Ice Skating Outside
Lacing up outdoors to hit the ice.
Last winter, as Covid restrictions severely limited some traditional pursuits such as skiing, eating out and shopping, skating figured more than ever into the lives of many Canadians, me included. I hadn’t been on skates since I played hockey for this column in 2013. Back then I discovered I sucked at this most Canadian skill! Leaning heavily on my hockey stick, I shuffled down the ice as my teammates whizzed by with breathtaking speed and agility. It was a humbling experience, one I hadn’t expected to repeat.
But Covid led a lot of us to do a lot of surprising things, such as thinking of a dentist’s appointment as an outing, giving Brussels sprouts a try, and going skating – again. This time, I purchased a pair of recreational skates and invited four friends to join me for the hour of ice time I had booked at Terra Cotta Conservation Area.
Humming the lyrics to the Joni Mitchell tune “River” – “Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on” – I pulled into the parking lot on a cold and blustery, but sunny, February morning. My friends turned up and we made our way to one of three rectangular rinks that had been cleared of snow on Wolf Lake. We laced up our skates and, with varying degrees of grace, inched our way onto the ice.
I was less pathetic than in 2013, mostly because my new skates had picks to push off on, and more important, I had nipped out for a trial run a few days earlier. The village of Inglewood had created a skating trail, and I couldn’t resist giving it a try. It was a great place to practise, but hardy comparable to the Domaine de la forêt perdue, near Shawinigan. One of a growing number of skating trails, this “lost forest’s” 15-kilometre trail wends its way through trees and across meadows.
Skating round and round on Wolf Lake reminded me of youthful Saturday afternoons spent with friends in Erin’s old arena on Main Street. Back then I could skate backwards and stop properly. Now I resorted to a snowplow to slow myself down. After a few unsteady revolutions, however, I began to get the swing of things.
Skate technology has come a long way, and my new Canadian Tire recreational skates were warm, comfortable and had a ton of ankle support. Soon we graduated from the rink-like rectangle to a surrounding trail. It was wide enough to skate two abreast and just long enough that we could get up some momentum before having to negotiate a curve. We looked longingly at the three-quarters of Wolf Lake that had not been cleared of snow, hoping Credit Valley Conservation might extend the trail in the future.
Among us, Margaret Shier from Inglewood was the most experienced skater. She had completed the Domaine de la forêt perdue route. “It was fabulous,” she said. Then, with her adult kids, she attempted the 34-kilometre Lake Windermere Whiteway in British Columbia, billed as the longest skating trail in the world. Recalling her experience, Margaret said, “Unfortunately, when we got about halfway around, the condition of the ice deteriorated and we had to turn back. But it was fun.”
Chatting, we went round and round exchanging stories. Several of us had skated the 7.8-kilometre Rideau Canal in Ottawa. Fondly – remember this was deep into a Covid lockdown – we recalled being able to purchase canal-side treats, such as BeaverTails and hot chocolate. With food now on our minds, we stopped to enjoy our own rinkside offerings: a thermos of hot tea and slices of half-frozen chocolate cake I had baked that morning.
Despite the lack of Rideau Canal-like amenities in the Terra Cotta Conservation Area, we all had a lot of fun, so our small group returned a couple more times. Then a friend and I decided to try out the Palgrave Mill Pond. For 20 years lucky residents have enjoyed getting out, with or without hockey sticks, on this well-maintained collection of outdoor rinks. The pond is cared for by Palgrave’s own “ice angel,” Ken Hunt. For two decades, Ken, with the help of other volunteers, has cleared several rinks as well as a trail. He checks the thickness of the ice and posts signs about whether it’s safe to skate. (Read more about Ken Hunt.)
Under clear blue skies and with spring in the air, we followed Ken’s trail. It was longer than the ones in Terra Cotta and Inglewood. On the straightaways I felt as though I were really flying. There was no doubt my skills had improved dramatically. I still couldn’t really skate backwards, or stop for that matter, but I did feel like a more authentic Canadian. I also added the Domaine de la forêt perdue and the Lake Windermere Whiteway to my list of must-do adventures.
Outdoor skating options
Check to be sure these rinks are open and to confirm public skating times.
Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
Palgrave Mill Pond
Credit Valley Conservation
Terra Cotta Conservation Area, Island Lake Conservation Area
Tony Rose Arena, Orangeville Lions Sports Park, Idyllwilde Park, Princess of Wales Park
Alton Community Outdoor Rink, Bolton Community Outdoor Rink (Adam Wallace Park), Bolton Community Outdoor Rink (R.J. Potts Park), Caledon East Town Outdoor Rink 1 (North), Caledon East Town Outdoor Rink 2 (South), Caledon Village Community Outdoor Rink, Cheltenham Community Outdoor Rink, Inglewood Community Outdoor Rink, John’s Town Outdoor Rink (Bolton), Mono Mills Community Outdoor Rink
Victoria Park, Hillsburgh
Greenwood Park, KTH Park, Natasha Paterson Memorial Park
Mono Centre Park, Purple Hill Park, Madill Meadows