Hockey on the lawn
by Mel Robertson
The title "Hockey on the Lawn" may suggest field hockey or stick ball hockey but in 1920 Burford it was hockey on the lawn and the lawn concerned was the behind No. 12 King Street East.
The reason for the creation of this rink was the fact that the old cavalry drill shed that had served as a rink, had burned, leaving Burford with no place to skate.
The old drill shed which stood on the grounds now occupied by Manley Beams residence, had been a lively community centre in the winter. It was no Maple Leaf Gardens, of course, but it did provide a large level dirt surface that could be flooded easily and there were facilities for both hockey and pleasure skating. During the winter the place was crowded every night and
papers of the day are full of reports of fancy dress carnivals where up to 250 skaters waltzed to such tunes as The Passionate Dream" and "The Joli Waltz" two favourites of Andrew Messecar and the Burford Brass Band. At other times the rink resounded to the howls of Burford hockey mobs as they invaded the ice and forcibly ejected any visiting hockey player who got too rough with the local team.
When the drill shed burned in 1920 there was an immediate cry for a replacement. Since funds were not available to cover the construction of a new rink and since the government was not about to build a new drill shed, the local Chamber of Commerce began to took about for the site of an outdoor rink somewhere near the centre of the village. The best sport for this enterprise" seemed to be the lawn behind No. 12 King Street East. This property (which was also known as; the ofcf Padfield residence)) was owned by Holy Trinity church and the front part of the residence was employed as a parish hall. However, the back part of the house which was not used by the church, seemed to offer ideal accommodation for a rink and skaters. There were two large rooms for skate changing, a nearby well, a large level lawn and a commodious backhouse. The church gave permission for the use of its property. A pump and a length of hose were obtained from the local lawn bowling club and someone provided a gasoline engine.
As soon as the weather got cold a manager was obtained and an ice surface was started on the lawn. This was no easy task as it meant slow watering until a base was created. Plastic sheets; were not available to retain the water and the rink man could be seen at all hours of the night walking back and forth dragging the frozen hose and spraying a piddling jet of water on the snow and grass. Wet boots and wet mitts were the order of the night and I don't think that there was much salary attached to the job. I do not. remember the names of these devoted citizens but they deserved all the credit they could get.
For the first year, the village could not afford to buy boards and the rink was a mere ice surface surrounded by high banks of snow that increased in height as the rink operator scraped the ice with an 18 inch scraper and piled the snow he got. This was another onerous task as it meant many walks end to end of the rink day and night. The ice surface was not entirely level as the south west corner had a distinct slope. This incline was a great benefit to young skaters who were trying to learn how to 'lake strokes" as they could stride down this: incline and fall into the snow bank at the edge.
After the rink had proved to be a success, boards were bought. These were not the smooth boards we see at the local arena but rather rough splintery planks nailed together in sections of four and braced with two by fours. Chicken wire was installed at each end of the rink to catch pucks, and strings of lights were put up. Hockey goals were constructed and the rink was ready for action.
However, before the first game, it may be interesting to describe the hockey goals. They were made of two by fours nailed together and covered with chicken wire. They held together for the first few games but eventually shots on goal loosened the nails and the whole goal would begin to sag and flop leaving the goalie with the task of not only trying to stop shots but also of holding up the goal. Other hockey facilities did not exist. There were no players' benches or penalty boxes. Opposing teams mingled by the only exit gate along with anyone serving a penalty. Referees were distinguished from players by the fact that they carried a bell instead of a stick. There were no linesmen and goal judges stood on the ice behind the goal and signaled a score by raising their hands. This was not a job that men sought as there were no goal creases or goal lines and the goal was not anchored to the ice. Moreover, the poor goal judge had no protection from flying pucks or from players who came skating around the back of the goal.
Hockey teams consisted of about eight players and you skated until you were tired. Slap shots had not been invented but many players could fire a really hard wrist shot. Others developed what was called a "floater" which was a long shot lofted about the lights with the hope that the goalie would lose sight of it and a goal would be scored on the second or third bounce. There were only three markings on the ice - two red lines and a centre button. Forward passing was out and stick handling was a highly developed art. There was no timer other than the referees watch and spectators had to remember the score. This may sound very primitive to the modern hockey player or fan, but the games I remember were interesting and I do not recall any of the fighting that takes place in the modern game.
The ice surface was not flooded between periods and the only treatment given was a good scraping by whoever was ready to grab a scraper. Spectators stood in the snow around the rink and joined the referee and players whenever there was a search for a puck that had been shot over the boards. Admission was free and it was not uncommon to have a hundred spectators.
Burford colours were red and black and games were played with Scotland and teams from the Brantford Church and Commercial leagues.
The hockey season was only as long as the weather permitted and when it began to get warm the ice became soft and patches of grass would appear in areas exposed to the sun. Then it was really "hockey on the lawn which was made notable by the skill certain players had of being able to get over the grassy spots without losing stride, or the puck. These players were calledwar horses and woe betide anyone who got in their way as they galloped over the grass for they could get a good purchase" on the dirt and thus hand out a gut wrenching body check.
Skating began each evening at 7 with an hour of free hockey. Everyone turned out and sides were chosen. Rules were few and things were so disorganized that it was great fun. No one graduated to the NHL from these scrambles but men who took part in them still recall these ice battles with great pleasure.
At 8 o'clock a bell was rung or someone yelled
times up and the rink was given over to pleasure skating.
Admission was 15 cents for skating until 11 p.m. when another bell was rung and the rink was turned over to the rink manager who had to spend a couple of lonely hours scraping the surface and flooding the ice.
As regards pleasure skating I don' suppose that there have been many basic changes apart from music. At the Parish Hall rink it consisted of people skating anti clockwise around the rink either singly or in pairs. When it came to pair skating there were several schools of thought as to the- correct way to do it. One maintained that the best way was just to link arms with the girls of your choice and skate off. This was the cosiest method that worked exceptionally well as long as both skaters coordinated their strokes. The purist school of pair skating insisted that the only way to skate in pairs was to cross arms with your partner, i.e. the left hand held the partners right hand and
the right hand her too. This was very graceful when practiced by good skaters but did cause problems', on the corners. Often another school of thought that was held by older "fancy" skaters who insisted that the only correct way to skate in pairs was to carry a short cane which both skaters grasped in the cross hand method. People with speed skates, or feachers", maintained that the only correct way to skate was with one, or both hands, behind the back. All this was rather formalized in the 1920s when boys and girls were considerably more shy than they are today. Then the girls stood along the boards while the boys congregated in the middle of the ice trying to get the nerve to ask a girl to skate with them. However, amid all the formality a bit or eroticism crept in. I was told recently by a 1920s skater that if you were skating with a girl you really fancied you put your hand inside her mitten and held her bare hand. I was astonished to hear that one of our teachers, who we imagined had no human feelings, liked to skate in this way. There was no figure
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skating in the 1920s as we know it today. A few older skaters, like Bob Balkwill, could do a figure eight but that was as far as anyone tried to go. There were, however, a number of skaters who did tricks that could not be practiced on enclosed rinks. One of these tricks was to skate as fast as possible and then jump the boards into the snow pile behind them. This was fool hardy to say the least, as the boards were full of splinters and on some sides of the rink there1 was a wire fence. Therefore, anyone jumping too long, or too short, was apt to encounter a problem. Another display of skill and stupidity was to skate as fast as possible and then with a sideways jump try to make a skate mark on one of the poles holding the electric lights which were located just outside the boards.
Skating on the outdoor rink did not last for the entire winter. The late Albert Judge who operated an open air rink at the high school in the 1930s, kept records and noted that 17 days was the longest time that skating was possible before' there was a thaw, or skaters lost interest. However, in the 1920s people were not diverted by motor cars or radio and the Parish Hall rink
was very popular. Carnivals were held at regular intervals with one of the local merchants devoting an entire window display to the prizes. These events attracted many fancy dressed skaters but since there was no Burford band, people had to hum or whistle their own accompaniment. After a few years of operation
behind the Parish Hall, the rink was moved to the public school grounds. It flourished there for a few years before it was transferred to the high
school. Finally, due to the inability to get managers, it closed completely and skaters had to be satisfied with other ice surfaces until our present
arena was built.
Was the old Parish Hall rink a success or a failure? In answering that question I can only cite my personal
experience. I learned to skate there and through most of my life I have found that skating was one of the most relaxing and pleasant pastimes. I
feel sure that most of the other skaters who got their start there will say
the same thing.