The familiar sound of skates on ice echoed across the rink as two brothers whizzed by laughing. It was their first time at the Evergreen Brick Works Skating Rink, and they were having a blast.
Their mother, Chong Suan, watched nearby, laughing as well. “It’s unique,” she said.
The small rink is a great little hidden gem located in one of the old Don Valley Brick Works buildings. The space separates itself from other rinks in Toronto in a number of different ways.
For one, it isn’t exactly inside. But it isn’t quite outside either. The roof is gone, leaving just the rafters, which allows the sun to shine through during the day. There are a number of plain Christmas lights hanging from the rafters to light the rink up at night.
Aside from the rink’s unique location, the ice is broken up by small gardens. Little green hills sprout out of the ice, forming it into an oval track. Trees and shrubs grow on the mounds, giving the rink its own look and feel.
In fact, the whole place has a feel of distinct personality. The worn brick walls are dotted with graffiti and murals. There is a small fire pit surrounded by chairs. The benches are just large slabs of lumber.
But some of that distinct personality comes from the site’s heritage.
The Evergreen Brick Works started off as the Don Valley Pressed Brick Works in 1889. After the Great Fire in 1904, the business provided much of the brick required to rebuild the city, including landmarks such as Massey Hall and Casa Loma.
The factory closed down almost 100 years after it opened. Shortly after, the land was expropriated by the City of Toronto and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). In the 90s, Evergreen started tree-planting initiatives in the Lower Don Watershed, and the TRCA began the first phase of park development.
In the 2000s, Evergreen began exploring new environmental ideas, whilst opening sections of the Brick Works for markets, local food offerings, eco-art displays, and summer programs, such as gardening. In 2010, the Evergreen Brick Works opened year-round, with a focus on demonstrating greener models for urban living.
The skating rink is a prime example of Evergreen’s goal. Through the recycling of space, and the use of the Eco Chill system, which recycles the extracted heat, the rink demonstrates an eco-friendly model.
Standard rink refrigeration systems extract heat from the ice and expels it into the atmosphere, the Eco Chill system In the case of Evergreen, they use the recycled heat to warm their Marketplace building, which reduces energy consumption and green house gas emissions.
But all this goes on behind the scenes. Most of the skaters are content to skate around the rink, enjoying a favourite winter pastime. As her boys zipped round the rink, Suan smiled. “It may be our first time here, but it isn’t our last.”