Earning a reputation as an iceman is not one to be taken lightly in some circles, but for longtime Newmarket resident Chris Howie, it is a badge he wears proudly.
For the last five years, Howie has battled the elements and devotes upward of 400 hours of his own time each winter to create and maintain a community ice hockey rink for all to enjoy.
“There’s an art to making a rink,” Howie said. “And I figured out how to make great ice.”
It’s a labour of love for Howie, who asked Newmarket council for the keys to the Lions Park tennis courts on D’Arcy Street so he could transform its three courts into a free, volunteer-run hockey rink for children of all ages.
“I never had access to hockey growing up, I learned to skate on a pond, and on Fairy Lake before that got shut down,” Howie said.
So far this year, Howie and a small team of local volunteers, including his father, Doug, five-year-old son, Conor, and residents Matt Richard and Greg McIroy, have flooded the courts about 50 times from the water supply at Gorman pool. Howie purchased a liner and six large tarps used as a foundation for the ice, a $1,200 investment of his own money that has proved invaluable to stem water leakage on melty winter days, he said.
“You can’t just back up the firetruck to the fire hose and flood it,” he said. “You have to flood it almost millimetre by millimetre. And part of that is flooding it at all hours. Sometimes I flood the rink around 7 p.m., then go back at 11 p.m. or midnight to flood some more.”
Howie said town staff have been supportive of the rink and have given him access to hot water for hot-water floods, which are crucial to smoothing the ice out as the rink builds up.
“The big reason I did this was to get kids out and away from technology and from the mall,” said Howie. “Some kids are there for hours practising and playing with the older kids, and that’s how they get better. That’s my reward, seeing kids learning to play and to skate. Last year, we had a 10-year-old who never skated before. About an hour in, he had a stick in his hand and was taking shots.”
The rink is three-quarters the size of an NHL rink, can handle three hockey games at once, is enclosed with a fence that is locked when not in use, is lit at night, and nearby picnic tables and washroom facilities make it the perfect location, Howie said.
“It really just takes a commitment and some elbow grease to provide a community rink,” he said.
It’s free, volunteer-run and for the ice to remain in the best shape for skaters, bring your shovel along with your skates and equipment so you can do your part to keep the rink going all winter long.
“My big goal is to get the ice in great shape for the kids for the next day. If you’re going to come play, you need to shovel afterwards,” Howie said. “When you get four or five kids going with shovels, the ice can be shovelled off in five minutes.”
Howie has had to ban some young adults who refuse to shovel. And, just this week, someone jumped the fence late at night after it was flooded at 10:30 p.m. and skated on the wet ice, which has the potential to damage the ice. Howie said he has asked York Regional Police to keep an eye on the rink after hours because it’s trespassing to be on the rink when locked.
Here are the rules to follow at the Lions Park community hockey rink:
- It’s a no-bully zone. If a younger child shows up and wants to join a hockey game with older children, include them.
- Have fun and play, that includes parents, too.
- Share the ice, shovel the ice.
- Respect the rink, respect the hours. Once closed, do not trespass.
- General hours are Monday to Thursday from 3:30 to 8 p.m., Fridays from 3:30 to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. 8 p.m. Children 13 and under get priority for after-school hours.
- Holiday schedule: Open every day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The rink hours depend on the weather. For up-to-date hours and information on the ice conditions, visit the Newmarket Lions Community Hockey Rink on Facebook. It is located at 424 D'Arcy St., in Newmarket.