North

Meet Yukon's homemade human-powered Zamboni

Get to know the Whitehorse couple behind some of the territory's finest ice.

Get to know the Whitehorse couple behind some of the territory's finest ice

Buster Clare admires his handy work as the sun rises over the community rink in Hillcrest. Some days his ice cleaning effort starts as early as 4:00 a.m. (Ray Marnoch)

It's early Thursday morning, still a couple of hours before sunrise, and Buster Clare is already at the community rink in the Hillcrest neighbourhood of Whitehorse.

This is how most of his winter mornings start — by clearing ice. It's why he's earned the nickname the "human Zamboni."

"It all started with my grandsons complaining about the quality of the ice because of the cold water floods making it rough and brittle," said Clare.

"I got thinking about how we did it when I was a kid in Dawson City and Watson Lake, [Yukon], and how we used warm water ... so I threw this thing together."

That thing Clare refers to is his homemade ice-clearing contraption. At first glance, it looks simple enough.

I always take a moment to look at it when I'm done and admire it.- Buster Clare, homemade Zamboni operator

A large blue barrel, with a pipe attached to it and a towel going out the back sits on top of a four-wheel cart.

Clare says he purchased the cart from Canadian Tire for just $200.

Clare pulls 'Zeke' along the ice. The homemade Zamboni is named after Clare's father in-law, who loved to skate. (Ray Marnoch)

Modest and soft spoken, Clare says this particular unit was motivated by a CBC story he saw about another human-powered Zamboni operator in Saskatchewan.

"I thought if he can do it, I can do it," said Clare.

The ice cleaning operation isn't just Clare. He's often supported by his wife of nearly 40 years, Dianne Canning.

She helps push the machine from their nearby home to the rink. Canning will then follow close behind Clare with two shovels, making sure any chunks of snow are quickly scooped up.

"I'm not as big a part of the ice clearing as I was in the beginning because Buster has perfected it and worked out the wrinkles," said Canning.

Clare and Dianne Canning live just metres from the rink in Hillcrest. That allows them to push the homemade ice-clearing contraption right out the back door to the ice in a matter of minutes. (George Maratos/CBC)

Her biggest role is supporting Clare's passion project.

Canning just smiles when she talks about the wee hours, sometimes as early as 4:00 a.m., when Clare is up prepping for the day's ice clean ahead.

They both agree seeing the joy the rink brings to their neighbours is worth the early mornings and hard work.

"I love seeing the whole community out skating and having a good time," said Clare, who started playing hockey himself when he was just five.

"I always take a moment to look at it when I'm done and admire it.... Sometimes I even grab my skates and get the first tracks."

Clare and Canning work together to clean the ice at the community rink in Hillcrest. (George Maratos/CBC)

The community is grateful too for Zeke.

That's the moniker the ice-clearing contraption goes by, named after Canning's late father, who loved to skate.

"Every day somebody walks by and thanks me, it's nice," said Clare.

The ice's reputation has made the rink a hotbed for hockey players and skaters of all ages. Some even come from other neighbourhoods, despite Whitehorse being home to 37 outdoor rinks.

Clare just asks that the rink is respected and shared, and that the snow is cleared at the end.

As for when he might stop cleaning the ice, Clare says not anytime soon.

"As long as I can," said Clare. "As long as I'm physically able."

This photo from 2019 shows Hillcrest residents of all ages enjoying the rink. Clare and Canning say a day doesn't go by when they aren't thanked by a neighbour for their ice-cleaning effort. (Ray Marnoch)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

George Maratos

Associate Producer

George Maratos is a reporter and associate producer at CBC Yukon with more than a decade of experience covering the North.

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