City of Montreal to buy refrigerated skating rinks to counter effects of climate change

The City of Montreal is buying refrigerated outdoor skating rinks to counter the increasingly warm winters. In total, $7.3 million has been set aside for efforts to save outdoor rinks from the effects of climate change.

$7.3M set aside to extend skating season as winters get warmer

Last year most rinks across the city were only able to open in late Jan. because of mild weather. With more refrigerated rinks the city hopes to extend the skating season from approximately Dec. 15 to March 15. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The City of Montreal is buying refrigerated outdoor skating rinks to counter the city's milder winters — and the slush and puddles that come with them.

In total, the city has set aside $7.3 million for efforts to save outdoor rinks from the effects of climate change. Part of the plan calls for the installation of refrigerated rinks in "strategic" areas. 

"The winter season is not like it used to be," said Dimitrios Jim Beis, the mayor of Pierrefonds-Roxboro and the member of Montreal's executive committee responsible for Sports and Leisure.

"We have, if we're lucky, eight to nine weeks of potential rink time."

The money will be spent over a period of three years and includes installing several refrigerated rinks across the city, according to the city's three-year investment plan released last week.

Beis confirmed that the first refrigerated rink could be installed in time for next winter. He could not say where the first rink would be placed, only that they would talk with boroughs to determine where it is needed most.

"The ultimate goal is to have these installed throughout the territory and we have to start somewhere," he said.

As for cost, Beis estimates that it will take between $1 million and $1.5 million to build a single rink.   

According to Jonathan Brun, the co-founder of Patiner Montréal, refrigerated rinks cost about $1 million to build, but there’s a big improvement in terms of the quality of ice. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The city believes adding more refrigerated rinks will cut down on the maintenance load of borough workers, allowing them more time maintaining the ice quality of other neighbouring outdoor rinks.

In 2016, only eight of the 262 outdoor rinks in operation across the city were refrigerated.

The refrigerated surfaces include:

  • five Bleu Blanc Rouge outdoor rinks, part of a program run by the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation.
  • one on Beaver Lake at Mount Royal.
  • one in Montreal's Old Port.
  • one at the Olympic Stadium.

Money better spent fighting climate change?

The city's plan has stirred debate among environmentalists, with some arguing the money would be better spent fighting climate change rather than trying to adapt to it.

Others have pointed that refrigerated outdoor rinks will use additional electricity.

It even drew reaction from Bill McKibben, a prominent American environmental activist.

Beis said the city is analyzing all the associated costs and environmental impact.

He added that they will be looking at the Bleu Blanc Rouge refrigerated outdoor rinks as an example.

Mild weather, shorter skating season

Last winter, most rinks in Montreal were only about to open in late January because of mild weather. With more refrigerated rinks the city hopes to extend the skating season from approximately Dec. 15 to March 15.

The City of Montreal says mild weather and rain make maintaining over 250 outdoor rinks a challenge. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Jonathan Brun is the co-founder of Patiner Montréal, a website that uses data from the city to map out ice rink conditions. He said that last year's season was "one of the worst" according to approximately 15 years worth of data.

"It puts a damper on winter and the Montreal experience," said Brun, who likes to play hockey at outdoor rinks.

"Montreal needs to think about how to keep some traditions going considering the changing climate that's affecting us all."

According to Brun, what hurts outdoor rinks the most during mild weather is rain, which takes at least three or four days of cold to repair.