The outdoor rink is woven into the fabric of some families
By Diego Flammini
Will Bergmann figures generations of his family has been making ice rinks on Manitoba farmland for almost 60 years.
“I was talking to my dad and he was trying to figure out the first year he did a rink, and he thinks it was some time in the late 60s,” the grain and hog farmer from Glenlea, Man., told Farms.com. “By the late 80s and early 90s the outdoor rink became a staple of family life here on the farm and every Saturday night there would be a hockey game.”
Bergmann is now the primary rink builder for his extended family, all 90 of them, who would make use of the ice during pre-COVID winters.
This year’s rink is 60ft. x 120ft. (18m x 36m), a little smaller than the 70ft. x 150ft. (21m x 45m) rink he usually builds.
“It’s a nice sheet of ice,” he said. “We’ve had such beautiful weather so it’s getting a lot of use. I have three little kids who are six, seven and eight. Sometimes on weekends they skate three times per day.”
Playing hockey on an outdoor rink is as Canadian as it gets. It’s Canadians’ way of celebrating the cold winters and making the best of them, Bergmann said.
“It’s about embracing the north,” he said. “It’s part of the winter landscape and making the best out of every situation you’re in. I think that kind of resonates with us as farmers because we’re hauling grain in January and February regardless of what the weather is like.”
Bergmann shared a few tips for a successful rink build.
The first tip is to use a liner if possible.
“If you’re just doing a small backyard rink, absolutely use a liner, level off your rink and fill it with water,” he said. “
Another piece of advice is to plan ahead.
Bergmann’s family has always used Remembrance Day to mark the beginning of outdoor rink season because the ground is still soft.
“If you’re putting in pegs or boards, do that before everything freezes,” he said. “It just makes your life so much easier.
He also uses a snow base for his rink.
Using this method has its advantages and drawbacks, he said.
“You have to wait longer to get ice at the beginning of the year, but the upside is that it doesn’t cost you anything,” Bergmann said. “The better you can pack it, the faster you’ll have ice, so sometimes I’ll take the tractor or a skid steer and drive back and forth on it to pack the snow down. Then on my first flood I make a slush around the edges and make sure everything is sealed.”
Bergmann isn’t the only member of Western Canada’s ag community using the Prairie winter to play games of outdoor hockey.
Travis Wiens, founder of Annex Agro Ltd., has a 28ft. x 40ft. (8m x 12m) rink, affectionately known as the Covidplex, at his home in Milestone, Sask.
The local rink is closed because of COVID, so Wiens’s three teenage children are making good use of the home ice.
“We’ve had a fantastic winter,” he told Farms.com. “I think there were only three days in December and January that the rink didn’t get used because it was too cold.”
Building the rink for his kids takes Wiens back to when his dad built an outdoor rink for him.
And with the ability to share photos and videos quickly on social media, it’s easy to find commonalities with others.
“I think there’s a bunch of dads reliving their childhood and networking about the outdoor rinks,” he said. “A lot of us grew up on dugouts and having to watch out for cracks.”
The conversations about the ice rink got so frequent that Wiens had to create a separate account for the rink. Follow @Covidplex to keep up with everything happening on the Saskatchewan rink.
Wiens also shared ways for rink builders to get the best ice surface they can.
Patience and thin layers of water are important.
A good liner is also key, and Wiens happened to have some lying around.
“One of the big changes we’ve made is using old grain bags as liners,” he said. “It’s nice to find a liner that doesn’t cost you any money.”