Down at the rink: Skating through the decades

'Just in Time' local history series

By Ian McKechnie

Kiwanis Arena in Lindsay, circa 1970s. Photo courtesy of Roy McCallum.

It’s mid-January, and you are cutting through the parking lot between the Shell station on Lindsay Street South and The Comfort Zone Sleep Shop. Maybe you are on your way to karaoke at The Coach & Horses Pub a short distance away. Whatever the reason, you quicken your pace as you make your way through this shortcut — blissfully unaware of the glare ice lurking beneath the light dusting of snow covering the pavement. Before you can collect your senses, you wipe out and have landed on the hard surface. Aside from a sore wrist, you are unhurt.

It isn’t the first time someone has wiped out on this very spot. For nearly half a century, this site was home to Lindsay’s skating rink.

Built in 1889 and officially opened in January of 1890, this frame facility covered in corrugated iron was a skater’s paradise. “The magnificent building is greatly admired by all who have seen it” wrote the Canadian Post on Jan. 17, 1890, “and it is needless to say that the skaters are very cordial in their praises of the company in putting up such a spacious structure.”

This rink played host to a variety of events over its 40-year existence, including a skating carnival on Jan. 21, 1896, that saw nearly a thousand people crowd into the bleachers to watch masqueraders race around the rink in costume. More frequent, of course, were the hockey matches. Jan. 21, 1909, saw the Lindsay Midgets face off against their counterparts from Peterborough in a game that ended with a 7-3 win for Lindsay. “The game throughout was fast and exciting,” reported the Lindsay Weekly Free Press a week later, “although the ice was in bad shape, being soft, sticky, and covered with slush, which made the puck feel like a twenty-pound weight.”

Unfortunately for skating and hockey enthusiasts, the old arena succumbed to fire in the early 1930s, and a few years would pass before a new facility opened on Russell Street West under the auspices of the Lindsay Kiwanis Club. Built in 1934, this arena sported not only an ice rink, but also a bowling alley and dance floor. Following another fire in 1945, the complex was rebuilt with a third floor.

This latter rink generated many special memories for local residents. “Shortly after I moved here from Peterborough I joined a very fledgling figure skating group,” says Barbara Truax. “We couldn’t get much practice time as it was all taken up with hockey and public skating and we weren’t considered ‘a very necessary addition,’ but after some persistence we were allocated some time at 6 to 7 a.m. twice a week.”

Sometimes, Truax remembers, the rink manager would be late in showing up. Undeterred, the young skaters gained access to the building by prying open one of the windows and crawling through. “Eventually Mr. Johnson, the rink manager, would arrive and we would be reprimanded,” says Truax. “We did develop some skating skills and were part of the annual skating show that eventually developed. We finally had our regular practice times, usually at the same morning hours and then some time at supper. As the program developed we didn’t have to crawl through windows anymore.”

Roy McCallum had a front-row seat to the goings-on at the Russell Street rink. Starting on a part-time basis in 1966, he worked in various capacities at both this rink and its successor in the Lindsay Recreation Complex.  When McCallum began, ice-resurfacing was done with a 45-gallon drum mounted on a two-wheeled, hand-operated machine. Later, he piloted a Ford tractor with a Schomberg ice-resurfacer in tow. The ubiquitous Zamboni was used for many years thereafter, and when McCallum retired in 2020, he was operating an Olympia ice-resurfacer.

While the downtown rink closed in the late 1980s, skating rinks have a storied history in Kawartha Lakes well beyond Lindsay. Until local municipalities began to construct their own arenas, a frozen lake usually had to suffice. January 1937 saw more than 100 people take to a marsh near Bobcaygeon. “Those that did not want to play hockey skated for miles up and down the lake,” observed the Bobcaygeon Independent, “and what a pretty picture, young couples, arm-in-arm youthfully striding over this frozen mass of ice.”

In other communities, volunteers flooded a rink at a convenient location much to the delight of the young and young-at-heart. Sometimes the quality of the ice surface was inconsistent, which invited occasional criticism — as at Kirkfield in 1910, when one observer remarked “Were we all practised skaters we would not mind the unseen places, but being mostly beginners, we need the smooth ice.” (By contrast, the ice at Janetville’s rink was, according to the Jan. 28, 1897, edition of the Warder “…kept in the very pink of condition and every attention is paid to the comfort of skaters.”)

Volunteers remain at the heart of recreational skating in Kawartha Lakes. Whether flooding the outdoor rinks in local parks, coaching hockey or even running entire arenas (such as that in Dunsford), they make it possible for us to enjoy sailing along the ice — even if we wipe out.

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