Volunteers put in hundreds of hours of work each year to keep community rinks across the city in tip-top shape for neighbourhood residents of all ages to enjoy. Cody Stuart / CREB®Now

The people behind the ice

Community volunteers make magic, one rink at a time

If Canada had an official sound, it would be the crisp “thwack” of stick meeting puck on a clear winter morning as kids descend on the local outdoor rink. The image is almost magical, but behind that magic are some dedicated volunteers who conjure up the time and dedication to make it happen.

“Depending on the weather and usage, we can spend day after day out there,” said Al Evanson, who helps keep three rinks running in the southwest-Calgary communities of Woodlands and Woodbine. That includes a boarded hockey rink, a full-sized rink with no boards and a smaller rink for pleasure skates.

In addition to the time spent initially to flood and build up the rink with a good foundation, there is the regular scraping, flooding and snow removal every 2-3 days, and more on weekends.

“Last year I kept a log and had just under 100 hours of work from December to March,” said Evanson.

While the phrase “labour of love” may be overused, what else can you call it when a guy who built rinks in his backyard as a kid is now doing it for a new generation?

Since he went 40 years between ice-making stints, Evanson had to re-learn a lot about the science.

“You start with a fairly thick base of 3-4 inches of solid ice to keep the sun from melting your best efforts,” he said. “Then you flood it with a series of very thin coats, as if you were painting.”

“Outdoor rinks offer cheap or free access to good-quality ice and the chance to connect with people of all ages that you would never have met otherwise.” – Ben Ethier, Kingsland resident

Apart from technique, there is equipment to master, such as tractors with snow blowers, power brushes and firehoses. Then there is the finicky Canadian climate to consider. While warm temperatures are obviously a problem, a deep freeze will also wreak havoc – freezing the water before it properly bonds.

Still, Evanson gets three or four volunteers to help on a regular basis, all with multiple competing time commitments, but willing to lend a hand when needed.

According to Kenneth Reimer, one of the main rink experts in the southwest community of Kingsland, it’s volunteers who make it happen.

“I was on the board of directors for our community association and we ran out of money to clear snow from the rink, so I took over the job,” he said.

For Reimer, it’s a way to give back to the community.

“It’s satisfying to see the rink used on a daily basis by everyone from parents with small children just learning to skate to teens playing shinny or just out for an evening of fun,” he said.

Kingsland resident Ben Ethier also helps tend to the rink and appreciates what it means to the area.

“I started playing hockey after moving back to Calgary and found indoor rinks expensive if you could even find one available when you wanted it,” he said. “Outdoor rinks offer cheap or free access to good-quality ice and the chance to connect with people of all ages that you would never have met otherwise.”

It takes a lot of time and effort to keep the outdoor rink going, but for Evanson, it’s worth it.

“When I was growing up, I knew there was work involved in these rinks, yet I didn’t realize the scale of it until now,” he said. “It’s so satisfying, though, to see people using it and getting feedback that they appreciate our efforts. It gives me a good feeling.”

Because budgets are tight, Evanson encourages those who enjoy the rinks to buy an association membership and help maintain the iconic sheets of ice in their communities.

“In Canada, an outdoor rink means everything,” he said. “It’s not just a hobby, it’s a way of life.”

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