Montreal parking lot gets refrigerated skating rink for winter

Residents of the Montreal borough of Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie will have something this winter that's becoming increasingly rare — a reliable outdoor ice-skating surface.

The borough has taken over a parking lot off Beaubien Street East, just steps from Plaza Saint-Hubert, with plans to develop it into a public square in 2021. 

Until that project gets underway, a refrigerated rink will be installed temporarily, complete with skate rentals, outdoor seating and a snack shop so residents of all ages can enjoy the annual tradition of gliding on glassy ice, regardless of inclement winter weather.

"Dozens of people skating, having hot chocolate, having a good time with their family and friends is better than 16 cars parked there," said Coun. François Limoges, who represents the district of Saint-Édouard.

"Now it will be a fun place. A place where people can gather, get together, have fun."

Fluctuating temperatures have been wreaking havoc on outdoor skating rinks, making it difficult to maintain a reliable, natural surface.

But outdoor skating is still an important, beloved tradition in Montreal, said Robert Lauzon. He heads the local figure skating club, CPA Rosemont.

"It's a great way for the family to get together — the kids and parents together — outside in the winter," he said, and it gives young athletes a place to practise their skills.

"With a natural rink, it's difficult to maintain the surface, but it's much easier with refrigeration."

Indoor skating is still possible, he said, but arenas are often booked by sports organizations, limiting public skating time.

Not the only refrigerated rink

Refrigerated rinks can open earlier in the season and stay open even when temperatures are unseasonably warm.

Montreal has refrigerated rinks on Mount Royal and in the Old Port. In recent years, there had been one at the Olympic Stadium, but it won't be back this season. A spokesperson says the rink may return in the future.

There are also six refrigerated rinks installed by the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation as part of its Bleu Blanc Bouge program.

However, this is the first time any Montreal borough has set up a temporary refrigerated rink in a parking lot, said city spokesperson Linda Boutin.

Limoges credited borough Mayor François Croteau for coming up with the idea of allowing residents to get a head start on enjoying what will eventually become a gathering place year-round.

Public square long in the making

The parking lot is located on the corner of Beaubien and Boyer streets, across from a provincial liquor store. Plans to transform it have been in the making for some time, Limoges said.

While eliminating a heat island and making the neighbourhood greener, Limoges said the borough is creating a more downtown, village-like feel on Beaubien.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC

The project has hit a few snags over the years, as concerns arose about cutting parking in an area dense with businesses, but Limoges said about half of the parking spots were rented on a monthly basis and there's plenty of active and public transit options.

Before construction of the square begins, the borough says it will invite residents to come up with a temporary summer use of the lot in 2020, and the ice rink may return next season as well.

The borough is spending $100,000 on the rink project per season, Limoges said. The parking lot closed on Sunday and the rink should open before the holidays.

In 2016, Montreal announced it was earmarking $7.3 million to build more refrigerated outdoor skating rinks around the city. This project is separate from that announcement.

"It will be something very basic, but very fun and very lively," said Limoges. 

"The parking lot was going to be closed anyway. The choice was between closed with nothing happening and closed with an ice rink. We chose to make something fun and nice, something people can gather around and enjoy."