London's giant outdoor ice Crokinole board is a cure for the winter weary
Downtown neighbourhood came together to bring board game outside
Canadians of a certain age are likely to have encountered a Crokinole board at some point in their youth, probably in a basement rec room.
Sometimes round, sometimes hexagon-shaped, the game is a kind-of table-top hybrid of shuffleboard, croquet and billiards.
Players try to shoot wooden or plastic discs into a hole in the middle for the best score. Bumping your opponents off the playing surface is an extra bonus.
And while the game may be similar to curling, Crokinole isn't typically played on ice, or on a board the size of a large living room, or outdoors in double-digit, below-zero temperatures. But that's how they're doing it in one downtown London neighbourhood.
Alongside a neighbourhood-made ice sheet for skating, neighbours have also erected a five-metre square Crokinole board on ice. The posts protecting the centre target are actually wooden dowels embedded in the ice. There's even a scoreboard.
Project a community effort
Tom Bitz is one of a handful of neighbourhood volunteers who helped cobble together the outdoor Crokinole board.
For years he's helped set up an outdoor skating rink beside the Thames River in the frigid winter months but this time, he wanted something fun to do outside that doesn't involve strapping on a pair of skates.
"I have a bad back and I used to play hockey but skating is kind of hard in my old age," he said.
They put the board to the test for the first time on Thursday night, using pucks wrapped in coloured tape for the playing discs.
"It was a lot of fun," said Bitz. "It was cold out, but we were moving around and having fun and it's a great way to get together with buddies."
Bitz remembers the board game from his youth but hadn't played in more than 20 years.
He says the outdoor version of the game is a safe way to bring people together at a time when everyone has had more than enough of being hunkered down inside.
"For people to get together, it's just something to look forward to, which we really don't have a lot of right now," he said.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that we haven't disclosed the exact location of the outdoor Crokinole board. That's because Bitz — along with his friends Tom Doyle, Nate Carter, Glen Rawson and Paul Beechy — worked hard to get it built and set up.
They don't want a stampede of people to flood the area. They've had problems in the past with litter and damage at their skating surfaces. Anyone who does want to check it out is asked to be respectful of what is essentially the result of a lot of volunteer love and labour.
"Without my neighbours and other people helping, this would never be a thing," said Bitz.