Study claims possible end to Canada's outdoor pastime
Young players listen to a coach's instructions in North Bay, Ontario, during the 1953 filming of the documentary "Here's Hockey."
March 6th, 2012
11:18 AM ET

Study claims possible end to Canada's outdoor pastime

A Canadian icon could face extinction in the coming decades, researchers say.

A study by scientists at McGill and Concordia universities says rising temperatures are reducing the availability of frozen ponds, which eventually could mean the end of outdoor hockey.

The headlines are dire:

"Global warming could spell the end of Canada's outdoor hockey rink," reads one from the National Post.

"Thin ice: Canada's outdoor rinks face meltdown," reports The (Montreal) Gazette.

"Climate change melting backyard hockey rinks," The Record in Waterloo, Ontario, says.

"Outdoor ice hockey could perish in some areas," reads The Spectator in Hamilton, Ontario.

"Outdoor skating rinks threatened by climate change," the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reports.

The men behind the science are Lawrence A. Mysak and Nikolay Damyanov of McGill University and H. Damon Matthews of Concordia University.

They looked at data from 142 meteorological reporting stations across Canada from 1951 to 2005 and came to this conclusion: "We would expect all regions of Canada to see a decreased viability of outdoor skating under continued winter climate warming."

And in the case of southwest Canada, the number of days where outdoor ponds are viable for skating, and, in turn, hockey, could be zero by the middle of the century, the scientists report in a paper published this week in the Institute of Physics journal Environmental Research Letters.

“It’s hard to imagine a Canada without outdoor hockey, but I really worry that this will be a casualty of our continuing to ignore the climate problem and to obstruct international efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions,” Matthews said in a statement.

Mysack hints that the fate of the nation is imperiled.

“The disappearance of outdoor hockey rinks and probably cross-country ski trails is not going to be good for the health of our youth and the leaders of tomorrow, who need all the exercise they can easily get,” he said in the statement.

Canadian media are surely as worried.

"Shorter Canadian winters could well mean no more Wayne Gretzkys," The Record begins its story on the report. Gretzky is a four-time winner of the Stanley Cup as a National Hockey League champion and a nine-time winner of the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player.

What did the outdoor hockey rink mean to Gretzky? Read on from the website

"When he was 6 years old, his father, Walter, built a rink in the family's backyard, and it was there that Wayne skated for hours on end, every day, practi(c)ing his skating, shooting and stickhandling and learning everything about the game from his dad."

Of course, the researchers pretty much stoked that fire.

"Wayne Gretzky learned to skate on a backyard skating rink; our results imply that such opportunities may not available to future generations of Canadian children," their study concluded.

And Matthews, in an interview with The Toronto Star, admits an agenda on what has been a politically divisive issue in Canada and around the world. Current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is an avid hockey enthusiast.

“It’s certainly a motivation for me in doing the study,” the Star quotes Matthews as saying.

“Canada is lagging behind the rest of the world” in efforts to fight climate change, he also told the paper.

But, at least to some Canadians, the decline of outdoor hockey is old news.

In its article on the report, The Vancouver Sun asks, "Is outdoor skating in Canada doomed to become what it always has been here in Vancouver: non-existent?"

And in a CBC poll on outdoor skating, the No. 1 response to the question "How has your outdoor skating changed in recent years?" is, "A lot. I can't remember the last time we had a proper outdoor rink."

He shoots! He sinks!

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Filed under: Canada • Hockey • Sports
soundoff (267 Responses)
  1. Jack O'Fall

    At least the researchers did not have a political axe to grind with their study and were not trying to make a media firestorm out of plotting a graph and projecting that line into the future.
    No, wait, that's exactly what they are doing.
    Sadly, this sort of political foray from the researchers takes away from any scientific validity they may have and makes me question their motives.

    March 8, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  2. Geo Guy

    Considering there are over 2600 government-run weather stations across Canada, one is lead to wonder why only 140 were selected. Another case of where climate scientists are trying to make a judgement using poor scientific technique.

    Yes winters are warmer – but they have been warmer in the past. A few weeks ago Calgary broke a record for a new high in January – one that was over 100 years old!!! Go figure..

    March 10, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Francis

    We have a pond near our house in Nova Scotia, Canada and there was only one week during the winter we could skate on the pond. I have 4 kids and this is free awesome family fun. It's not scientific data, but I did take a look at the average temps over the last 50 years and it has been a lot warming. I am sure 50 years ago we could have used this pond.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  4. Pete

    The bigger polluters are China and India with their billions of people, there won't be much the rest of us can do to offset that. A little global warming would be great for farming and tourism in northern states and provinces anyways - might as well make lemonade...

    March 13, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. David Muzzatti

    "The end of Canada's pastime indoor or outdoor will be the removal of HITTING from the game."

    March 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
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    March 31, 2012 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
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    April 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
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