Marcel L. of Montréal’s Plateau-Mont Royal neighborhood has created something very cool in his backyard alley. Something so cool that only works when it’s below freezing. It involves a lot of ice, two hockey posts, and a pile of free equipment.
What is it? One of the neighborhood’s most popular “white alleys.” They’re part of homegrown movement to create backyard spaces for hockey and other recreational activities in the winter. Why trek blocks to the park when miles of underused alleys cry out for human activity? Instead of enduring months of Montréal winter alone, staring out your back window, you could turn the asphalt just past your back fence into a place where you would want to hang out, talk to the old lady down the block, and play hockey with the kid next door.
That’s why Marcel decided to create a hockey rink in the alley behind his Plateau-Mont Royal home. After checking with the city and contacting a local environmental organization, Éco-quartier, he did what his alley had done on its own, naturally, many times before: flooded it with water and watched it freeze. Add two hockey goals, two ribbons of yellow caution tape to keep cars out, and voilà, instant hockey rink and community gathering space. The alley that was green with plants along its margins in the summer, was now white with snow and ice, but just as active.
“Build it and they will come,” he told me. Originally he created the alley just that his kids would have a place to play hockey closer to home than the local park, but soon he received letters of support from his neighbors, other fathers with kids. Now the hockey rink is packed after students after school each Wednesday, who borrow from the pile of hockey equipment Marcel leaves at the side of rink. Does stuff ever get stolen? “Never,” he swore to me. “Jamais un vol.” That’s a pretty good record and shows that a community space that is used and supported by its residents is unlikely to be violated.
Marcel had done on his own, with limited resources, what cities have done for centuries: building community spaces for people to recreate, exercise, and blow off steam. He built the white alley and they came. In droves. That’s what a community activist can do with some water, the Montréal winter, and supportive neighbors.