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Skating Lessons

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The temperature hit 15 degrees Celsius yesterday. Last weekend's skate at Harbourfront was definitely the last Great Skate of the season.

Here's what I learned from my Great Skate 2012 Project:

The only think a skating rink needs is frozen water. Everything else is a luxury.Falling down is part of learning.If you go with the flow, you're probably going counter-clockwise.Skating makes good memories.Any chance to skate is a Great Skate.
This blog is going into hibernation (if that word can apply to a dormant state during warm weather).

Many thanks to all the friends and family members who helped make the Great Skates happen by joining me on the rinks, smiling indulgently while I rambled on about this project, and making encouraging comments about the blog. It wouldn't have been the same without you.

See you next winter.....


Great Skate #13 - Harbourfront

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The wind on Saturday, March 3 was blowing 67 km an hour - perhaps not the best conditions for outdoor skating. But since this was probably going to be the last Great Skate of the season, my ever-intrepid friend Cathy and I decided to make a go of it. We met at the Natrel Rink at Harbourfront.

Harbourfront is one of my favourite rinks. It's has a blobby, organic shape, so you aren't skating in the usual circles or long ovals. It's right on the edge of the lake, so you get a great view of the Island and the planes landing at the airport that is just across the water. There's always a neat mix of people skating there: families, groups of teenagers, tourists in rented skates, and usually at least one figure skater practising loops and twirls.

The rink also has lockers, washrooms, a snack bar, a skate sharpening service, and a place to rent skates. The latter came in handy when Cathy realized she had brought her son's skates by mistake. For $8, she got a pair of skates …

Skating Memories: the farm on Boxing Day

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I spent most of my childhood Christmases at my grandparents' in North Bay. On Boxing Day, we'd go to my aunt and uncle's farm in Powassan, and there'd often be a family shinny game on the frozen pond.

These photos were taken in 1984. That's my sister in the grey snow pants, my uncle Steve on the left and my cousin James in the middle.

See how far away the barn is? The house is closer to the barn than the pond. Skating on Boxing Day meant taking a long walk first. It also meant trying to keep up with the hockey skills of our uncles and cousins.

The little guy in the second photo is my cousin Luke. Aunt Linda is there too.

I asked my dad why we don't have photos of Boxing Day skating from other years, and he said "probably because it was too bloody cold."

Too cold to take photos, not too cold for skating. Another memory I have of Boxing Day skating is trying not to cry as my feet thawed in the warm house afterward. Good times.


Skating memories: Trout Lake

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When I was growing up, my grandparents lived at Trout Lake in North Bay. We spent our Christmas holidays there, and the weather was nearly always cold enough to have a rink on the lake in front of the house. I think this is where I learned how to skate.
The date on these photos says 1978. Note that we're still in the era of non-snazzy snowsuits for kids.

One winter, Trout Lake was frozen but there was no snow - we could skate all along the shoreline.

There was also another place to skate at my grandparents' house: a pond created by a beaver dam in the bush behind the house.

We were very lucky kids.








Skating memories: the backyard rink

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The date on this photo says 1975, which means I either four or five years old, depending on which side of the year this photo was taken. That's me on the right. On the left is Shani, the girl who lived next door. The rink is in our backyard in Brampton. My dad built it.

We are dressed for an arctic trek, even though we are only about 12 steps from the back door. These were the days before children's snowsuits came in colours other than navy blue, brown and grey.

Great Skate #12 - High Park

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I think my phone call to Nicole and Gilles on Saturday afternoon sounded something like this:

"This is the last weekend for the High Park rink! We need to go skating right now! I can get there in an hour! You need to come too! Right now!"

Keen as they are on the Great Skate Project, Nicole and Gilles weren't able to drop everything to join me. But Nicole agreed to squeeze in a skate on Sunday, February 26, and we made a date to meet at the rink at 11am for Great Skate #12. (Then I headed out to accomplish Great Skate #11.)

It was a brilliantly sunny morning, colder than it had felt in a while. I was sorry I hadn't brought sunglasses to cut down the glare from the ice.

The High Park rink is a double pad, and while I was there one side was being used for children's skating lessons. Next door is the outdoor pool, closed for the season of course. Nearby are some tennis courts, which were in use. It's been that kind of winter.

I got there early and kept warm by sk…

Great Skate #11 - Ramsden Park

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A lot of outdoor rinks in Toronto close after the February 26 weekend. It adds a sense of urgency to the Great Skate Project. How many more skates can I squeeze in before the season ends?

Great Skate #11 took me to to the Ramdsen Park rink, next to the Rosedale subway station. I was skating solo, but had lots of company on the ice. A comment on the City Rinks site says this rink is "often excellent". I arrived soon after the Zamboni had cleaned the ice, and really noticed how hard and smooth the ice felt compared to the Orillia rinks of the previous weekend.
It's a double-pad rink, with a top-40 radio station playing over the loudspeaker. Both rinks were pretty busy. Young boys were practising their hockey skills on the pleasure skating side, while a large group of grownup boys played a fairly intense game of shinny next door. 
I enjoyed a half-hour skate, dodging the hockey demons. Four teenagers joined us, skating arm-in-arm. Then a clutch of small children, the adults…

Skating in the headlines

Some interesting articles about recreational skating and outdoor ice rinks have come across my radar during the Great Skate Project:

Chatelaine magazine: Health benefits of ice skating
by James Fell (January 31, 2012)
"Will you remember another night (or afternoon) on the couch? No. Will you remember everyone getting cold-weather-geared-up-the-wazoo and spending a couple of hours skating along a river, around a pond, or even at the outdoor rink of your local community centre? Yes. Forever."
Can't argue with that.

Spacing magazine: Winter Issue
(Winter 2011)
Exploring the theme of how urban planning can help a city embrace winter. Skating rinks get a mention of course, along with the joys of toboggan, snow removal machines and slushy curbside puddles. None of the articles seem to be posted on the website yet, but maybe they'll appear later.

Globe & Mail: Properties that skate circles around the competition
by Shelley White (February 27, 2012)
For shopping centres such…

Great Skate #10 - First Baptist Church (Orillia)

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I had half a plan to skate at all the outdoor rinks in Orillia in one day. After all, there's only seven of them, and I'd already been to one without even realizing it.

But the other half of the plan that I hadn't thought through included:
the weather (even Orillia is having a warm winter, and the natural-ice skating rinks weren't faring well),the transportation (I don't have a car, so someone else has to drive), andthe timing (we had to wait until my nieces were asleep for the night). So when Laurel and I headed out to find the skating rink at First Baptist Church on the evening of Sunday, February 19, I hoped it would be worth it, because the odds of getting to the other rinks were slim.

We found it, eventually, after some slight confusion with the Bethel Baptist Church, which is about a block away on the same street.

The First Baptist Church rink is fenced and has lights, although they weren't on. (Our skate was illuminated by the glow from the Esso station n…

Great Skate #9 - Murray Street Park (Orillia)

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It's always good to get away from familiar settings for a while and broaden your horizons. It makes you realize what you've been taking for granted.
Great Skate #9 took place on Sunday, February 19 in Orillia, where I was visiting my parents for the long weekend. (And also celebrating my dad's birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad!) The rink is just a few blocks away from their house. To call it low-key is an understatement. It's a perfectly decent, natural ice rink. But that's all it is. There are no benches, no lights, no fence, not even a sign.
I didn't even realize it was one of the rinks listed on the Orillia rinks website until my dad pointed out that this rink, located on Murray Street, was in fact the Murray Street Park Rink. I thought it was just an empty lot that some enterprising neighbours flooded and froze. And I know it makes me sound like I don't get out of the big city often enough, but I'm amazed there isn't at the very least a "skate…

Great Skate #8 - Greenwood Park

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Laurel's whole family joined me for Great Skate #8 at Greenwood Park on February 11, 2012. It was a real winter day with fresh snow and a windchill - a rarity in Toronto this year. We seemed to pack a whole winter of fun into one afternoon.

Greenwood is a nice rink. It's a double pad, with one side reserved for shinny hockey. (This seems to cut down on the number of three-foot-tall hockey demons on the recreational skating side.) Another good feature is a large window in the changing area that looks out onto the ice, so you can watch the skaters while staying relatively warm. There's a notice posted at the rink saying that the city will be upgrading the facility, but it isn't clear when that will start.
The youngest skater in the family just turned two. She wears bob skates and isn't really sure what this Great Skate thing is all about yet. Ask her what she thinks about skating and Two says "cold." But she's delighted as usual to be hanging out with …

Great Skate #7 - Ryerson Community Park

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Cathy joined me for a peaceful afternoon skate at Ryerson Community Park on February 4th. This is the little rink tucked into the Ryerson University campus. There weren't many skaters out and everyone else was a university student. Two guys were practising their hockey skills, using turned-over benches as goals. A girl practised her figure skating spins while flirting with a guy who looked like he was torn between flirting back and joining the hockey players.



The Ryerson rink is round, and because there were so few skaters on the ice, it was a good opportunity to explore something I've noticed during Great Skate 2012: people always skate in a counterclockwise direction.

I tested this, deliberately skating clockwise. With just Cathy and I doing laps, we weren't getting in anyone's way, and there wasn't any peer pressure to overcome. At first, no problems, although it felt a bit odd. Then after a few minutes I realized that we had somehow turned ourselves around and …

Rink Links

Here are the sites I've used for the Great Skate project so far:

City of Toronto Parks & Recreation
Locations and schedules for all city-owned rinks in Toronto.

City Rinks
An unofficial compendium of locations, schedules and reviews for all the outdoor rinks in Toronto.

Brickworks Skating Trail
Everything you need to know about the rink, and the whole Brickworks complex.

Harbourfront skating programs
Haven't been there yet this winter, but it's on the list.

BlogTO: Outdoor ice skating in Toronto
The photos on this site are so much better than mine.

Orillia outdoor skating rinks I'm heading out of town for the long weekend. Maybe I'll get to skate on a lake!

Great Skate #6 - Kew Gardens

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Great Skate #6 took place on January 29, at the rink in Kew Gardens Park, coinciding with the Eat, Pray, Skate event hosted by Beach United Church.

Beach United is a big part of my life. It can be one of the goofiest things I do. It can also be one of the most profound. (Often at the same time.)


Eat, Pray, Skate

It's dark out, and cold. We're right next to the lake, so the sky is blacker than it is in other parts of the city.

The rink gleams through the trees. It's brightly lit by overhead lights. Ice candles have been placed around the edge of the rink, to lend an extra glow.

There are lots of people here. You feel like you know them all - even the ones whose names you can't recall, even the ones you haven't met.

Are you hungry? Have a homemade cookie - people brought them to share.

Thirsty? Help yourself to some hot chocolate. There's lots to go around.

Don't have skates? Try on one of the pairs on loan from a community centre.

If you're feeling wobbly …

Great Skate #5 - Dieppe Park

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Laurel and my two oldest nieces were game to go skating today (January 28) so we headed to Dieppe Park, on Cosburn Avenue near Coxwell, in the late afternoon.

Dieppe Park is a double rink, with one half reserved for shinny players. It has all the basics - lockers, washrooms, indoor change area - but no frills. Most of the skaters with us today were parents and small children.

Princess Spaghetti Legs has found her stride and now wishes to be called Princess Skater Girl. Her sister, Three-and-a-Half, is also keeping her balance nicely now. Both of them trot along on their skates at a good pace, but they get nervous if there isn't a grownup within arms' reach.
Working On Our Skating Skills It's interesting to realize what you take for granted when you know how to skate. We're working on the girl's gliding technique - keeping your balance while stepping on your skates is not the same thing as keeping it while momentum propels you forward. Another skill is knowing how to…

Back to the Brickworks

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I was almost recovered from Great Skate #4 when I went back to the Brickworks rink on Sunday, January 22. (My first visit the Brickworks skating rink was Great Skate #3.)

When you think about, recreational skating is an odd activity. People of all ages go around in circles, in a confined area, in the cold - and they have fun doing it. Sure, people run on tracks, but you don't often hear a lot of laughter and chatter when you pass a running track. There's a sense of play on a public skating rink, combined with a steady movement in one direction, that you don't find in other sports.

When I got there, friends Csilla and Barry were already on the ice with their two children. Their daughter,  age 7, is already an excellent skater - it was hard to keep up with her! Their son, who is not quite 4, is also very steady on his skates. This family is also very keen on skiing, which probably contributes to the children's skill and endurance. Csilla says part of the trick is to bols…

Great Skate #4 - Mel Lastman Square

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Skating burns approximately 500 calories an hour.

The rate varies of course, depending on your size, sex and speed. But if you're an "average" woman, the rate is somewhere between 425 and 515 calories an hour.
Which was a good thing on January 21st, when Cathy, Nicole, Gilles and I hit the rink at Mel Lastman Square after enjoying a massive brunch at Cathy's house. I'm not sure we burned off all the calories from the croissants, cheese scones, "special" eggs and other yummy things we enjoyed, but we made a good attempt.
Mel Lastman Square will probably be the most northerly rink the Great Skate visits in Toronto. It's a long TTC ride from the Beaches, but it's very nice once you get there. During the warmer months, the rink is a reflecting pool in the square. It's ringed by benches, and there are lockers and washrooms in the civic building a few steps away.
There was a real mix of ages and skating abilities while we were there, and everyone s…

Great Skate #3 - Brickworks Skating Trail

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Sunday, January 15 was a cold, sunny day - the perfect day for skating.

The Brickworks rink comes up a lot when I tell people about Great Skate 2012. It seems that if any skating enthusiasts haven't been there yet, they want to go. And if they have been there, then they want to go back.

The Brickworks is a "community environment centre" just off Pottery Road in the Don Valley, run by the Evergreen charity. I've been to its farmers' market and hiking trail in warmer weather. This was my first time at the rink. My friends Lauralee and Michael came to keep me company.

Getting there is a bit challenging. If you haven't got a car, and it's too cold for cycling, then the best bet is the free shuttle bus that stops next to Broadview subway station. But the shuttle bus promotion could do with a boost. There was decent information about it on the Brickworks website, but only a small portable sign at the bus stop. And the shuttle itself is just a plain white miniva…

Great Skate #2 - Riverdale Park East

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Great Skate #2 was supposed to be at Withrow Park, except I didn't read the schedule properly and showed up just in time for a shinny hockey session.

On the plus side, it actually felt like a winter day in January, rather than a wet day in March.

My fellow Great Skaters - the intrepid Cathy and H, my brother-in-law Bill and his two oldest girls - were very understanding. We put Plan B into effect and headed a few blocks east to Riverdale Park East. (Thanks for giving me a lift, Cathy. It would have been a long schlep otherwise.)

The Riverdale rink is an outdoor hockey pad, a flight of stairs down from Broadview Avenue, just south of the Danforth. It has large indoor changing room, washrooms and lockers. I don't know if this was typical, but it wasn't as busy as I thought it would be.

One of the best features of this rink is the great view of the downtown skyline, which is particularly spectacular as the sun sets. It's also an excellent vantage point for admiring the ne…

Great Skate #1 - Barbara Ann Scott Rink

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Good grief, January 1st already seems like months ago, not just a few weeks....

Great Skate 2012 launched on New Year's Day. In the rain. It's going to be that kind of winter, I think.
The rink was the Barbara Ann Scott Rink in downtown Toronto. Or, as most people know it, "the rink behind College Park." The CityRinks site calls it the "poor sad orphan rink" because the new condo tower being built next door doesn't name it in their sales pitch.*
I've skated there before, and there's lots of good things about it. There's an indoor area where you can change your skates and rent a locker for your stuff. The rink is round, with benches in the middle, which is a nice change from rectangular hockey rinks. It's near a Tim Horton's, for those who need hot chocolate after skating. And it's usually not very crowded.
Of course, on New Year's Day, just after the rain stopped, it was not crowded at all.
Cathy and H were intrepid enough to …

Great Skate 2012 is underway!

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In December, the month of January holds the promise of a clean start and an empty calendar. When holiday preparations, busy social schedules and looming year-end work deadlines are making me tense, I can't wait for the new year to start. In January, I think, I'll be happy to have nothing pressing to do, no special plans to make.

Then, on or about January 5th, I start to get stir crazy from boredom.

So this year I decided to build some fun into January, with the Great Skate 2012 project. It's simple: every weekend I'll skate at a different outdoor rink. And, if I'm lucky, friends and family will join me so I won't be that strange woman going around in circles by herself.

As I write this, it's been 3 weeks and 3 rinks for the Great Skate. All the thrilling details - The rink that was almost rained out! The rink where I got the schedule wrong and showed up just in time for shinny hockey! - will be posted soon.

(And I should mention that the reason for the Grea…