Colder temperatures in January have allowed for outdoor skating
Up until the first week of January, many of Montreal’s ice rinks were closed, to the dismay of skating aficionados. While the city was able to install boards at most parks early in the winter season, flat ice never materialized due to inconsistent and mild weather conditions.
For the most part, skating was put on hold.
In recent weeks, however, temperatures have dropped to meet seasonal expectations, enough to finally support the upkeep of outdoor skating.
Sorbonne Park is a spacious public area that neighbours a public high school in Brossard. John*, a city employee who monitors activity there, said he was caught by surprise when the rink first opened.
“Within hours after the ice was made, it was packed with people,” John said. “It was clear from the beginning how much locals needed this to relieve their stress.”
According to the provincial government, site managers are responsible for determining the maximum number of people who can be admitted to the site at one time to comply with health measures concerning physical distancing and zero contact. In addition, they must facilitate the access to disinfection at site entrances, and must clean frequently touched surfaces.
Brossard has also installed several outdoor benches around many rinks this year to help people socially distance while gearing up, instead of relying on indoor facilities. City employees like John must ensure safety protocols are met by the locals, a process that proved to be rather difficult when traffic was abnormally high during the opening weeks.
When the weather was nice, the park had upwards of 50 people coming in and out, “John said. “At first, when the public was just eager to get outside, it was hard to manage everything at once.”
In the winter, a soccer field encompassed by an oval running track is made into an attractive skating ground. The park also has a separate ice hockey rink, a hill that suits tubing, and a playground for children, which makes Sorbonne a popular choice for Brossard residents looking to get some fresh air.
Hockey players will have to leave their sticks at home, however, as the municipality continues to ban the sport on community rinks until further notice. In order to minimize the temptation to form organized games, nets at community rinks have been removed.
According to John, he would have to warn people every couple of minutes to put away their hockey sticks and pucks when the rink opened in early January. After a couple of weeks, people eventually got the memo and the rink subsequently lost much of its appeal to hockey fans.
I still see people playing with a puck every so often,” John said. “Whether it’s in the oval track or hockey rink, unfortunately I have to enforce the rules and be the bad guy.”
Even the carrying of a stick or puck is forbidden, a notion that has sparked criticism from local hockey enthusiasts. John said that the rule is in place to ensure the proper management of activity in the park. Having individuals allowed to skate with a puck would create chaos that quickly escalates as surrounding people become encouraged to do the same.
“The disappointment from hockey players is well-documented, but Brossard believes we need to stick to this protocol so long as the pandemic remains rampant,” John said.
When the rink is closed, the entrance is closed off with a metal chain, and there is no public worker to oversee activity. John added that residents will occasionally pack their hockey supplies and make use of the rink after hours to indulge in the sport, running the risk of getting caught by patrolling city employees.
The city is handing out fines to people who play hockey when the rinks are closed,” John said. “I’ll usually give people a warning, tell them to put away their things and that will be the end of it.”
Fortunately, outdoor activities such as tubing, skating, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing are still permitted so long as participants follow COVID-19 guidelines. John said that activity is still plentiful, as people continue to look for excuses to be outside, especially once school ends next door. On weekends, families with young ones continue to make use of the space that is often overlooked compared to the hockey rink.
“More so than in previous years, people are snowshoeing in the forest and making better use of the park’s hill to toboggan and sled,” John said.
The rink in Sorbonne Park is open weekdays from 3:30 to 7 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on holidays and weekends.
*The name of this source has been changed for anonymity.
Photo by Christine Beaudoin