childhood, Culture, Entertainment

Down At The Rink – 3

The Delhi Arena: Home of the Ice Carnival

The Delhi arena was our community center. It housed our public skating in winter and summer, our hockey teams, our figure skaters, our bike races, wrestling matches and the odd magic show.  But chief among its attractions was the Ice Carnival, that happened every March.

Small towns like Delhi enjoy a trait you can’t find in a big city: togetherness.  The Ice Carnival brought together hundreds of parents, children, fans, performers, business leaders, round-the-corner store owners, and just as many more contributors who worked tirelessly in the background, unknown to many of us as they mobilized for this annual event.

Juniors in full clown get-up.

The Delhi Figure Skating Club put on the Ice Carnival. This was the capstone to four months of figure skating instruction.  Youngsters would show up every Wednesday afternoon to learn the basics of skating.  They scrabbled over weak ankles and catchy toe picks that tripped them every time they moved.  Yet four months later, they had mastered forwards, backwards, modest hops and skips, and skating hand in hand with their groups.   The Intermediate and Senior skaters appeared on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, and had learned or polished their ability to execute spins and mid-air jumps, dances in pairs and precise figures.

Fulfilling the dream of being the next star on ice.

All of these accomplishments were the fulfillment of many parents’ dreams of one day seeing their child be the next Karen Magnussen or Toller Cranston.  But in the short term, they would be happy just to see them applauded as a star on ice, and that’s what the carnival promised.

The themes generated ideas for costumes and duets.

Every year the DFSC would choose a theme.  Maybe one time it was Peter Pan, or Wizard of Oz.  The musical Gypsy was nominated one year.  Other times it was Deep In The Heart of Texas, Nutcracker and Aladdin. The theme became the platform for choosing characters which might be Munchkins, or gum drops, Tinkerbell, scarecrows, clowns, broncos, cowgirls, roughnecks, roses, skunks, elephants, pink panthers, candy canes, Belles of The Ball, you name it.

It was a war effort of volunteerism, sewing 100’s of costumes.

The carnival ignited a war effort of volunteerism.  The juniors show would require possibly 200 costumes.  And for each of these, a mother would get a pattern which might be for a teddy bear, to be sewn in three segments.  If she couldn’t deliver, there were sewing dynamos who were skater mothers like Jackie Byron, Hazel Osborne, Yvonne Kelleher, Georgette Rapai, Marjorie Klein who would bang out ten teddy bear costumes, or fifteen skunks with stuffed tails, as long as you brought the material.

A milk maid with her charges.

The theme was rounded out with backdrop and props. Moms and dads would show up to staple 40-inch tin foil around the entire boards of the rink, and string electric lights.   Under the direction of Gord Franklin, sheets of plywood and lengths of 2x4s would appear, and were pounded into scenery walls across the back end of the rink.  Teams of painters would arrive with buckets of tempera to draw forests, and houses, and oil wells, windmills and whimsical street scenes.

Odd man out: boys were in high demand.

Truly, if there were 200 skaters in the carnival, there were 200 parents who helped sew, paint, build and deliver.  One year we required 30 tambourines for a big number.  With some ingenuity Cy Stapleton acquired enough steel pie plates into which he cut and welded flattened, perforated bottle caps that rattled raucously.  Not quite symphonic, but still impressive.

A Swiss Miss with smiling escort.

The music was key for the Ice Carnival.  Under the direction of Floyd Thomas, the Delhi Band would practise and perform perhaps 20 different tunes and bumper segments to bring our solos, dances and parades to life.

The Delhi Community Band delivered sound and rhythm to mobilize the acts.

Meanwhile at the business end of the production, every skater was assigned a group of tickets to sell. These challenges were as daunting as a walk to the principal’s office.  Neighbourhoods were canvassed door-to-door by mumbling, addled urchins with handfuls of card-sized tickets, going for $2,$3,$4 each.  We were exhorted to get them all sold, or don’t come home.

Elves waiting backstage for their cue.

As the day approached, dress rehearsals were convened, and under the stressful din of our instructors we were given our routines. The Juniors were herded in groups of ten or fifteen. Their performance consisting of a couple tours around the ice, perhaps a rotating ring or parade of bunny hops.  The more accomplished were picked to do solos.  The soloists usually got exclusive costumes with more colors or frills or trim.  They were stars.

The girls were dressed in sequins, gloves and tiaras.

The intermediates and seniors had more complex routines to maneuver and there were more opportunities for truly gifted skaters to create and perform solos and duets, showing off impressive turns, spins, jumps and speed. They looked special, and the crowds loved them.

There were always a few dance numbers.  A dozen or more seniors would waltz around the ice while the band played.  The Averys, a very senior and elegant visiting couple would skate the equivalent of a ballroom dance, dressed in tails and evening gown.   They glided around the rink, gracefully, classy, smiling and  wowing the audience with their apparent ease on ice.

The guys grabbed all the comedy routines, in ridiculous outfits.

Ice Carnivals also provided comic humour, and the few remaining senior guys, Paul and George Rapai, Skip Lumley, Mike Byron, Chris Brown, Rob Lammens, contributed. The crowds enjoyed their romps in weird cow costumes, throwing confetti into the bleachers, riding steel wash buckets, pedaling two-seated bicycles backwards on tacked tires, skipping rope and lassoing each other.

The Precision Line on ice was spectacular, and good.

One legacy of the Ice Carnival was its famous precision line.  While most of us at the time did not know of the Rockettes, it was certainly the model after which the senior girls and ladies were instructed. Thirty or more would appear in stunning short-skirted outfits, embellished with ruffles, ribbon, sequins and gloves to dazzle the crowd with powerful confident moves in unison, rocking and skating to the up tempo sounds from the band.  They circled, counter-circled, wiggled and swayed, and finally lined up to deliver a jaw-dropping kick line forwards and backwards.  The precision team became a show piece in the region for years after under the direction of Karen Haskins.

Wizard of Oz, in full dress.

All of these things are indelibly etched in my memory for the years that I participated.  The experience of putting on a show, the excitement and tension of huddling behind a backdrop, surrounded by giggling groups of pretty girls, goofy guys dressed in party gear and faces smeared in grease paint, lipstick and Nivea cold creme like Mardi Gras, waiting for a cue…and the music would start up, the lights dimmed, the spots went on, out we went, and the crowds would cheer… it was a special time.

Thanks for reading and sharing!  I hope you too remember a special time when you were down at the rink!

 

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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.

 

 

 

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