Each winter the vision for Sk8te Hollinger gets bigger.
This season is no different.
In addition to the popular figure-eight skating oval at Hollinger Park in Timmins, rows of pond hockey rinks line the baseball field.
This winter, hockey stars of all ages can play on the 24 rinks in the shadow of the water tower and historic mining buildings. At night, the action is illuminated by the lights of the baseball field. On the main oval, the skating is lit up by blue lights on the massive donated tree.
The very Canadian, yet uniquely Timmins, scene isn’t lost on Ken Pye, who is the mastermind behind it all.
He donates thousands of hours every season to prepare and maintain the rinks and talks excitedly about the view reflected on the surface of the ice he’s making as the sun goes down and the lights go on.
The recent cold snap has been perfect for making ice.
The pads have been marked and cleared of snow. Now, Pye and loyal volunteer Cliff Lebrun, drive the water truck back and forth for hours, building up the ice.
Before the holidays, Mascioli Construction donated time and equipment to help create a base at the rinks as well.
“That’s what you call community spirit,” Pye said.
With handheld radios, Pye and Lebrun communicate with each other, sharing information on how the water is flowing out of the back or when the tank needs to be refilled.
For Pye, whose background is in prospecting and surveying, there’s been a learning curve to creating ice that people can skate on. Having made ice roads in the past, he had a base to start with, though.
“The first season I didn’t have a clue how to build skate-able ice, I used to build strong ice and it turns out it’s almost the same thing,” he laughs.
Once the sheet is ready to go, one of two Olympias will even out the surface.
Pye said the most recent Olympia bought at auction earlier this year was a machine the Staal brothers had at their outdoor rink.
The vision for Sk8te Hollinger is always evolving.
“The first year, I didn’t know what I was building, I didn’t know I would build a rink like that,” he said.
After spending a lot of time asking people to stop playing hockey on the figure eight, an NHL-size ice pad was added in the second season.
With a hockey rink to use, Josh Vandal approached Pye about running a tournament. At the time there was only the one area for the games to be played and due to space limitations teams were turned away
This season, the pond hockey rinks mean the tournament can grow.
The Hollinger Cup three-on-three tournament is slated for Family Day weekend Feb. 17-19 and features a number of divisions – from competitive men’s and women’s, to youth and family.
For a team of five, the cost is $250 until Jan. 1. In the new year, the cost is $300 per team.
Pye said the goal is to have the registration fees help pay for the cost of operating the ice pads.
To learn more about the tournament and how to register, visit hollingercup.com.
At the council table
Recently, Sk8te Hollinger has been up for discussion at the council table.
Earlier this month, council passed a resolution that work on the project has to be approved by CAO Dave Landers.
“I don’t understand it,” said Pye. “I’m new to council, I don’t know the comings and goings.”
Aside from being on city property, the municipality has supported the initiative in other ways.
The first year, Pye said they provided the hydro and installed a two-inch water pipe for the work. In the 2016/17 season the city pitched in $32,000.
For 2017/18, Pye has asked for $115,000 because he needs rink attendants. That request hasn’t been approved, and should be back at council Jan. 9.
If events like the Hollinger Cup help the project break even, he said he wouldn’t take the money from the city.
Another sticking point for council has been making the operation a non-for-profit.
A local lawyer is helping with the paperwork, and Pye hopes the status will be approved by the January meeting.
While Pye and a few steadfast volunteers work to make and maintain the ice, help is needed to run the other areas.
People are needed to watch the fire in the teepee, keep an eye on people on skaters, and help run the coffee shop.
For a couple of nights recently they tried to keep the trailer where people can put on their skates open without an attendant.
A box, where people can donate to help with the cost of running the rink, was broken into, with about $45 being stolen. If there is no rink attendant available, Pye said the trailer will be locked.
‘The town needs it’
People from around the world are enjoying the public rink, which is free to use.
“I know that people want it, I even think most of council wants it,” he said.
As much joy as he gets from watching families enjoy the rink or people playing shinny, Pye doesn’t skate.
“My first year I was going to learn to skate and get in shape,” he laughs. “It didn’t happen, I didn’t have the time.”
At the start, he admits that he thought it would be a way to promote his business as well.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize the need for the rink, all the kids that need it, the adults that need it, the town needs it,” he said.
Everyone from recreational skaters to hockey teams have been using the ice, no matter what the temperature.
“In 20 years somebody’s going to say I skated the Hollinger and he’s going to be a Stanley Cup player.”