FROM THE PRINT EDITION: Pure joy on Ottawa’s outdoor rinks

FROM THE PRINT EDITION: Pure joy on Ottawa’s outdoor rinks

At night, the rink is illuminated by old-fashioned outdoor lights that originally came from Paul Mason’s father’s rink.

I had heard so much about Paul Mason’s backyard rink that in the tradition of participatory journalism, I invited myself to his house for his traditional Monday night game and a beer afterwards. “You’re embedded now,” he told me cheerfully after an excellent pre-game meal of fish and potatoes with his family.

A tall, bearded man with a voyageur’s frame, Paul is the son of the late Bill Mason, the iconic canoeist, filmmaker, and writer from Chelsea. He is a cartoonist and works at home — surely the ideal vocation for somebody who wants to grow a backyard rink. His rink started as a humble patch of backyard ice, but then, as he says, “I got bulldozer time for my birthday.”

I look out at it through the flurries of snow falling fine as moon dust into the Chelsea Creek valley that surrounds his home. The rink is 32 feet by 85 feet and sports half-size boards, a centre-ice line made with drops of red paint, and strings of “heritage” outdoor lighting that hang over the ice (they originally came from his dad’s rink). There is even a clubhouse nearby, tucked inside his garage and decorated with posters of Johnny Bower and Ed Belfour.

Paul’s game requires equipment, but if you’re lacking it, don’t worry — the clubhouse has plenty. As we suit up, the other players arrive and Paul makes the introductions. “There’s going to be a photographer here too,” he tells the others, “so look photogenic.”

With only one goalie, we play on the principle of “half-court” in basketball — after a turnover, the team with possession takes the puck out over centre and returns to attack. It’s a fast game: three on three and not a lot of space, a game of sprints and short-radius moves. You play as though you’re dodging a meteor shower. The only small hitch is the hockey shorts I picked off the shelf — they have no suspenders, and I have to yank them up now and then.

When the game is over and the shovelling done, we relax with a beer in the clubhouse and I look over the wall that serves as a rink archive. (In 2002, I see, the rink got going on November 22, which must have been a full six weeks before any city rink.) Afterwards Paul goes out to flood the rink, using a homemade invention he calls “the Zambini” — a broom structure with a trough for a water hose and towels on the underside, assembled from household odds and ends. “The rule with the rink,” he explains, “is that you can’t buy anything.”