The outdoor rink at Trace Manes Park has had a great run this winter after two years when the weather didn’t co-operate.
“With the right conditions the rink could still be in operation until the first or even second week of March,” says Gary Rollerson, one of the team of volunteers that looks after cleaning and flooding the rink over the winter.
But compared to the good old days, signs of declining interest are evident.
In addition to Trace Manes, there were at one time outdoor rinks in at least three other Leaside locations: in Sandy Bruce Park, in Talbot Park behind the high school, and at Northlea school. Now the nearest alternative is at Davisville and Mt. Pleasant.
The number of skaters is definitely down from a couple of decades ago and the veterans have a few theories as to why.
“For one thing, it’s not as inviting as it was,” suggests Rollerson. “You used to be able to put on your skates and use the washrooms inside the community centre where it was warm. For whatever reason, that’s no longer permitted. The music’s gone, and there’s not enough light to skate at night any longer.”
Rollerson recalls that for many years the boards for the hockey rink were set up on top of the baseball diamond at the west edge of the park, and a second ‘pleasure rink’ filled most of the right field area between the hockey rink and Rumsey Rd.
“It was massive, with lights and pumped-in music. You would see boys on the hockey rink and girls and couples on the bigger pleasure rink – it was kind of a date night.”
Another factor is the growing popularity of back-yard rinks.
Rumsey Rd. resident Kirk Harding used to help at Trace Manes when his own kids were first skating there. But now he prefers building his own back-yard rink, and he’s enthusiastic when he talks about it.
Harding says he knows of a dozen or more such rinks just within a few blocks of Trace Manes Park.
At Trace Manes most of the work is done by volunteers. The city’s parks department puts up the boards in late fall when the ground first freezes and provides a hose and key to access the water. That’s it.
Alan Keskikyla has been helping out since 1992, when his son and daughter were first old enough to skate on the rink, and he took over as co-ordinator in 1997.
“You need about a week of minus five temperatures and a bit of snow before you can start to put the water down,” says Keskikyla. “The layer of snow underneath keeps the ice white, which reflects the sunlight rather than absorbing it,” he explains, “so the ice lasts longer.
“Last year we made ice several times but it never lasted more than a day or two before it melted. And the winter before that there was just no chance; but this winter has been ideal.” This year they started making ice right after Christmas.
“My son used to spend hours on the rink playing hockey with his friends,” recalls Keskikyla, who lived on Rumsey Rd. at the time. “When he got older, he helped out with the flooding too.” Even though both his children have since gone off to university, he’s stayed involved perhaps, he says, out of a sense of nostalgia.
That’s a theme echoed by Rollerson and fellow volunteer Neil Anderson, both of whom grew up in Leaside and remember skating outdoors at Trace Manes in the 1960s and ’70s.
“It’s been a Leaside tradition since I was a kid and even before that,” says Anderson, “and I wanted to make sure my own kids had a chance to share in that tradition, which is why I got involved in helping Alan,” with whom he also curls once a week.
On some days, especially on weekend afternoons, you can see as many as 20 kids playing hockey at Trace Manes. Sometimes the kids are out skating with their parents.
Will this Leaside tradition continue for another generation? To some extent the answer will depend on the weather. Will future winters be cold and snowy like this year? Or more like the warm conditions of the previous two years?
And in any case it will depend on community support.
“We need new volunteers if we’re going to keep it going,” says Keskikyla, who is handing over the co-ordinator’s role at the end of the winter after 17 years. He suggests that anyone willing to help can reach him through the parks department.