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PIECES OF OUR PAST | Winter skating in Pelham over the years

'The Pit' provided fond memories for many

My sons and nieces come home on Labour Day weekend, from San Diego, Ottawa, Florida. Whenever they come, we take a tour of their home town to see what’s changed from their last visit. First stop was the new community center. Wow, was the operative word. As we were walking through, so many of their memories of when they were kids came forth. They reminisced about skating and playing hockey on the rink in Marlene Stewart Streit Park, lovingly known, at that time, as “the pit.” My son Todd remembered helping Mr. Damm clear the ice before practice and games. They commented on how neat it was to skate outdoors, under the lights. They all remembered on how cold it was. Next, they talked about the old arena and being warm, even in the change rooms!

So, I thought a bit of “ice history” would be interesting.

I talked with Lenora Horne, Paul Ryan, Lloyd Beamer, and Ralph White about their skating memories. Eleanor (Klager) Arbour gave me “History of The Village of Fonthill” prepared by the Fonthill Women’s Institute, February 7 1963.

The first rink anyone remembered was on the corner of South Pelham and Linden Streets, across from the Anglican Church. Bob Reid and Don Lacy flooded it and the neighbourhood kept it clear of snow. Skating was free.

In the 1940s, the rink moved to the corner of Station and College Streets. Sawdust was put down first and then multiple flooding until an ice surface developed. Once again, it was a community effort. Harley Keller, Harold Coons and Otto Clark would flood it at night.

There was a pot-bellied stove to keep warm and Sis Coons made hotdogs and hot chocolate. If you helped clear the ice, skating was free, otherwise it was 10 cents.

I heard so many old Fonthill names— Les Timms, Jim Perkins, Ralph Horne, Fred and Harry Crafter, the Giles family. Everyone took part to make skating and shinny happen for the community.

In 1939, the Village of Fonthill began to build a park in the ravine north of Highway 20. An opening was held on May 24 1939. At that time, the one big difficulty was that of finding a suitable entrance. Then the Fonthill Lions got involved. They purchased the roadway rights and Park Street made the Park accessible. Beginning in 1945, the club built the rink, the bandstand, the baseball diamond, and installed the floodlights.

At first the base for the ice was made with sawdust, but then the club was able to pave with asphalt. Members of the Lion’s Club, along with volunteers such as Bill Pitken, Harold Robins and Paul Ryan helped flood and clear the ice.

In the 1950s, the Fonthill Lions gave the park to the Town. Refrigeration was put in, which made the ice surface available for a much longer time.

We had so many boys playing hockey during the ‘60s. Practices started at 6 AM so that everyone could be accommodated. There was a “dawn patrol.”One or two dads would pick up the boys, take them to the rink, probably coach them, then take them back home, where they would get ready for school. Gord Smith remembers going down to watch his sons play and how cold it was for everyone in the “pit”—players and spectators alike.

We outgrew those facilities and plans got underway to build an arena.

Where to put it was a challenge. It had to be placed where there were services—water and sewers. The property on Haist Street was chosen. It had the services, was easily accessible to all parts of the town without causing congestion to built-up areas, and there was enough room for parking, other recreational activities and room for expansion. The cost of the whole project was $525,000.

Mayor Harold Black challenged us all for donations to the Arena Fund. We, as citizens, needed to reach $131,000. This would be matched by the province. Everyone pitched in, from the Fenwick and Fonthill Lions, the Kinsmen Club, the Legion, churches, schools, businesses and individuals. We did it! We also received money from Wintario. Because of our efforts our taxes were raised only $4 a year.

Then it happened. Construction proceeded and our arena was ready! It was built to twin, just in case we needed to expand. Over the next 40-plus years, it saw everything from hockey, figure skating, lacrosse to dances and art shows.

Because we as citizens worked so hard to “get it done,” we felt very proud of our efforts. It really was “ours.”

I hope that this wonderful new facility—the Meridian Community Centre— that we now have will turn out to be just as good and even better than the last.

Originally published in February 2019.