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Citizen-Z Cavan Young's 2004 film about the zamboni crisis





Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter, January/February 2006

THE UPSIDE-DOWN WORLD OF CITY RINKS For some years now, most of the City’s staff zamboni operators have been reluctant to work at Dufferin Rink. Some have not been shy to say so.

They say there’s too much interference with their regular way of running rinks. The zamboni drivers seem particularly unhappy about the idea that they should match their ice maintenance visits to the rink program schedule. One particular zamboni operator recently insisted on clearing the ice before a hockey permit was finished, because, he said, that was his prerogative if he felt like it. When a rink friend argued with him, the zamboni driver and his partner left the rink without grooming the ice at all, and went home early. A few days later some of the City zamboni drivers summoned their supervisor to a health and safety meeting.

The following day the on-site rink staff were told that they must follow a new health and safety “protocol.” It soon became apparent that these new rules would make it much harder to keep to our ten-year practice of letting skaters keep on skating on the pleasure-skating side while the hockey side is being cleaned by the zamboni, and vice versa. (This is another feature of our rink that has been unpopular with many City zamboni drivers.)To comply with the new rules in the evenings, on-site rink staff would either have to leave the rink house unattended for half an hour, or add another staff whose only role was to double the staff already standing guard outside by the hockey lift-gate (to prevent people from being run over by the zamboni). If the second on-site rink staff was not there, the zamboni driver would have the right to leave the work site immediately, on the grounds of employee health and safety.

This is a bit of déjà vu! The last time there was an employee health and safety complaint at the rink was a few days before Christmas 2003, when City inspectors came and said Dufferin Rink was the worst rink they had ever seen. On that occasion they ordered the new community kitchen bordering the zamboni garage to be torn out and the giant Clay and Paper Theatre puppets to be removed from high up in the rafters. They also said that no one but a licensed zamboni driver could enter the zamboni garage.

A Zamboni, as skaters know, is about the size of a small truck. It has four wheels, a scraper/flooder at the back, and a large chamber for storing the scraped-off snow at the front. As with street sweepers, snowploughs, and road repair vehicles, the driver’s visibility is less than in a car, so the driver has to take extra care. When a zamboni is standing in a garage, though, it’s no more dangerous than a parked car, and so the inspectors’ 2003 verdict did not stand. The Dufferin Rink kitchen is still there, the puppets are back, and the farmers’ market and all sorts of other events have continued.

But now it seems that once again a zamboni is being held up as a singularly dangerous vehicle from which skaters must be protected. So even if you (and your kids) know how to cross a busy road like Dufferin Street without a crossing guard, you can’t be trusted to stay back from a moving zamboni with only one rink guard to warn you off.

Back to the requirement of having an extra, otherwise unnecessary staff person at the rink in the evening. The zamboni supervisor says that there’s only one alternative: to shut all the skaters inside the rink house during the time the zamboni operator is grooming the ice. He says that Dufferin Rink has become so busy that special protections must be put in place. It’s not that there has been any accident, but that there could be.

So now we have a problem. The philosophy at this park is to stay away from having extra staff who have waiting-around time as part of their job description, even though that may be a common way municipal government is run. As things stand, the Dufferin Rink staff are booked to do the work that’s needed. Because the rink has become so well used by so many different people, that work includes keeping the rink house clean and arranging it as a neighbourly space, hosting community events, teaching skating, connecting with other rinks, youth counselling, court work with youth, giving citywide rink information, doing web postings, shovelling snow, helping farmers on market day, running the zamboni café, helping the zamboni operator, organizing tournaments, and more. On-site rink staff deal with all the different demands on them, more or less successfully, by helping one another and listening to rink users. They also get rock-solid support from the recreation supervisor.

The zamboni crew have chosen to stay out of this loop and to set their rules independently. That’s a puzzle. A clash of philosophies? So many City rinks still have their windowless staff room with the old couch and the all-winter card game, where the zamboni operators and the on-site rink staff and a few favourite rink users spend time between periods of ice maintenance. Sometimes the door is propped open, other times it’s locked from the inside. Is that protection from the public really so much more agreeable than running a rink that’s a friendly hub in a lively neighbourhood?

There will be some discussions now between the City zamboni operators and the Dufferin Rink on-site staff. Hopefully the two clashing philosophies will move a little closer again. If not (since we don’t like to hire waiting-around rink staff), rink users will have plenty of time to brainstorm about the upside-down world of city rinks, when they’re squashed together inside the rink house as the zamboni moves around the ice outside, all alone.

Content last modified on October 17, 2009, at 07:11 PM EST