Is there a Canadian winter tradition more iconic than outdoor skating? Whether it’s pond hockey, backyard shinny, or leisure skating out at Toronto Island Harbour, skating in the great outdoors is ingrained in our national psyche. Unfortunately, though, unpredictable winters and the effects of climate change have made reliable outdoor ice difficult to find. In the case of natural ice such as in harbours, ponds and marshes, outdoor skating may even be unsafe. But never fear, fellow skate-ophiles, there is outdoor ice to be had. Our municipalities in York Durham Headwaters know how important this beloved tradition is, and are finding creative and ingenious ways to keep outdoor skating alive and well.
The Richmond Green Skate Trail is one such unique and creative public feature that provides opportunities for young and old, novice and expert alike to enjoy the wonders of outdoor skating. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The trail is a lovely, 250-metre pathway lined with trees and other natural elements. It includes lights for evening skating, heated washrooms and changerooms, and parking space. An asset to the community of Richmond Hill, the skate trail has been in operation for over ten years. The idea was introduced as part of the Richmond Green Master Plan Update of 2000, and was intended to provide an attraction that could be sustained all year round—in the summer months, it is a rollerblading trail. Best of all, there is no cost for admission.
Richmond Hill has experienced significant growth over the past two decades. With a population that is over 215,000, the community is fortunate to have an interesting and dynamic park system that serves the city overall. Jeff Stewart, Manager of Parks Operations for the City of Richmond Hill, says that because this park is one of the area’s five destination parks, a refresh was necessary as part of the Master Plan Update. Previously, the grounds were used for the Richmond Hill agricultural fair, but as the community has expanded, the needs of its residents and members were taken into consideration in the update planning.
It was definitely a welcome update. The skate trail has been wholly embraced by the community. With factors such as climate change and otherwise milder winters causing the outdoor skating experience to become more of a rarity, having cultivated ice like this offers an opportunity to keep this Canadian tradition alive. “There is a buzz and an enthusiasm about the trail in the community,” Jeff says. “It is used daily, and people are certainly coming out. There are peak times, obviously, and the weekends are busier than the weekdays. But even first thing in the morning, there are the regulars who show up for the physical fitness aspect, to get outdoors and stretch their legs. It’s also not uncommon to see a group of seniors show up at 10 o’clock in the morning for a skate. And then with PA days, the no-cost outdoor experience is popular for families.”
“The trail is open to all ages and abilities,” he adds. “That’s the beauty of it. There are new Canadians who come out and have never skated before, and my staff will go over to tighten someone’s skates and show them how to do it properly. As I said, we have seniors coming out and young children just learning—it’s a dynamic feature that truly serves the broad demographic of our whole city.”
Feedback has been wonderful, and comes from reaches all throughout the Greater Toronto Area. “I run into people who tell me they drove all the way out to Richmond Hill to go for a skate on the trail,” Jeff says.
There is still more winter to be had, so if you’re a long-time skater or just starting out on your blades, come out to the Richmond Green Skate Trail for a leisurely jaunt on a lovely urban ice trail. The trail is located at 1300 Elgin Mills Rd. E., Richmond Hill. For more information, visit www.richmondhill.ca/en/things-to-do/Outdoor-Skating.aspx
Story by Katherine Ryalen