$3K donation brings glimmer of hope for getting donated skates on ice this winter

An offer from a local businessman to donate $3,000 has put new wind in the sails of a project to set up a skate-lending program at a Toronto ice rink.

Skating enthusiast blocked from donating 120 pairs of skates to city wants them put to use as soon as possible

Jutta Mason is hoping to give the city 120 pairs of ice skates for a new skate-lending program in Regent Park. (John Rieti/CBC)

An offer from a local businessman to donate $3,000 has put new wind in the sails of a project to set up a skate-lending program at a Toronto ice rink.

Last month, CBC Toronto covered the story of Jutta Mason, who wanted to donate 120 pairs of skates to Toronto so they could set up a program that would let Torontonians without their own skates take to the ice for a nominal fee.

The city turned her down cold, citing a lack of resources.

Mason, who had helped set up similar skate programs in 2005 at rinks in her own west-end neighbourhood and watched attendance at those rinks explode, was frustrated — but then a call came in from David Rothberg.

The businessman knew Mason because his son had spent winters skating at Dufferin Grove Park, one of the rinks where she helped get a skate program going. Working with Mason, he had also paid for rinks to stay open during the holidays in 2011. 

City staff had told Mason that rink workers didn't have time to run a lending program in addition to their other duties, so she and Rothberg put their heads together, wondering if offering to pay for extra worker time could move the dial.

Councillor is 'enthusiastic' 

Now, Rothberg says he's ready to give $3,000 to make a program happen. Mason even has a specific rink in mind: the one at Regent Park in Ward 28.

"The location is pretty ideal, there's excellent room in the skate change room to put in the skate collection," said Mason, adding she hopes that a program could attract newcomers and people who otherwise wouldn't get a chance to hit the ice.  

The rink has another thing going for it: an interested councillor.

Mason said that since September, she's contacted 14 councillors in all about the skates but got nothing but "no."

A spokesperson for newly-appointed Ward 28 councillor Lucy Troisi, who replaced the late Pam McConnell in November, said Troisi is "enthusiastic" about the idea and has spoken with Parks staff.

City staff open to talking

City staff also appear to be somewhat more open.

City spokesperson Jane Arbour told CBC Toronto that the city is working with Mason's organization, which organized the skate programs in 2005, as well as with Rothberg, to "determine how these donations can be best put to use."

Dufferin Grove's loaner skates are used by newcomers and school classes alike — something Rothberg and Mason want to see replicated across town. (John Rieti/CBC)

After months of effort, Mason doesn't want to get her hopes up too high — but there's always a glimmer.

"It's really frustrating, but I mean a miracle could happen. And the city could say, 'Oh, is that all you want? Let's go ahead!,'" she laughed.

Rothberg is also cautiously hopeful.  

"I hope they take my money, and I hope they let the kids skate," he said. "I hope the city realizes how difficult it is to have the voices of the people who use public space heard."

Mason is hoping to speak with the city and with Troisi as soon as possible.