The temperature hovered around freezing but with a newly refurbished rink that needed breaking in, no one seemed to notice.
Saturday saw the opening of an updated rink and field house at Regent Park Athletic Grounds, a revitalization project in Toronto, Ont., that’s given 3,000 inner-city youth a safer place to skate. The facility is part of a larger social revitalization project that will eventually include an adjacent basketball court and soccer pitch.
The project is a partnership between the Hockey Canada Foundation and MLSE Foundation, as well as Toronto Community Housing, the City of Toronto and The Daniels Corporation.
The Hockey Canada Foundation donated $300,000 toward the rink and field house refurbishment, money raised in 2012 when Toronto hosted the foundation’s largest annual fundraiser, the Celebrity Classic,
“The refurbishment certainly fits the mandate of the Hockey Canada Foundation to create greater accessibility to the game and give these kids a chance to play somewhere,” says Chris Bright, executive director of the Hockey Canada Foundation.
The foundation’s golf and gala event is held in different city each year, with its legacy funds being reinvested in the community. The Hockey Canada Foundation works with the NHL teams in its host city to identify areas where they can make the most impact.
“We recognize that investing back in the lives of youth through sport is something meaningful that we can be a part of to leave more than just a sporting legacy, but a lasting community legacy in the city of Toronto,” says Michael Bartlett, the executive director of the MLSE Foundation.
Rabbi Muttalib and his friends spend up to five days a week at the Regent Park rink.
“The ice was good but it had some slants on the outer side of the rink, so it was kind of dangerous – people trip and fall,” he says. “The fences had holes in them so pucks would usually (leave) the rink after a shot.”
There’s now fresh ice, and new lighting, boards and fencing. The old field house, an uninviting-looking brick building, has been opened up with glass around three of the four sides. It was also outfitted with a new roof, a renovated warming and change area and two accessible washrooms.
With a safer and more inviting atmosphere, Muttalib and his friends may end up upping their ice time.
“We’re most fortunate to have this rink here – just (go) out the door and see the rink right there,” he says. “You can stay out as long as you want.”
Two people who know how important having a place to skate can be as kids are Nathan LaFayette and Marty Murray. Memories of childhood winter days spent living on local ice spurred the alumni of Canada’s National Junior Team to lace up their skates and lend their names to the opening.
“We all grew up in communities where being involved in (grassroots hockey) was a huge deal for us,” says Murray, who won World Juniors gold in 1994 and 1995. “There’s no question that some of the success we had is just growing up in places like this and being able to skate in community rinks.”
Lafayatte, a gold medallist in 1993, was born, raised and still resides in Toronto. The now father-of-two is a big proponent of unstructured play.
“There are a lot of distractions for youth, and my preference as a parent is to let kids get outside,” he says. “Of all the things kids can get into, I think physical activity outside is the best thing for them.”
On this crisp winter day many residents talked of the rink being a New Year’s present to their neighbourhood. The official celebrations for the rink’s opening may have ended early in the afternoon, but its presence will keep on giving for years to come.