On a frigid evening with a windchill of roughly -35C, Halifax councillor Dawn Sloane fights to get a key into a frozen lock and turn it.
Once opened, the door will grant access to the furnace and storage room of the Pavilion, the city-owned all-ages club on the Common, where the hose and lever for the water are found—necessary for tonight's flooding of a rink tucked alongside the square-block building. In summer, the oval is a wading pool.
This is the first rink on the Common since the "earth was green," according to Sloane.
If only the lock would co-operate. "We've got a great base there," says Sloane expectantly, about the inch or so of snow on the floor of the pool. From the deepest point to the top of the surrounding cement wall, it measures 16 inches, Sloane reports. No fence or boards are planned to go up.
The idea was first proposed by Commons Watch, a community volunteer group formed about a year ago to tackle the central issue of safety in this cherished public space. "The more we have people on the Common doing things, the more safe people are going to feel," Sloane explains. "If you have people out here skating, teaching little kids to skate, adults are not going to put up with the crap."
Of course, this isn't the first attempt to bring more people to the Common. Feet away, the smooth concrete surfaces of the Common Skatepark lie dormant, covered in hard, crusty snow—the same as the pool and potential rink.
After a few more frustrated jabs with the key, the lock opens with a pop. Sloane and her two volunteers enter the warm basement to warm up. The hose lays coiled up.
The others head back outside to a vent at the side of the building and Sloane feeds the hose out the shuttered opening. " staff were a little leery at first. There's no fencing around it. "Were people going to walk on it after you spray it?' All those kinds of things," says Sloane, who will keep the keys.
With the hose fully spooled out, she throws the switch for the water and the line momentarily bucks. Through the vent, the cold hissing sound—a slightly higher pitch than car tires on ice—can be heard. Outside, a silver curtain of water is visible, looking pretty in the dark.
The public will use the rink at their own risk, Sloane says, back outside, pointing to a yellow sign tied to chain link around the basement steps. The city doesn't maintain or supervise the rink and there's no hockey permitted. Another important point: "Basically it says "no skating after dark,' which makes sense because we don't have the lighting for it at this point in time."
But this is supposed to be a public facility and, moreover, one designed to help make the Common safer, presumably at night.
"Well, the thing is, in this bitter cold do you think anyone's going to be outside? Only us nutcases that are doing this," Sloane says with a laugh. "So I'm not too worried about that. Right now we're just talking about introducing the public back to the Common."
Brad Dyke, one of two brave volunteers at the start of the spraying (the corps grows to five as the work continues), says, "We've been trying for a while to get things started so we had a good cold night to get a base." He lives in the area and sees the rink as "just a chance to get people out using the Common all year round."
In an email a few days later, Sloane explains she's contacted HRM building maintenance services, "requesting the repair of the external light on the Pavilion building." And better lighting to the entire Common is coming, she writes. She was already involved with municipal staff in an assessment of lighting needs for the whole Common with a mind to "crime prevention."
A request for a proposal is still current, Sloane adds, "for lighting samples to be installed temporarily to judge the quality."
However the lighting situation proceeds, for the present skating on the Common will be a daytime-only activity.