A Canadian conundrum: why won't Toronto accept 120 pairs of free ice skates?

Jutta Mason helped launch a skate-lending program at her rink that tripled its usage, but the city isn't accepting her latest offer.

Toronto has 52 artificially-cooled outdoor rinks, but only 3 have skate-lending programs

Jutta Mason's community group wants to give the city 120 pairs of ice skates, but she says not a single councillor will take her up on the offer. (John Rieti/CBC)

Jutta Mason has a deeply Canadian problem.

She has 120 pairs of ice skates that she wants to donate to the city to loan out at Toronto's small outdoor rinks.

The city's response: sorry, we can't take them.

"Frustrated, I feel frustrated," Mason told CBC Toronto while looking over the prepped but not yet flooded rink in Dufferin Grove Park.

Weather-depending, of course, most of Toronto's outdoor rinks are set to open this weekend. (John Rieti/CBC)

In 2005, Mason and a group of outdoor rink enthusiasts (who also run a website devoted to skating and shinny hockey in the city) helped the city set up a skate-lending program in the west end park. It was an instant hit, she says.

"It seemed like the colour of the rink changed really fast. We got so many newcomers," she said.

Cubans, Jamaicans and locals alike flocked to the rink for a cheap way to try out Canada's favourite sport, she recalled, and the rink's usage doubled, then tripled.

Dufferin Grove's loaner skates are used by newcomers and school classes alike. Anyone can use them with a suggested $2 donation. (John Rieti/CBC)

The program that runs out of a converted boiler room is set to resume its operations when the city's outdoor rinks open this weekend, although it is one of just three in the city. Mason says that's disappointing in North America's capital of urban outdoor ice rinks — Toronto has 52.

So why doesn't it want the skates?

Coun. Mike Layton was in talks with Mason in hopes they could start lending out skates at the nearby Christie Pits Park, but he says there are two reasons it can't go ahead.

The first is that the city would have to ensure every pair of skates are safe, even though Mason says they're in great shape and many were gifted to her group by the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA).

Second, Layton and city parks staff say they don't have enough people to hand out skates.

"We would need staff to administer a program or you're just going to end up with skates sitting outside of a building … getting rusty," he said at city hall.

Dufferin Grove's freshly-wrapped zamboni is all ready for the hockey season. What, did you expect Habs colours? (John Rieti/CBC)

City rink staff have other duties, official says

Mason says she thinks rink staff do have the time to do it, but city officials disagree.

"Our rink staff have a variety of duties at our outdoor rinks, most importantly ensuring a safe environment for rink users," said Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation spokesperson Jane Arbour in an email.

"Our staff are committed and enthusiastic about our skate programs, and we'll continue to work with community partners to find the best way to make use of this donation."

Despite the setback, Mason is confident the skates will get put to use soon. She says she firmly believes there will be skate-lending programs across the city in decades, but says she is still shaking her head that the city can't accept her batch of blades that could see another program open in two weeks.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.

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