I am grateful for outdoor skating rinks.
Winter is raising her icy fist around the country as we Canadians of the middle-aged variety, and beyond, tune into the Weather Channel with dreadful regularity. Storms and records of cold and snowfall fascinate us it seems, winter’s entertainment.
Here in Nova Scotia we have had an unusually early winter with dumps of snow and freezing rain coming to stay. But when people complain to me, I sneer and say, “You ain’t seen nothing,” except I try to use better grammar. I lived in Pickle Lake (in northern Ontario) for a time where winter came in October and was in no hurry to leave until May was well underway. One Halloween, in 1985, I think, the snow began to fall and didn’t stop until four feet lay on the ground. That Christmas the temperature dipped so low we merely went to the front yard and snapped off a tree, no sawing required. Car doors wouldn’t open because the grease was solid. We curled outdoors in Pickle Lake, even during blizzards, shoveling off the ice between ends and sometimes using a flashlight on the broom being held by the skip. It was magically hilarious and sweeping took on a real purpose and it makes me laugh even now. Ahh, the good old days.
The best part of cold winters had to be outdoor rinks. My father built rinks of various sizes, a couple were a bit too grand covering several acres that he cleaned off with the tractor. My siblings and I dragged our skates through the snowy fields to find any space where ice had left a natural rink. We even skated down the hill a few times where the cattle water tank was kept on overflowing so that it wouldn’t freeze. That was a treacherous activity and one my mother put a stop to in short order, when she discovered us careening down the hill airborne at times. Skating outdoors was perfect.
My friend and I got up early on a Sunday morning when I slept over, which was more than often and slightly less than always. We tromped through the back yard with our skates on to the rink at St. Mary’s School before anyone else was up. We shoveled pathways and roadways on the ice to create our imaginary village and then we skated and skated and skated some more.
Some children have no idea what it is like to skate outdoors, bundled up for warmth and padding. Skating outdoors is a right of passage for those of us who grew up in the north, who grew up in an almost wilderness. When I see backyard rinks these days I want to stop and applaud these parents and grandparents. Those individuals, those dads, who cared for the rinks in Fort Frances in “my day” were hero-worthy, were the keepers of the dream. The skating shacks with the fire blazing and skates being tied and the cold massaged from little frozen toes.
When my dad tied my skates I felt such adoration for him as he pulled at the laces and wound the excess around my ankles and then lifted me on to the ice. I was no Barbara Ann Scott, but skating was exhilarating despite my cramping feet and throbbing ankles.
One winter a large collection of Stewart family members skated from Reef Point on Rainy Lake to The Noden Causeway in the dark on a moonlit night. I think perhaps that may be my favourite skating memory, the air crisp and cold while I tried to keep up with those who were proficient skaters, my brother somewhere far ahead, the ice cracking every now and then like a gunshot, paralyzing me with exciting fear.
I hope you can strap on your skates and twirl and swirl on an outdoor rink this winter, one shoveled off on the lake or a pond. Count yourself very lucky if you can.