Winter in Saskatchewan is marked by many things: the appearances of snowmen in front yards, cars donning winter tires.
Maybe even more so, though, it’s marked by the dull thud of a puck banging against frozen wood, or the cackle of the same puck bouncing off of the cold chain link fencing that serve as glass on the outdoor rinks across Saskatoon.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, these neighbourhood outdoor retreats have become even more important for locals, giving them the opportunity to stay active, while enjoying some crisp, fresh winter air.
For Josh Remai, it’s become a labour of love.
Remai, rink coordinator for the Queen Elizabeth Community Association for five years, oversees the outdoor rinks at both Achs Park and Queen Elizabeth Elementary School.
The upkeep of the rinks goes far beyond just freezing a sheet of ice, and begins long before the first flood of the year.
“We have to paint over graffiti (sprayed on the boards),” Remai said. “Fix broken boards, cut the lawn inside, trim it down so it’s really low, check to make sure the lights work.”
When the first cold snap hits, dropping temperatures low enough for the flooding to begin, it takes a full schedule of volunteers roughly three weeks to have the ice ready for skating.
The volunteers, however, cover more than just resurfacing the ice.
“Some people are able to dedicate three to four hours to do public skating supervision,” Remai explained.
“Some people can’t do that, but, they can come flood the rink in the middle of the night because they work night shift.”
It’s the dedication shown by the community that helped when they came together to rebuild the Queen Elizabeth rink this past summer.
“If something needs to get done for the great good within Haultain, or Queen Elizabeth, or any of the neighbourhoods in Saskatoon, people will come together to do it,” he said.
The local who use the rinks are grateful for the time and effort put forth by the volunteers.
“I never used to go on the rink, ever before,” Tia Hudson said. “But now there’s not a lot of activities because of the restrictions, so I think the outdoor rink (is) a pretty fun idea to just go have fun with friends.”
Hudson is far from the only local who’s taken to the ice for an escape during the pandemic, as Remai has noticed a higher volume of skaters across both rinks this year.
“Tons and tons of people learning to skate this year because there’s such a limited number of things to do,” Remai said.