GUEST COLUMN: Sarnia kids missing out on joy of outdoor winter sports

Randy Evans & Gary Shrumm

At the time of this writing, it’s the middle of February and it’s raining outside, another indication climate change has hit Sarnia.

It’s a given that snow and ice — and the outdoor recreational opportunities they afford — can only be sustained when the temperature is at or below the freezing mark. This winter’s numbers are instructive.

Only 18 days in December had a recorded temperature that remained at or below the freezing mark. On the other 13 days, a skating rink or toboggan hill would have turned to water.

In January, just 17 days had temperatures that stayed at freezing or below. The other 14 days rose into melt territory, some with readings as high as 11C.

That trend continued into February, with five of the first 12 days staying at freezing or below. The other seven had an average daytime high of 6.7 C., far beyond what’s required to retain a sheet of ice or snow on the ground.

To be sure, we had a taste of nasty Polar Vortexes this winter, with a really frigid spell at the end of January. But, immediately after, things reversed and we had seven days above freezing, including two consecutive days in which the temperature reached 10C.

How do you sustain a rink in weather like that? You don’t, which is why skaters can no longer be seen on the neighbourhood ice sheets that once dotted the city, nor toboggans standing upright in snowbanks awaiting their next sojourn to the hills.

This seems truly unfortunate for many of us older folks, who remember the absolute joy that came with spending time outside in a Sarnia winter.

Playing shinny on ice, you needed a toque under your helmet, gloves under your hockey gloves and a thick pair of socks in your skates. And who can forget those itchy woolen sweaters that irritated the skin?

All skaters had to bundle up well. Ditto for the downhill enthusiasts.

Despite these precautions, we still got cold and sometimes almost froze. Fingers and toes would go numb and our foreheads would sport red toque lines, a warning sign of frostbite.

But that didn’t stop anyone. It was too much fun whizzing down the hill or imagining ourselves another Bobby Hull or Petra Burks. In our mind, we could hear the roar of the crowd.

These memories of friends and activities would last a lifetime. Sadly, Sarnia’s kids today are unable to share in that outdoor winter wealth.

Randy Evans and Gary Shrumm are Sarnia residents and historical researchers.

Climate change has rendered rinks like this one made on packed snow a rarity in Sarnia. This image from 1960 shows Ken Maczko on his backyard rink on Bright Street, which was a magnet for neighbourhood children.
Photo courtesy: Ken Maczko