It was December 5, 2012 when I responded to an email on the Brockton list serve calling for volunteers to help create a natural ice rink in McCormick Park. My email history shows that I replied within 2 minutes and after about a week an enthusiastic team had come together. There was a exactly zero ice making experience among us but we were all now Hosers and determined to make ice happen.
That winter was riddled by freeze-thaw cycles and despite the odds we managed to make an outdoor ice rink in McCormick Park. It took about a month. It was a mighty and collective effort of neighbours, self organizing around a crazy dream and pushing blindly to achieve it. To me the experience felt like a small act of rebellious defiance to be making ice in a winter that saw so much snow come and go.
Our method was simple – we waited until there was a lot of snow on the ground, we formed crude barriers and then we sprayed the snow with a fine mist, hour after hour. So many hours. Progress over that month was painfully slow and just when it felt like hope was slipping, the snow started becoming crunchy and holding our weight, then pools of ice started to form, then the pools joined up and then gradually the water found the low points and smoothed itself into a beautiful shimmering ice rink. Once we got past the initial phase, the transformation from hour to hour was simply amazing and under the midnight moon it was glorious to take it all in.
We worked steadily to build new ice, repair holes and try to stay a step ahead of the volatile weather. In early January we organized a festive and sunny opening day community skate. It was exactly as we had all envisioned. Then, the next day it melted. Forever. It was tragic and heartbreaking and by the time the cold came back a week later we just didn’t have the will to start all over again. Still, despite the loss I walked away deeply satisfied, having met so many great people. Connecting in this way, building something so basic but so fulfilling, together, really made me feel like my roots had taken hold in the neighbourhood.
5 steps to build a backyard ice rink:
1. Buy a large white tarp, a bunch of 2 x 8s to build a border and some hardware to connect the wood.
2. Build a large box, level the yard as much as possible and then tuck the tarp into the box to make a pool
3. Wait for cold.
4. When it’s minus 5, filled the lowest point with 2 inches of water and let freeze
5. Once frozen, spray fine layers regularly until it is 3-4 inches thick all over.
Skating has always been part of my life. It was in fact a big draw in moving to the neighbourhood 7 years ago, knowing I’d be able to walk to the hockey rink. I suppose I’ve always been a Hoser at heart too as I grew up watching with anticipation as the bay in my home town froze each winter and would spend long hours playing on the ice and venturing out a little further than I should have to find the perfect ice. Now grown up, every fall I anticipate the opening of the city’s outdoor rinks and this year, inspired by my experience two years prior, I was particularly excited to try and build my inaugural backyard rink for our girls (now 4 and 2). Since we moved here I’d always dreamed of when I would reclaim the backyard in the winter for family skating lessons, shinny games and ice dancing shows. It’s become a nice after dinner ritual to head to the backyard for a skate with my girls. I’m grateful every time we sneak out and I hope they’ll remember it as much as I will.
After the devastation of watching our hard work in McCormick Park melt away, I think all the original McCormick Park Hosers needed a year to recover. Then on January 7th, of this year I received an email with the subject line: “McCormick Park Hosers – Anyone want to make some ice?”
The Hosers were back. First we started with a bit of planning because we were determined not to let the great melt happen again. All the research pointed back to a good white tarp so thanks to some hardworking neighbours who raised money for the park through a bake sale (big tarps are expensive) and some hardworking neighbours who drove across the city to get the tarp and then drag all 200 lbs of it to the park, we got started.
A couple of weeks after that initial email we were finally hosing. It’s amazing how similar but different the experience has felt this time. With the original rink we were totally clueless and it was an act of pure faith that all our efforts would result in something. This time around the Hosers are a grizzled group of veterans with a quiet confidence that each drop of water is leading somewhere. Our tactics in the early going were a bit different too as the magnificent tarp allowed us to water much more aggressively and build ice at a phenomenal rate. I think the cold helped a lot with that too. There’s been a lot of cold this year. A lot of snow and shoveling parties too. Our scheduling has also been different this time around. With restricted access to the water source we have only until 9 pm when the community centre shuts down meaning one more task for Hosers and families of Hosers to juggle after work and school, during dinner and during putting-kids-to-bed time.
Part of me misses the solitary midnight hosing shifts when I could imagine I was a thousand miles away from civilization and making my own private rink under the stars. Another part of me doesn’t miss it because it could get pretty cold and lonely.
Whereas the first go around felt like a covert operation we pulled off in the middle of the night, this time around our hosing has been a very public effort and there’s been something really nice about that too. Mingling with families using the park, people passing through and dog owners hanging out – the dogs themselves always look at us like we’re kind of crazy to be watering the ground – has given us purpose with countless shouts of encouragement and more than a few occasions when onlookers jumped in and became fully trained Hosers. There’s something very zen-like when you catch the light and the spray at the right angle and can see the water meandering over the the frozen landscape to fill the imperfections. I’ve watched a few people hosing for the first time, a little nervous at first feeling like they might mess it up and then within minutes getting in the zone, letting the water do the work and making tiny adjustments in pursuit of perfect ice.
When the official opening day skate came on Saturday February 7th, exactly one month after the initial email, it was once again the day we had all hoped for. I watched with pride as my daughters made their way around the huge ice rink while countless neighbours weaved around them, each lost in their own moment. It was a beautiful feeling to be part of it all and as we chatted with friends and neighbours, sipped on hot chocolates – courtesy of the local cafe which is another wonderful addition to the park – I once again reflected on how deep my roots were getting in this little neighbourhood.
With a little bit of weather good fortune, we’re hoping to keep the rink going to the end of February. You’ll see us Hosers there most weeknights between 8-9, scraping the ice and giving it a fresh coat . Please come join us, we always need more help (bring your shovel when it has snowed!).. or bring some hot chocolate on the really cold nights.
Most of all, please skate on the ice.