The Neighbourhood Ice Rink

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I remember my dad grumbling about water going everywhere as he put the hose back in place. He had had the hose in just the right position, and if we hadn't been playing with it, the rink would have been flooded by now. To us kids, the thought of having our own ice rink to skate on was too exciting to make us stop and think about the hose. If it was a really cold night, then maybe by tomorrow morning we could start skating!

Making an ice rink certainly doesn't happen in every neighbourhood in North America, but in many communities with sub-zero winter temperatures, ice rinks are something to look forward to. These days, ice rinks can be quite sophisticated, with thick plastic liners that can be bought and laid down on the ground and flooded with water. In my day, however, ice rinks were much simpler. Making an ice rink does not have to be a complicated procedure if you remember three important things: make a good base, flood at the right time, and check for problems daily.
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Site preparation is an important first step for making an ice rink. The area doesn't have to be large. At our house, this meant parking the cars on the road for the winter so that our driveway could be reserved for skating. Some years we also had a larger neighbourhood skating rink down at the local park. In both instances, the procedures were the same. First, the area was dug out with shovels so that only six to eight centimeters of snow remained. As soon as that was done, it was cleared of any larger rocks and sticks that we could see. Next came the tricky part. We had to make slush, which is snow mixed with water so that the consistency is like those ice drinks that the kids now call "slurpees". My dad would run the hose over the snow, and all of the kids would jump about in it until we had slush above our ankles. Then came the most tiring part — which is when most of the kids disappeared — shovelling the slush into piles that would go all around the edges of the rink and act as a frozen barrier. If we didn't do this, then any water that was poured into the rink wouldn't stay but would usually seep off into the snow. Dad used to say that this was the most important part, and the most back-breaking!
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Next came the flooding. I remember as a child how difficult it was to stay off the rink until enough layers of ice had been built up. My dad would go out just before dark on a really cold night and hold the hose over the rink for about 20 minutes. One layer is not enough, he would say, and so it would take several days, or sometimes even a couple of weeks, before there were enough layers of ice to hold a mob of eager youngsters. Before he gave the final okay, I remember that Dad always did something a little strange: he would pick a very clear, cold night, and then he would go out and pour several buckets of warm water on the rink! This usually meant forming an assembly line from the house to the driveway so that the warm water could be passed along from one person to the next. Dad explained that by morning the rink would have a crystal clear coat on it — perfect for that first skate!
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Whizzing around on that driveway the next morning at the crack of dawn is one of my best childhood memories. Of course, I never had any of the headaches of having to make the rink and then of having to maintain it. Ice rinks are not problem-free. I remember my friends and myself grumbling about having to stay off the rink for a day or two as Dad added a couple of layers of ice. Warm spells meant nothing to us at that age! Later, when the ice was again scuffed and marked by the criss-cross of skate blades, Dad would be out there again, this time checking for rocks or sticks that might have made their way onto the ice to present a potential hazard. During that time, he would also be checking for breaks in the perimeter ice barrier and any cracks that could be forming. Maintaining our ice rink was part of a daily routine.

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Meanwhile, we skated at every opportunity. Spring would come soon and that would mean the demise of our ice rink. The ice would melt, the hose would be put away, and Dad would finally move the cars back into the driveway. When I think back now to all of his work — the site preparation, the freezing and flooding, and the rink maintenance — I feel an amazing gratitude. I'm sure, too, that he was the happiest person on the block to see the flowers come out!