New regulations allow Toronto to continue with its long-held tradition of ice-skating

Owners of rinks, including Hyères in Quebec, can now allow ski and snowboard rentals for children under 18 as ‘welcoming and safe’ rinks return

The hardiness of a city has been called into question this week as the organiser of Canada’s biggest winter sports festival in Canada issued a warning that Toronto’s rinks might not stay open beyond Christmas this year.

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But as the thermometer falls below zero and the combined pressure on roads, traffic and rail is at its peak, the mayor of Toronto has stated that a new law to allow mini-rinks to be used as winter social spaces is not a sign of coldness.

Friday morning saw more than 75,000 curious individuals, aged 6 to 80, descend on Toronto’s downtown plaza, Nathan Phillips Square, for its first day of the Winter Games, an annual event celebrating Canada’s winter sports since 1988.

Temperatures at the scene were -6C and the notoriously hardy participants avoided shaking hands, instead playing with plastic cups and putting their hands in their hair.

Normally, the square would be filled with the sounds of activity, but the first day of activities was so popular it spilled into the neighbouring subway station. Organisers were forced to provide a short bus service to get people home.

The majority of the event’s 2,000 spectators took to the water fountains, and water through the bottom was pumped to seating in the park. Fountains were also installed in the Lincoln Centre of the Arts in support of the Art of Performing Arts component, which takes place throughout the entire event.

In an apparent declaration of welcome, that many snowboard and skiers in the city can no longer remember the last time, and that many Toronto-area towns also have mini-rinks – as well as the royal family – many say that the new city law allows them to pick up where previous winter months left off.

New regulations encourage the return of winter ice sports to Toronto, but only slightly. The city sent a message via email to organizers on Friday afternoon: “Toronto has removed restrictions on mini-rinks. Owners of mini-rinks can now accommodate, outdoor recreational activities like skate rentals for people under the age of 18.”

But the sign only partially clears away the threat of ice-related tragedy.

Louie Raffaela, a regular snowboarder at Leslieville’s Cypress Hills Mini-Rink, did not see the new regulations as a good sign for young Canadian snowboarders.

“They didn’t add something else that needed to be removed to enable the type of skating allowed by Toronto,” he said. “They removed safety requirements – the regulation made it mandatory that minors ride at their own risk.”

Raffaela, who has taken a ski and snowboard lesson and built new snowboard jumps at Cypress Hills, says the new mini-curriculum was supposed to encourage exploration.

“When you find out that not only do you have to ride on the riskiest part of your body, where an accident can happen, but that’s also where you hang out with the people you go to share skate with, you start to feel a little nervous.”

But, says Raffaela, although the new regulations permit people to ride on the riskiest part of their body and where they hang out, he expects lots of risks on the boards.

“At my levels, we go a little deeper down and risk being injured more. We’re still in that when we go, this isn’t supposed to be what we’re doing, but it’s what we’re doing so we’re just going to try to make it work.”

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