September 18th, 2015
The Toronto Star
Pushing for safe, legal skating on Grenadier Pond, councillors urged bureaucrats to balance their legal liability concerns with a need to let Torontonians enjoy their city.
Councillor Josh Matlow said a staff report recommending legal skating on the High Park pond only if the city launches a rigorous, expensive monitoring and safety program points to the need for a “rethink.”
“With the logic that has been followed on this, one could argue that we should have signs up saying you shouldn’t walk on our sidewalks because we don’t maintain our sidewalks perfectly … so maybe somebody could have an accident, maybe we’ll be liable,” said Matlow, noting he skated on Grenadier as a kid.
“To simply have the default position, to just say ‘No you can’t’, I don’t think is the kind of city that we want to create.”
His comments were echoed by members of the parks and environment committee, who unanimously ordered staff Friday to come back with a cheaper, less stringent solution to let people skate safely on the iconic waterway.
The issue bubbled up last winter as many people skated and played shinny on thick Grenadier despite city signs warning them to keep off, and the threat of a ticket from a bylaw officer. The local councillor, Sarah Doucette, asked for a solution that allowed a safe reversal of the ban enacted in 2001 amid legal concerns.
The resulting report says converting part of the 14.2-hectare pond to a natural outdoor skating surface would cost the city $192,000 in one-time costs and $123,000 in annual operating costs.
That would fund “a team of experts to provide daily analysis and testing of ice, safety equipment, equipment for ice preparation such as a Zamboni and plow or snow blower, ice maintenance equipment and staff, skating area barriers, lighting, washrooms and first aid support.”
Staff also noted that stormwater flow inhibits ice formation, as does the pond’s salt content.
Councillor Mike Layton confused some in the committee room by launching into what seemed like a speech but was actually a passage from Roch Carrier’s classic Canadian shinny story The Hockey Sweater.
Pond skating “has an important place in our Canadian zeitgeist” and there should be more of it in Toronto, Layton argued, saying he has pushed Ontario Place to turn its inter-island waterways into rinks.
Councillor Gord Perks warned staff that, whatever they recommend, at council he will vote for the city managing the pond “in a way that people enjoy it and don’t get killed.”
Doucette said a century of skating on Grenadier is not going to stop despite the signs telling people, sometimes falsely, that the ice is unsafe. “People trust that ice,” she said.
Her successful motion called for staff to report back next month with a cheaper way to let people safely skate on part of the pond. They need to ensure ice is thick and dense enough, have signs to tell people when it is safe, and designate an entry point that doesn’t damage the shoreline.
Parks chair Michelle Berardinetti supported the motion but cautioned that any new expense must go through the budget committee.
This article can be found in its original form at http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2015/09/18/toronto-councillors-want-legal-grenadier-pond-skating.html