Wanted: a Hamilton rink. Eight-thousand square feet max. A polished, concrete surface is preferred, but tiles or wood flooring may also work. No pillars are preferred. Washrooms. Heating would be nice.
That's how a new Kijiji ad reads, placed by the Hammer City Roller Girls (HCRG), Hamilton's women's roller derby league.
The league of 35 women has been active since 2006, but they've never had a home base. This is becoming more problematic as their popularity grows.
“In the 'hockey' season, where ice [on local rinks] drives us out of town, we travel to Caledonia for practices,” said Leah Visser, one of HCRG's veteran players. “This is the nearest appropriately sized arena we could find.”
From September to April for the past four years, the HCRG league has practiced at the Caledonia Fair Grounds Arena, a 30-minute drive from Hamilton. They didn't even play in Hamilton during their first season — they found space in Burlington.
While the rink in Caledonia meets their specs, it is unheated, has a leaky ceiling and is not accessible by any public transit. Just this past Wednesday, the Derby 101 training practice got cut short after a bout of warm weather made the track un-skatable.
“Track conditions changed and as the floor sweat out enough water, it became hazardous,” Visser said. “When heavy rain hit, the ceiling did start to leak steadily.”
The league's players practice eight hours a week and roller-girls-in-training have one hour of practice, but still have had no luck finding a fixed location. Visser said the league is now looking for privately owned rinks and has appealed to the city in the past.
In the downtown core, which Visser said would be the ideal spot for HCRG's home, there are only two rinks. One is Copps Coliseum and the other is Eastwood Arena at Burlington and Mary streets.
“They're in a tough space because there is a whole whack of other sports [in demand] ahead of them,” said downtown city councillor Jason Farr. “[In the winter], it's hockey over derby.”
The derby league had its eye on Eastwood about a year and a half ago when Farr, the local councillor, had a community meeting to figure out the best use for the space.
Farr said the derby players made a strong showing that night, but the surrounding community wanted to revitalize hockey in the rink. Eastwood now houses Skate the Dream, Farr's initiative to get inner-city kids playing hockey at an affordable price. He said recreational skating programs at that rink are more popular now than ever before.
“I don't know what we would have for them in the winter,” he said, of any remaining rinks in the city of Hamilton. ““I feel for them, the sport is growing in popularity.”
Visser said it's a common “hockey vs. roller derby” issue. Other southern Ontario leagues have difficulty finding usable space, she said, referencing the Grey Bruce Derby team that also cancelled their practice this week because of a wet rink.
But as the league continues to gain a strong following in Hammer City, the lack of permanent space is becoming more apparent. Recruitment and retention is tough — the league's Derby 101 only has nine skaters this year.
“We have double that when we're in Hamilton,” Visser said. “Fans and skaters would like a consistent space.”
This coming Sunday, HCRG are expected to host a game at the same Caledonia rink that was deemed too hazardous for practice on Wednesday.
“It's a sanctioned game. We need to play it regardless,” she said.