This whole thing started because I’m an idiot.
But for no apparent reason, I had never, NOT ONCE, skated at any rink at a community centre. They’re closer to where I live. Parking is free. What is wrong with me?
So I finally tried the ice at River Heights in December, and it was awesome. A few days later, a skate at Windsor CC. I was hooked. I needed more.
Now, I normally don’t do New Years’ resolutions because I have the willpower of a house cat staring at a bowl of milk.
But 2019 would be different. I would skate on every outdoor hockey rink in Winnipeg before the end of winter.
So there I was on New Year’s Day, -25 C, and I seriously considered whether I should just forget this fleeting idea I casually mentioned on my radio show. It wouldn’t be hard to just stay inside, bundled up in my onesie.
But the thought kept eating at me: GO SKATING. DO IT. BE A CANADIAN.
After all, my theory on enduring winter in Winnipeg is to embrace it.
So I layered up, grabbed my skates, and off I went. All three Corydon Community Centre sites on day one. It was sunny, the ice was wonderful, and I couldn’t feel my toes.
Fast forward to March 3. It was -19 C, way below what is normal. And at Notre Dame Community Centre, I sealed the deal. 70 rinks. So what did I learn from zigzagging across the city in my beat-up car?
Well, for starters, I learned that the city’s public database was…not perfect. It listed 79 outdoor hockey rinks. Garden City? No ice this year. Silver Heights? Demolished in 2015. And for some reason, Victoria is listed twice.
That webpage is now down as the city fixes it. I’m making change happen!
I learned that there are few things in life as satisfying as being the first to step onto a fresh sheet of ice, the sound of your blades cutting through the crisp air. It’s like the first spoonful of peanut butter out of a new jar.
And that’s a feeling I got to experience quite a bit, as I found that many of Winnipeg’s outdoor rinks were in pristine condition. Amazing ice. Big stick tap to the folks who maintain the rinks, out on their tractors in the cold, so that random radio hosts can show up on a Wednesday morning and fall deeper in love with this city.
Winnipeg is full of hearty souls.
I discovered that it took a few tries to figure out the perfect clothing formula to stay warm (warmula?) but not overheat. Turtleneck, long-sleeve shirt, hoodie, long johns, two pairs of track pants, scarf, made-in-Sweden toque, and dollar-store finger gloves underneath my heavier duty gloves.
But I also learned to accept the feeling of numb toes.
Someone told me to put cayenne pepper in my socks. I never had the courage to try it. I didn’t want my feet to smell too delicious.
Oh, and always make sure you have fresh tissues because your nose is going to start having a mind of its own once the wind starts howling.
I learned that each community club and community centre has its own eccentricities. Some have three big rinks. Others have one little one. I saw all different shapes and sizes of nets. Halls filled with old trophies and photos. I can only imagine the childhood memories so many have at these spots.
People often asked me which rink was best. I can’t pick just one, because there were so many awesome spots. But if I have to pick a few favourites, I’d say, in no particular order, Bronx Park, Winakwa, Westdale, Red River, Tuxedo, Bord-Aire, Woodhaven Park, and Park City West.
I discovered that skating alone is fine, and that’s how I spent most of my time on this trip, but having someone along for the ride makes it a lot more fun. Colleagues like Diana Foxall, Austin Siragusa and Greg Mackling tagged along, as did my friends Gary and Robyn from back home.
I also discovered, the hard way, that you better double- and triple-check your surroundings when retrieving your puck from the net on a busy rink. Because if you don’t, you could take a stray slapshot to the thigh from some 12-year-old who needs to learn how to aim. I’m not bitter, but I am bruised.
But if I had to pick one lasting memory, it would be Jan. 19 at Lord Roberts. On a truly cold day, exactly 10 men arrived. Many didn’t know each other. But they all knew what they had to do.
Sticks in the middle. It was time for some shinny.
It may have been the most Canadian experience of my life. Beards were frozen. Hands were numb. But it was so authentic, so spontaneous, I felt so at home here. Winnipeg is good.