Great Skate #23 - Orchard Park

When people talk about outdoor rinks in Toronto, they are usually talking about the 53 artificial ice rinks operated by the city, plus the ones at Harbourfront and the Brickworks.

But there's another whole category of outdoor rinks in Toronto - the ones I call neighbourhood rinks. Unlisted on the city website, maintained by volunteers and completely dependent on the weather conditions, these natural ice rinks feel like secret spaces. You learn about them from people who live nearby, or by stumbling across them when you take a shortcut through a park. Or, when your five-year-old niece gets invited to a skating party and excitedly tells you about the rink afterward.

(The rough ice near the sign isn't part of the rink.)
That's how I learned about the rink at Orchard Park (near Dundas and Coxwell). I checked it out on January 26.

The rink was empty when I arrived at noon, but the ice was clean and smooth. I sat on a nearby picnic bench to put on my skates. As I was lacing up, a woman passing by said "There's a skating party at 2 o'clock. With hot chocolate!"

I wasn't on the rink for long when a family arrived to skate, and then another group. The rink was large enough to hold us all comfortably.

The ice was in great condition  That's one advantage of a polar vortex, I guess. But natural ice rinks in Toronto parks don't just magically appear.

One of the other skaters told me that the Orchard Park rink is a community project. There's a roster of volunteers who live nearby, who share the work of flooding the rink and clearing the snow. The city gives them access to the park's hose, and the rest is up to them.

The result is an extension of the neighbourhood's "porch culture", said the skater I spoke with. She says the rink has become a community gathering place. There's a firepit, and regular skating parties. It's a way of keeping connected during the long winter months.

You can see more photos from past seasons at the Orchard Park rink on the CityRinks site.

The Orchard Park rink is one of about 40 natural ice rinks Toronto that are maintained by volunteers, according to a recent Globe and Mail article. (Fairmount Park - the site of Great Skate #14 - is another one.) My list of places to skate just a got a lot longer.

I skated at Orchard Park for about half an hour. There were about 15 of us on the ice by then. They were a friendly bunch, and it would have been nice to stay for the party. But it was snowing hard, and I couldn't feel my toes. I'll have the sample the local hot chocolate another time.


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Cold winters, now and then