'We need to break barriers': First accessible outdoor ice rink opens in St. Vital

The province’s first fully accessible outdoor ice rink opened at a St. Vital community centre Tuesday.

Regulation-size rink at Dakota Community Centre gives athletes of all abilities a place to play

Manitoba's first fully accessible outdoor ice rink opened in St. Vital Tuesday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The province's first fully accessible outdoor ice rink opened at a St. Vital community centre Tuesday.

"Every member of our community now has an opportunity to come and enjoy outdoor sports," said Michele Augert, CEO at Dakota Community Centre.

The regulation-size rink, which is 85 by 200 feet, is fully accessible to players of all ages and abilities with special features to allow sledge hockey players ease of access to the ice.

"The entrance to the ice is level so that sleds can make their way on without problems, because they can't move on rubberized flooring like most people with skates can," said Augert.

The players' boxes have clear plastic inserts to allow those using a sledge to see the action on the ice. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

"There's lift bars, there's accessible doors into our rest area, warming areas, all of those features that really help to make play easier," she said.

Nestled along the tree line behind the community centre's field house, the rink's concrete foundation provides a shift-free surface so the ground-level entry to the ice remains intact, as well as the clear inserts that surround the players benches and penalty box.

"They have the Plexiglas that you can see through so if you're in a sled or if you're sitting at a lower level, that's even great just for kids, so they can see through and see [the ice]," said Paralympic sledge hockey player Greg Westlake.

"What you find is, you start making all of these little changes to make things accessible and you realize, well actually everyone benefits for it," he said.

Sledge hockey Paralympian Greg Westlake was at the opening of the rink and said it's the best accessible outdoor ice he's seen in Canada. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The $680,000 project broke ground over the summer and received funding from all three levels of government, as well as a $250,000 contribution from the Canadian Tire Jumpstart Foundation, and private donations.

"This rink is really the best one I've seen in all of Canada not just Manitoba," said Westlake.

'It's about being independent'

The rink was designed in consultation with Sledge Hockey Manitoba players, like Sean Gilmour, who said accessible facilities give athletes with disabilities their independence.

"Now people can come to the rink by themselves, they can skate independently, they don't have to worry about getting assistance into the rink, over the boards, it's about being independent," said Gilmour.

"There's a lot of people with disabilities and we need to break barriers," he said.

Sledge hockey player Sean Gilmour consulted on the design of the rink and said the idea was to allow players of all abilities independence on the ice. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Gilmour helped guide the design of the rink to make sure even the little details were considered.

"We did quite a bit of thinking," he said.

"We made the benches a little bit bigger, they made the springs a little bit easier for people with disabilities to push so they can open the gates."

While indoor accessible ice space is becoming more common, Gilmour said this is the first outdoor space he's ever heard of.

'This rink is for everyone'

Mayor Brian Bowman said the project helps move Winnipeg toward being an accessible city for everyone.

"I'm sure there's many more things we can and should be doing to make a more accessible city, and we should be open to what we can continue to do to build more accessible areas for kids of all ages to play," Bowman said.

Augert said the regulation-size rink will allow for all kinds of uses of the space, from tournaments to casual use.

Dakota Community Centre CEO Michele Augert said the rink will allow every member of the community an opportunity to enjoy outdoor sports. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

"This rink is for everyone, we are going to make sure that there is a lot of opportunity for everyone to use it at their leisure, to play shinny, to learn to skate, to do all of those things that we love to do in wintertime."

In the summer, the rink will be transformed into a four-court beach volleyball facility.

Manitoba's first fully accessible outdoor ice rink

4 years ago
Duration 1:58
Regulation-size rink at Dakota Community Centre gives athletes of all abilities a place to play.