Marsh pond photo credit: Colin Winn

By Mark Campbell

If you build it, they will come. It’s a line from a movie I remember. Only we didn’t have to build a thing, and they still came. By the hundreds. I am speaking, of course, of the frozen marsh at the mouth of the Rouge River. With the lockdown, there are fewer activities to keep us sane, and the pond area at Rouge Beach has become a haven for ice skaters and shinny players.

This winter, the combination of near-perfect ice conditions and folks needing something to do has made skating here immensely popular. The ice conditions can be bumpy but that hasn’t stopped people from shovelling out “mini” rinks to play a little hockey. These rinks dot the surface of the pond. There is so much space that you can open up in full stride and skate down the river if you choose. It’s like having 15 football fields of ice.

Local residents, the Kim family, have been making use of the natural rink. Landon, 11, loves it because “it’s different being outside.” Marcus, 9, enjoys “skating with my brothers and practising hockey skills.” But 5-year-old Owen summed it up when he said the best thing about pond skating is that “you get to stay out there for as long as you want!”

While it seems like a fair alternative to municipal rinks, the city doesn’t exactly endorse pond skating. Signs warning of potentially unsafe ice conditions are prominently displayed.

And then there were the parking problems. The pond’s popularity has brought skaters from outside the area, resulting in parked cars lining both sides of Rouge Hills Dr. This created safety issues due to the lack of sidewalks and parking enforcement was often sighted here.

The proliferation of street parking could partly be attributed to the closure of the main and overflow lots at Rouge Beach. According to Ken Sharpe, former Parks Supervisor for Ward 44 (now Ward 25), the lot used to be closed “so we didn’t have to salt it, which would pollute the marsh and Rouge Beach.” There has apparently been a change of heart because as of January 23 the parking lots had reopened, alleviating some of the traffic issues.

If skating on Mother Nature’s arena isn’t appealing, you can try making your own rink. Doug Williams has been building a rink in his backyard for the past 17 years. It’s an exercise that takes him just a few hours to assemble using a pre-existing frame. His family started skating on it in early December and he expects to use it until March. His secret? “I build it (the ice) layer by layer, so it doesn’t melt with the whole rink.” 

We all need a little exercise and fresh air, and what’s more Canadian than ice skating?  But if you can’t get into a city rink and the local pond isn’t exactly your Field of Dreams, then why not try building your own?  Whatever your choice, skate safely and skate often.