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Natural ice rinks aren’t in common in Toronto as they were a few decades ago, but there are a few gems scattered around the city that offer a nostalgic skating and shinny experience that’s highly desirable to those who like to get back to basics (just not tube skates, please). The once ubiquitous natural rink has given way to the far more stable artificial outdoor rink, which is nothing to complain about. But with frigid temperatures in our winter forecast, a few of these throwbacks will take shape in the weeks to come.
It’s hard to put an official number on these rinks, but during a really cold winter you might see as many as 35 take shape, not including the lagoons on the Islands where natural ice skating has been a tradition in all but the warmest of seasons. For a comprehensive list of such rinks, check out the City Rinks Toronto page or the City of Toronto’s map of approved natural ice rink locations.
Note well: I have left off frozen bodies of water for safety reasons, though a place like Grenadier Pond can be a quite popular skating destination.
Here are my top 5 picks for natural ice rinks in Toronto.
I recall skating on the natural rink here when we called the place Kendall Park. Since a major makeover and renaming (to Jean Sibelius Square Park) in 2012, community members have endeavoured to keep the tradition alive despite the fact that City stopped taking care of the flooding many years ago. The rink is located on the west field of the park and is home to some lively neighbourhood shinny games.
Sorauren is one of the busiest and biggest natural ice rinks in the city with two pads — one reserved for shinny and one for pleasure skating. The nicest touch, however, has got to be the little campfire area for warming up after a long haul on the ice. Community floods take place at 9pm each night when the rink is operational.
Work on the Wychwood Barns rink is set to get underway in just a few days for this season, which one hopes will result in another huge rink and a few ice trails on the south side of the community complex. Neighbourhood residents can thank the efforts of Peter MacKendrick in founding the rink, which has proven to be one of the most vibrant in the city for the last five years or so.
Glen Stewart makes this list for the wonderful scenery that you get to enjoy when out for a skate here. Located at the foot of the ravine, the experience of hitting the ice here is quintessentially Canadian. Two pads makes it possible to go for a romantic skate without having to navigate hockey players.
East Lynn Park
One of Toronto’s older natural ice rinks, East Lynn’s natural ice pads can number as many as three when the weather cooperates. Heavily used on weekends, this is great place for a quiet nighttime skate when the kids are nowhere to be found. The shinny scene is carefree when the ice is hard.
Photo from Sorauren Park