Technical Corner

Bauer Raises the Issue of Fair and Equal Access to Ice But There is a Bigger Conversation to be Had

September 13, 2022

As Hockey Canada works its way through operational issues that have placed their organization under scrutiny, including the make up of the Board of Directors and historical practices – Bauer, a leading supplier of hockey equipment is leading the discussion on fair and equal access to publicly funded ice rinks.

To engage in these discussions and move forward, we also need to look in the rear-view mirror and trace the history of ice rink use patterns. Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) recently introduced the term “ice sheet refrigeration plants” replacing the terminology of “arena” or “rink” refrigeration plants.  Our understanding is this change is to better reflect the changing landscape of refrigerated ice for recreational purposes. Municipal leaders are now investing in new infrastructure such as mechanically assisted skating paths to better meet the needs of the community. The use of the term “ice sheet” also better encompasses curling rinks.

The ice arena construction boom of the 70s and 80s primarily focused on the sport of hockey. These community buildings were the “social media” hubs of the time. No one had a cell phone and winter recreational opportunities were limited. The snowmobile was just starting to emerge. Most community rink schedules focused on “minor hockey” which fed competitive youth hockey, that led to higher adult competition – all were primarily male dominated. With “girls” participation focused on “figure skating” as their gateway to the rink.

In these early days, user fees for the ice rink were not a high priority as most everyone was either on the ice or in the stands. The “girls” were with left with ice time access that evolved around what was left on the schedule after minor hockey had satisfied their needs. There was a fairly clear line of ice time use, either the boys were in the building, or the girls were.  For this reason, dressing room access was not a real issue at this time.

Ice rink design was a cookie cutter approach as dressing rooms were usually an after thought. Washroom design, air quality, lighting and door opening to a full view of whomever was in the room was common. Rink staff were primarily male and they learned to limit their presence when girls were using the changerooms.

The late 80s was the start of a change that saw some girls trade in their figure skates for hockey skates. The first step into ice sports was ringette. This sport was a version of hockey that used a stick with no blade and a rubber ring rather than the same stick and puck the boys were using. Ringette started to request fair and equal ice time. The next ice sport that entered the rink was broomball. Broomball is an ice sport that does not use skates but rather specialty footwear, a small orange ball and a broom handle type design to hit the ball. Broomball had male, female, and mixed leagues to accommodate. Then there was the need to schedule open public access to the building – this was usually accomplished through “public skating”.

Facility managers of the 90s found themselves under extreme pressure by all users for access to what was considered “prime ice time” which was Monday to Friday and 4pm – 8pm and Saturday and Sunday 6am - 9pm. This demand had many communities create “facility use policies” that established guidelines for fair and equal access.

In my opinion, Bauer’s investment in raising the matter of fair and equal access for females is a positive conversation. Their statement of “the reality is that girls in hockey do not get the same access, opportunities, and resources as boys do. Something as simple as having a safe locker room isn’t even a guarantee” should have included both male and female persons with disabilities as they too look for the same equality.

The ORFA has been advocating and promoting fair and equal access to all recreational infrastructure for more than 30-years. Most communities have made some level of movement toward this goal but there still is room for improvement. The ORFA offers a variety of resources to assist members on creating a fair and equal access operation.  However, it will take senior administrative leadership to make the necessary investment in real change that will shape the future of ice sheet facility design.

Bauer’s investment in developing a Girls Hockey Bill of Rights outlines the basic actions required to drive equality across the sport supports the ORFA’s original vision. Their invitation to sign the petition to raise a collective voice to force positive change across the game is another step along the path to fair and equal access. Please refer to:

As much as ORFA supports Bauer’s drive for change in equal access, we further believe that there is a much more important conversation that must occur – Canada’s aging ice sheet facility inventory. If we do not soon significantly invest in aging ice rinks, there will be limited access for all who might benefit from these spaces. Our industry is drowning in a sea of unfunded liability in aging ice arena facilities. Here in Canada, we have failed to plan for capital investment and replacement of the heart and sole of many communities. ORFA is committed to providing leadership on this conversation as it is essential to the future of ice sport and the benefits of recreation.

Additional Resources

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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