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Remembering the backyard rink

Many a Canadian will recall a childhood filled with memories of the backyard rink. Columnist Curtis Stock takes a fond look back at his own family tradition on the ice.
A shovel, hose, water and time: the makings of many winter childhood memories. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

The man loved the sound of skates - the zipping of blades across a smooth piece of ice on a chilly winter afternoon or early evening.

The man also liked the thwacking sound of a piece of wood - a hockey stick - slapping around a piece of rubber - the puck.

The man simply relished hockey, spending every Saturday night glued to the television - rabbit ears on the t.v. set - for the televised CBC  ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ broadcast and cheering on his Toronto Maple Leafs over the dreaded enemy, the Montreal Canadiens. 

But more than anything the man rejoiced in the sound of laughter of children: the joyous yelps and hoots when a goal was scored.

So every winter, the man built a rudimentary hockey rink in our back yard of Trenton, Ontario for all the neighbourhood kids to use.

He didn’t use plywood to mark off the perimeters of the rink, wooden braces or even a sheet of plastic or vinyl as a liner base -items most people use today as part of skating rink kits (popular in these pandemic times).

But 60 years ago, there was just this man, a hose and a shovel.

The man used a level piece of land, which there was plenty of because our backyard cuddled an empty parcel of ground that stretched for miles between the Air Force base and over Hermit’s Hill where a worn path wended its way to the tiny downtown.

The man started early - clearing what would become the rink of snow, leaves, rocks and twigs with a rake--and a throbbing back.

With no houses to the south there was even a light standard which would provide more than enough light to play well after darkness had fallen.

Once the temperatures dropped below zero, the man would go out each night, huddled against the cold in his thick blue winter coat, ear muffs and heavy mitts,  and spray-flood the parcel of land by hooking together three long hoses from the outside tap of our bungalow.

The initial first flood was the most important, getting water to cover what in memory’s eye seemed to stretch forever but, in reality, was probably no bigger than 40 by 60 feet.

While kids could come from blocks away to skate on the finished product, the man would stand alone with his hose - no parents or older children coming to help.

It would take many long hours to complete the first flooding. But it didn’t matter. The man had a purpose. A purpose of expectation and joy.

Night after night the man sprayed and flooded the rink until there was a good solid base.

When the white showers came, the man pushed the snow, which would act as an unwanted insulator that could ruin the surface, off the ice and over to the sides with a heavy metal shovel--the snow banks serving as rink boards.

Again, no one came to help.

Then he would spray the ice again and again until the layered base was about 30 centimetres thick.

As if by magic, a backyard rink - a frozen swimming pool - would finally appear and the children would come in droves making the noises he loved to hear.

Because there were no wooden boards the pucks would often plunge deep into the snow banks. You would find the hole where the pucks entered, dig through and retrieve the instrumental black objects, and the games would then continue for hours on end, night after night on weekdays and all day on weekends.

There were no nets - just clumps of snow serving as goal posts. 

Score was kept but usually forgotten. Games would end when it was time to quit with outcomes usually simply decided by ‘last goal wins.’

That man who built the backyard rink was my father - one more thing I never thanked him enough for doing.

He tried to teach me how to skate but my ankles would always flop inward with the skates usually one or two sizes too large and filled with heavy layers of wool socks.

I remember him having me push a chair across the rink to help keep me balanced. But it didn’t work.

Sadly, I never could skate very well. But it certainly wasn’t without his best efforts.

And I still have all these fond memories.

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