By Mark Campbell

There’s likely no need to prattle on at length about how COVID-19 has disrupted the social fabric of our society. But with everything from malls to movie theatres closed, organized sports and social clubs shut down (or moved online where feasible), what are kids and families to do for a bit of activity?

The answer appears to be ice skating. Sort of.

On November 28, Toronto opened most of its 54 outdoor skating rinks. Assuming they are evenly spread out between each of the six former municipalities that make up the city of Toronto, Scarborough should have … two?  Yes, two. And one of them is currently closed for maintenance.

Scarborough has exactly one outdoor facility operating – McCowan District Park. Granted, there are two ice surfaces: a traditional hockey rink as well as a winding skate trail. The McCowan skate trail, which opened last winter, fast became a popular attraction for skaters of all ages.

The problem? Prospective skaters need to reserve a spot using Toronto’s oft-criticized program registration system ( Time slots are 45 minutes in length and limited to 15 participants at a time. The system is cumbersome to navigate and is often overloaded when new programs become available.

The upside? If you can get through and register – it’s free!  So far this season the weather has largely cooperated with temperatures that make it pleasant to skate, while ensuring the ice surfaces can be maintained. McCowan alternates start times between the hockey rink and skate trail, with trail times starting on the hour and rink times starting on the half hour. With each time slot being three quarters of an hour, this allows 15 minutes for skaters to vacate the ice surface before the next group begins.

The cap on participants allows the facility to ensure proper distancing is maintained, and it also ensures that the ice surfaces are not overcrowded. Regardless of your skill level, it makes for a pretty pleasant outing for the whole family.

The only other outdoor rink in Scarborough is located at the Scarborough Civic Centre and is closed for maintenance. It is expected to open mid-January. This work is part of a larger revitalization of the Civic Centre and is not related to COVID-19.

According to Councillor McKelvie’s office, Toronto’s Facilities Master Plan sets a standard of one outdoor rink per 100,000 people. The plan also calls for a new rink to be added to this area within the next 10 years. A community consultation process to determine the location is expected to occur within the next three to five years.

Until then, lace it up and skate the McCowan trail.