Building a rink in Fairmount Park with the Ice Masters

As a Canadian living in Toronto, it’s kind of a shame to admit that I have never played hockey nor do I particularly enjoy ice skating (please see here for my reintroduction to ice skating earlier this year.)

But I got up early this past Saturday morning to head to Fairmount Park in Ward 32 to help a group of incredibly dedicated and fun guys called the Ice Masters build the boards for a natural ice rink in the park.

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While there are a number of communities that band together in Toronto to create natural ice rinks in their parks each winter, the one at Fairmount Park is one of the oldest that is still going. And it’s going strong.

To help create the rinks, the City provides some training and you need to fill out a form. But there’s no cost and no insurance, which makes it easier for volunteer groups to take on the task of creating and maintaining the rinks. You can find out more here.

I was surprised to see about 15 guys up bright and early assembling the boards that will eventually (if we ever do get a winter this year) encircle a smooth sheet of ice. Ice they create by flooding the rink, sometimes late at night or early in the morning while you and me are in our jammies curled up with a coffee or whiskey (or both, let’s be honest.)

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Mark, one of the ice masters, invited me to come to the rink building. He was a friendly guy in a Santa hat who pointed me toward a small brightly coloured shed in the park where the rink boards are stored. I got to work and tried to be useful, hauling wooden boards and plywood sheets out to the park where everyone was arranging them in an oval.

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It started to snow, but because we were constantly moving around it never felt too cold. The amount of work it takes to not only set up the rink, but keep it going is impressive. I was only there for an hour that morning to hold boards while another guy drilled them together, but these guys will be out all winter making sure the ice is tended to.

Mark said they have a Winter Fest each year in February, so that’s something to look out for. You can follow the Ice Masters on Twitter here for updates.

And here’s a time-lapse that Mark put together. I’m not in the picture at the end, because I had to take off before it was all finished. It makes it all seem so quick and easy…

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This post is part of the City within a Park project, where I’m exploring Toronto by visiting a park I haven’t been to yet in every one of the 44 wards in 2015. (Sorry for the ads, if you see them. WordPress, etc etc.)

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A little slice of West Coast in Toronto on Rouge Beach

I don’t ride on the GO train often, so when I do I get that warm, fuzzy going-on-a-trip feeling. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Even if when I get off I’m still inside the City of Toronto (man, Toronto is really, really big.)

Recently I took the GO train along the Lakeshore East line to Rouge Beach on the farthest, most eastern edge of Toronto. It was one of those super-mild December days we’ve been having. I wore fingerless gloves and brought a big salad in a Tupperware container so I could eat it on the beach.

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Okay, so it was a little too cold to really enjoy my salad on the beach (stew would have been better), but Rouge Beach’s beauty made up for my slightly numb fingers. Once you get off the train, it’s a short 15 – 20 minute walk along a beautiful lakeside pathway to Rouge Beach. Along the way are several rocky outcroppings that act as small breakwaters. It was here that I found a log to perch on while I ate my lunch.

The rocky beach here is also full of old bricks that have been worn smooth and soapy-looking from the lake. I’ve seen bricks at Tommy Thompson Park before out on the Leslie Street Spit, but these bricks seemed much more lake-worn. There was not a sharp edge in sight.

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Farther on is the actual beach, which is definitely a place I’m going to come back to in the summer. I hear the water isn’t as clean as some of the other beaches we have in Toronto, but it’s a beautiful spot that made my West Coast heart soar.

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Since moving to Toronto just over 5 years ago, I’ve missed being by the water. This is a weird thing to say for someone living in a city by a lake, but I still find it difficult to get to the lake and find a place that feels as serene as some of the beaches in Vancouver. Rouge Beach definitely hit the spot.

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This is also where the Rouge River that runs through Rouge Park meets the lake in a wetland area that would be fun to canoe along.

There are a few great, dramatic bridges that cross the river just before it empties into the lake. Like this one that you walk underneath:

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And this pedestrian bridge that takes you over to the Pickering side:

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I briefly stepped over the Toronto/Pickering border, so I guess I can say I’ve been to a park in Pickering as well.

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Rouge Beach was one of my favourite park visits this year. You can take your bike on the GO train, so I think in the summer I’ll be coming back here many times with my bike and exploring some of the waterfront trails that continue east into Pickering.

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This post is part of the City within a Park project, where I’m exploring Toronto by visiting a park I haven’t been to yet in every one of the 44 wards in 2015. (Sorry for the ads, if you see them. WordPress, etc etc.)