By Andrea Tomkins –
If there’s an award for best homemade skating rink, Richard Janecky may be looking at first place.
While flooding a backyard with a garden hose is not unheard of, every winter, Janecky goes the extra mile to build a rink for his wife Karla Hilton and their children Lola, 12, and Marek, 9.
While homemade rinks are traditionally located in backyards, this one is in the front yard of the family home on Bayswater Avenue. The rink measures 24 x 48 and is surrounded by low boards. It takes up almost the entire yard, and incorporates a sizable tree.
“Most people wouldn’t think that it’s the perfect yard for it… who would think to put a rink in their front yard?” laughs Janecky.
Janecky has rink making down to a science.
“You wait for a minimum of 10 cm of snow, and we had lots of snow in November. It was perfect,” remembers Janecky. “Then you get your snowshoes on and you get a few people with snowshoes, just to stomp it all down. One great way of doing it is getting kids on toboggans and dragging them around – you just stamp it down as much as you can. That’s the base.”
Amateurs could be forgiven if they assume that flooding comes next, but there’s a critical step that can’t be missed.
“You need to water it, sprinkle it, about five or six times before you can start flooding,” says Janecky. “You have to have a cold night to do it, you need the right conditions. It has to be cold, and you spray it with a mister. What you’re trying to do is create a hard surface for when you do eventually start flooding. The water needs some place to stay so it doesn’t sink through the snow into the grass.”
“This is my third year with it and I’ve learned my lesson on that front. It’s so frustrating if you don’t do it.”
This year, Janecky built a new addition to the rink. In past years, snow has slid off the metal roof and knocked down the boards, which in turn meant the front of the house was less protected from errant pucks. So Janecky fashioned a set of protective screens. Hinges allow the screens to easily fold down when not in use, and they have a bit of give so they can survive gusts of wind and snow.
“No windows have been lost yet, despite a couple of stray slapshots,” says Janecky.
Skating outdoors is a great family activity. Marek participated in the building of the boards and both kids help clear the ice.
“I think anyone can build a rink,” says Janecky, but he adds that it’s important to “stay motivated” and tend to its upkeep.
The actual building of the structure took a day, but the real work lies in its maintenance.
“Flooding is another matter entirely. That takes a lot of determination.” It’s a chore reserved for extra cold evenings, when the kids are in bed.
“I’m out there, seven, eight nights in a row, flooding the ice and getting it ready for skating. It’s a process.”
Happily, all that hard work pays off. The rink gets a lot of use, even in the evening, as white Christmas lights illuminate after-dinner games. “Marek is crazy about hockey and he’s out there every night,” says Janecky.
For those who are worried about the grass, they needn’t be. Janecky says the grass doesn’t seem to be affected at all. “It makes no difference to the grass whatsoever. It comes back just as quickly as it would have if you didn’t have a rink. Zero impact.”
One could assume that games of shinny on outdoor rinks was a part of Janecky’s childhood, but this is not actually the case.
“Growing up in Vancouver and moving to Ottawa, the one thing that I was in awe of was outdoor rinks, because I’d never really seen them. To me it’s always been the charm of this city, these outdoor rinks.”
The boards come down in the Spring when the snow melts and it all gets put away, but Janecky says he’s running out of room to store it because he keeps adding to it every year.
All those hours spent on building, flooding, and then take down… is it worth it?
“I do it for them” says Janecky, motioning to his son Marek and his two friends who’ve dropped by to play hockey.
“The kids come over after school and they have something to do, and it’s just fun. And it becomes a bit of a hub. The neighbours come over from time to time and they bring their kids. I think it brings a sense of community, a way of celebrating the moment.”