Monday, February 19, 2018

That time I was on the Skate Patrol for ten years (Family Day finale)

Today is Family Day and the last day of Winterlude, which makes for a good place to finish my series about my time as a member of the Rideau Canal Skate Patrol. You may want to first read part 1 and part 2.

Starting in 2011, the NCC wanted a skate patroller to be up on the ground level for the annual flag-raising ceremony which marks the official opening of the canal, and I was that skate patroller. I wasn't in the scrum during the actual flag-raising, instead I stepped back to take a video of the flag raising. I believe this one was take 2, because some of the media photographers missed the flag going up the pole the first time:

I then posed for some photos, including this one with an Ice Hog mascot (think groundhog, but with ice) and someone who was introduced to me as a dignitary from the insurance company that sponsored the skate patrol that year:

I got to be the skate patrol 'mascot' again in 2012, when someone else on the patrol borrowed one of my cameras to capture the event. They took this great photo of me with one of the Ice Hogs and NCC vice-president Michelle Comeau:

I was a bit worried that one of the media people sent to cover the opening ceremony would recognize me and expose my Skate Patrol alter ego to the greater Twitterverse. At the 2012 opening, I recognized the CBC's Alistair Steele, who had met me at events where I was representing the community association. This time, I was right at the pole, in the flag-raising photos. Using the weather as an excuse, I covered my face with my face mask for much of the event except during the photogenic bits. Alistair tweeted a photo:

This was still in the days when you'd need a third-party photo service to post photos to Twitter, and YFrog's archives appear to no longer exist. Nevertheless, I saved a copy of Alistair's photo, below. As you can see, cell phone photos were still pretty low resolution, so nobody following him on Twitter would have recognized me:

A benefit of someone else using my camera to photograph the event is that I got to keep the photos. To further throw people off the scent, I posted a photo in my blog post Rideau Canal Skateway now open for 2012, in which Alistair and I were both pictured (he's probably composing the tweet above). I mean, why would people have reason to suspect I was in the shot when it was clearly not taken by the patroller in the photo?

Why did I care so much about the secrecy? The more selfish reason was so people wouldn't pester me for inside information like when the canal was going to open, but the more practical reason is so that I could post about the Canal on my blog and Twitter without being mistaken as speaking in any sort of official capacity.  I was the president of a community association at the time, and I wouldn't want the opinions I expressed in that role to be conflated with my position on the canal.

So when preparing my 2012 blog post, I deliberately picked a photo where my face was obscured by the Ice Hog mascot's waving hand. I was worried that people might still recognize me by the water bottle hanging from my belt, so I took the extraordinary measure of photoshopping out the bottle in the version that I posted in 2012.

I think that's the only time that I've altered a photo in such a way on this blog (cue gasps and fainting from the audience). In the interests of full disclosure, here's the unedited photo:

(Aside: In 2013, the flag-raising was photo-bombed by Orleans resident Luc Guertin, below, who wears a hard plastic snowman-shaped lawn decoration as a costume and goes out skating. Captions in the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun at various times have spelled his last name as both "Guertain" and "Guertin". I saw him once around City Hall and asked him which was the correct spelling and he was ambivalent on the matter, so we may never know!)

I attended the opening ceremony for the next couple of years, though as you can see in the 2013 photo above, I no longer went up to the flagpole. Nor did many photographers from the media. With all due respect to the NCC, and as Alistair's 2012 tweet suggests, the flag-raising event is pretty meaningless. The canal, and the many people using it, is one of the most picturesque parts of Ottawa and the last thing a news media organization needs to illustrate the fact that the canal is open is a photo op of bureaucrats who are not skating, or even standing, on the actual canal.

With a couple of years experience being in this photo op, I knew I didn't have to worry about being recognized in a photo. In fact, the only time I was recognized while on patrol was when I was the first-aid standby at a Hockey Day In Canada event at Patterson Creek. The person who recognized me was my then Member of Parliament and all-around good guy Paul Dewar. Some of my friends wouldn't even recognize me on the street when I'm not wearing my spikey helmet! Politicians just have a knack for faces. (I'd already written this blog post when he announced on Saturday that he's recovering from a brain tumour)

During my time on the Skate Patrol, Ontario introduced a new statutory holiday, Family Day, which falls on the third Monday of February. Since Winterlude is always on the first three weekends of February, this new holiday lines up well with the final weekend of Winterlude, which became three days long, i.e. Saturday, Sunday, and Family Day.

It took the powers that be some time to realize this, and for the first three years of Family Day, starting with 2008, the Skate Patrol was asked to staff it like a regular weekday (i.e. two sequential shifts of four patrollers from around noon to 10pm), until it was just a few days away and we were asked to staff it like a weekend (i.e. five overlapping shifts of four to six patrollers). I remember one guy did a triple-shift one year on Family Day to help cover the work.

Weekends are always busy for calls, and Winterlude weekends, including Family Day, are insane. I can recall one day when I got back to the Skate Patrol trailer after dark with my sunglasses still on because I was so busy tending to calls that I never had a chance to retrieve my regular glasses! To give a sense of the crowd, here's a shot of some patrollers tending to a patient by the Mackenzie-King Bridge on the last Saturday of Winterlude, 2011.

In 2011, the Family Day weekend schedule was defined better upfront, but we still faced another chronic problem where it coincided with Carleton University's reading week and much of the roster was out of town. So for Family Day 2011, the 10:00 a.m. shift was made up entirely of veterans and supervisors (i.e. dispatchers). We took a group photo of this supervisors-only shift before things got busy:

I had the honour of being the supervisor for that shift, and I got quite a rush out of it. Supervisors get to wear the red vest—the only holdover of the pre-yellow-jacket uniform I described in Part 1. As with on-ice patrolling shifts, evening supervisor shifts can be very quiet, mostly catching up on paperwork. But during weekend daytime shifts I would constantly be on my feet as a supervisor, tending to walk-in patients, collecting paperwork from patrollers, answering the phone, and moving markers around a magnetic wall map of the Canal to track patrollers and incidents.

There was one particularly busy Winterlude dispatching shift that I'm really proud of. I don't recall the exact details, but it went something like this: an Ottawa Paramedic Service supervisor was in the Skate Patrol trailer, tending to Paramedic business, whilst I was on the radio coordinating with our team about a number of simultaneous incidents all in one section of the canal: One team of patrollers was with a patient near Bronson Avenue waiting for the Bobcat to transport the patient back to Skate Patrol for transfer to an ambulance; however, the Bobcat paramedics, on their way to that transport call, came upon another person with an arm injury. Meanwhile, someone phoned in to report another injured person on Dow's Lake. Yet another team was just finishing up with tending to a fourth patient at the 4.8 kilometre marker. In quick succession, like a sliding puzzle, I dished out instructions over the radio: the latter patrol team would go to the Bobcat's location to take care of their lower-priority arm injury to free up the Bobcat to pick up the transport patient, thus freeing up the patrollers at Bronson to tend to the Dow's Lake call. Whew!

After radioing all relevant parties the necessary instructions, I could step back from the map and take a breath before the next challenge. The paramedic supervisor, whose regular job is dealing with emergencies, was clearly impressed by my rapid-fire dispatching. He looked at me and said something along the lines of, "wow, I do NOT want your job!"

All in a day's work. :)

By the 2013 season, my workday schedule (at City Hall in Councillor Diane Holmes' office) was getting too busy for me to do any full Skate Patrol shifts. I think I only did Saturday evening supervisor shifts, and few or no actual skating shifts. I did, of course, do my traditional opening day shift in full uniform:

By 2014, the year Winterlude (but not the skateway itself) was transferred from the NCC to the Department of Canadian Heritage, I didn't do any full shifts beyond an appearance on opening day, to stake a nominal claim on the milestone tenth year on the skate patrol. I could then say that I've been around longer than any other patroller who worked that year (in my first couple seasons, there were some people who had been around since before Lafleur took it over, so there are definitely people who've done it even longer than my ten years!). I helped out a bit here and there when I came by for a skate, but that, for the most part, was it.

A new shroud of secrecy cast by the NCC in 2015 meant that I wasn't told of the Canal's opening date that year. With that, I realized that I was now a civilian, and that both my skate patrolling career and my opening shift tradition were both over.

So, since I no longer have to worry about dodging questions about when the canal will open, and my roles on the Skate Patrol, the CCCA, and at City Hall are now all behind me, I'm comfortable with letting you all know that I was on the Rideau Canal Skate Patrol. I'm proud of my time there, but it's in my past now.

One of the things I've always enjoyed about the Rideau Canal is that it's absolutely free, so everyone can participate (even if they're just walking). Although the change huts and concessions close overnight, you can go out on the canal at any time, day or night, in contrast to so many touristy activities that shut down at 5pm.

Oh, and if you happen to get injured, there's a team of very professional Skate Patrollers who are around to help you out.

This is the third and final part of a three-part blog post about my ten years on the Rideau Canal Skate Patrol, from 2005 to 2014.

I'm not sure how much blogging I'm going to be doing, but I do have a 3D project in the works that I'm very excited about. I'll post more when I have details.

[You can read previous Canal related blog posts with the Canal label, or see a 2010 blog post with a list of prior Rideau Canal Skateway-related posts]

No comments:

Post a Comment