Busybody neighbours, and their enablers in municipal bylaw enforcement units, are bad enough when they’re forcing people to dismantle their backyard fences, trim their hedges, or mow their lawns. Their refusal to live and let live is infuriating, but then so is much about sharing a city with other people and their tastes and preferences and idiosyncrasies.
But when they come for the hockey rinks, they’ve gone too far.
And make no mistake, they’re coming for the hockey rinks: this week we learned the Fun Police in Ajax had ordered a family to remove its tiny front-yard ice rink after an anonymous neighbor complained about its appearance. Appearance? What could appear more beautiful in a Canadian winter than children playing hockey, their skates crunching on the ice, their laughter piercing the frigid air?
Instead of fines and removal orders, we should be issuing subsidies —better, yet, issuing mandates requiring the construction of such rinks on every street in the land, the better to thaw our hearts during these days of ice and snow.
Is there anything more Canadian than the flooded and frozen lawn filled with children swatting a puck around? Until very recently, there was a picture of kids playing outdoor shinny on the $5 bill, for goodness sakes, alongside a quote from Roch Carrier’s poetic distillation of the soul of Canadian childhood: “The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places — the church, the school, and the skating rink — but our real life was on the skating rink.”
From Carrier’s Hockey Sweater, to Wayne Gretzky’s childhood backyard rink in Brantford, to P.K. Subban sleeping in his snowsuit so his dad could wake him at midnight to skate at Nathan Phillips Square, a significant part of our mythology is constructed on outdoor hockey, played for pure fun with whatever equipment is at hand — with no scoreboard, no referees, no rules.
Except now this tradition is blindsided by the apparent rule of bylaw police that says that wherever something homemade and pure and beautiful is created with love for no purpose except joyfulness, it must be stomped out. We’ve seen it in orders in Cornwall and Sherbrooke this winter to remove home-yard rinks, and we see it again here in Ajax. We see it in talk of liability-induced toboggan bans. It’s a curmudgeonly virus that threatens to strip winter of the few things that make it not only bearable, but enjoyable.
Karen Callery, the Ajax mother and professional engineer whose ice rink has been ordered removed, tried hard to ensure she followed the rules: checking with the city on regulations about standards for rinks. All of her neighbours the Star was able to talk to liked it. Still, the craphearts found a regulation to oppose her. Aesthetics, of all things — a subjective quality cranky neighbours and bureaucratic flunkies are uniquely unqualified to evaluate.
One imagines a rally on that front yard rink, a message to the complainer. One imagines another rally at Ajax Town Hall, sending a message to the rule-makers.
Because if there is a rule that says an ice rink filled with children violates some kind of appearance standard, then that rule is self-evidently wrong. And the politicians responsible for that rule — and the bureaucrats who report to them — ought to change it, immediately. Voters ought to make it clear that if the politicians will not stop this removal order, then the voters will order the removal of the politicians at the earliest opportunity.
There comes a time to stand up on your skates and drop your gloves, a time to say “no” to the craphearts and killjoys and their flunkies.
No. You cannot take away our skating rinks. You cannot pry them from our cold, dead lawns.