Every winter when Bryant Park opens its skating rink and I see people walking into the Children's Center with skates hung over their shoulders I am taken back to the time I spent on the ice as a child.
My sister and I learned how to skate on a homemade rink that my father built on top of our vegetable garden. When I read the "Garden Ice" chapter in Ellen Obed's book, Twelve Kinds of Ice, I could completely relate. Our family also had Garden Ice! Every fall, after the last of the summer's vegetables were harvested, my father would even out the soil in the garden and put up planks around the parameter with the help of wooden stakes. After the first snow, my father would go out with a large shovel and pat down the snow. Once the snow was packed down, he would take out the garden hose and begin watering the snow. This process would occur again and again over numerous weeks depending on the snow fall. Other fathers in the neighbourhood would sometimes come over in the evenings to help prepare the ice. They would take straight edged shovels to scrape away any bumps in the ice. There was no Zamboni machine to help smooth things out.
When the rink was ready, a schedule was made. After school, the boys who wanted to play hockey were given free reign of the ice. After dinner, the rink was taken over by little kids and their caregivers. The rink was illuminated with a couple large spotlights and we had an old radio playing music. Many of the young children in the neighbourhood learned to skate in our garden. Old kitchen chairs were used for beginners. We would push the chairs along the ice until we were able to master balance and the footwork needed to skate on our own.
The garden rink became a thing of the past when we moved and began using the public rink. We also practiced our skating moves on the Chambly Canal. My hometown is located along the Richelieu river and every winter we would wait for the subzero weather to freeze the canal. Different colored flags were flown on the edge of the canal to indicate whether the ice was safe or not. Once it was ready, the crowds would hit the ice. Skating on the canal was a big social event and we all had to make the most of the short season.
The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are just around the corner. Watching the skating events will no doubt remind us of times spent on ice as children or maybe even our dreams of Olympic glory. The games will no doubt inspire a new generation so here is a list of books for young skating enthusiasts that you can find in your local library.