WINNIPEG — In a place where cold weather sets in for months at a time, you’ll find those hardcore people who embrace the season and build a backyard ice rink. But with our unpredictable conditions, it can be a tough grind to keep it going year after year.
One Winnipeg school has kept the annual tradition alive for decades.
Nigel Wilcox has been the driving force behind the outdoor rink at Prince Edward School for 20 years. He admits the first year was a real challenge – he’d just moved to Winnipeg from England.
“Having grown up being involved in making cricket pitches and soccer fields, it took a few tries to get it right,” Wilcox says.
Despite his lack of experience, Wilcox says the benefit of having one for the students was obvious, especially since Winnipeg is a winter city and home to some of the world’s best curling teams.
As the physical education teacher at the school, Wilcox recognized the benefits of being able to teach curling right in their own schoolyard.
“You can’t ask for any more. It’s all about children working together, it’s all about fair play and having fun, and it’s pretty physical, as they’re sliding up and down and sweeping the rocks up and down.”
The impressive slab of ice is 36 by 60 feet in size and has three curling sheets marked out. The school also has a collection of locally made curling rocks that are smaller and lighter than the real deal.
Besides curling, the school has also gathered a collection of skates and helmets for students to carve out time on the ice during gym class, recess, before and after school.
“It’s just really fun and unique,” says Seth Schnekenburger, a student at the school.
Between flooding the ice and maintaining it all winter, there’s plenty of work that needs to be done, and everyone does their part to pitch in.
“There is tonnes of work, tonnes of work, flooding ice. It’s not uncommon on the weekends for our staff to come in and help. It’s everybody’s effort to keep this rink going,” says Prince Edward School principal Linda Mauthe.
Student Tyrell Trinidad is among many who help out.
“Every morning we come and shovel it off, broom it off.”
“They have some ownership to it,” says Wilcox. “The students come and shovel in the morning, they help when I’m building it. This is their rink and they look after it.”
In addition to the lessons in sports and the importance of helping out, the rink offers many other teaching opportunities.
“When we first made it, we had to put all the lines in with all my friends,” explains Rylee Spekking, one of the students.
Measuring out the lines becomes a math exercise and springtime becomes a science lesson.
“I teach Grade 4 science and we look at light, how it melts on the coloured lines,” says Wilcox. “We use the rink in as many ways as we possibly can.”
Wilcox can’t say how many hours go into making this ice each year, let alone how much time he’s spent working on it over the past two decades.
“I love doing it. The students get so excited about playing on the ice. They’re so proud of this rink, telling their friends that they have their own rink.”
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