Ice Angel: Ken Hunt

Thanks to this community builder, the Palgrave Mill Pond is a place where the village meets in winter to skate, play shinny and connect.

November 29, 2021 | | Local Heroes

Lots of things can turn a village into a community. In Palgrave, one of them is Ken Hunt, the village’s “ice angel.” For more than 20 years, Ken’s labour of love has been the Palgrave Mill Pond, a pretty body of water on the outskirts of the village.

It all began in 2000. “I went out onto the pond at about 2 o’clock in the morning on a wintery night,” Ken says. “I wanted to make a surprise for the kids.” And surprise them he did. Not only did his own three children wake up to a natural skating rink, but their friends and neighbours did too. It didn’t take long for skating to become a way of life for villagers. The pond is a place where kids meet kids for some shinny, adults greet adults to catch up on the news, and everyone gets some fresh air and exercise.

Ken Hunt. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Ken Hunt. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Every year, Ken seems to add something else to make the skating better. And for several years, he did it all pretty much on his own. “I built benches, put up an outhouse and made a hockey net from scratch,” he says. “My kids stayed up all night helping me build that outhouse.”

Today, there are several rinks where kids continue to play hockey. There is also a cleared path that gives skaters the opportunity to glide freely along arena-worthy ice. Ken says, “Ice is like eggshells. You have to lay it down one layer at a time.” You also have to keep it cleared of snow and fill the cracks. This means that Ken, who learned to build ice rinks “down east” in his Gaspé hometown, spends a lot of time on the pond. Starting at about six in the evening, he is often at it until two in the morning and later. “It’s not like an indoor rink where they have a Zamboni,” he says.

The quality of Ken’s ice has not gone unnoticed. A professional hockey icemaker once dropped by to learn how he does it. Another time, a figure skater from Detroit took her wedding vows on the pond. Ken explains that on a cold, calm night, he augers holes in the ice so he can pump up cold water that is then spread in a thin layer on the existing surface. He used to do all this by hand, but these days it’s a bit easier. Ken kitted out his four-wheeler as a portable “Zamboni,” and his three kids and neighbours help, as do Palgrave’s volunteer firefighters. The Girl Guides and members of other local organizations have also been instrumental in easing his load.

For 21 years Palgrave’s ice angel has also been checking the thickness of the ice, then posting signs to let skaters know whether the rinks are open for business. “You need about five or six inches to be safe,” he says. Despite his tried-and-true system, Ken’s role was questioned last winter when Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, which owns the pond, banned skating on it because of liability concerns. The ensuing outcry, including a 4,000-signature petition, persuaded the TRCA to find a way around their worries, and the rinks remained open.

When similar concerns were raised this season, Ken’s daughter, Nicole Wilkins, continued her efforts to keep people on the ice. She formed a nonprofit organization that, with help from the town of Caledon, is hoping to keep Palgrave’s skating tradition alive – and ensure the village ice angel keeps his wings.

About the Author More by Nicola Ross

Freelance writer Nicola Ross lives in Alton.

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