“Countless generations” have skated on Markham Ponds. But try it now and you’re “intruder”

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Mike Ware thought something terrible had happened when he saw the police at his front door, but the officer was there to tell him he had broken a rule by playing pond hockey.

“They gave me a trespassing warning,” Ware told CBC News in an interview. He said the officer told him he would receive a summons if he returned to the ice.

Ware had skated on Milne Pond at Milne Dam Conservation Park in Markham, Ont., north of Toronto.

The water froze there this winter. The ice is 60 centimeters thick and safe for skating, insist Ware and others. And thanks to a small group of volunteers who shovel the snow, flood the ice and measure its thickness, the neighbors took advantage of the cold to skate and play shinny this winter.

Surveillance cameras installed at Milne Dam Conservation Park. The town of Markham says it doesn’t allow skating on local ponds because it’s dangerous. (Radio Canada)

That is, until Markham settlement officers installed chains, fencing and security cameras last week, cutting off access to the pond.

Even before the barriers were lifted, Ware says officers routinely patrolled the pond, leaving skaters “looking over their shoulders at all times.”

“We want children to connect with nature”

He says the crackdown is an overreaction to a pastime that “countless generations” of Canadians have enjoyed and discourages healthy activity.

“Parents have such a hard time trying to get their kids off screens. We want kids to connect with nature. We want them to be outside,” he said.

Although the Markham authorities’ response may seem anti-Canadian, the rules in Markham are as uncompromising as half a meter of solid ice: skating is not allowed on local ponds.

The natural ice rinks of Milne Pond. Ware says the ice on Markham Ponds is safe to skate on for about four to six weeks. (Radio Canada)

According to city staff, skating is prohibited because moving water, salt and silt in the ponds make the ice unstable and dangerous.

“Like many other municipalities in Ontario, the Town of Markham has banned skating on ponds for a number of years and has primarily enforced those rules based on complaints,” said Christopher Bullen, a manager of the municipality, in a press release.

“As documented in numerous news reports, accidents on frozen ponds can be serious and have tragic consequences,” Bullen wrote.

Previously, Markham residents skated freely on the ponds, using their own judgment and taking their own risks.

Steven Stamkos of Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning grew up in Markham and said he learned to skate on Toogood Pond, a fact noted by Mayor Frank Scarpitti.

“It’s a bit sad”

However, when CBC News asked the mayor for a response on the situation, Scarpitti was unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, 11-year-old Andrew Froggatt is another victim of the crackdown. He plays minor hockey and has skated regularly at Milne Pond this winter.

“Almost every day I come in after school with my skates in my backpack,” he said, standing next to the fence that now cuts off access to the ice.

“I’m sure I’ve improved a lot here. It’s a bit sad that I can’t come and play,” added Andrew.

Andrew Froggatt, 11, plays minor hockey. He says it’s ‘a bit sad’ that skating isn’t allowed on Markham Ponds. (Radio Canada)

Ware says he doesn’t want all restrictions on pond skating in Markham to be removed, just some flexibility from the authorities. While the ice may not be as safe in early winter and spring, Ware believes there are at least four to six weeks when it is suitable for skating.

He thinks the city could come up with an ice monitoring system and even embrace the volunteers who are already doing it.

In Toronto, for example, regulations also prohibit skating on bodies of water where signs are posted. But in 2015, the city council voted to start monitoring ice levels at the popular Grenadier Pond in High Park, where skating is now permitted.

“We want solutions,” Ware said.

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