The City of Winnipeg quietly downsized its neighbourhood ice rink roster last year, leaving residents with little option but to extend their garden hoses and get insurance if they want to maintain local pads.
For 13 years, Harold and Shannon Schellenberg have lived in the Mathers area on Lanark Street, across from a bay that has always — at least, up until last year — turned into a nine-by-21-metre ice rink.
"There’s lots of families in the neighborhood that would use the rink after school and on the weekends. It’s such a great area for families to come together, for the community to come together, and enjoy winter," said Harold, adding his two grade school-age sons learned to skate on it.
Last winter, the Schellenbergs watched out their windows, waiting for city crews to come. Staff on the other line of 311 told them to be patient, Harold recalls. They later found out the city had axed their go-to recreation rink.
He said the community was disappointed, especially considering the municipal election had just wrapped up and no one had campaigned on downsizing the city’s rink portfolio.
The City of Winnipeg’s website indicates it maintains 38 "pleasure rinks." There are 15 in the east end, 13 in the north region and 10 in all of the city’s south. That count doesn’t include arena or pond rinks.
City spokesman Ken Allen said in a statement Winnipeg operates numerous pleasure rinks in parks, school sites and at community centres.
There were 42 rinks in 2017-18 and 40 last year, he said, adding that specific locations for this year’s season have not been finalized. Allen said locations are adjusted based on usage in consultation with area councillors.
"This is just a small snapshot of what’s going on in the city," Harold said. "Police, fire, libraries — it’s all being affected."
“I understand there’s budget cuts and everything costs money but having these programs for families in the neighbourhood is important.” - Shannon Schellenberg
City council’s new four-year budget planning process has put potential cuts into the spotlight as department managers have publicly proposed slashing services, a process that has typically taken place behind closed doors.
Shuttering Terry Sawchuk, Sargent Park, Betrand, Charles A. Barbour and Maginot arenas are among the proposed cuts being reviewed at 510 Main St. ahead of the March 31, 2020 budget deadline.
"I understand there’s budget cuts and everything costs money but having these programs for families in the neighbourhood is important," Shannon said.
The Schellenbergs said Coun. John Orlikow’s office (River Heights–Fort Garry) informed them the ward was approved for less than half of its total pleasure rinks but if they were so inclined, they could keep the rink frozen through the Adopt A Rink program.
The city program allows volunteers to flood and up-keep neighbourhood rinks, as long as they get authorization and obtain appropriate insurance. Throughout the season, a volunteer group and city representatives are expected to inspect each rink for safe conditions weekly.
Harold said he recruited a neighbour to help him with his new "9 p.m. to 11 p.m. job." They are in the process of applying for a city grant in order to cover the $300 cost to insure the rink.
It’s already been time consuming and it’s barely been cold enough to get started, but he wants to put in the hours for kids in the area, he said.
"I’ve got three garden houses connected to run from my backyard to the park," he said. "I think it’ll be well worth it once we get it going."
Orlikow said the ward lost three rinks, including ice at Montrose Elementary School and École Sir William Osler School — but he expects all will be up and running this year thanks to community members.
He said the city will bring out a water truck and cover insurance costs, but neighbours have to shovel snow off the rinks.
As for the lack of communication about the city-run operations ending, he pointed to the community services department, which he said needs to get better at notifying people about changes to services. That's reflective of "budget pressures," he said, before adding that it's important the city tackles its deficit.
A few blocks east of the Schellenbergs', the community surrounding Montrose Elementary School is also banding together to bring back the long-time rink the city used to build until last year.
An area resident of 20 years, Brenda Still called the rink "a community institution" used by families in South River Heights and the child care centre that runs out of the school.
Still said it’s uncertain whether the rink will be ready again for skaters this year due to confusion surrounding the Adopt A Rink program. The city has yet to provide them an example of a successful volunteer-driven rink through the program, she said.
The city did not respond to a question about when the program started.
Meanwhile, Still said she was frustrated to see city crews watering a community garden on the school grounds during the summertime if they won’t service the rink in the wintertime.
Maggie Macintosh is a reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.