One of the best things to enjoy about winter is skating. In fact, years ago you wouldn’t have been considered Canadian if you didn’t like skating, my generation having been raised on hockey and a daily dose of outdoor exercise. If you were a true Canadian, you never missed watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. I admit I haven’t skated in years and thought to take it up again in retirement, but my last Bone Density test was not good, so I fear my skating days are over. Watching the neighbors kids through my kitchen window is the closest I have come to the sport lately, and although I might have been moaning about having to do the dishes by hand at least I had a pleasant scene to gaze upon, especially after school when the spotlights were glowing, and the flurries flying. Still, I was wondering, what if I built my own skating rink? I have such a big square rectangle of a back yard, that it seems a shame to waste it.
Now that the neighbors have moved, I seldom see any children playing outside in the winter or in the summer either. When I first moved to this subdivision there were always games of street hockey after school, now everyone is inside on their video games. I grew up skating on the farm. There was a low spot behind the barn which made for an excellent skating rink when it was flooded. Here is a picture my mother painted of it, complete with the family dogs. My brothers and cousins would sometimes go to the pond at the back of the farm to play hockey, but it was a long way to walk, there and back, in the cold.
Although skating was one of my favorite winter activities, I was not thrilled about having to wear black skates. They were hand-me-downs from my brother, but my mother probably figured it didn’t matter as who would see us, way out in the country,
But even at age six I knew that black skates were for boys – girls wore white skates, for figure skating. By the time the arena was built in town and free skating hours were held on Sundays, I had a pair of white skates as I simply refused to go otherwise. The best thing about skating in the arena was the music blaring from the loudspeakers, but it was the sixties and we had the Beatles and other groovy tunes. While cleaning out the basement a few years ago I found the diary I got for Christmas the year I was eleven. We had a skating rink at school that January, courtesy of some long forgotten but dedicated teacher, and practically every day the entry is the same – “went skating at lunch hour”. Re-reading the diary, I seem to have been obsessed with skating, but maybe I had nothing else to write about – our lives were simpler and more uneventful back then. By the time the February thaw came I had given up on both the skating and the writing and the rest of the diary is just a series of blank pages.
The winters were colder too and longer, at least it seems so in retrospect. I remember my cousin and I once skating over the fields when we were teenagers – there was such a hard crust of freezing rain and ice on top of the snow that the whole farm was our skating rink that weekend.
My dad remembers a few years where the winter was so cold and the ice build up so thick that it was possible to skate on the river. That would be dangerous now, and probably was then too. My mother lost a childhood friend, a teenage boy who fell through the ice. She was to go with him and another friend that day, but she didn’t have any skates. My dad saved up $5 in the Depression to buy his first pair of skates.
Skating must be in my genes, as my maternal grandmother hailed from Holland, where she remembered skating on the canals in the winter. While every small town in Canada has an indoor skating arena, there are very seldom any outdoor rinks anymore, and by outdoor rinks I mean big community rinks, not just a small square of ice in someone’s backyard. Occasionally someone’s attempt to build a backyard rink gets shut down because of zoning bylaws or neighbors complaining about the noise, but kudos to the brave dads who attempt it, as they are the ones standing out at midnight in the freezing cold flooding the thing every night.
Being outside in the fresh air was always part of the fun, layering up with double socks and mittens and thick scarfs around our necks and faces…..and then coming in hours later with red cheeks and frozen fingers to warm up over hot chocolate. Some winters are just not suitable, it’s too mild or rainy, or just not cold enough – you must have a consistent spell of below freezing weather….the old six weeks of winter thing. We did not even get our first major snowstorm this year until January 19, so this has not been the best year for making ice, but we are now in for a prolonged spell of below freezing windchill weather, so why don’t we have more outdoor rinks? I see parcels of empty land here and there around town and think now that would make an ideal skating rink. It seems to me that it wouldn’t be that expensive to build a temporary ice rink, and think of the fun the kids could have. We have splashpads now that cost $150,000 instead of swimming pools. You can skate in an arena where ice time is rare and always scheduled, but there’s nowhere to play a pick-up game of shimmy. Many larger cities have skating centres, like Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto. You can skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, but the weather is much colder in our nation’s capital. If I’m ever in New York in the wintertime I would risk falling and breaking a hip just to be able to skate at the Rockefeller Centre – but first I would make sure I have travel insurance!
Having a backyard rink would be fun for the adults too. I’ve often thought a skating party would be nice idea for a New Years Eve party, for all ages – the music – the outdoor lights – a bonfire – hot drinks – good food. Chili and potato soup, or lobster Newburg and champagne if you want something fancier. I used to talk sports with one of my work colleagues, who was a real hockey fiend. Every year I would joke, “Bob, do you think this is the year I will have a skating rink?“ and he would reply, “If you build it, we will come.”
I still have my skates – they are in the basement somewhere. Am I brave enough to take a spin? I wish I had a rink outside my back door….
Song of the Day: Joni Mitchell – I Wish I Had a River
Beverage of the Day: Hot Chocolate made with imported Valrhona French cocoa….at $20 a box it’s expensive but worth it and not at all bitter as dark chocolate can sometimes be.