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Divas on ice

Lezlie Lowe chooses between a rink and a Celine Dion.



You've heard of the million-dollar question. How about a $150,000 coincidence?

I found one last week when the temperature dipped, I dug my skates out for their first-of-the-winter sharpening and put in a call in to Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission and long-suffering Barrington Street booster.

My question, in a nutshell: Must I wait for the next ice age before I can head down for a leisurely skate in the Grand Parade?

"No one says is a terrible idea or it isn't an appropriate use of the space," MacKinnon says. "Most people—even in talking to city staff people—virtually everyone thinks it's a great idea."

But it's not only me, you and some random municipal pencil-pushers cheering on the concept of Halifax's Grand Parade resembling Rockefeller Center.

The Grand Parade skating rink scheme has had official commendation in the Grand Parade/Province House Area Joint Public Lands Plan study, which

proposes a series of small- and large-scale spruce-ups for Grand Parade, the former Birks site across the street and the front of Province House. Council approved the plan in February 2007.

The first phase, MacKinnon says, in getting the rink in place was moving councillors' parking spots from the Grand Parade.



"There's no other physical impediment as far as I know."

So where's the damn ice? It's winter, people: Construction-wise, we're already late on this thing.

In a manner of speaking, Celine Dion's got a hold of it.

See, the Grand Parade skating rink will cost $150,000. And that's the same amount council has agreed to pony up to bring Quebec's answer to the great American singing dream to the Halifax Common for an August 2008 concert.

"Last time we looked at it," MacKinnon says, "the cost estimates were around $150,000." (Before you pop an eyeball, this is the estimate from an engineering firm the DHBC commissioned to figure out the logistics of freezing the Grand Parade. And it's not buddy with a hose and a shovel, it's artificial freezing, the kind of outdoor rink technology they might use in Florida. As MacKinnon says, "You wouldn't want to have it so one day you could use it and the next day you couldn't.")

The $150K concert endowment isn't going straight into Dion's gold lam<0x00E9> pockets, of course. Council's shelling out our hard-earned cash for the concert's spin-off benefits, both direct—50,000 people looking for hotel rooms, dinners out, beer and disposable rain gear—and the kinds of indirect profits that can't be measured so easily—what mayor Peter Kelly was talking about when he told the Canadian Press last week that the concert will "showcase the Nova Scotia capital and benefit the local economy."

Humph. Funny.

That's kind of like the Grand Parade skating rink, too.

See, MacKinnon says the Grand Parade "really lends itself" to a skating rink. And he's bang-on: It's the centre of our city and its worth as a gathering place is sorely undervalued. But here's where MacKinnon is really right about a skating rink in the Grand Parade: "It attracts people to downtown. There are a lot of good things that can come out of it."

So here's the million-dollar question: Which is the better $150,000 investment?

Celine's presence makes for a mere day's activities (not only listening to the show but sitting in the August sun dining on the finest in $6 hot dogs and $5 bottled water).

The skating rink would be there for the whole winter.

Celine tickets aren't yet priced, but oughta run in the $100 range.

A Grand Parade skating rink? I can only imagine that, like the city's other outdoor rinks—which are volunteer-maintained and subsist on small grants from the city and other organizations—the Grand Parade skating rink will be admission-free.

Last winter after the Rolling Stones concert, one big hunk of the Common looked like the north end of a cow going south, as my grandmother would say.

The Grand Parade is a swell-looking joint pretty much any time of year, but the addition of a jam-packed outdoor rink within the circumference of the parade's beautifully lit trees would be plainly divine.

Assuming council's following my logic here and that ever-on-the-ball gang is prepared to put its money where its already-approved study is, I guess I'd better get those Orbits sharpened up for the soon-to-hit deep freeze.

And if council must hear Celine, I can do a mean rendition of "My Heart Will Go On" while I'm lacing up. And by "mean," I'm speaking literally.

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