Mississauga might soon be wrapping a late Christmas gift for skaters.
After residents in the Burnhamthorpe and Dixie area were disappointed by news the local outdoor ice rink will be bulldozed in March, the community mounted a fight to save the covered and refrigerated facility. Their wish seems to have been heard by Santa, just ahead of Christmas.
“I am very happy with the response so far… for the City to really hear the residents, we need well past 10,000 signatures,” Joe Galati said.
The local resident fell in love with skating after his mother passed away in 2014 and he needed something to pour his energy into. Despite never trying the sport he had always admired, he tied on a pair of skates for the first time and has been a regular at the community gathering place since.
But when the City suddenly announced it would be demolished in the spring because of low attendance, and an indoor swimming pool would be built right next to the indoor ice rink inside Chic Murray arena, Galati and others were shocked.
Responding to significant community backlash, City staff are now looking to relocate the artificially cooled outdoor rink. The potential move will accommodate an important renovation for the Burnhamthorpe Community Centre, they say, without reducing public ice space in Mississauga.
Gulleden Park, a stone’s throw from the rink’s current location, is being sized up as a potential spot to relocate the outdoor amenity. The area is part of the Burnhamthorpe Community Centre’s renovation, meaning the relocation would likely take place in 2023.
The campaign to fight the demolition of the current outdoor rink was given significant oxygen after a successful lobbying effort by Galati. The Mississauga resident views the Burnhamthorpe outdoor rink as a critical community amenity. He says it offers something uniquely Canadian and a service not matched by Mississauga’s 23 indoor ice arenas, including the one next door.
The unique covered space allows an ice rink for several months in the winter and can host roller or ball hockey during the summer.
A petition started by Galati gained more than 4,000 signatures in less than a fortnight, while legendary Canadian icon Don Cherry shared the story on his Twitter account.
“Since Mr. Galati raised the issue and has garnered some community support for the outdoor rink, Mayor [Bonnie] Crombie and [Ward 3] Councillor Fonseca have requested a commitment to explore this location and other possible outdoor rink locations across the City that would replace this outdoor rink,” Shari Lichterman, commissioner of community services, said in an email. “It is difficult to measure future demand for this amenity during the current lockdown, when outdoor skating is the only recreational activity that is open to the public so is naturally in high demand... But understanding that we are taking one rink away, we are committed to reviewing options for its replacement.”
The City is clear nothing can be done to derail the current plan to expand the community centre, including replacing the outdoor rink with an indoor swimming pool. The compromise would see the skating rink rebuilt nearby, incorporating community feedback.
The model of redevelopment at Burnhamthorpe Community Centre, which will see the local school’s swimming pool closed and replaced with a purpose-built pool at the City facility, has been completed around Mississauga. In the past, community centres in Clarkson and Malton have opened swimming pools when local school pools have reached the end of their useful life.
A similar renovation for the Meadowvale Community Centre brought about a 160 percent increase in visitors, Lichterman says. Prior to its revamp, the facility saw 500,000 visits, almost tripling to 1.3-million visits after its revamp.
“The City is making a commitment to work with our residents to identify a new outdoor rink location if the demand and interest remains high as we move out of the pandemic and all of our facilities, including the indoor rinks, are reopened,” Lichterman said.
Consultation and a final decision are planned for 2021.
Demand will be measured using various methods. An online survey will likely be launched, while a post-COVID world will ideally allow City staff to attend resident association meetings and engage the community. “In the case of an ice rink, we would likely connect with the MHL [Mississauga Hockey League] and other ice users to share info/survey their membership,” Lichterman said.
Mayor Crombie alluded to the decision at a press conference on December 16. In response to a question from The Pointer, she highlighted the importance of the community centre’s renovation and suggested the rink could be moved.
“My heart goes out to the residents, absolutely, but the Burnhamthorpe Community Centre is slated for a rebuild and expansion. A badly needed rebuild,” she said. “It’s for the good of the community that the community centre will be rebuilt. It does come at the expense of losing the outdoor rink, but there are possibilities for rebuilding that rink elsewhere.”
Galati, buoyed by the response to his petition and Don Cherry’s endorsement, maintains the City should have communicated its decision to scrap the rink more transparently. He says he is open to “being flexible” in his demands.
“My response then would be that there must be an equal quality or better outdoor covered rink [built] before the next municipal election, which is in the fall of 2022,” he told The Pointer.
Lichterman says it is “unlikely although not out of the question” a new rink would be covered. The final decision will depend on the consultation process, which Galati and his 4,000-plus backers can get involved in.
Although removing the rink was never the City’s “first option” for the renovation, compromise meant it was necessary. Pressure from Galati and others has now pushed the administration to move beyond simply scrapping the rink and the City has already started to consider the possibility of its replacement.
“I requested from staff that when the Burnhamthorpe Community Centre reopens, that free public skates and low cost rental of the indoor rink be provided,” Ward 3 Councillor Chris Fonseca said in an email to The Pointer, highlighting that it had been her desire to avoid the rink’s demolition in the first place. “Gulleden Park, which is adjacent to Burnhamthorpe Community Centre, is planned for redevelopment at the same time and I have requested that the design team incorporate a new refrigerated rink and multi-use court into that design. This will all be subject to community consultation.”
As Galati points out in his communication with the City and petition, Mississauga has relatively few cooled outdoor rinks. Aside from the Burnhamthorpe space, just two other are professionally refrigerated and maintained by City staff outdoors.
An army of volunteers maintain natural rinks around the City when the temperatures allow, but an unusually mild winter and the reality of global warming makes these less reliable. Renderings and early plans for Lakeview Village, a destination development on the waterfront, include unfinalized plans for a new cooled rink there too.
Alongside pushing the City to consult more effectively in the future, Galati hopes his campaign can raise awareness of just how much some community members appreciate skating outside.
For now, just ahead of Christmas, he’s thrilled many in his close-knit neighbourhood might be getting the best present they could have imagined.
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Isaac Callan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer