Volunteers keep ice nice

Vincent Ball

By Vincent Ball, Brantford Expositor

It’s a problem often encountered by those who make neighbourhood rinks.
How do you accommodate both hockey players and those who just want to skate or little ones who are just learning?
Jim Hardie had an answer.
Build another rink.
Now there are two rinks at Centennial Park, one for skaters and one for the hockey players. One rink is on the tennis court and the other is right beside it.
They were built and are maintained by a small group of volunteers led by Hardie, 72, who brings a lot of experience and dedication to the task.
“I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years,” he said. “I took it over in 1970. Every year, I say ‘this is my last year’ but it never is. I always come back.”
This year’s cold weather has made it a lot easier to build and maintain the rinks and is in sharp contrast to recent winters, Hardie said.
“It has been pretty difficult the last two years because we’d get a good rink going during some cold weather then we’d get a warm spell and we’ve have to start all over again. You need to get a good base of ice and you can’t get that when you have warm spells like we’ve had the last couple of years.”
But this year has been more rewarding for Hardie and his crew of neighbourhood volunteers.
“There’s six of us who put this together and have been maintaining it,” Hardie said. “We usually come out at about 9 p.m. every night to scrape them and then flood them.
“We usually doing the skating rink first because by that time no one’s on it and there’s usually a hockey game going on. By doing the skating rink first we give the hockey players an extra hour or so on the ice.”
Although the nighttime temperatures have often plunged to -18 C in recent weeks, the cold weather hasn’t really affected the volunteers. Most have learned to dress in layers, which helps fend off the cold, and the wind hasn’t been much of a factor, at least during the ice maintenance time.
“There were a couple of nights where we stayed inside because of the wind chill but by and large it really hasn’t been much of a factor,” Hardie said.
They are among the more than 50 crews across the city who help build and maintain neighbourhood rinks. They are put together by neighbourhood associations in partnership with the city.
Under the arrangement, the city provides boards, stakes and supports needed to construct the rink while volunteers make and maintain the ice throughout the winter. City workers visit the rinks throughout the winter to check the ice thickness and ensure they are safe.
In addition to adapting to changes in climate, Hardie has had to get used to working with a smaller group of volunteers.
“I can remember a time when I’d have more than 30 volunteers for this. I used to have to draw up schedules for everyone. Now, it’s a lot tougher to get volunteers.”
Hardie’s son-in-law – Roger Birch – is chair of the Centennial Neighbourhood Association and one of the six volunteers helping out with the rink.
“I played hockey here when I was a kid,” Birch said. “In fact, I had my first hockey fight here.”
Birch’s son, James, also helps out with the rink which attracts people from the neighbourhood and beyond. The rink is almost always busy, especially with neighbourhood kids on Christmas break.
“We even had some people from St. George come by to play hockey here,” Hardie said. “One of them showed, up, saw that there was ice, and got on his cell phone. Next thing you know we got a hockey game going.”