. There's a lesson here: if you like Dufferin Rink, don't tell too many other people about it, so we don't get swamped. Second lesson: 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. (Call the rink at 416/392-0913 and ask for Jutta.)
[Feb 2002] The big snowstorm at the rink: a story.
January 31 had a winter storm warning. By dawn, 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 own zamboni operator didn't turn up and by noon there was a message from central command: all rink staff were canceled, across the city, and rink users were to be told that the rinks might reopen by 4 p.m. the next day.
However there was bread to be baked, so the dough got made and the oven was lit. When Jutta returned to the park at 6.30 in the evening to put the bread in, she was surprised to see a truck with a plough on the rink. 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 clean the rinks until 4 that afternoon. But seeing how fast it went, Jutta became curious -- why would the rinks have to stay closed until the next day? She started calling around. It turned out that in Etobicoke, rink crews had cleared snow all day, and so by 5 p.m. all their rinks had been flooded and were back in operation. The phone was unanswered at most other rinks, with a few exceptions. A lonely rink operator at High Park said the ploughs had been through, all right, but now he was all on his own - all the other rink staff having been canceled - and so he couldn't finish the job (shovelling and out the gates and flooding the ice). He was there and his tractor was there but he couldn't run it by himself and the rink would stay closed. The other rinks that answered the phone 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 were open? What? Well, that didn't have anything to do with us.
Jutta grew anxious that even though the snow was off our rink, there would be no flood because the rink operator wasn't there, and so the clearing would have been wasted. She paged the supervisor, and he said, all right, one of the plough operators would stay and flood the ice.
In the end, three people stayed. They did the job. 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.
It was the night of the over-35 neighbourhood shinny permit. 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 it was a perfect game.
That's wonderful. But it's no way to run a rink system.
[March 2002] THE Last Day Of The Best Rink Season Ever…
…was on Sunday March 3. The season went out with a whimper rather than a bang, since the rink was covered with water until about noon (temperatures too mild, too much bright sun on Saturday afternoon, too much rain on Saturday night). The staff thought the rink would be closed all day Sunday, but then in the late morning a strong wind came up and soon after, the temperature began to fall quickly and the ice reappeared. For those hardy skaters who came out for one more skate, there was delicious slow food - organic meats from Beretta's cooked very slowly in the oven, and a casserole made with tripe, and cauliflower risotto cooked by park staff person Anna Bekerman. It was too windy to cook over a campfire so the cooks stayed inside.
Then came trouble. The rink operator who runs our zamboni was picked up in a city truck by another rink operator soon after his shift began, perhaps to go to a final-day lunch (they wouldn't say). After a while a rink compressor alarm went off and a rink foreman came to check on it. While he was there, he told us that there would be no more ice maintenance that day, anywhere in the city, period. The west end rink supervisor, Brian Green, refused to speak to us when we paged him, and so, even though the ice was choppy and needed the zamboni, we were out of luck.
Much later in the afternoon our rink operator did return, but said he wouldn't fix the ice. A group of rink users followed him around and argued and pleaded with him until he got the zamboni out. As soon as he finished, the operator got in his car (2 and ˝ hours before the end of his shift) and left, for good. This was all the more amazing because we has notified the rink operator staff three weeks ago that we would be using our rink right to the end of the scheduled last day.
At 6 p.m. the seasonal family shinny permit organized by Tracy Heffernan played their final game and then they went off for a potluck at Tracy's house. At that point, another zamboni operator suddenly arrived - too late to undo the public relations damage, though. But at least that meant that when Lawrence Barichello's adult learners shinny hockey permit came on the ice for their last game of the season at 7.15, they had good ice. (This permit had a surprisingly successful run, and the novice shinny players, some using figure skates, have rented additional indoor ice time at McCormick Arena to keep playing during March.) Meantime, indoors, the Darbazi Choir sang six beautiful songs for the people inside the rink house, ate some slow food, and then began their regular Sunday night rehearsal.
Our message machine had said we would keep the hockey rink open and the rink lights on right up to 11 p.m. Despite the bitter cold that had developed by 8 p.m., some rink rats heeded this message, and 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).
Post-rink-season hockey: The day after the rink officially closed, we discovered that someone had got hold of the padlock key that the rink operators use, had got into the hockey rink, and had poured so much salt on the rink that there was a long gash on the west side of the ice. But it was so cold on March 4 that the rest of the rink had stayed well frozen even though the compressors had been turned off. So some youth just moved the nets away from the salt damage and made a smaller rink to play on. When it snowed a couple of days later, other young people brought shovels from home and shoveled the snow off to the sides and still kept playing.
THE BEST RINK SEASON EVER: There was a record number of skaters and shinny players this year, and our rink continued to be a fine place to see neighbours during the cold months. Also, we were able to maintain our "mostly shinny hockey" policy on the hockey ice by only having permits after the regular rink hours. This meant that there was much more public use (as opposed to private permits) at our rink than at many other city rinks. Which is as it should be, for a publicly funded rink.
Don Boyle, the director of Parks and Recreation for our region (the whole former City of Toronto) has e-mailed that he will investigate our troubles getting the rink staff to do their work on the final day. We'll report on his follow-up in the April newsletter. And Bob Crump, the manager of all the city's technical services (like rink ice maintenance) has said that next year the zamboni operator will not be assigned to do a two-hour job for eight hours pay (i.e. working at only one rink), as was the case this year and all the years the rink has been running. This should mean that the money saved by sharing zamboni staff between rinks can be used to keep our rink open for the full season next winter - the third week of November until the last week of February.
To ensure that our rink is available for maximum community use again next winter, there is now a large friends-of-the-rink e-mail and telephone contact list at the rink clubhouse. If you would like to be on that list, please call the park at 416/392-0913 and leave your name and number/ e-mail address.
A hockey story:
One of the features of this winter was that after-hours permits were free for youth. These permits were very popular. The rule was you had to book at least a day in advance, so that the staff could make arrangements for late closing. But the night Canada lost to Sweden in men's hockey at the Olympics, Morgan Loveson called Jutta Mason at home 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 Canada-Sweden game on television and they were really frustrated. They were just itching to replay the game better. Jutta had to tell him no, since there was already another group using the hockey ice. But she reminded Morgan that the pleasure-skating side could be used for shinny hockey 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 garbage-can gift: sometimes when the staff enforced the age rules on the shinny hockey side of the rink, it made people angry. One day in January a young man was asked to leave the ice because it was parent/child hockey and even though he was there with a couple of boys, he was not their parent. In the past it's been the staff's experience that if any older friends are allowed into the young children's shinny time, pretty soon the ice will be dominated by older friends and the little kids won't get to touch the puck anymore. But this young man became very angry at being asked to leave the ice. On his way into the rink house he called to staff names and finally kicked a garbage can over, taking a big chip out of it. Then he had to leave the building altogether.
One of the skaters watching this was worried about the staff's feelings. Dejoy Santos told the staff he really likes our rink and how it's run, and since he works for the Rubbermaid Company, could he get a new, donated garbage can for the rink? Three weeks later he came back with two brand new big garbage cans, and told us he was sorry we'd had to wait so long - he'd just been promoted to supervisor and he'd been too busy to come skating again. So now Dejoy Santos has a better job and we are rich in garbage cans. And next rink season if the young man comes back, maybe we can sit down and talk about all this before he gets so angry again.
[April 2002] Follow-up to park troubles:
In the last newsletter we told the story of the rink's last day, and how the rink operator disappeared with other operators, during their last shift. Our own rink operator, when he briefly returned, refused to clean the ice for our final-day event until a group of rink users followed him around and pleaded with him. He did one cleaning and then left, two and a half hours before the end of his shift. The rink supervisor refused to speak to us or to help us, despite the fact that we had notified him of our needs for last-day ice-servicing three weeks beforehand.
Don Boyle, director of Parks and Recreation, sent us word that he would follow up. But he never got back to us. At various community meetings lately, it sounds as though this is a pattern - people call the city but no one calls them back. It's possible that management are all too busy to respond to citizens, on account of a very ambitious "permit harmonization" program that is underway. Harmonization means "identical everywhere." But squeezing every neighbourhood park or community centre into the same mold is a very big job. So big, in fact, that it may be time to persuade the city management staff to scale down their aims.