The backyard rink – generations of Canadians have eagerly awaited its icy splendor as temperatures have fallen beneath the freezing mark. And few backyard rinks are as involved as Chris and Christine Allison’s on Robin Drive, which, based on anecdotal evidence, has earned a reputation as the finest of its kind within Elmira’s borders.With hand-painted ads for local businesses (such as Lazer Video, Chemtura, and yes, the Woolwich Observer) that resemble Andy Warhol paintings, it certainly remains the most elaborate. Outdoor speakers and a scoreboard keep it equipped for skating, curling, hockey, or, if Jack Frost fails to show up, lawn-bowling.
“It probably took a couple months,” said Chris, recalling its construction half a decade ago.“We started in August and put the white on the boards, and probably had them painted by November. We started with a few, and each year we added. Maybe next year we’ll move some of the small ones and add big boards, and eventually get it full height all the way around.”
Each board has taken between 10 and 15 hours to paint. Christine added, “Our neighbour said, ‘Oh, it must have taken you a long time to collect all those boards.’ We said, ‘Actually, we painted them!’”
And it’s not simply a matter of hosing the yard and waiting for a perfect surface. The 40-foot rink is built on a slight hill, and Chris always starts the season early by leveling the surface.
Originally built so daughters Octavia and Odessa could practice skating, the rink has evolved into the centerpiece of the Allisons’ annual Winterfest event, which brings 40-50 of their friends for an afternoon of tin-can curling, skating, hockey, and generous libations in mid-January.
“With all the technology these days, people are busy,” said Chris. “I think it’s just one of those old-time things. Everybody likes getting together.”
What keeps them coming back each year? “The beer,” laughs Christine. But seriously, “It’s back to the basic – we’re roastin’ wieners. … It’s something to look forward to, and it’s something to do, because after Christmas there’s really nothing.”
But while backyard rinks in general, and the Allisons’ in particular, have become beloved seasonal staples, the cold weather can be as fickle as your hometown hockey teams. With winter often delaying itself until February, how does the backyard rink owner cope?
“We’ve had years where we’ve had ‘Snowless Fest,’ because we just didn’t have any,” laughed Chris. “Yeah, we did lawn-bowling.”
“We did it out on the yard, and everything was so muddy and mucky that year,” added Christine. “But we still did the fire and the fish …”