Refrigerated Ottawa speed skating oval on ice
A refrigerated oval would help Ottawa’s speed skaters compete nationally – and possibly attract a national competition to the capital.
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If Ottawa’s speed skaters feel they’re going round in circles, it’s not just because they’re on a long-track oval.
The Ottawa Pacers, who operate and maintain the speed skating track at Brewer Park, continue to chase their dream of installing a refrigerated facility as they battle wacky winter weather.
“We would definitely love to but it’s a very big expense for both the clubs and the city,” said Sue Townley, who co-ordinates oval maintenance with her husband, Jim Hovey.
The weather gets more unpredictable every year, Hovey said. In the 60s, the oval regularly had 70-day seasons. Now it’s more like 50 – and this year likely only 30.
The shorter seasons mean local athletes can’t compete with kids growing up on refrigerated pads in Quebec City, Halifax and Calgary.
The Pacers also had to cancel a provincial meet next weekend because the ice wasn’t competition ready.
Townley said it would cost about $1 million to install refrigeration equipment. The club would likely have to move, too, because the land at Brewer Park likely can’t support the concrete pad.
The club has yearned for a refrigerated oval for years, knowing it would help local athletes – especially if it came with a sports excellence centre, Hovey said. Such a facility would allow them to host the Canada Cup.
A proper oval was included in one of two bids to redevelop LeBreton Flats, but it hasn’t been fleshed out or confirmed.
“We get an opportunity every couple of years but things kind of float away,” Townley said.
She said “there’s no way” they could do it without the city’s help. Right now it pays the oval’s water and power bills and maintains boards and lights for the club.
To move forward with a refrigerated rink, the city would need to at least offer in-kind help like waived permit fees or pro-bono engineering work, Townley said.
The city didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Community rinks a labour of love
Running a community rink is not for the faint of heart.
There are more than 250 of them across the city, each with their own team of dedicated volunteers.
As temperatures dip to -15C overnight this week, hundreds of stalwart residents will be outside spraying icy water while the rest of us are curled under the covers.
To create a rink, volunteers must wait until the first snowfall and then tamp it down into a base. In Rob Aubry’s case, his volunteers used their pick-up truck to pack snow at the Centrepointe rink in Nepean.
And then it’s a matter of building the ice. Late each evening, volunteers drag out thick, heavy hoses and start spraying, until the ice is smooth and thick enough to skate on.
Once the rink is open, the work changes.
The rink still needs to be flooded most nights, but volunteers must also supervise it during open hours.
If it snows, volunteers have to clear it.
Depending on the size of your rink, teams contend with massive ice sheets that not even a snow blower can manage for long.
“We don’t go a whole season without the snow blower going in for service,” Aubry said.
He tries to get seven local families to take responsibility for one night a week. He’s got five at the moment, including his own, but he’s worried about next year when many of his volunteers will graduate high school.
“Finding new volunteers is tough,” he said.
For a complete list of rinks – and how you can help keep them open – visit ottawarinks.ca.