I’m afraid that I can’t skate much anymore because my legs are to wobbly, but like so many others, we will never forget those countless cold but invigorating winter hours spent tearing around on those fast and super natural outdoor skating rinks and ponds in and around Ponoka and district.
If one was lucky enough to grow up in this great community, we will fondly recall that once Mother Nature, the local parents and powers-to-be told us the ice was thick enough — we all invaded those shiny outdoor expanses for exciting fun games of hockey, broomball, figure skating and tag while skating for miles night and day with lots of family, friends and neighbours.
For generations, and as far back as most of us can even remember, our biggest and most popular sheet of ice was the lazy old Battle River, which for centuries has wandered through our town and county in no particular pattern, but has always been a wonderful year-round source of recreation and no cost adventures for all ages.
With hopes that everyone today is still able to enjoy some sweet slipping and sliding fun in the great outdoors, please allow me to share some of those fabulous adventures, joy and camaraderie that — for decades — we have been able to experience on the ice in our frozen Alberta wonderland.
Once winter had settled in, there was always so many perfectly natural outdoor rinks and slippery playgrounds that popped up in and around our community. Whether it was in town or out in the country, there were so many of those humble outdoor rinks constructed in early winter at schools, churches, playgrounds, on a pond or slue in the north 40, up at the Alberta Hospital, in backyards, of course anywhere along the Battle River.
The age-old cardinal rules for enjoying hours of skating fun will always be to dress in layers, but first, be prepared to bring along the family snow shovel and work together to clean off your patch of ice down to its slippery and sparkling glory.
Although most of those early rinks were surrounded by great piles of frozen snow, some organized crews to build fences around them while other kind souls brought in old wooden benches to sit and change on and several even provided a rickety old shack to warm up in plus a few light poles to make the evening skating sessions bright and happy.
It was here in that always keen and friendly community spirit and atmosphere of outdoor fun, where our exciting games of hockey, figure skating, broomball, curling and all the rest were born and have thankfully carried on through the decades.
I will never forget our early makeshift skating rink in the Riverside district way back in the roaring sixties.
Lots of times we were joined by kids from the AHP and town for a roaring game of pick-up hockey, using someone’s boots or a pail full of rocks for goalposts. And if the puck missed the mark and went into the snow, we had an intermission until we found it.
We played or skated for hours — day and night — and if a bathroom break was required, there was lots of bush along the river and many holes left in the snow.
Lots of the neighbourhood girls also came along to show off their fancy whirls and twirls plus loved to skate hand in hand with their favourite guy. A few insisted on joining in on the hockey game, but were really rough and screamed a lot.
We learned to come equipped with extra skate laces as well as padded knees and butts — because we fell a lot — while our goaltenders wore thick Eaton’s catalogues for pads and the game-day rule was to share the snacks that we managed to sneak out of the pantry with thirst quenched by a mouth full of snow.
At the end of each and every great event, we were likely nursing a few bruises, fat-lips and had broken our one and only hockey stick, but will certainly be back at it again tomorrow after chores and homework is done.
On many occasions at those great outdoor rinks, there were lots of family gatherings for games or skating with a big roaring bonfire set to warm up by.
As well, the rink would be host to a friendly wiener and marshmallow roast with gallons of hot chocolate and lots of handkerchiefs for runny noses.
Some of those gala parties went well into the night, with light being provided by vehicles circling the rink and the little ones falling asleep in the back seats.
Lots of people from in and around Ponoka also visited the Alberta Hospital to share fun and games with patients and staff on their classic two-sheet curling rink or over at the big outdoor rink next door, which had a warm change shack and lights — that only stayed on until 8 p.m. — so when the power house whistle blew, it was time to go home.
Fast forward to today, the ‘ice games’ carry on with great gusto for all ages and our community is blessed with many fine recreation and leisure facilities — both inside and out — with ongoing plans for more on into the future.
Once the weather co-operates, there will always be those super fun outdoor skating rinks popping up, highlighted by the very busy Kinsmen skating rink next to the arena complex.
So dress warm, and join in on the fun.