Are backyard ice rinks in Southwest Ontario a thing of the past?
As it rains on that mid-February day in southwestern Ontario and temperatures soar to 10-12C, backyard rink enthusiasts wonder if they can keep their passion alive this winter and into the future.
“It’s too warm,” Stephanie Borromeo, a mother of 10-year-old twins from London, Ontario, said from her kitchen as she gazed at the water collecting on her backyard ice rink. “Sometimes it seems like we can go out and skate at night, but no.
“It ends up being a layer of mud. You just can’t skate.”
They are indeed at risk, according to Rinkwatch, which was launched in 2013 by researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University to study the long-term effects of climate change on skating conditions at outdoor ice rinks and ponds.
All I remember is tons of snow – lots of tobogganing, ice skating. It’s nothing like it used to be. This year was really bad. – Stephanie Borromeo, London, Ont.
This is the third year Borromeo’s family has built an ice rink for their children, but due to a mostly mild winter, they only skated five days later this year.
This is not how Borromeo remembers growing up in London.
“All I remember is tons and tons of snow – lots of sledding, ice skating. It’s not like it used to be. This year has been really bad,” said Borromeo, who is still hoping London could get another cold snap this winter.
When you were a kid it was really different
“These aren’t false memories. This is actually true,” said Robert McLeman of RinkWatch, which describes itself as a citizen science research initiative that tracks winter weather conditions through backyard ice rinks across North America.
“We used to have cold, snowy winters,” said McLeman, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. “The winters were colder, they were longer. We skated outdoors for weeks.”
In the years that RinkWatch has collected data from about 1,500 backyard rink enthusiasts, it’s clear that the fate of the outdoor rink is in southwestern Ontario most at risk, McLeman said.
“We’ve seen three winters like this where it was really difficult to get an ice rink up and running in Southwest Ontario and where the rinks got washed out in late January or early February.”
For ideal rink conditions, temperatures need to be in the -5C range, and this winter those days have been rare in southwestern Ontario, McLeman said.
The climate in southwestern Ontario has changed since the late 1990s, McLeman said
And that’s a trend that’s likely to continue, he said.
“Unfortunately, in the next 40 or 50 years, we’re going to have more winters like this where it’s really frustrating or almost impossible to build an ice rink,” he said.
“Other than the west coast, this will be the warmest part of Canada and we just won’t be able to build ice rinks like we used to.”
That just confirms what Natalie Edwards, a mother of two in London, thought. It’s the first year she’s had a backyard ice rink in the winter, and it’s already a big mess.
Their children – Bram, 8, and Walter, 5 – have only been on the ice once.
“I say every year, I’m not sure we’ll make it here unless you can chill it,” said Edwards, who, for the sake of tradition, hasn’t given up trying.
“I think we’ll do it again next year just to try and get our money’s worth.”