About an hour before the Christmas farmers' market was to begin on the last market day before Christmas, two gentlemen in identical dark blue windbreakers came to the rink house. They looked pretty serious. It turned out they were Jim Mackay and Danny Neill, both Occupational Health and Safety inspectors who work for the city's Corporate Services. They told us that they had just come from shutting down two rinks in the west end, because of employee-health-and-safety violations, and that they were very unimpressed by what they saw at our rink. As we walked from the main part of the club house to the room at the south where the farmers' market was just setting up, they glanced at the lively shinny hockey game on the rink and said that since none of the players were wearing helmets, the rink should be shut down.
This was a difficult beginning, and it got worse from there. When they saw David Anderson's giant puppets suspended by their ropes and pulleys, high up in the rafters of the south room, they were appalled. Next came the city's large gas space heater, also suspended from the two-story-high ceiling, which they said should never have been allowed. Then the stainless steel deck oven against one wall, where Larry Lewis bakes his cinnamon buns, which could set the room on fire. When the inspectors found that the oven was electric and not gas-powered, that seemed to reassure them a little (no dangerous pilot light to cause a spark, they said). But then when they saw our new community kitchen through the glass sliding doors, in the "L" alcove of the south room, they said that this was the worst rink they had seen in the city, and that they might have to shut us down immediately.
One of the inspectors brought out his digital camera and began to walk all around taking pictures and shaking his head. Meantime we realized that the zamboni had not been moved out yet that day to make room for the farmers' market, and we called the city rinks supervisor to send someone to drive it out to the basketball court. The driver arrived a few minutes later, but when he came toward the zamboni, the inspectors stopped him and asked to see his propane license. We have a zamboni powered by propane, and the drivers get special training to run it. The driver took out his wallet and unfolded his propane registration paper and the inspector studied it with a frown. Something was evidently not quite right on the piece of paper. The inspector and the driver knew each other, since both had been working for the city for many years. In fact, the driver reminded the inspector that he had recently taken a training course from him. But still the inspector held on to the piece of paper, until we asked in frustration whether we should call the rink supervisor again and ask him to send a different driver. People were arriving for the market and the farmers were late setting out their produce.
The inspector said he would permit the driver to re-park the zamboni outside, this time, but that he must immediately remedy the problem with his documentation. The zamboni got moved out, the farmers began to set up, and then the walk-about resumed. The head-shaking resumed also. When we said, "tell us what we can do to fix what bothers you," they said: we don't even want to talk to you. So we called James Dann, the park manager for our part of the city, and he said he was coming over immediately.
For an hour longer the inspectors walked around with James, who wrote down everything they told him. After they left, he said he had three pages of employee-health-and-safety infractions, some so urgent they must be taken care of by the next day (Friday) to prevent the rink from being shut down. That period of grace was then extended until Monday at the latest.
So as the Christmas market got underway at Dufferin Rink on Thursday Dec.18, and the shinny games continued on the rink, we were faced with a brand new idea: that our rink was not after all one of the winter treasures of our neighborhood. It was, instead, a mass of employee safety violations, and we suddenly had a rink crisis. The Grinch's Christmas.