Falmouth rink raises community spirits

Local youths, families benefit from annual outdoor free skating site

Carole Morris-Underhill editor@hantsjournal.ca
Published on January 23, 2013

During the winter months, the Falmouth District School is home to a skating treasure.

Every year, community members come together to help build an outdoor rink that allows schoolchildren the opportunity to learn how to skate during the day, and the general public the ability to skate for free after regular school hours. Community members also maintain the site.

It's a win-win situation for the community, and one that instils lifelong skills for the school's populous.

“I'm proud of the fact that when kids leave here, every student knows how to skate, including all of our children with special needs. I think it's a huge message to our kids to get outside and play and that skating is a lifelong skill,” said Karen Wallace, the school's principal.

“You don't have to be able to play hockey, you don't have to have a sport to go with it. Skating in itself is a great activity.”

In the run of a day, Wallace estimates 30 to 40 adult volunteers help to lace and untie skates. A bus driver donates his time to teach skating basics. Frequently, older youths can be spotted helping young children learn to skate — developing their own leadership skills in the process.

Families with children who have outgrown their gear often donate it to the school.

“We probably have about 100 pairs of skates and 100 helmets now,” said Wallace, smiling.

All of the students, plus several community members, help scrape the ice and keep it in fine form. And, when it comes time to dismantle the rink, the children all lend a hand.

Wallace said the school started the rink about a decade ago under the guidance of then-principal Fred MacLean. The tradition carried on after Wallace took over.

“It's a lot of work but they don't seem to mind it. They enjoy themselves and it's a very proud spot for Falmouth school. I think we get lots of community support and it's good for the kids.”

On Jan. 6, a group of local residents and a few youths helped construct the rink under the guidance of Jamie Leary. It took about four hours. Every year, the Windsor Fire Department donates their time to flood the rink, getting it in tip-top shape for the outdoor skating season.

Leary, who served as the construction foreman this year, was involved in a car accident over the holidays and couldn't physically participate like he normally would. He's been helping construct the rink for about six years, and has been instrumental in securing donated boards for the project. Even boards from Halifax's oval, and signs promoting the Winter Games, have been re-purposed.

Valley Maple Leafs assistant coach Rob Lindsay was one of the community members donating their time and talent this year to the project. He said it was a great community project to get behind.

“I think it's important to keep hockey on ice,” said Lindsay, noting the benefits of it being free for kids and their families.

Instead of busing children to the Windsor rink for an hour of skating, which is quite an expense, Wallace said having the rink on site benefits the schoolchildren greatly as they get more time and exposure to the sport.

“Every class gets two one-hour slots of skating per week but then the rink is available to them after school and (on) weekends,” said Wallace.

“It's open to community groups, it's open to families coming over; a lot of teenagers come and play shinny here, so to us it's a great community event.”

Several groups and organizations — like Beavers and Girl Guides — have taken advantage of the location in previous years, and even some children have held birthday parties at the outdoor venue.

What would make the site even better, Leary and Wallace said, would be to have the area lighted at night. They hope community members will come forward with funding so they may install a lamppost near the site, offering visitors longer hours of which to skate.

It's an expense the school isn't able to cover.

“It would be better with a light because it's so much nicer (skating) at night time,” said Leary.