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Parkdale community creates first accessible outdoor skating rink in Alberta

Getting ice time for outdoor sledge hockey just became a lot easier this week.

The Parkdale Community Association’s new outdoor skating rink is one of only two in Western Canada, and the only one in Alberta, that meets the accessibility demands of the sport.

Sledge hockey is the Paralympic version of ice hockey. Players sit on a bladed sledge with a bucket and a seat and use two hockey sticks to propel themselves.

The grand opening this week marked the end of nearly five years of planning and two phases of construction to replace the previous community association rink.

“We are hoping that as a community rink, that we are promoting diversity inclusion, and that we are attracting groups like sledge hockey or learn to skate programs for new Canadians that have never skated before,” said Amanda Affonso, president of the Parkdale Community Association.

Several indoor rinks in Calgary are accessible for sledge hockey players, including the rinks at WinSport. This is the first outdoor rink with accessibility built into the design, west of Manitoba.

Alfonso said that she was aware of only one other rink with the same accessibility features in Winnipeg. That rink was opened in 2018.

The official opening celebration takes place on Saturday, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Hockey Day in Canada will be featuring the rink in its broadcast schedule.

Members of Calgary’s Sledge Hockey Association teams practiced alongside Chris Cederstrand at the new Parkdale Skating Rink in Calgary on Friday, January 28, 2022. The Parkdale rink is the first accessible outdoor rink in Calgary, and one of only a handful nationwide. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Adding accessibility didn’t cost more

The rink cost $2 million to build. It included such features as wider gates, clear boards, and flush access from outside to inside the rink. It also has wheelchair-accessible change rooms, bathrooms, and ramps from the parking lot.

“Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t an additional expense to make this rink accessible,” said Affonso.

“We didn’t see additional costs in terms of building it. It was just a different way of thinking about it,” she said.

Funding was provided by the Parks Foundation Calgary, the City of Calgary, the Government of Alberta, the Flames Foundation, ENMAX, and community fundraising.

The question about making the rink accessible was asked by a community member nearly five years ago. That’s when the project was started to replace the old rink.

“That prompted the question, ‘well, what does that mean? And what can we do?’ So in conversations with Calgary Sledge Hockey, and different groups and different stakeholders, we quickly learned that we need to make sure that what we’re rebuilding is accessible and inclusive for everyone,” said Affonso.

A member of Calgary’s Sledge Hockey Association teams practiced alongside Ryan Straschnitzki at the new Parkdale Skating Rink in Calgary on Friday, January 28, 2022. The Parkdale rink is the first accessible outdoor rink in Calgary, and one of only a handful nationwide. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Rink will give more ice time to Calgarians with accessibility needs

Paralympian Chris Cederstrand, and former Humboldt Broncos-turned-sledge-hockey player Ryan Straschnitzki, were on hand on Friday to work with members of the Calgary Scorpions team.

Alan Halbert, president of the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association, said that the rink would increase the amount of ice time for players, and for other Calgarians with accessibility needs.

“It gives us more ice time to work with all of our players in the organization,” he said.

“And you know, really, more importantly, it gives us more of a community-based focus where parents can come and skate with their kids in a non-practice environment.”

Halbert said that the sport has grown considerably since the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics when it made its major media debut.

“We went from four kids to now we’ve probably got about 40 kids in the program,” he said.

The association has also seen considerable growth in the number of adults involved.

“We’re running an organization of about 100, and we’ve actually been fortunate enough to have some of our best players head to Team Canada,” said Halbert.

Auren Halbert, Alan’s son, will be traveling to Beijing as part of the Team Canada Para Hockey Team. Cody Dolan from Calgary, and Zach Lavin from Okotoks, will also be heading to the Paralympics with Team Canada.

“Definitely with the increase of the rink time, and the exposure, there’ll be more people out and more training opportunities. And, we’ll get some more players on the team.”