A proper "barn" is the center of most small communities across Saskatchewan, often serving the leisure needs of residents year-round as a valuable recreational space. A local rink might act as a banquet hall, a farmers' market, or even a makeshift movie theatre in the off seasons, but at the beginning of February it's almost certain that if the lights are on there will be skates on the ice. Except for this year. Natural-ice rinks in communities surrounding Weyburn have had a late start to their season, and some are now closed until temperatures drop into consistent negatives. Phil Carnes is a resident of Fillmore and the man in charge of maintaining their natural ice. He shared just how short their skating window has been so far.
"The warm weather we had in December really put a damper on our flooding and our freezing," said Carnes. "We didn't really get to start skating until the first week of January, which was really disappointing. And with the way the weather is right now, we had to shut down skating and hockey practices until we get back into some cooler weather hopefully by next week."
Fillmore is just one nearby community that utilizes natural ice in their rink. Lang, Creelman, Osage, Sedley, Kipling, and Stoughton are all facing similar challenges with their ice. Aside from having a shorter season due to the late start, the worries double for rinks needing to now close their schedules until better conditions arrive. Stefan Clark, a council member for the town of Stoughton, shared his concerns about the possibility of needing to take skates off of their ice. He said that the revenue generated through ice rentals are an important part of maintaining their facility, and that many of the surrounding minor hockey teams rent ice time in Stoughton because of their affordable fees and availability. He expected that Stoughton's rink could bear through this weather for a couple more days, but those teams that rely on their facility may temporarily lose the option if things don't cool off soon. Phil Carnes echoed the same concerns in Fillmore.
"For rentals we normally have practices for teams in Weyburn, as well as our figure skating club over here and the Fillmore Foxes men's league," said Carnes. "It's not exactly a busy place to be, but it does hurt to close down. Especially for those teams from Weyburn who come out here for practices."
Carnes also shared his insight into what conditions are required for proper maintenance of a natural ice rink. He explained that there is a so-called "sweet spot" that he hopes for once the ice has been established, and that it's going to take a considerable drop in temperatures before he'll be able to have the Fillmore Rec. Centre fully operational again.
"It's the warm days that are really hurting, softening up the ice and causing drips from our ceiling," he said. "Really cold temperatures will harden the ice back up again for us and we should be up and running hopefully within three or four days after that hits. Then we're hoping for -4 to -6 degrees from there, that seems to be a really nice ice to skate on and it's also nice to work with from there. Anything really cold like -30 makes the ice brittle, so then it becomes difficult to shave and flooding doesn't spread as easily."
For the time being, Fillmore is still able to utilize their Rec. Centre for Pickleball nights, which offers some opportunity for the facility to generate revenue through their concession while the ice is out of commission. Unfortunately, not every natural ice rink in the area has an alternative option to bring patrons through their doors. That's why Carnes suggested making it a point to support your nearest rink once they're back up and running.
"Anyone can come out to have some fun at the rink! We host Pickleball on Friday nights here and anyone's welcome to come out and play pickleball have a beverage or two or even a burger. When the men's league plays again you're more than welcome to come up and watch the guys play, but there's different ways you can help, too. There's usually stuff scheduled at rinks throughout the Summer, volunteering to flip burgers in the canteen is great, too. But even just coming in to have a pop and some french fries goes a really long way."