When you lace up your skates and take a few laps around the Heron Park rink, do you find yourself curious about what kind of work goes into creating and maintaining this revered winter recreation space? Did you know that this rink is volunteer-run and it serves as one of the key fundraising opportunities for the Heron Park Community Association? I sat down with two of the head volunteers – Randy and Rosella – who keep this rink going year after year, to uncover how and why they do it. 

What role do each of you have in making this rink happen?

Randy: Léo and myself, we’re the ones who maintain the rink and sometimes Jason comes down when he’s got time. We pack down the snow using snowshoes [or] a roller, then we keep pouring the water until we get it smoothed out. We maintain it by scraping it and watering it basically every day.

Rosella: I start after they start, I verify that we’ll have enough people to work as rink attendants because the city is paying us to build the rink and have someone here for a certain number of hours. There’s a minimum and we exceed it. People who come to use the rink can use the building, warm themselves up, [and] use the toilets. We’ve got rink attendants eight shifts a week, two on Saturday and one every other day. I contact them, schedule them, and pay them.

Randy: Rosella also liaises with the city. Anything I have to deal with the city can go through her, she’s the one who is in contact with parks and recreation. All the administration work goes through her.

How long have you been involved?

Rosella: I started quite a while ago, because I used to volunteer as a rink attendant. I used to pick Saturday night because I figured for university students, who were most of the workers at the time, it would be the least favourite shift. So I did that for a few years. I don’t remember when I started, it was when Colin, [a former resident], left the neighbourhood, then I took over hiring the workers. Well over ten years.

Randy: I’ve done it for 11 years now. It was in December [when I retired] and in the first year, I found the winter very long. Colin mentioned the next year “why don’t you come out and help with the rink?”, and I’ve been at it ever since. 

How do you get your funding?

Rosella: The city will pay an individual or a group to build and maintain city rinks on city properties. There are minimum standards. The city delivers the boards, and then comes back and puts them up, and from there on it’s up to you. A lot of the groups are community associations for obvious reasons. The city pays $5,200 for a season. That’s a nice chunk of money for a community association to be able to earn. We pay expenses like gas, shovels, wages for attendants, but it gives us a few thousand dollars a year which is more than what we’d normally earn. 

What do you have to do to get these ideal skating conditions?

Randy: What you want is snow, maybe 10 cm. We didn’t have it this year but we did it anyway, it just takes longer. Then you want cold weather. Preferably -20 in the morning so we can just pour the water and keep going back. The water flows to the lowest space and freezes. But when it’s warm, -8 or so, we can only do one coat because it crusts up and freezes on top but not underneath. You know when you have ice and you step on it and there’s an air pocket – that’s what we have at first so we put thin coats on it until we have those cold days. When we do get the cold weather, we pour the water 4-5 times a day for three days and it levels out. When people start skating on it, they grind it down so we scrape it the next day. The better the rink gets, the more people skate on it but it’s self-serving because that flattens it. After you get the base, you don’t want snow, but you take the snow with the cold.

How much time does it take to upkeep the rink? 

Randy: I’m usually down at 6:00 am and I’m back home by 9:00 am if there is no snow. It takes me about three hours a day to scrape, get all the holes out, hook the hose up, water the rink, and haul the hose back in. If you have two people it’s quicker. Someone can pull the hose because when you’re watering you want to make sure the hose is always behind you so it doesn’t drag through the space you just watered. So I probably spend about 3 hours a day, but if it has snowed, it’s more. I like to work in the morning because I’m up early. It’s a lot of time but you get used to it. 

A man helps a young boy hold a hose that is spraying water to flood a skating rink.
Randy gets a helping hand from Jacob, the next generation in Heron Park Rink volunteers.

If someone is interested in being a rink attendant, how do they get involved? 

Rosella: Mid-December is when I verify that we have staff. [To] contact us to help Randy or work as a rink attendant, send a note to heronparkca@gmail.com or send a message on Facebook. There are usually one or two new people every year. 

Is there anything the community can do to help make your jobs easier?

Randy: We get people when the ice is soft who run their dogs on it or walk on it, and it makes holes. I’ve been putting caution tape up. It’s best to stay off the ice when we have the signage up. After the ice is watered it needs about half an hour. And at the end of the night if you can take the nets off the ice and put them on the snowbank, that way in the morning I don’t have to do it with boots. They’ve been pretty good this year.

Rosella: It’s not so much to make our jobs easier, but what we would like most is for more and more people to come down and use the rink. You put the work into this and you do it for the satisfaction of watching people enjoy themselves on the rink. Really, they’re making us happy if they come use the rink.

Why do you do this? 

Randy: For me it’s the satisfaction: you do a good job and people appreciate it. It gets me out in the daytime and gets me off the laptop. 

Rosella: People come from other parts of the city to Heron Rink because they know how good the quality of the ice is. That says a lot, it’s not like we have a team of ten people. Other community associations have a different person each day of the week to look after it. Mostly knowing that it does some good for the community because there’s a place where people of all ages can come. Randy uses the funds from the bottle drive to provide coffee, hot chocolate, and water in the building which is especially good for families with young children.

Author: Sara Dunbrook
Sara has lived in Heron Park on and off since 2009, when she moved into the neighbourhood in her second year at Carleton University. She has lived in four different homes in Heron Park. Sara works in the tourism industry and enjoys playing sports in her free time.

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