A love letter to outdoor skating rinks

Suburban memories on the ice revisited

I’ve had these skates for as long as I can remember, so kindly ignore the rust and scuffing. Photo Sheena Macmillan

Outdoor rinks were the height of nightlife when I was in high school.

Growing up in suburbia, the glowing night lights of downtown Montreal were eons away from me. My local outdoor rink, however, was only a few blocks away.

Over Snapchat, my friends and I would arrange plans to meet up at the rink, right next to my old elementary school. I would braid my hair out of my face, slap on a tuque, zip up my jacket, and march out the door with my hockey skates shoved into my purple Jansport backpack.

After a brief trek, I’d be greeted by the towering lights illuminating the hockey rink. It was as if this rink was the centre of the universe. The shed where everyone kept their bags and changed into their skates stank of feet—made stale by the cold weather. 

Lacing up my skates reminds me of my dad. When he taught me how to skate, he always highlighted the importance of tying your skates tight; loose laces lead to bad form and broken ankles.  

I’d teeter out of the shed, gingerly walk over the concrete to the rink, and break into a sprint the second my blades touched the ice. No matter how much time I spent away from the rink, it always felt like home. The cold wind caressed my face and froze my eyebrows. The feeling of flying across the ice was electric. I’d slam the breaks and shower my friends with snow after doing a lap around the rink.

Because my dad was dedicated to making sure I knew how to swim, bike, and skate, I can confidently cross my feet when I round a corner on the ice. For some reason, that bit of technique always impresses. Skating with friends, however, means skating with people at different levels of ability. I usually end up playing the skating instructor role, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

The majority of my friends now, contrary to when I was in high school, are children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. That means more often than not, they’re unfamiliar with the ice.    

Having my friends lean on me while I prop them up by the waist and repeat, “Push with your left leg, now your right,” reminds me of when my dad would tell me the same thing almost two decades ago.

When I was in high school, going to the outdoor rink was an opportunity to impress the guy I liked with my ability to skate in hockey skates (cause I’m not like other girls). Now, it’s an opportunity to create memories and teach my friends a new skill that will fully immerse them in the unique experience that is a Canadian winter.