The first winter in Belmont, Ontario would have been an eye opener for my parents in 1958. I expect they understood Canada was colder, the winters longer, and the snow more abundant; yet that inaugural snowy season was not exactly in line with what they would have imagined.
Nevertheless, Mom and Dad adapted to their new home with the exuberance of original settlers, skating on the frozen waterways, building backyard ice rinks, and adopting hockey as their sport of choice. Their endurance of the season, shoveling the snow, bracing against the minus temperatures, claiming hockey was better than soccer became bragging points to relatives back home and a badge of honour for their decision.
Indeed there was some obvious enthusiasm with the weather, early photographs capturing escapades on ice. Several emanated from an afternoon spent on a large expanse of ice, a frozen field with open space to test your balance. The saved pictures show Dad displaying his prowess in one, another of him skating with a group joined together by hands, and this one above with Mom. The tops of her footwear suggests she was in boots, escorted by Dad, across the ice, hopefully very carefully given she would have been as much as three quarters of the way into her first pregnancy.
By the time they moved into their first house in 1963, there were three boys, ages four, three and two. In 1965, the family grew by one more son. With the small house, we spent alot of time outdoors. In the winter it would be playing hockey on the street and learning to skate on the home made ice rink in the large backyard.
Every winter when the temperature stayed cold for any length of time, Dad tamped down the snow, patiently soaked the pad, smoothed out the bumps and cleared the snow to create walls for the boys to play within, skating circles and more often, engaging in a spirited game of hockey. My parents were practical, not seeing the value of new skates which would be outgrown by the following season. I don’t recall ever having a new pair until I bought my own as a young adult. Mine were most likely to be hand-me downs from my older brother Gary, purchased second hand or rummaged from a neighbour or work colleague.
That same sensibility and the realistic constraints of a working class single income meant none of us were enrolled in organized hockey as kids. If one of us were to begin, then the others would need to join and how would the family manage the time or the money. My parents bet the odds of success were with an education rather than a career in the National Hockey League playing for the Maple Leafs.
Watching hockey was akin to religion in our household. Every Saturday night we plunked ourselves in front of the TV for the next edition of Hockey Night in Canada, accompanied by loud commentaries on the action, arguments about the merits of fighting, and yelps of SCORE!, in unison, when the puck crossed the goal line for the home team. Bobby Orr was Dad’s favourite hockey player despite being a griping fan of the Maple Leafs. Mom, on the other hand, proudly cheered the blue and white, remembering the last time they won the Stanley Cup, ever hopeful this year would be the next. Her favourite player was Borje Salming. Mom would not countenance any utterance of disrespect or negative assessment of the man or his abilities. She simply ignored any reports of Salming snorting cocaine, believing the stories were the construct of a media biased against Swedish hockey players.
I think she identified with Salming as a pioneer to the NHL, a foreigner in a strange land, the first successful European to break into the ultra macho world of North American hockey. Mom would spit the name of Mel Bridgeman who badly bloodied Salming in a one-sided fight during one playoff game with the Broad Street Bullies. Her boy would persevere, stay in the game, and eventually be inducted into the hall of fame, not like that Bridgeman bum.
These stories all came back to me the last couple days as I shoveled the lake snow to uncover my own ice rink, remembering the endless hours outdoors playing hockey in the back yard, on fields, on the narrow creek, or between the trees dodging branches and my brothers. Our rebuilt cottage is winterized and I look forward to every new Year’s day to build the rink and recall the joy of skating outside in the brisk, fresh air, firing pucks at the net, falling into the snow from exhaustion, laughing as the flakes float down from the sky. The physical exertion to shovel the snow, dragging the hose at night in the ongoing challenge to smooth out the bumps, experiencing again all for the simple pleasures of childhood when my parents embraced their new world.
A good rink and a vigorous skate always makes for a promising start to another year. I have more opportunities this time round to make this one better than the previous year, hopefully boding well for 2021.
Happy New Year everyone.