Outdoor rinks now open, but Councillor questions hockey ban

·5 min read

Thanks to sub-zero temperatures over the weekend, Aurora’s outdoor skating rinks are back in business.

Under the most up-to-date health measures put in place by the Province to combat the spread of COVID-19, outdoor skating rinks are one of the few amenities that are allowed to remain open, providing social distancing is maintained and skating is just for pleasure and not for a game of hockey.

But, as most rinks are now open to no more than 25 people at a time, Councillor John Gallo questioned whether a ban on bringing a stick and a puck to a resident’s park of choice might have unintended consequences.

“Not only kids but adults, a huge void is in their life right now because hockey is a big part of their life just to have a stick and a puck in hand,” he said. “From a mental health perspective, there…is a huge void that if we can do anything to help out, I think we should try.”

Municipal staff said lifting the hockey ban is something they can look into but, at this stage, their effort was to allow as many people on the ice as possible while still maintaining health measures.

“We will certainly be looking at ways to relax this in a safe way with the support of the Province and Health authorities,” said CAO Doug Nadorozny. “I understand the point and I agree, it is just not the same for hockey players to skate around and if we can control it, and if we can make sure everybody that is using one stick and one puck and they only practiced amongst themselves…as you can imagine with 25 people on the ice, that gets pretty grey very quickly. This is the interim start and we will look at ways to expand it over time.”

Aurora’s outdoor ice rinks are seeing a significant expansion themselves this season with six surfaces slated to be pressed into use when all are up and running.

“What we have done thanks to the [Park’s Department’s] quick action and their installation as we acquired a model of an easy ice product which creates a bit of framing around boards and liners, which we would then be able to maintain and keep for years to come and reuse” said Robin McDougall, Aurora’s Director of Community Services. “This resulted in our ability to put two of those pads at Town Park, two at Ada Johnson Park, and then subsequently we had interest from the local community to include community ice pads; one at Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Park and the other at James Lloyd Park.”

In getting these community ice pads up and running, municipal staff looked at practices in other municipalities, including the restrictions and requirements they put in place to make them a reality at this challenging time.

“In other municipalities who have had restrictions and requirements around their municipal pads, people have influxed to the local communities’ little rinks and it creates a bigger hazard and a bigger issue and risk for the public, as well as for bylaw enforcement,” said Ms. McDougall. “Standardizing the process was a means for us to ensure consistency across our operations and support the local volunteers who are putting the effort into their rinks.”

Pre-registration is a key component in this standardized process. Registering for a particular time slot at the rink of choice will be done online through the Town’s ePlay platform and will be open to Aurora residents only. As there is no set rink capacity within the Province’s order, the Town has set capacity on rink size. In most cases, 25 users will be allowed on ice pads at any given time, the exception being the smaller pad at James Lloyd Park which, at press time, has yet to have its capacity determined.

“The requirement is we must maintain two metres of distance,” said Ms. McDougall. “Once [the James Lloyd Park] rink is up and running, we will have a better sense, but it will likely be under 25.”

Registered participants will have 45 minutes per shift, with a 15-minute interval to clear the ice and let new users cycle in.

While the use of sticks and pucks is still up in the air, some Council members sought assurances over the registration process, including whether a waitlist will be maintained if people register and don’t show up.

“I know some people who might register a whole family 48 hours in advance and a bunch of them just feel like they’re not going to show up and there’s a whole bunch of people on a waiting list,” said Councillor Rachel Gilliland.

The Town, however, does not want to take wait lists at this time as “it would be significant administration” to maintain and monitor one.

“What we are doing on site is your spot is only reserved for up to 15 minutes to the top of the hour,” said Ms. McDougall. “If someone arrives and they are not on the list yet and the space remains empty and the person doesn’t show, then someone who does show up can go on.

“If we find we have some repeat offenders, that is something else we would have to consider. We experienced that in our other drop-in programs and I do have ways of working on that, but right now we’re hoping that with only 48-hours’ notice on the time slot, you’re going to know your availability within two days and hopefully consider, be honest and attend.”

For more information, including available time slots and how to register, visit aurora.ca/outdoorrinks.

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran