DROP THE PUCK..
Mayor Graydon Smith and little Sophia Elizabeth Northey drop the puck at the grand opening of the new Annie Williams outdoor skating rink on Santa village Road while (left) Ken Garth, BDO and Geoff Slater, Slater Plumbing hit the puck. The ceremony was held on Monday, Jan. 7 at 10:30 in Bracebridge. (Photo by Bev McMullen)
BRACEBRIDGE - After over two years of rigorous planning and a massive outpouring of grassroots generosity, skates are finally hitting the ice at Bracebridge’s new outdoor rink.
Mayor Graydon Smith and councillors officially opened the rink at Annie Williams Park on Monday, Jan. 7. Coun. Mark Quemby, who has pushed the project through its ups and downs at the council level, praised its opening as a triumph of community spirit.
“We’ve had numerous local businesses and private citizens donate time and money, and (also) a few service groups,” he said. “It’s got a hockey side and a skating side, so if you don’t feel like playing hockey you can just skate, if you want to play hockey there are nets.”
Though public skating is still offered at the Bracebridge Memorial Arena, Quemby says the outdoor rink fills a unique niche for many locals who may not be able to fit their recreational activities around the arena’s rigid timetable.
“We have public skating from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays if there isn’t a hockey tournament going on – not everybody can fit that into their schedule,” he said. “This is a free way to get your kid out and skate. They can just enjoy skating as a recreational activity, or some kid might decide he wants to have stick and become Sidney Crosby.”
With lights donated by Lakeland Power, residents can continue skating even after dark.
Even before it officially opened, a number of locals were already taking advantage of the new ice pad. Quemby’s son, Conor, went down to the rink the week prior with a few friends for a game of pickup hockey.
“It’s right in a good spot in town … a lot of people have a lot of access to it,” said Conor. “You just make new friends. There’s a guy who came down to see his relatives who live in Gravenhurst – they’re from Kitchener and they just came here to play.”
For fellow player Sam Scholl, much of the rink’s allure had to do with its surroundings.
“I think this is better than the arena because you get to be outside with the fresh air,” he said.
Another player, Ben Rinaldo, has found the rink to be a great meeting place for local kids.
“It’s just to be fun here with the community and everything, and just playing with the community and everything, and just playing hockey basically,” he said.
Taking a quick breather from the pickup game, Will Golden thanked all the local volunteers for their time and effort in making the rink a reality.
“I just think they did a really good job,” he said. “To hang out with your friends, come out and skate, it’s fun.”
The funds for the rink were raised from within the community, and also a $5,000 donation from the Ontario Winter Games Bell Legacy Fund in early 2011. A frost-free standpipe, originally estimated to cost $15,000, was installed for just $2,500 by volunteers.
There were times, however, where the rink’s fate appeared to be on thin ice as it became entangled in a web of municipal and legal red tape. It was originally slated to be built on a vacant patch of land next to the Bracebridge Your Independent Grocer with the blessing of store owner Guy Gagnon.
Parent company Loblaw, however, stalled on giving final approval, and concerns were floated at council over whether that site could accommodate adequate facilities like parking, washrooms and garbage collection.
Town staff then explored a number of other areas to put the rink. Memorial Park was one location examined, but it lacked enough parking. An unused parking lot at St. Dominic Catholic Secondary School was also eyed, but that location was also scrapped after discussions with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board fell through. Councillors finally settled on the rink’s current location this past fall.
The rink’s opening brought back some fond memories for local parent Kim Rinaldo, whose dad used to run his own rink for area children. Outdoor rinks, she said, have a way of drawing children from different areas of town together in a non-competitive, inclusive kind of way.
“I think that more in the arena, kids are calling each other and making play dates. Here you just kind of walk by and show up,” she said. “What they do is they throw their sticks in the middle and one of the kids closes their eyes … and spreads the sticks out, and that’s how they form teams.”
For residents who don’t have their own blades, the Riverside Inn is also introducing a new skate lending program for locals and visitors. The skates can be signed out with a donation of a food item for the Manna Food Bank.
More skates, however, are still needed, and the Riverside Inn is inviting anyone with a pair they no longer need to drop them off for others to use. The Source for Sports store in town has offered to sharpen the donated blades and get them back into service.
Quemby thanked all the volunteers and donors for their contributions.
“This is what Canada is supposed to be – being outdoors and enjoying yourself, and not being in your basement playing video games,” said Quemby.