Stay off river, retention ponds, city warns, even with public rinks closed

The City of Winnipeg is stepping up messaging this year warning residents to stay off frozen bodies of water — including retention ponds — as rinks remain closed due to public health orders.

“This is Canada. I mean, there’s ice, people want to play hockey. We get it,” said Mayor Brian Bowman on Wednesday.

But no matter how tempting it is to start a pickup game on the retention pond behind your house, Bowman said it’s not safe.

“We don’t want to see a loss of life. We don’t want to see people go through the ice,” he said.

“The secondary issue is, we don’t want to divert first responders right now, at a time when we know they’re being called … to help out at personal care homes, for example. We don’t want to stretch those resources any more than necessary.”

Ice surfaces are thin and fragile right now in Winnipeg, said Jay Shaw, assistant chief of emergency management for the city. Warm weather has been a boon for people wanting to head outside, but it means the ice on the river isn’t stable.

And even as it gets colder, Shaw said residents should never venture onto frozen retention ponds.

It’ll be a while yet before Winnipeggers can skate safely on the rivers, like these two do in this 2018 file photo, city officials said Wednesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“While we’re looking forward to skating on the river trails when it is safe, I will remind you that the ice on our retention ponds is never safe to be on,” he said.

Ice conditions on retention ponds can change rapidly without warning, he said, as winter runoff drains into retention ponds, often carrying sand that can melt the ice in the pond.

The water enters the ponds under the ice surface, he added, so the thinning can’t always be seen from above.

“Because retention ponds look like such a fabulous idea, you can’t really see the hidden dangers underneath the water,” Shaw said. 

“The pipes come in from underneath the ice. That water is mixed with salt, [it’s] different temperatures, it can thin that ice out. From the surface, that retention pond looks like a great place to play.”

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