Just blocks away from the packed skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square lies a smaller, circular rink covered by a layer of freshly fallen snow. Two men skate around in a loop and the cold, snowy evening fills with the scratching and crunching of their blades on the ice.
This little rink is tucked away inside a ring of towers — hotels, apartment buildings, condos, office towers, and, on one side, a construction site for what will apparently become the country’s tallest condominium.
Toronto has 51 artificial, outdoor rinks. Many of the smaller ones, like this rink at College Park, are hidden in nooks and crannies of the city. Although the locker rooms have limited hours, people can skate at any time. Locals come out to glide around, or play shinny into the morning hours.
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This rink isn’t as well maintained as the one at Nathan Phillips Square. The rink house is ramshackle and it’s been a while since a Zamboni has passed over the ice. But there’s a charm in skating off the beaten track.
Tonight’s skaters both wear red winter jackets and black hockey skates, but one stands taller, and more confidently inside them. He’s obviously been doing this his whole life. Occasionally, he speeds into a sprint, and turns to his side to stop near the edge, screeching his blades along the ice.
The other man’s movements are timid, and cautious. His ankles bend inward as he plunks each foot forward. Until last year, he had never skated — or even walked — on ice. When he moved to Toronto from southern China, he tried Canada’s iconic winter activity for the first time at the more popular rink, blocks away.
“There’s too many people,” he says. He discovered this smaller rink when he moved into an overlooking apartment building. He’s never seen more than seven or eight skaters here at a time. And on some weekend mornings, he gets the rink to himself.
As the more experienced skater picks up his bag and hockey stick, calling it a night, the novice from China keeps circling the rink, determined to perfect his new-found art.
The lonely scritch-scratch of his blades creates a romantic winter scene in an ultra-urban setting.
Find a rink close to you at www.toronto.ca/parks/skating/outdoor-rinks.htm.
– Read more of Carolyn Morris’ columns at www.metronews.ca/carolynmorris