Neighborhood ice rink a pandemic blessing for Beaconsfield families

Adopt-a-Rink has brought the neighborhood together at a time when young families are struggling to find balance in their lives.

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When François Sébastien first built a modest outdoor skating rink in a Beaconsfield park a decade ago, he had no idea how important his contribution to community life would become for his neighbors.

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As the deadly COVID-19 pandemic reaches its grim two-year mark, Sébastien’s ice rink has become more than a cool place where kids can play outside without masks; it has become a focal point for families seeking fresh air and respite from feeling confined within the four walls of their homes.

What started as a labor of love for Sebastien has turned into a popular spot for West Island parents who drive from far and wide to Jasper Park so their kids can enjoy one joys of the Canadian winter despite freezing temperatures.

His frozen dream field is being built with the help of neighbors and the city as part of Beaconsfield’s Adopt-a-Rink program, a volunteer-led rink-making initiative that allows local citizens to borrow water. ice-making equipment (i.e. shovels and rubber hose) from the city’s public works department to freeze a slab of ice in one of the city’s smaller parks. There are no boards, and those who prefer traditional shinny hockey are directed to one of the city’s seven outdoor rinks manned by chalet attendants.

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Jasper’s rink is about 35 by 85 feet, but the attraction for many is a skating rink adjacent to the “lazy river” that meanders through the park’s playground equipment.

Sébastien thanks his wife Natalie for designing this year’s course. “I try to do something a little different every year,” he said.

Sébastien usually maintains the ice himself with the help of parents and neighborhood children who are happy to lend a hand. He bought a used snowblower seven years ago and doesn’t regret it.

Although the town’s snow plow passes after a heavy snowfall, Sebastien is usually ahead of them. “It’s rough, but they’ll come if it snows more than three inches, once they’ve cleaned their ice (at the outdoor hockey rink near Briarwood Park) they’ll come and do ours.”

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Sébastien usually starts making ice cream in December, weather permitting. “When you start it, you have to water as much as you can. Sometimes it’s four times a day if it’s cold enough. Now, because the winter has been very cold, I barely water it. It’s just a matter of maintenance, no more shoveling and cleaning.

Sébastien is the last citizen to carry the torch of the Jasper skating rink. The park’s first ice master was Beaconsfield resident John Kelly, nicknamed the “Lord of the Rink” by neighbors. It was also the subject of a memorable ‘rink making’ painting by renowned West Island artist John Starkey.

Like Kelly before him, Sébastien draws his inspiration from seeing his neighbors come together, especially in these difficult times.

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“It’s therapy for a lot of things,” said Sébastien. “There are definitely more people using the rink now. Last year was crazy and this year it’s not as crazy but people still come a lot, more than previous years.

His own children — Daphne (15), Guillaume (13) and Edgar (11) — also regularly attend the rink.

Edgar loves that the rink is “so close” to his home. He meets friends there after school and admits there wouldn’t be much to do without her. “I was watching TV or doing my homework,” he says.

Sébastien said the rink has brought the neighborhood together at a time when some young families are struggling to find balance in their lives.

“It’s mainly the fact that we see neighbors that we wouldn’t see much or at all during the winter. The people we see in the summer, we continue to see them in the winter.

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Neighbor Sezen Eren is impressed with Sebastian’s dedication. “He does a really good job,” said Eren, father of 10-year-old twins – Alya and Kaan – who are among regulars who flock to the rink after school and on weekends.

Eren says the rink has provided a wonderful recreational and social outlet for the twins who are grade 5 students at Beaconsfield Elementary School.

Francesco Donatelli lives opposite the park. His daughters — Caterina and Guilia — have improved their skating on the rink. The girls are grateful to have a rink they can almost call their own.

Although the rink is not intended for hockey, occasional games are held with youth and adults. There are no hockey nets, so chunks of snow often suffice as makeshift goal posts.

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“It’s one of the great assets of this ice rink”, explains Sébastien. “Everyone plays hockey and everyone skates. It’s for all ages and there is no competition. When we play hockey, we don’t count the score, we just play. That’s what’s really fun about it.

Like all those who have grown tired of life during the pandemic, Sébastien prays that the worst is behind us.

“Hopefully, praise the Lord,” he said, laughing. “It looks like we should get through this. But you never know.”

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  1. Pointe-Claire Mayor Tim Thomas, elected last month, is trying out the new refrigerated skating rink in Valois Park on Monday.

    It’s Hockey Night in Pointe-Claire with the opening of a new refrigerated rink

  2. Jean-Sébastien Renault skates with his son, Mathis Renault, along the trails near the Dorval library on Sunday.

    Dorval reopens recreational facilities and adds new outdoor rinks

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