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Palgrave Pond is back for shinny after a tumultuous year

January 27, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Rob Paul

The Palgrave Pond has become a community hub in Caledon. It’s a place where families gather any chance they can get for shinny on the pond, the good old Canadian way.

Last year, that changed when the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) told the Town it was no longer prohibited to have skaters on the pond due to safety concerns.

That hit nobody harder than Ken Hunt.

Known as the “ice angel,” Hunt has been taking care of the pond since 2000 by ensuring it’s safe and cleared for kids across Caledon to enjoy

“It was heartbreaking, really,” he said. “It was as if someone had just stabbed me, or like someone in my family had died. It was heart to swallow and just sit there and take that it was over.”

The TRCA made the decision due to safety concerns because the Conservation Authority doesn’t permit skating on ice with live water that it manages (rivers, streams, ponds, marshes, etc.). 

Back last March, when residents inquired about the closure, the TRCA issued a statement on the decision that led to Palgrave Pond being off limits for residents and how it would potentially return this winter.

“TRCA does not condone skating on any of our rivers, streams, ponds, reservoirs, wetlands and marshes [and] as such, no ponds are opened or closed by TRCA. Consistent with prior years, TRCA focused our enforcement efforts through educating residents of the risks of venturing out onto the ice on our properties, which were escalated for multiple reasons in 2021, including recent ice-related incidents across TRCA’s jurisdiction; recent near/fatal ice related incidents in surrounding jurisdictions; science indicating that ice formation was its lowest in 50 years; gatherings of people, due to the ongoing pandemic.

“TRCA does not monitor ice safety for recreational purpose and skating on all TRCA properties remains a prohibited activity. The general public does not appreciate that the decision to operate the pond brings considerable personal risk to individuals that choose to activate the site.

“When TRCA enforcement staff visited Palgrave Mill Pond to discuss these factors, individual members of the public made the decision to cease and subsequently continue operating the rinks on the pond—there was no formal directive issued by TRCA or threat of penalty to anyone if they chose to continue. Additionally, it was brought to TRCA’s attention that the Palgrave Rotary Club was supporting/promoting skating on the pond, and TRCA reached out with the same messaging that we provided in 2019 outlining the risks associated with doing so. TRCA’s guidance regarding the creation of a body with adequate legal coverage and well documented ice safety policies and procedures to mitigate the risk to volunteers and the Palgrave Rotary Club has already started the process of being actioned. The Millpond Rotary Park Community Committee (MRCC) is expected to be in place for the 2021-22 skating season, with the mutual understanding that skating on the pond will always be done at the risk of the participants, as ice is never 100 per cent safe.”

Caledon Councillor Jennifer Innis, who is the TRCA board chair, was happy to see the community come together to ensure the pond would be the place of joy it always has been for Caledon with some extra safety measures in place.

“Over the past year Councillor (Nick) deBoer and myself pulled together a diligent group comprised of the Town of Caledon, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and the Palgrave Pond Community Inc. (a very special thank you to Nicole Wilkins and Ken Hunt) to create a plan to ensure the safety of users and the protection of our community volunteers who make skating on the pond a reality for so many to enjoy. As a result, the Millpond will continue to be used for skating. All skaters will be required to complete a waiver form (once per person, per season) which is easily accessible through a QR code. That QR code will be posted on site and will be available on the Town website shortly. Palgrave Pond Community Inc. has been actively monitoring and preparing this location for use and will advise when it’s officially open (which it was this past Sunday).”

Without any certainty the pond would ever be back, Hunt only recently found out he’d be able to get back out there.

“That’s why I was never really sure if we’d be back, and we didn’t really know until about two weeks ago that it would be approved by the Town for me to go ahead and do it.”

Having people throughout Caledon step up and ensure the pond would be back in business brought a tear to Hunt’s eye as he ramps up for his second decade taking care of the ice.

“It was hard because the TRCA didn’t want us out on the pond anymore and tried to put a stop to it after I’d been doing it for 20 years,” he said. “I was almost ready to give up and retire from it five years ago, but I just couldn’t stay away, and I kept going back. My kids are all away so now I want to do it for everybody else’s kids. I told myself the only thing that would be lost if it stopped would be the fun the kids in town have on it. So, when TRCA tried to stop it, everybody in town went and made a petition right away and with the help of the community and everyone backing us up, the Town of Caledon came forward and helped me out to keep it going.”

Mayor Allan Thompson credits Caledon heroes like Ken Hunt for leaving their mark on the community simply because they want to put smiles on others faces.

“Nothing illustrates winter in the beautiful Caledon countryside quite like people skating on the Palgrave Pond,” said Thompson. “I’m so happy that an agreement was reached, and the community is able to enjoy skating on the pond this year. Volunteers and Community Champions like Ken Hunt are what make Caledon such a special place to call home.”

Now with the pond officially open, Hunt is back in the swing of things as the ice angel and loves seeing the kids come out for shinny. 

“We had a late start because of the weather but everything is going well right now,” he said. “Because of the cold weather we’ve got tons of ice as well—we have about 12 inches of ice right now. We were out there flooding on Sunday morning and by 10 a.m. there were already kids on the ice skating and playing shinny.”

The tireless hours Hunt puts in have never been about anything other than making sure the kids in Caledon have a place to go when they want to skate or play shinny and his passion for pond hockey could drive him for a few more years.

“I keep going just to keep the kids happy and to get out of the house,” he said. “I’m not one of those guys who wants to be on the computer, and growing up in the country out east it was always about being outdoors and on ice. We grew up playing hockey on ponds and lakes and so I’ve always had a heart for skating rinks.

“To me, it’s just seeing all the families coming out and spending a good day together skating. The kids play hockey, and the parents watch them, it’s such a great thing for the community. I was aiming for 25 years; we’ll see what happens there with it.”

Ultimately, Hunt doesn’t think this is the last time the TRCA will try to stop him and the Caledon community from using the pond, but he’s making sure the ice is safe for all and wants more of an explanation on where this came from. 

“I think it will come up again,” he said. “We’ve got the rinks at the diamonds now and the Town really wants everybody to go there because it’s on the ground and not on a pond, but the thing is, that’s just not the good Canadian way. That’s my thing, good old Canadian hockey is about playing shinny on the pond. It’s safe, I check the ice all the time and I put markers out there for everybody. If it’s not safe I close it down. I’ve got records from 20 years ago from day one when I started back in 2000. I always kept notes so that’s why to me it was so hard to take because I was always being so cautious and safe. The biggest thing is liability and I’m happy the Town backed me up because this is so important. People come from Oakville, Newmarket, and Orangeville, it’s not just the people of Caledon, it’s people from all kinds of communities.”

Residents who wish to skate on Palgrave Pond have to sign the Town’s online waiver at caledon.ca/pondwaiver. 



         

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