As Halifax, NS prepares for the Canada Games, many people have ventured into their attics and basements on a hunt for neglected blades of steel. The phone rings and your friend on the other end says a few words you haven’t heard for a while: “Want to go outside and play?” Something is happening in Halifax that it is bringing the community together in a fashion that is refreshingly nostalgic and wholesome; and all it took was an oval.
I don’t skate, and this little piece I am writing is in no way a means of personal gain. To this day, I look as coordinated on ice as I did when I was six. My ankles fold inwards towards the ice in a fashion that would make most doctors say “Yup, those are broken,” and my stopping abilities are based upon what obstacles are at my direct disposal to crash into; but this isn’t about skating. This is about something bigger than skating, and something more pressing than the future of the downtown core; this is about the clearest present example of how simple a good thing can be.
I crossed the commons as I walked home from work today. The last few days were cold enough to make a polar bear pray for a chinook, and as you probably know, it doesn’t take much cold to make most people give up on the whole idea of winter and start wondering how easy it would be to sneak into Florida. Typically, we spend January and February draped in hoods, gloves and parkas, praying for May and cursing the wind at the top of our frozen, ice caked lungs. This year, something feels different. As I continued on through the commons, I looked to my right and saw a lit patch of land that made me stop in my tracks and smile. It was the same type of smile that dances across your face when you see a puppy, or a loved one coming down the escalator at the airport, whose face has been absent in your life for way too long; that kind of smile.
I took the speakers out of my ears and invited all of my senses to soak in what was happening in front of me. A hint of music was hanging in the air, and there was a certain buzz of activity all around. I turned my head in every direction and saw groups of people, couples, families, pods of teenagers, all congregating towards the nucleus of this buzz. Everyone had skates in their hands and that same smile spread across their faces. “What is this?” I asked myself, “a Happy Days episode?”
Incandescent light spilled onto the ice creating an orange bubble above the skating oval, the chain link fence framed the action at ground level; everything seemed so contained and picturesque that when big white flakes started to fall from the sky I was convinced I was inside a snow globe. So all of this is a very roundabout way of saying it was a pretty scene, but as I said earlier, the importance of what is happening here transcends aesthetics.
I can’t remember the last time I have seen so many people enjoying themselves in the dead of winter, during the NIGHTTIME! I never have to wrestle for space on the toboggan hills, I almost have the trails to myself while snowshoeing, I can’t fill a three man tent on my winter camping trips. It is hard to motivate people, and I don’t blame them; being cold is about as much fun as going to the dentist on a snow day. So yes, it is obvious that the skating oval is good at getting people outside and getting in some exercise and fresh air, but here is where the bigger picture really comes in for me. In this day and age, more people than ever before are starkly aware of our ever worsening global condition. Scientists and politicians are scrambling around like hamsters caught in a pinwheel looking for solutions on how to save the planet. Their efforts and innovations to date are invaluable to our global preservation, but it can’t all fall on their shoulders. People need to care about the planet and also their own communities on a more grassroots level in order for change to really sweep over us.
Change doesn’t have to be all at once; in fact, it can’t be. If we unload all of our ecological woes and responsibilities onto everybody all at once, apathy will win, because we will be too exhausted from panic to care. Change can be subtle and organic and unassumingly inspirational. We can’t all be tasked with inventing bio-diesel, and I know I don’t know how to make the tidal generators in the Minas Basin work.
What I can do however, is try to get people involved with the community they live in. What WE can do is to start enjoying each others’ company within our urban communities. What WE can do is recognize that sprawl is hurting us, and cities can be warm and healthy places for us to live. This is what the Oval is doing, without even trying.
In my opinion, we were lucky to get the Canada Games. Our hills aren’t the highest, our snow is inconsistent at best, and we get more rain and fog than any other type of weather even at the coldest of times. But our champions of sport and recreation, and our heralds of the outdoor community put together a solid bid and won the honour of hosting this prestigious event; that alone is a huge boost for our lovely little province. Now, in the middle of the build up towards the games, here is a tremendous success, a huge opportunity, a simple, fun, healthy boost to our community…that might get ripped from our clutches before we ever had the chance to realize how good it truly is.
The Oval is packed every public skate. Tens of thousands of people have enjoyed it in a matter of weeks. The skate drive was a complete success. If people weren’t attic-scouring to find skates they wanted to use, they were finding skates for US to use. Not only is every public skate free, but there are free lessons, free rentals and Beaver Tails on-site!! If the Beaver Tails were free I would have to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, but after biting into a Reese’s Pieces-littered chunk of fried dough, I know I’m not dreaming, I’m alive and in paradise!
The Oval is a good thing that we can find the money to afford. Get involved, get attached and do what you can to keep HRM a good place to live, play and be happy.