Skating on Beaver Pond in the Kanata Lakes area of Ottawa is a community tradition. Set against a wooded backdrop, a group of volunteers from the local neighbourhood have ploughed the pond every winter for the past nine years. But this winter, a leisurely afternoon of ice skating could land you a $125 fine.
On February 26, local teen Eric LeDain was out on the pond playing hockey with his dog when a city bylaw officer approached him. The officer told LeDain he was trespassing and had to leave the ice. He then handed the teen a ticket for $125.
The reason for the fine, explains Roger Chapman, the city’s director of bylaw and regulatory services, is that the pond acts as a stormwater retention. Several inlets flow into the pond, as well as runoff from nearby streets, which cause turbulent water beneath the surface. If enough water flows into the pond, it can erode the thickness of the ice quickly.
“There’s a real concern here for the safety of the children and adults that are skating on the surface,” Chapman says.
He adds that a risk assessment study of the pond was conducted a few years ago that showed the pond wasn’t stable enough to facilitate long-term ice skating.
Prior to LeDain receiving his ticket on February 26, Chapman says bylaw officers were out at the pond for three weeks educating the community on why the ice wasn’t safe and directing skaters to outdoor rinks set up by the city in nearby parks. There are also several signs posted around the pond warning of thin ice, telling people to stay off.
“After three weeks of trying to do some education and trying to get people to move to a better location for this type of activity, we were failing,” Chapman says. “So, we decided that a charge was appropriate. We did that, and ever since we issued the charge, we haven’t had anybody back on the pond.”
But the community isn’t convinced that the city made the right decision. Duro Oravsky, a local whose lived in the neighbourhood since 2007 and is part of the volunteer group that maintains the pond, says the ice isn’t dangerous for ice skating. The volunteer group uses a pump to flood the ice twice a week, simultaneously drilling a hole to check its thickness. They don’t start clearing the snow from the ice until it’s six inches thick, which is enough to support a person. At nine inches, the ice can support a car. Currently, the pond ice is 24 inches thick, and Oravsky says he’s never seen any rapid melting.
“It takes five to six weeks for all of the ice to disappear,” he says. “If it starts melting now, we’re talking about the end of April.”
The volunteer group has developed the pond into a community hotspot, ploughing a 400-metre skating oval and two rinks. They’ve also introduced a fire pit and built benches for people to sit and change into their skates.
“This was a community-based activity that we as volunteers put a lot of hours into,” he says. “And people enjoy it. It brings the whole community together. Everyone that we talked to, everybody’s thanking us for doing it. Nobody had concerns about it.”
Throughout the pandemic, people from around the city discovered Beaver Pond and came to check it out, increasing the number of skaters. Oravsky speculates that the spike in traffic may have prompted some of the complaints about the pond.
But the real issue, he says, is its designation as a stormwater retention. This designation comes with its own set of rules, including the warnings about quick-melting ice. While Oravsky isn’t debating the designation, he’s asking the city to work with the community to make the pond a safe space for ice skating.
During the week of March 5, one of the pond’s volunteer group members met with Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe and the area’s councillor, Cathy Curry, to see if they could come up with a solution. Oravsky has yet to hear how the meeting went.
In the meantime, the ice sits empty, with the fire pit and benches dragged up onto the pond’s shore. “The ball is on the city side. It’s on them to communicate with us what the problem is and if there are any technical issues, like we need to measure twice a week or post certain signs,” Oravsky says. “Tell us what to do. Work with us to solve the problem so that people can actually go and enjoy the pond.”