Residents of Huntsville, Ont. have started an online petition asking the town to open an outdoor public skating rink over the winter. All indoor skating rinks in the area have been closed due to recent COVID-19 restrictions.
The petition, which has been signed by over 500 people, argues that under current regulations an outdoor rink is deemed a safe way to get exercise. Nearby neighbours Bracebridge and Port Sydney both have outdoor rinks available for public skating. Huntsville, however, which has the largest population in Muskoka, has yet to offer an option.
On January 14, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit released a document outlining the health and safety procedures involved in operating an outdoor public rink. It states that no recreational classes, hockey games, or shinny are permitted. Change-rooms must be closed, but the rink is allowed to rent equipment. Social gatherings at the rink are limited to five people with separate groups maintaining a physical distance of two metres from one another. The document does not specify the capacity allowed on an outdoor rink, but other areas, such as Toronto, Peterborough, and Ottawa, are limiting the number of skaters to 25 — as long as they’re able to maintain social distancing.
During a general committee meeting on January 11, the Huntsville town council debated options for opening an outdoor rink. Cann Lake was first suggested, but then dismissed due to unstable ice. River Miller Park, Lions’ Lookout Field, and McCulley-Robertson Recreation Park were also put forward as potential locations, but no decision was made.
Stephen Hernen, the director of operations and protective services, said that the service clubs normally responsible for operating and maintaining an outdoor rink over the winter backed out this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. This means it would likely fall to the town to operate the rink, but municipal layoffs and reassignments have left few staff available.
Council was in support of having an outdoor rink as long as safety standards were maintained. But Mayor Karin Terziano said it might not be possible with current restrictions. “We may be looking at a few months where you just have to go out in your own backyard or go for a walk around your own neighbourhood,” she said. “The encouragement of gatherings on ice rinks that we then have to go out and start patrolling…might be a little more than we want to bite into this year.”
The discussion ended with Terziano saying that depending on coming announcements from the provincial government, if Hernen and chief administrative officer Denise Corry “think there’s an area where we could put in a small rink or something that’s central to people, and do it safely, then yes, they have the authority to go ahead.”