Volume 12 Week 5

Friday, Jan. 18


Posted Jan. 10

Posted Jan. 9

Posted Jan. 7


Orléans Ward
Matt Luloff

Beacon Hill,
Cyrville Ward
Tim Tierney





(Posted 7:30 a.m., Feb. 17)
Crazy weather a major challenge for outdoor rink volunteers

By Mike Beasley
The Orléans Star

Fallingbrook resident Nick O’Connell has spent over 108 hours so far this year maintaining three outdoor rinks for nothing but the sense of personal satisfaction he gets out of a job well done. Fred Sherwin/Photo

There’s nothing more Canadian than grabbing a pair of skates and heading to your local outdoor rink for a few laps while you fill you fill your lungs with the cool crisp midwinter air.

But do ever think about the rink attendants whose job it is to maintain Ottawa’s 250 neighbourhood outdoor rinks. If you assume that they are city employees who are making $25 bucks an hour or more, than you would be wrong.

Each outdoor rink is managed by an individual who is given a budget of between $4,200 and $4,500 per rink from which they have to pay for equipment, equipment repairs and students who help maintain the rinks and act as supervisors during public skating.

At the end of the day there is very little, if any, money left over.

Nick O’Connell has maintained three outdoor rinks in Fallingbrook for the past 12 or 13 years. (He’s not sure exactly when he took the task on.) One at Fallingbrook Community Elementary School, one at Maple Ridge Elementary School, and one in Gardenway Park.

It’s never been an easy job, but this year has been more difficult than most due to the weather which keeps changing from one week to the next.

“This has been the worst year by far. The weather has been all over the place. We blew up one snowblower and had to replace it, and last week when we had the snow and then the freezing rain and then a deep freeze we had to bring a tractor on to the rink for the first time to break up the ice. But that wasn’t the worst part. It took me five hours to break up the snowbank in front of the gate to get the tractor in.”

Prior to Monday’s snowstorm, O’Connell had already put in 108 hours on the three rinks mostly on the weekends and late at night, which is the best time to flood the ice. He plans to clear this latest snowfall off the ice and keep the rinks open for another two or three weeks.

He does it because he knows that for many people, the outdoor rink is the first place they learn how to skate.

“When you see a young guy or a girl trying to skate and their parents showing them what to do it gives you a real sense of accomplishment,” says O’Connell, who has been volunteering for a variety of different causes and events since he was nine, including the Greater Orleans Canada Celebration and its predecessor, the Fallingbrook Community Canada Day Celebration.

While Nick still gets a sense of satisfaction from looking after the outdoors rinks, he’s starting to question how long he will continue to do it, mostly because of the number of complaints he receives from area residents who use them.

“It’s been the worse year for complaints,” says O’Connell. “I get e-mails almost daily about the conditions of the rink. I have not had any positive feedback from anyone so far at this year. It kind of takes away your motivation to do the rinks because it’s plus-5 and people are complaining to the city about the condition of the ice and it’s like, ‘What do you expect?’”

Mark McGee has looked after the outdoor rink at Scala Park in Avalon since 2005. He agrees with O’Connell that the weather conditions have been the worst in years for maintaining outdoor rinks.

“Minus 18 Celsius is perfect, but up and down weather creates numerous problems,” says McGee who has heard his share of complaints from area residents as well. The only problem is the people complaining are usually the ones causing the problems.

“They use the ice when it is too soft, or it’s just been flooded, or they skate on it during a freezing rain storm and leave skate marks and foot prints in the ice which are difficult to fill in,” says McGee.

Scala is uniquely difficult as the boards sit 3-4 inches above the pavement.

“We have to build a ramp of frozen snow along the boards to keep the water in when we go to flood it the first few times.”

Like O’Connell, McGee enjoys watching the local residents skate on the finished product, especially the young ones or those on blades for the first time.

“There is a mix of young children using the rinks along with their parents, but the majority of the participants are teens and young adult males,” says McGee, who grew up playing hockey on an outdoor rink in Toronto.

The lifespan of an outdoor rink is clearly dependent on the weather and with this year’s weather being as unpredictable as it has been, it’s anyone’s guess how long McGee, O’Connell and the city’s other outdoor rink attendants will be able to keep them open.

“After March 1 it is anyone’s guess from year to year,” says McGee. “The temperature may be cold but the sun increasingly burns through the ice as spring moves closer. The Department of Recreation, Culture and Facility Services sends out recommendations, but it is generally the operators call after February 2.”

With this winter’s roller coaster in temperatures, only Mother Nature knows when this season’s run will come to an end.

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)


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