Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
NIAGARA FALLS, ONTARIO — Skating outdoors is nothing new for Canadians. Doing it a couple of hundred metres from certain death? That gives a new meaning to going over the boards.
The unique thrill of skating adjacent to Niagara Falls is the overwhelming appeal of the TD Rink at the Brink, which opened its third season on November 30. Expectations are it will host more visitors than it did last year, when 15,000 skaters revelled in the rink set up on Niagara Parkway, about 200 metres across from the natural wonder. Despite the hyperbolic name, there’s no chance of a wayward skater plunging over the Horseshoe Falls. The only threat to a good time, really, is the on-site concession stand running out of hot chocolate.
“There’s nothing like this anywhere else in the world,” said David Groulx, operations manager at the Rink at the Brink and a former owner of the Florida-based Sunshine Coast Hockey League. “You can’t skate this close to an attraction like the Falls anywhere. It’s a really unique experience.”
Groulx maintains the ice conditions, which were very good when I went for a few spins on Saturday. It was a magical evening, actually, with the lunar eclipse that night causing a bright, orange-yellow moon to climb slowly over the Niagara night. At first glance, the Rink at the Brink seems like a victim of its own good marketing. When you walk up to it, you feel a touch of disappointment because it is not right at the edge of the Falls, but once you start to skate, the sight of the water curtaining over the cliff and the beauty of the mist rising up and then freezing as it clings to tree branches really is a thrill. I found myself stopping several times or turning my head around just to look.
“Every day is different here. This afternoon, we had a rainbow that came over the Falls and ended right here on the rink,” says Groulx. “There are days when the mist rises over the moraine here and crystallizes, and it’s just absolutely gorgeous.”
The rink, which is 60 feet-by-120 feet, will stay open until February 29. It costs $7 for adults and $6 for youths to skate, which might be a deterrent considering Canadians across the country are used to skating for free on outdoor rinks, including at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto and the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. The Rink at the Brink, though, is a distinct experience and one that’s certainly worth at least one outing.
“This is really beautiful, to see the Falls like that and with all the lights in the city. They did a great job with it,” said Kelly Dawns, who is from Toronto. She credited the rink for keeping her kids busy and blending in with the rest of the festive atmosphere in Niagara.
The city’s Winter Festival of Lights is drawing thousands of tourists, as well. Just this week, Frommers.com named that attraction the fifth-best holiday lights show in the world. There are displays of Disney characters along Niagara Parkway and then in Dufferin Islands, a couple of kilometres beyond the Falls, there’s a hugely popular light display that dozens and dozens of cars inch their way through each night.
“The view’s beautiful and they’ve got the Winter Festival of Lights going on, which is really spectacular,” said Willie Reynolds, who lives in the Niagara area and was enjoying the Rink at the Brink for the first time last Saturday with friends and family.
For sure, the rink is a great Canadian experience, right down to the most popular choice at its concession stand. “It’s fun to skate,” said Reynolds’ son, Noah, “but I like the hot chocolate best.”
MORE ABOUT THE TD RINK AT THE BRINK
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, noon to 9 pm; Fridays and Saturdays, noon to midnight (special holiday hours, check the rink’s website for full details).
Cost: $7 per adult, $6 per youth, free for kids under four when accompanied by a parent; skate rental is $5 per pair; hot chocolate at the concession stand is $2.25 per cup. There are six free skate days this winter.
Parking: For Ontario residents, parking at the Table Rock Visitor’s Centre is free after 4 p.m. with proof of residency. For others, it’s 5 p.m. after 4 p.m. Prior to 4 p.m., all visitors must pay $10-$18, depending on the date (check the rink’s website for full details).
Location: The Rink at the Brink is next to the Table Rock Visitor’s Centre, which is at 6650 Niagara Parkway (see map for directions from Toronto).
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