A Senior
'Making Ice'
by Rev. Bob Johnston

January 8, 2017

New Perspectives

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It was the New year’s Day Scotiabank Centennial Classic hockey game between Detroit and Toronto which got me reminiscing about the days when our winter sport was played outdoors on natural ice rinks. Before the game, the first 33 greatest players of the century were honoured. Naming just a few in alphabetical order--- Sid Abel, Syl Apps, Andy Bathgate, Jean Beliveau, Max Bentley, Toe Blake, Turk Broda, Johnny Bower, Johnny Bucyk--- immortal heroes from my boyhood!  Each of them first laced up skates on outdoor ice, be it rink or pond.

Like most older skaters I hold good memories of natural ice. As a child I learned to skate on a tiny frozen “puddle” surrounding three fruit trees next door in my Uncle Joe’s backyard. In my teen years it was the watery run-off from our farm’s manure pile where Bob Delicato and I played shinny. We tried to never fall down on the yellow ice surface.

During my last year in Downsview Collegiate I was hired to maintain the ice at our local outdoor rink on Keele Street in North York. My job required me to enter the nearby public school where the heavy, four-inch hose and water supply were found. (No police check or bonding needed in those days—just take the school key and “---don’t lose it or steal anything.”)

On cold nights suitable for ice-making, I waited until the last skaters left at 10 pm, shoveled the rink, found the red rubber hose coiled like a python in the boiler room and dragged it on to the ice. Back into the school to turn on the water valve and I proceeded to flood the ice surface much like a human Zamboni.

All this practice prepared me for many winters of ice-making in our Peterborough backyard. Amateur rink makers generally divide into three categories: some scrape the frozen turf bare of snow and use a garden hose to dump gallons of water on their would-be rink surface, others resort to buying a plastic sheet to contain the water. Then there is my own recipe.


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Each winter I would impatiently wait until our backyard was at least six inches deep in snow. Then, on a slightly warmer day when the white stuff would become “packing snow,” I began my project. Our garage was in the backyard, enabling me to drive my car back and forth all over my future rink surface. While this was admittedly not ideal for the transmission, it served the purpose of compressing the snow into a hardpacked, mostly flat surface. I then carefully shaved off any obvious bumps with a shovel. The next step was crucial!

I would hook my garden hose to a tap inside the basement and attach the other end to a lawn sprinkler. This was placed strategically on the snowbank at one edge of the future rink. I fixed the setting so it would systematically but gently spread an arcing stream of water back and forth over the surface. (Using a garden hose directly on the snowpack would cause the pressured stream to melt right through the snow cover.)

NOTE OF CAUTION: A friend of mine tried this method but never checked on his water flow all night. In the morning he found his sprinkler had frozen in a fixed position, directing the stream of water to steadily coat the overhead telephone line with a thickening coat of ice. Overnight, the overburdened wire had eventually crashed to the ground. In contrast, I would leave the spray running for only for about an half-hour or until the white snow turned a gray shade.

Once the surface had frozen solid, the slow, labour intensive work began next day. Once again using my garden hose, I hand-watered the frozen ice/snow until the whole surface received a thin coat of water. It usually required about ten separate floodings to create a reasonably smooth skating surface. Of course, a hose must not be left turned off and undrained outside as it will quickly freeze solid. A stream of water constantly flowing through it will prevent the problem. A similar caution must be maintained with any use of outside taps.

With the warming sun of late winter, an ice rink which has a foundation of frozen snow will last much longer than one built on bare ground or plastic. One final word of experience. Why do so many snow clearing efforts start on one edge of a rink, only to push a shovel-full of snow all the way across to the other side before dumping it? I soon learned to begin my clearing job by more efficiently working from the middle and pushing the snow toward the nearest edge.

January is the time for resolutions. If you promised yourself more exercise or more fun time with the kids, building a rink will accomplish both goals. Have fun!
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