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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When in Canada, strap on your skates

When January arrives in the Maritimes, she is followed with the predictable icy weather and snow storms of winter; these are our annual gifts from Mother Nature. Sure, we make a pastime complaining about it with our daily doses of "Is it cold enough for ya?" and "At least you don't need to shovel rain..." when in line waiting for our double-double at Timmies. thumbnailCA2FH02Q

But as Canadians, complaining about the weather is tantamount to a birth right. We will not allow anyone else to out-gripe us when it comes to the weather.

I have no doubt that when Samuel de Champlain experienced his first winter on the tiny isle of Saint Croix, a smart-ass teenager from the Passamaquoddy band yelled over a rich-sounding phrase in their native tongue that loosely translated to, "Is it cold enough for ya?"

Yet, in the great words of Rick Mercer, "This is Canada. We have winter. Life sucks. Get a toque and embrace it.” This is where the rubber meet the road. We complain about winter, then embrace the deep freeze for skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, and skating. We do actually suck it up, slap on our toque and embrace it.

So I’m a wee bit confused about the current discussion going on in our fair city of Halifax. In less than 10 days, the 2011 Canada Games begin in Halifax, and where the Games go, so goes infrastructure money. Built on the Halifax Common, we now have the Canada Games Oval, an outdoor ice rink designed for athletic competition. It is big – larger than 3 full NHL skating rinks, and has been open to the public for at least the last five weeks. FREE. Skating lessons provided every Saturday morning for up to 500 people. FREE. Daily bookings for school programs. FREE. Did I mention the free helmet rentals?

The discussion right now is whether or not to keep the Oval, rebuilding it every winter. There is a vocal opposition that stands against the idea, mostly based on costs. Estimates are that the Oval will cost $250,000 every year to rebuild and maintain, money that the opposition sees coming from their tax dollars. Not my tax dollars they say, not for something so trivial.

On the other side of the fence is a growing movement to save the Oval. You see, people are using the Oval in huge numbers, enjoying a skate outside, spending time with and within their community. Doctors have come out in support of the Oval as yet one more way in which people can stay active, especially during the winter months. And just last Tuesday, the “Save the Oval” Association presented a petition signed by over 9,000 people to the HRM Council. They have people lined up to support it, people willing to pay.

No one assumes the free skating will continue. It’s a tool to gain support and build excitement for the Games. So, some quick math is in order. To skate at a rink in the HRM costs approx. $3 per per or $8 per family. Assuming that just those 9,000 people used the Oval next year, say twice a month, that would total about 63,000 visits. At $3 per visit, this generates $189,000. Ok, we’re getting pretty close to cost recovery.

But wait, wherever 60+ thousand people go, so will follow industry. Concessions will absolutely pay to rent space; hot chocolate and those fantastic pastries (that look just like the tail of Canada’s national animal) are huge sellers when skating; just ask the vendors on the Rideau Canal. Coffee, the fair trade variety that my fellow Haligonians sip with great pleasure, and an organic snack would also be a huge hit!

Then there are the major players, whom I’ll refer to as the ‘Big ‘Blades’. The 1990 World Figure Skating Championships Legacy Fund wants to donate $100,000 to the fund over a series of years, no strings attached. Good Life Fitness has already volleyed the amount of $200,000 for the naming rights.
Once the people have actively demonstrated a demand, we won’t need government funding, just the space and vocal support for a healthy community hub. Think of the possibilities – sporting events that bring in sports tourism, or perhaps a Halifax New Years celebration that begins at the Oval and ends at City Hall.

Last Saturday, I looked out my kitchen window, watching kids and adults skate on our neighbourhood pond. Little ones were learning to hold themselves up on single blades; bigger ones were moving with the grace that skaters gain with years of experience. Everyone was sharing the unspoken joy of the community, out together in the cold, getting in the last few minutes before the sun dropped to bed for the night. As I watched for a moment, I realized that it was the infomercial for the Oval. Community, gathering, and happiness.

We cannot fight this joy of community and winter activity. We’re Canadian – it’s also part of our birth right.

2 comments:

  1. This is a fantastic and thoughtful post, William. I'm going to link it up on our site here: http://savetheoval.ca/2011/01/local-bloggers-support-the-oval/

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  2. what a great post, i will also post a link on my website at www.relocationnovascotia.com
    I have lived here over ten years and have never seen such a buzz around one simple ice skating venue!

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