At its Jan. 11, 2021 meeting, Huntsville’s general committee discussed the lack of public outdoor skating opportunities for residents and what, if anything, should be done about it.
The matter was raised by Councillor Dan Armour during a roundtable discussion at the end of the virtual meeting.
“There has been a petition circulating about skating rinks. I wondered if there is any opportunity to maybe look at [Cann Lake] and see about opening that up for skating this year,” said Armour. (You’ll find that petition, which as of this writing has 176 digital signatures, on change.org.)
Councillor Tim Withey noted that he had asked that question of staff and said he learned that Cann Lake’s ice surface is unstable in most years and requires significant resources to make it safe and usable. “If there is another site that would be more stable and take less resources, I think would be the answer,” he said.
Mayor Karin Terziano added that the Cann Lake ice rink is weather dependent and that in a discussion with staff earlier in 2020 “[we] determined at that time Cann Lake wasn’t something that we were going to open this year.”
Steve Hernen, the Town’s Director of Operations and Protective Services, said that he’s heard from service groups interested in resurrecting the rink at Cann Lake, but “I think because of the COVID restrictions, they backed away. The BIA had their rink last year [in River Mill Park] and we had a couple of spots picked out this year, they wanted to expand it, but the BIA decided for the same reason—COVID—they backed away.” He added that the Town staff that used to maintain the Cann Lake rink have all been reassigned to sidewalk duties.
The Town has also been clearing the Lions Lookout track of snow for people to walk on, but it has consumed more staff resources than expected. It has “been a tremendous success,” said Hernen. “It’s eating up more [staff] time than we thought.”
Staff have also tried to clear a rink at Avery Beach in the past, but ran into issues due to the currents in Hunters Bay, said Hernen.
Councillor Jason FitzGerald noted that there are two rinks open in Port Sydney—one on the lake and one in the parking lot at the beach—and that while it’s been challenging to get them ready due to the mild temperatures this winter, they’ve been well-received by community members and most people are abiding by restrictions. He suggested that, since fire activity has been low this winter, “perhaps we get the fire service involved [at the Lookout field]. The whole community would benefit from a rink up at the field there, we just have to make it navigable to get the trucks up there and they can flood the rink. We just need some volunteers.”
Town CAO Denise Corry also noted that there are other possible locations for a rink, including Meadow Park and River Mill Park—maintained by the Town rather than the Downtown Huntsville BIA—and that there are Canada Summit Centre staff who were laid off just before Christmas who could be brought back for that purpose.
Councillor Nancy Alcock said that she would support an alternative ice rink location, while Councillor Jonathan Wiebe suggested McCulley-Robertson Recreation Park as an ideal solution. “There’s water there, there’s a lot of parking, there’s a lot of room, there’s also lights that potentially we could light up the rink on a Saturday night,” said Wiebe. “If we were going to deploy staff and really make an effort for it, I’d like to see us really do it and have lots of space so that we could accommodate lots of people [with better social distancing].”
Ice rinks are permitted outdoor amenities under the current provincewide shutdown, provided that people maintain a distance of two metres from one another. Sports or games where people could come within two metres of each other are not allowed. Organized outdoor events and gatherings are limited to 10 people.
Mayor Karin Terziano said that staff could investigate potential ice rink locations further.
However, she added, “if we provide these facilities, we are encouraging people to gather and they’re asking us not to do that. I know it’s outdoor activity and I know that it’s good for people’s physical and mental well-being, but we may be looking at a few months where, you know what, you’ve just gotta go out in your own back yard or go for a walk around your own block. I really think the encouragement of gatherings on ice rinks, that we then have to go out and start patrolling to make sure that not more than 10 people are there, might be a little more than we want to bite into this year. I know it’s probably not a popular opinion.”
She said that the Town should explore the use of Lions Lookout field for next year for “a great new facility for the Town of Huntsville, I’m just not sure that this is the year that we can do all of those things.”
Last week the Town of Bracebridge opened two outdoor rinks with the help of community volunteers.
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