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Q&A: Dave Bidini on naming the Paul Quarrington ice rink

Paul Quarrington (photo: Irene Duma)

This weekend, author Paul Quarrington will be memorialized with an ice rink in his name on Toronto’s waterfront. The Paul Quarrington Ice Rink/Splash Pad will be dedicated at a free public event at Sherbourne Common, Feb. 22 from 2 to 6 p.m.

When Quarrington passed away in 2010 from lung cancer, his loss was felt in all corners of the country’s artistic community. Celebrated for novels such as King Leary and Whale Music, Quarrington also wrote for film, television, and theatre, played in several bands, painted, and sat on the boards of PEN Canada, Fringe Toronto, and The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Quarrington’s close friend and collaborator, Dave Bidini, led the charge to honour his legacy. The Toronto musician and author spoke to Q&Q about his friendship with Quarrington and his hopes for the memorial.

How did the memorial idea evolve? I felt like there should be a signpost or place where people could go ““ selfishly, where I could go ““ to be reminded of Paul’s importance, his personality, who he was. I thought a rink or park would be a place where you could go and dream of him, really. I also think in Toronto we’re sometimes negligent when it comes to celebrating the artists who have been important to this city.

Why is the rink a fitting tribute? Paul wrote the greatest hockey book ever, King Leary. I think it’s appropriate that it is a patch of ice that his name will stand over. The great thing about the rink is that when you’re facing north, the whole city is laid out in front of you. You can skate on the rink knowing that he had a huge hand in shaping the artistic culture of our place.

What was the process moving this proposal through City Council? I talked to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who directed me to Pam McConnell, a councillor in the east end where Paul lived. Pam is a huge supporter of the arts, privately and publicly. She’s been a friend of Neil Young’s family for decades and she knew all of Paul’s work. Random House Canada gave me copies of King Leary that I passed out to Pam’s staff.

It was great how easy it was, and I think that was a testament to Paul. He was so loved, he made such a deep connection with so many people in this city, that it was a no-brainer. You expect something different, because you hear all the horrors of city council and having to ram things through. But politically it wasn’t an issue at all.

What is Paul’s legacy in Toronto’s arts community? I know there are people from across Canada who, when they come to Toronto, will skate on that rink because it’s a place where people who miss Paul can go and remember him.

He was so encouraging and supportive of young writers like myself, Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, David Bezmozgis, the list goes on. With Paul, you met him and realized that you could be a regular person and an artist. You didn’t have to submit to a kind of rare sensibility. Through him you realized it was easy to fit in doing what you loved to do, because he was so disarming and unpretentious and humble and supportive and kind. He pointed to a way that you could be that we didn’t really know existed before.

This interview has been edited and condensed.