Markham, Ontario - For the novice skater, going for a spin on a city rink these days can become a death-defying adventure.
On weekends, popular rinks are crowded with experienced ice worshippers racing around at heart-stopping speeds. Teenagers jump on and off the ice on a whim, and five-year-olds seem to zip around as if they were born wearing skates. Fuelling the fast and furious skating frenzy is usually the latest chart-topping song being played at eardrum-popping level.
But don't hang up your skates just yet. There's an alternative to the hustle and bustle of city rinks, located just 30 minutes north of Toronto in the city of Markham. It's called Cedarena.
You get a sense that you've taken a step back in time as soon as you begin the short trek down the dirt trail leading to a cottage-like dwelling nestled between trees. The scent of hot chocolate and the warmth of a wood-burning stove, the only heat source in the cottage, greet you as you enter. After paying a nominal fee ($2 for adults from Tuesday to Friday, $2.50 on weekends; children under 12 $1), it's time to lace up. No need for lockers here. Just like the old days, shoes are tucked under old, scuffed wood benches and bags are hung on nails around the well-aged walls.
Outside, two steps lead down to the oval hockey-sized rink encircled by boards and beautiful pine trees. Visitors leisurely skate to gentle tunes from the 40s and 50s and the occasional waltz. Couples of all ages skate hand in hand as if in a romantic trance. Children are allowed to skate on their own without fear that they'll get lost or trampled.
Along with hot chocolate, a concession sells coffee, doughnuts and steaming-hot apple cider that was made to sip slowly on the large deck facing the rink.
Built in the late 1920s by the hamlet of Cedar Grove, the charming Cedarena provides a glimpse of what skating rinks were like decades ago. It's a natural rink that's cleaned and re-flooded nightly.
It was the rink's untouched, vintage look that caught actor-turned-director LeVar Burton's eye when he was scouting for locations for Blizzard, the feature film he directed two years ago. This family movie follows the story of a lonely young figure skater who finds a friend in a cute, animated reindeer, Blizzard (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), after she moves to a new town.
Bring your own skates, as there are no rentals on the premises. The rink is open for evening skating Tuesday to Saturday from 7:30 to 10 pm and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4 pm. Tuesdays are reserved for adults only.
Keep in mind that Cedarena is a natural rink, so if the weather is too warm, skating will not be permitted. To find out about skating conditions, call the hotline at 905-294-0038.
Take the 401 and go north on Markham to Steeles, east on Steeles to Reesor, left and north for one kilometre to 7373 Reesor. Extra bonus: free and ample parking. Now you've really gone back in time.