Several Merrickville-Wolford residents have been concerned over the past few weeks about the lack of action at the Merrickville outdoor rink. Resident and mother of two, Katie Dickie, says she was surprised to hear the mayor’s comment at the last council meeting of the year, saying that they were not opening the rink at that time and that many other surrounding municipalities were doing the same. “Our concern at this point is: that’s not true,” Katie says, adding that North Augusta, Brockville, Bishops Mills, Carleton Place, and Ottawa all have outdoor rinks that are available for use, with restrictions in place.
She also said that the mayor’s comment about looking for direction from the local health unit does not have any legs. “If you go to our local health unit website, it states right there that parks and outdoor spaces are important for maintaining and improving physical, mental, and social wellbeing. And during the pandemic, these outdoor spaces provide valuable spaces for people to be together in a relatively safe way.”
This is not the only year that Katie has had frustrations about the rink. Last year, there was some damage done to the rink house, so the change rooms could not open. It took the municipality forever to put out picnic benches so the kids could have somewhere to put on their skates, according to Katie. This caused them to set up their own outdoor rink on their lawn this year, so their children could have somewhere to skate.
Katie’s main concern is not for her kids, but for parents who do not have the ability to create their own rinks. She has seen children skating on puddles in the village, and another resident and father, Eddie Yeomans, saw about ten kids skating on the river down by the locks over the Christmas holidays. His concern is that a child might go through the ice, which already happened 30 years ago on the river. “Raymond Jacques was his name, and he went through the ice just at the locks,” he says. “I know, because they have a sports award dedicated at the public school in his honour because he was a keen sports kid. I just thought to myself, we don’t want that tragedy to happen again.”
Over the past 13 years that Eddie has been living in Merrickville, he has always been frustrated with the effort and lack of enthusiasm when it comes to recreation in the Village, and it doesn’t end with the rink. There is a great toboggan hill built by volunteers on Collar Hill; but it is unmaintained, making it unusable. “When you go and use it during the winter, with these big rocks sticking up and big roots going through, it becomes very dangerous.”
Eddie says the same kind of effort is needed to maintain the rink. “I’ve been over there when there are grandparents, people on my street who have grandkids, that are over there shoveling themselves, because it hasn’t been cleared overnight. It’s very frustrating when you think that more effort isn’t being made to maintain it, knowing that you’ve only got a short window of opportunity to use that rink.”
Mike Seeley, who was heavily involved in helping to build the rink in the past, says there has been suggested upgrades to the rink over the years that have been largely ignored by the municipality. “I’m disappointed in the fact that recreation in the village seems to get put on the backburner, and the effort of community builders put in to get the facilities to where they are, that the township doesn’t keep them to that standard. It’s frustrating.”
Mayor Struthers says that recreation is absolutely a priority in the municipality. According to the mayor, his comments at the December 14 meeting were based on information they had at the time, and that things have progressed since then. The delay in opening the rink was caused by a couple of factors. As COVID-19 regulations changed, they wanted to make sure they were following all the appropriate guidelines for operating an outdoor rink in a pandemic, especially when the area went into the yellow zone in December, and then grey after Christmas. They also had their rink attendant resign abruptly in mid-December, and have not been successful in recruiting one since.
That being said, the Mayor says they are committed to getting the rink open this year and that they will be depending on the many volunteers who have graciously offered their time. “We’re putting together a protocol to have volunteers do the flooding and maintaining of the rink,” he says. “That is more than a work in progress to be able to accomplish having ice on the rink for residents.”
A group of volunteers received an email at 5 pm on Friday, giving them the go ahead to build and maintain the rink for the winter. A group of eight volunteers met at the rink on Saturday to start clearing and flooding it to create the ice pad. Katie says the municipality has relinquished all responsibility for the maintenance of the rink, leaving it entirely up to the small group of volunteers this season. Although she is happy that they were given the go ahead to get the rink up and running, she is still disappointed in the way it was handled by the municipality. “I’m frustrated with council, frustrated with the mayor, frustrated that we had to push so hard to open something that we all pay for,’ Katie said. “If there hadn’t been the pressure, it would have never been opened.”