Halifax, long-track skating oval, physical education

The Halifax Skating Oval

Having been out three times in the past six days skating on the long-track oval on the Halifax Commons, I feel I should weigh in with my support for those trying to make the skating oval a semi-permanent feature of the Commons.

Anyone walking by the Commons over the past ten days or so will surely have seen the hundreds (thousands?) of people, young and old, skating, talking, laughing on or walking to or from the Commons with skates slung over their shoulder. Not only has the oval made this most Canadian of things possible, it has created a focus for community spirit and fun that I haven’t seen in some time in our lovely coast town.

The oval has attracted skaters of every level to come out and have fun together. I’ve seen some pretty talented figure skaters spinning off to the side, speed skaters with their pointy-blades warming up, and obvious first-timers, old and young alike, wearing rented skates and supported by friends, relatives, or those little red trainers that are conveniently stacked by the entrances for smaller rookies. It has been a while since I’ve seen that many people out just having fun.

As a bit of a fitness buff, I am in support of any event, sport, or facility that gets Canadians off the couch and moving about. I haven’t the time to go into all of the economic and cost benefits of having a healthy population, but suffice it to say, I believe that building free, publicly-accessible fitness facilities is a good long-term economic policy that will pay for itself in the near-term. There is certainly more to be done – bicycle lanes, running paths, etc., but this is an excellent start.

For those that were around here during the debate on whether or not Halifax, the province, and the feds should pony up two billion taxpayer dollars to host the Commonwealth Games, this is exactly the kind of spin-off facility that we were promised at a fraction of the cost.

Maintaining the oval is more than just laying the chillers out and paying for the electricity and water, however. Quite a lot of work was done through the fall to prepare the north end of the Common. As anyone who has played ball here or attended one of the open-air concerts will attest to, there is a drainage issue at this end of the Common, so grading was necessary. With all the work done to improve the ground immediately under the oval, the question becomes what to do with it in the summer when no skating is possible (the chillers can only maintain ice up to 10C).

Up to now, most of the Commons is used for baseball and softball in the summertime, and to be perfectly honest I don’t really know if these fields are used to capacity or if they are over-booked. Making the oval a permanent feature might mean the loss of at least one and possible two ball fields in the summer months. Ballplayers and Commons traditionalists (who argue that any change is in and of itself an evil) and money-losing concert promoters will recoil at the loss of space, but what about putting in a rubberized outdoor track? There are only a handful of decent tracks in the city – SMU, Beazley, etc., so I’m sure that such a thing would be well used. There are running clubs that gather at a couple of sport shops within a kilometre or two of the Commons that I know would head there to run intervals and sprints. This would be great for their business in the summertime (the running clubs are free, but the shoes ain’t) and for skate sellers and sharpeners in the winter.

The plans right now are to distribute the chillers to communities around the province. I think this a good idea, but I’d like to see the city opt to buy some new chillers and leave the oval in place on the Common. Individual chiller units will be fine for smaller facilities, but what makes this surface special is its size and central location. It’s big enough to serve multiple purposes for competition, training, and recreation, and it makes the Common an area to visit in the winter. This is a great thing for city spirit and great for local businesses. Yes, it will cost some tax-payer dollars, but at least we get to have fun with the result, and doesn’t that mean anything?

For those that feel as I do about the oval, there is a petition that you can sign to let the city council know that we are here. Go here and sign up – with any luck we can keep this thing going.


Edit: Just noticed Tim Bousquet’s article at TheCoast on the same topic. It looks like the costs are actually lower than originally budgeted and popularity much higher. It’s a win-win.


8 thoughts on “The Halifax Skating Oval

  1. I’ll admit, I’m a bit jealous hearing all the good things about the skating oval – and I don’t even skate. I will, however, take issue with your idea of a rubberized running track, for a few reasons:

    a. firstly, I like Tim Bousquet’s idea of an inline skating track for summer use better, it involves much less conversion work, and it’ll provide good training now that roller derby is making a comeback.

    b. Secondly, you might want to actually look into the makeup of a rubberized running surface – given that the whole purpose of the construction is to *disperse* water, dumping a slab of ice on it every winter strikes me as a really good way to ruin it within a year – from what I can tell by my internet searches, any arenas I know of with running tracks have them separate from the ice surface – usually well above it,

    c. and lastly, granted it’s been a few years since I worked in Halifax, but I seem to remember there was a pretty good running trail along the perimeter of the Commons – is there some reason at least a section of it can’t be converted to a rubberized surface? Taking a section of the Commons from general recreational use and converting it into something that’s mainly of interest to serious runners only seems to be a bit privileged…


  2. I personally like the idea of distributing the chillers around the city…making a few smaller outdoor rinks in key central locations (fer instance, Parade Square, the old skate factory site near the Portland/Alderney intersection in Dartmouth, somewhere in Bedford near Dartmouth Ave, if any space is available, etc). But that requires planning, and more overhead costs. I expect that when summer rolls around, the loss of the baseball diamonds will be a concern, too.

    That said, me likey the oval, because it provides an outdoor skating facility in early winter (before the lakes are safe).


  3. I am impressed that Halifax has created an easy and affordable way for people to get out and enjoy the winter. As a resident of the frosty city of Edmonton where there are hundreds of city-maintained, free, outdoor rinks and several inner-city lakes where the water has frozen thick enough for zambonis to go on and resurface the ice, I am thorougly enjoying the great opportunity to take my family out to skate oon a regular basis. I hope Halifax continues to spend the coin and maintain this large oval. I just wish they had thought of it 20 years ago.


  4. Dan – I didn’t really think much about my suggestion to put a track down under it – rubber is probably not the best suggestion; just paving it would be better and cheaper. I think you could make something that could be used for both running and for in-line skating. There are way more runners in the city than in-line skaters, as the roads and sidewalks here generally blow for skating, so I suggested a running track partly to get most use out of it.

    Of course, it *also* happens to be something close to my heart.


  5. I so very much want them to keep it, and make it into an in-line skating oval for the Summer/Fall/Spring. I have in-line skates… and finding anywhere around this city to do it safely (hills and traffic are not safe!!) is a huge task!! So, my in-line skates don’t get taken out quite as much as I’d like. The suggestion put out just yesterday by Mayor Peter Kelly was to line it with concrete and use it for inline skating in the summer… but don’t see why they couldn’t have certain times for running clubs, and certain times for rollerblading?? Or is concrete too hard to run on? I’m not a runner… in fact I just can’t get into running at all 😦 but I would use it for in-line skating for sure!!!

    Either way… anything that gets Haligonians up off their lazy butts (myself included!) is a GREAT thing for the city!!! And I think it’s pretty much a sure thing now anyway – the Mayor seems totally behind it. The cost to dismantle would be about $500,000 and he proposed to using that to purchase the compressors (the two used now, are slated for other rinks). And to offset cost of running, he suggested plastering ads all over it… and personally I don’t care if they plaster ads all over it! If it keeps the oval there, and free I’m all for it! And hey, I can shop while I skate 🙂

    As for losing some baseball field space… not everyone can afford to play baseball on a team. So that space gets used by the few who can afford to get into organized sports. The oval on the other hand is accessible to everyone, doesn’t require a team membership or commitment… anyone can go out any time just to be active and have fun.

    Halifax NEEDS this!!


  6. louise – There is no webcam, at least I couldn’t find one.

    synergy – Concrete isn’t ideal for running, but we run all the time on roads and sidewalks, so it’s no biggie, at least as far as I’m concerned. I’ve no problem with the oval being concrete; if it gets used year-round, I’m all for it.


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