childhood, Culture, Sports

Down At The Rink 2

The Delhi Arena, In An Uncommon Quiet Moment

Down at the rink there was a constant stream of guys from youngsters to teens who slogged in and out, all winter, with bags of equipment, tapes, pucks, pads, skates and sticks.  They came at all the hours of the day and night.

In this small hockey-crazy town, how did I end up in the figure-skating club?

Of all the gifts my parents bestowed, this was the one that took the longest to understand.  But whether it was their intention to produce a figure skater, or just to keep me occupied, I eventually saw the light.  And it was dazzling.

Barbara Ann Scott, 1948 Olympic Gold Medalist for Canada

My parents moved to Delhi in 1948 and in a short time took a lead role in starting the Delhi Figure Skating Club. It was the same year Canada’s Sweetheart, Barbara Ann Scott, won the Olympics. This may have been Dad’s idea, but Mom would have pushed him along, and with the help of those many post-war friends who landed in this small tobacco-growing community, the DFSC was born.  It drew widespread endorsement, especially by parents whose daughters couldn’t play hockey.   Within a couple of years there was a long list of members aged 7-70 who came to the rink on Wednesdays and Saturdays to cut figure 8s, do steps, spins and jumps and dance in wavy processions around the rink.  You might say it was a little Arthur Murray mixed up with some chilly ballet.

CCM skates, built tough for hockey.

While all my friends went the hockey route, I went figure skating, primarily because it was my ride home.  So, I owned a pair of black, shin-high laced skates with long, slim silver blades with chiseled picks on the toes.  My buds all had CCM hockey skates: black with brown trim, yellow laces, reinforced tendon guards, and wide, hard, puck-stopping steel blades riveted into the soles. Their scarred and dented toes resembled miners’ helmets. Mine shone like OPP boots.  There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two sports.

Or could there?

The girls came in numbers: a serendipitous awakening.

In fact, I discovered in figure skating that for every boy there were at least five girls. This may have been the unintended consequence of my membership, but it was a serendipitous awakening that I have never regretted, much less forgotten.

In the earliest of my stumbling skating career as a Junior, I wandered around crowds of other newbies on the ice, learning to push out for forward and butt-wiggle for reverse.  Once ice-friendly we graduated to Intermediates where we attempted three-turns and hops like little bunnies in the snow.  We raised our legs and arms for spirals, imitating clumsy birds landing on the feeder.  I perfected the nose-plant.

Paul Rapai, Marion Pitts, Suzanne Klein, Skip Lumley nailed it.

In the midst of my imperfect executions however, there were some real stars.  Paul Rapai, Suzanne Klein, Skip Lumley, Marion Pitts, Jack Kellum, Mary Ann Coyle, Nora Marie VanHove–these older kids were excellent skaters. Gifted with balance, strength and grace, they captivated their audience, both those of us on the fringes, and the adoring crowds on the benches.  They had nailed it.

But as a 12-year-old, I found the boy numbers had thinned, my skating buds had evaporated to the hockey track, and I was accompanied by a few guys who hung on, to witness like I did, that we were surrounded by girls. It was a stunning, magical, delirious moment for an addled kid who until then had been happiest with a pellet gun in the woods.

The girls always dressed up for figure skating.  They wore colourful toques, scarves, furry ear muffs, white gloves or mitts, smart tunics and on occasion, impossibly short skirts and tanned tights.  They had immaculate white skates with bows or jingle bells laced into the toes.  To a one, they had fresh rosy cheeks and bright eyes, lovely curls and some even sported earrings.  In the middle of a cold grey winter I had somehow stumbled into a warm, sunny bakeshop at Easter.

Chris Brown, Bunny Klein. Boys came at premium in the DFSC.

The task of serious figure skating still advanced however.  We were now instructed in drawing crisp, neat figure 8s on our outside and inside edges.  My 8s looked like shaky ampersands. We learned to launch into the air with 3-jumps.  Mine looked like 4s and scratchy 5s.  A simple cutback into a spin left me doodling aimlessly, slowing to a halt after one rotation.  In short, I was a figure skating klutz.

And I was treated that way, pretty much.  But still there were high points.  In the annual competitions I could draw a bronze medal for third place because there were only two other guys in the field.  But best of all, I was indispensable as a dance partner.  We needed boys to partner with girls to perform dances.  So I may have been a solo wash-out, but I truly learned to deliver a passable Dutch Waltz, a Swing Dance, or my favourite, the Canasta Tango.

These dances guaranteed a pairing, arm in arm, hand in hand, eye to eye, with some of the prettiest girls Delhi had.  We strode around the ice to orchestra tapes of Perfidia, Blue Moon, Wonderful Copenhagen… it was surreal, exciting and riveting all at once.  While I may not have ever shared a social word with these girls at school, on the ice it was a joint challenge to perform, and that seemed the winning ticket.

While my hockey friends were scrambling and whooping around the ice like scrappy junkyard dogs, slamming the boards and crossing sticks, I was gliding along smooth arcs, laughing and talking our way through a complicated foot-move in time to Andre Kostelanetz.  While the guys were groaning in the sweaty change rooms breathing the high-sulphur coal-heated air, I was enchanted by the occasional wafts of Breck shampoo, Noxzema and Juiceyfruit gum.   How bad was that?

The ice carnival, exciting, enchanting, memorable.

The climax of the skating season however was the Ice Carnival.  This was the DFSC’s presentation to the town.  It was a top-tier war effort, and in addition to its spectacular performance, the carnival was, to many of us, the most exciting and enchanting event of the season.

More, next week.





9 thoughts on “Down At The Rink 2

  1. Brian Mawhiney says:

    Hi Phil. Was able to pick out quite a few of the kids. Could pick out my future wife. Barb Abele. She passed away in 2003. I had supper with Paul Rapai and his wife on Sunday. He and Skip are still close. I’m thoroughly enjoying your flashes from the past.


    • Brian Mawhiney says:

      Phil this is a personal story that involves curling. Many , many years ago your father called me to see if I could arrange an entry into our premier bonspiel for either your father in law or Chris’. Since I had been the convenor of this ‘spiel for years I was able to work him in when I had a cancellation. We ended up having a marvellous day and your parents came to watch some of the games. A year or so later your father called me and said he had something for me at his office. Your father in law had been to Scotland to participate in a Rotary Bonspiel. He brought a push broom made with pig bristles for me. I was impressed to say the least. He had put a short note in with the broom thanking me for making his team feel so welcome in our small town. I had never seen a push broom before. It brought a lot of laughs when I took it onto the ice. The laughs turned to oohs and aahs when we realized the superior results with less input. I should say we were curling at the golf course when this happened. Now all these years later the push broom has been improved where there are no bristles to come loose. This is one of my memories involving ice in Delhi. Now , the only ice I deal with is in my glass during happy hour. Brian




  2. Hey Brian! What a terrific story! Tom Hamilton was my wife’s Dad. He was a 5th generation Canadian from Perth county, and an avid curler. So much so, that beyond his own playing of the game, he also became a piper, taking lessons and playing well enough that he joined a pipe band in Toronto. He did weddings and POW MIA events. He also piped in “the little rocks” for the young curlers who were just starting to play the game. His legacy is that he has two grandsons, Patrick and Brittain who are curlers today. Patrick is a coach in Uxbridge for little rockers, and Brittain plays every week in East York. Meanwhile back here in Libertyville Illinois, I have two of Tom’s old conventional straw brooms, the “whopper-whompers” which are still in use to sweep off the car on snowy mornings. He was a very thoughtful and gracious man who never forgot a favour, and clearly he thought very highly of you. Thanks for sharing!


    • Brian Mawhiney says:

      Hi Phil , I often relate this story and tell people how I was , through an act of kindness , one of the first curlers in Canada to use the push broom. It’s interesting how after all these years that I was able to share it with you.




      • Brian Mawhiney says:

        The year I had Ruby she was off sick for several months. We had a series of substitutes including Mrs Coyle and Shirley Barker. When Ruby returned she started over and taught the whole course in short order. Some students had a hard time with her teaching methods. My brother was one. He nearly had a nervous breakdown. She didn’t comprehend why every student couldn’t get up and recite memory work in front of the class . Hitting someone with her pointer was not the answer. The year I was in her class was the first year Harold was principal. Many years later Harold and I became very close. One day after a few scotches he told me about Ruby’s “ sick leave “. She had to take anger management classes because of some of her actions in class. She hit one to many students with her pointer. When she hit Bob Smith across the side of his head from behind for not knot being able to recite a sonnet Mary , Bob’s mother approached Harold and it wasn’t long after that she was on sick leave. Today she might have been out of a job permanently. It was ironic that Harold himself was reprimanded for his disciplinary methods.




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