On Sunday afternoon, after a morning filled with chores, we decided that it was time to have some fun and get some exercise. We packed up the truck with a few pieces of dry firewood, our skates and sticks, and headed to the Wasa rink for some good old stick-puck.
This was my first time skating at the Wasa rink. I have skated on many, many outdoor rinks in my life but this rink – it’s something special.
It brought me back to my childhood days of playing hockey. My parents would cart my brother and I all over Ontario to play games. He was in rep and me, in house league. Some of my fondest memories revolve around these arenas.
Some arenas were fancy and overwhelmingly large, with change rooms that made me feel like a pro. There were literal food courts and bars at these arenas. Some even had daycare so the parents could watch their child play without having to worry about their little running all over the place. ‘The Final Countdown’ would play in my head as I walked out onto the ice in some of these places. Other arenas had boards littered with black marks from years of abuse, change rooms that smelled like boys, and the only thing to eat was 5 cent candy from the candy machines. These are the rinks that are burned into my brain and have the best memories tied to them.
The Wasa rink takes me back to those arenas – it’s nothing fancy. But it’s so charming. First of all, the view of the mountains is pretty spectacular. Then you’ve got the fire pit. I especially like the fact that there is track so you can wear your skates to and fro. My feet always get cold, so being able to warm them up by the fire without having to take off my skates was lovely.
I was doing a little reading about this rink and discovered that it was first opened in 2014. Not that long ago, actually. It was a big undertaking from the Wasa and District Lions Club – built in memoriam for Pete Vereshagen.
Volunteers put in more than 4,000 hours just on the boards alone. Which, by the way, are still very much in good shape and are donned with old-timey ads that tug at the heart strings.
In my research I started to wonder about the history of outdoor rinks themselves. It seems to me that these rinks are symbol of Canada in a way. I think that just about every single person I’ve met has skated on an outdoor rink, pond or lake at some point in their lives.
According to an article form the Canadian Encyclopedia, ice skating likely originated in Scandinavia over 2000 years ago as a means of transportation. The world’s first skating club was formed in Edinburgh in 1742.
“In Canada, according to legends, the Iroquois used to skate, tying animal shinbones to their footwear with leather thongs; and in Acadia, French explorers were skating as early as 1604,” reads the article. “Canada led the world in the development of early skating rinks, and the first prepared outdoor commercial rink in the country was opened in Montréal in 1850.”
Did you know that Wayne Gretzky learned to play on a backyard rink that was built by his father? The same goes for my brothers and I. My Dad was always so steadfast in his commitment our backyard rinks.
In places like Cranbrook, Wasa and Kimberley, outdoor and backyard rinks are still very much alive. But outdoor rinks in general seem to be becoming a thing of the past.
An article in The New York Times from 2018 explains that Canada’s rinks are literally melting. Our average winter temperatures are on the rise, making it challenging for cities, towns and dedicated parents to maintain outdoor rinks. With temperatures fluctuating so greatly, it’s hard to keep the ice surfaces smooth and safe for skating.
We experienced this in Wasa on Sunday. The ice was a little soft in some areas, so we avoided them all together. But that didn’t stop us from having a grand old time on the rest of the ice.
“Just don’t go in that upper left corner,” we’d caution to any newcomers. When our puck would venture into those slushy regions, I would use my stick to escort it back to the good ice.
We also saw an example of this in Cranbrook recently. The City had to close down the local rinks last week because our temperatures were well above the seasonal average. The rinks were simply slush.
The NYT article goes on to say that two Ontario professors created a citizen science project called Rink Watch, where they enlisted more than 1,500 backyard rink owners to report skating conditions on a daily basis.
Their research, combined with climate change projections, found that the projected number of skating days will decline by 34 per cent in Toronto and 19 per cent in Calgary by 2090.
When I have children, you can bet their grandpa (my dad) will be dedicated to helping us get a backyard rink going. It’s a little sad to think that something that brings so many of us Canadians together is literally melting away. This heritage we share, that dates back unthinkably far, that so many of us cherish, is slowly but surely becoming harder to maintain.
Thankfully, temperatures seem to be a bit more normal this week. So, if you get the opportunity, grab your sticks, your biscuit and your skates, and get out there while you still can.