Great Skate #47: The Bentway Skate Trail, Toronto

This marks the eighth (!?!) year of my Great Skate Project. While I may not be able to get to a new rink every weekend this winter, I’ll try my best to skate somewhere at least once a week, and write here about the rinks I visit for the first time.

My friend Carrie joined me for Great Skate #47 on Saturday, January 5, 2019. Carrie hadn’t been skating in a few years. I wanted her to enjoy getting back on the ice again, so we visited a rink in Toronto that is known for its amenities: The Bentway Skate Trail.

The Bentway Skate Trail opened in January 2018. It’s part of a larger public space under the Gardiner Expressway, next to historic Fort York in the west end of Toronto. Along with wintertime skating, it has art installations, music performances and other special events throughout the year. The Bentway was created by “the collaboration of a range of city-builders and experts” and it’s a neat example how private philanthropy can intersect with urban planning.

The skate trail itself i…

Outdoor Winter Skating Trails

Outdoor skating rinks are usually rectangles. That's the shape of a hockey rink, and it's also an easy shape to build and maintain.

But some outdoor rink shapes are more creative. Skating trails take you on a skating journey. Some are short, some are long, but I think skating trails are always more charming than plain rectangles.
Here's a list of Toronto skating trails that I have visited:Brickworks Skating Trail (Great Skate #3)
This was one of my first Great Skates. Built under the beams of an old brick factory, the rink is open to the sky, but sheltered from the wind. The rink winds around "islands" of trees. Music, good seating, skate rentals and hot chocolate make this a good place to take new skaters, young skaters and visitors to Toronto.

Love Crescent Parkette (Great Skate #34)
This is a community rink built by people who live near the park, not Toronto Parks & Recreation. When I visited in 2015, the trail circled trees in the park. Because it is a nat…

The Best Toronto Rinks for New Skaters

Anybody can learn to skate on any rink, but I think some rinks are better for small children and new skaters. People with short or unsteady skating legs don't need epic ice trails or rinks that are crowded with aggressive skaters.

If you are teaching someone to skate, or learning how to skate yourself, look for smaller rinks where skaters can be comfortable and have fun while their skills and confidence improve.

Here are the best Toronto outdoor rinks I've found for new skaters:
Brickworks Skating TrailDufferin Grove ParkGiovanni Caboto RinkGreenwood ParkRiverdale Park EastWallace Emerson Park These rinks share some common features:
Their skating surfaces are small skating trails (so skaters don't have to cross long distances) or boarded rinks (so there is something to cling to).They have a place where you can sit down to change your skates (and if it's indoors, that's even better).They have washrooms nearby.They have separate areas or times for playing shinny.Hot ch…

Great Skate #46 - Riverdale Park East (renovated)

My youngest niece, who is Almost Eight, joined me for Great Skate #46 at Toronto’s Riverdale Park East in the late afternoon of January 14.

This is the Riverdale rink’s second time on the Great Skate list. In January 2012, was the site of Great Skate #2. Last year, it was renovated by the city and it reopened in December. The dramatic change in its appearance qualifies it to be counted as a new Great Skate.

You reach the rink by a staircase from Broadview Avenue. Previously, the Riverdale Park skating rink was a typical hamster-cage hockey pad. Now the hockey pad has a neighbouring figure-eight skating loop, landscaped with “islands” of evergreens and edged with benches. Heated changerooms are short walk away. The view westward over the Don Valley is still spectacular.

Almost Eight and I arrived just in time to wait for the Zamboni to clean the ice. (That happens to me a lot.) Waiting in the cold is never the best part of skating, but those first glides on the polished ice are wort…

Great Skate #45: Rideau Canal Skateway, Ottawa

"You should skate on the canal in Ottawa" is something I've been told many times since starting my Great Skate Project. I finally did on January 6, making the Rideau Canal Skateway my Great Skate #45.

As a student at Carleton University, I often skated on the canal. I don't recall it having the "skateway" name then, and it wasn't named a UNESCO World Heritage site until 2007, but the canal had two things then that it's still famous for today: more than 7 kilometres of skating, with Beavertail stands along the way.

Because the canal is "natural" ice (with no artificial refrigeration), the weather has a big impact on its skating season. The ice needs to be 12 inches thick before it is ready for skating. I was lucky that it opened during my Ottawa visit.

My intrepid cousin Ben joined me for a morning skate on my last day in Ottawa. The sky was a brilliant blue, but the temperature was just as cold as it had been for our Parliament Hill skate

Great Skate #44: Canada150 Rink on Parliament Hill, Ottawa

My Great Skate #44 was at the Canada150 Rink on Parliament Hill, which was built as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of Canada's Confederation.

Even for Ottawa, the weather on January 5 was bitterly cold, feeling like -30 C with the windchill. That didn’t deter my cousin Ben from joining me. He grew up in North Bay and is used to cold winters. We were each dressed in as many warm layers as possible. In addition to everything I’d worn for my morning skate at Lansdowne Skating Court, I wore snow pants, gloves under my mittens and earmuffs.

The Canada150 Rink has a lot of rules. It’s free, but you need to reserve a pass, and you can’t book your pass more than two days ahead. The pass allows you to skate for 40 minutes. Before you can enter the rink area, a security guard thoroughly checks your bags. Hockey sticks are not allowed (which stirred up a lot of criticism but is actually a common rule on public skating rinks).

Ben and I got to the Hill early for our 7 p.m. skate t…

Great Skate #43: Lansdowne Skating Court, Ottawa

My trip to Ottawa was timed perfectly for a period of frigid temperatures that had even the winter-hardy locals staying indoors. On the morning of January 5, when I skated at the Lansdowne Skating Court, the windchill made it feel like -30 Celsius. Environment Canada had issued an extreme cold and frostbite warning.

Unsurprisingly, I was the only person at the rink.
What should you wear to skate in very cold weather? When it's extremely cold, the smart thing to do is stay inside. But if you must go out, here is some cold weather clothing advice from City of Ottawa:

Layer 1 – the layer closest to your skin should be clothing that wicks moisture away
Layer 2 - a warm insulating layer such as a sweater or sweatshirt
Layer 3 – an outer layer that protects you from wind and moisture
Cover as much exposed skin as possible to prevent frostbite. Mittens or gloves, hats and scarves are very important to protect against heat loss and frostbite. Boots should be warm and preferably waterproof.