Winter evenings were spent skating on the mill pond

 In Opinion

Every time I drive down Collingwood Street and pass the arena I feel very sad. Ice time in Creemore has always filled our winters with a great deal of fun. I have spent many happy hours skating there but I know there are others who have spent more time there than I have.
In one way or another Creemore people have always found ice to skate on and perhaps this winter someone will flood an area and the skates will come out again.
The first record that comes down to us tells us of skating on the mill pond which was on the south side of the river at the end of Mill Street. The mill was a busy spot. A bridge crossed the river there to make easy access. People also skated on the river which frequently had a smooth coating of ice. The mills upstream would  let water out of their dams to run the mills in daytime, the rising water then flowing over the ice. There are stories of skating to and from Avening.
Winter evenings were spent skating on the mill pond in the era of 1900 and possibly before. The boys were good skaters and tried to teach the girls to skate.Some evenings two men, one of them Andy Johnston, provided mandolin and guitar music.
This was where people skated until in 1903-1904 an open rink was run by George Hinds on the lot between what is now Victorian Values and the former Creemore Kitchen. It was sold in 1905 to Mr. Elias Leonard of Sovereign Hotel fame. The lot was purchased for $200, a big price for land at that time.
Mr. Leonard built a large, long wooden building with a north side alley way, two dressing rooms, one for the ladies, one for the men, and at the west side of the arena, fairly high off the ground, a room which was called the band room. Mr. Leonard and his wife, who was a beautiful skater, ran the rink for many years. Mr. Dave Nicol rented it. Children paid ten cents plus one cent tax.
The above information comes to us from the unpublished memoirs of Pansy Benelle written in 1966. Pansy lived at the north end of Mill Street.
Wallace Timmons, writing to The Creemore Star in 1978, remembers that this rink was closed in the early 1920s and that Dave Nicol was still in charge at that time. He recalls, “I learned to play hockey in the old rink and Bill Emmett was the coach…They had a costume party every winter and skating every Saturday night and it was crowded. It was a very narrow rink and one was apt to get squeezed along the boards.”
The carnivals were very popular events. Lengthy reports came from The Creemore Star. They were sometimes delayed for a week while ice conditions improved. In 1908, 94 people dressed in  costumes,  wearing masks for part of the evening were reported attending. Others attended as well but were not allowed on the ice  until the judging was done. Prizes were given for the best dressed man, woman, boy, girl, and for comic costumes, for the best pair of skaters and for races.
The skaters swirled around the ice to the accompaniment  of Creemore Civic Band. Much creativity was shown. There were the Goddess of Liberty, Red Riding Hood, Dutch girl, midshipman, Red Cross nurse, King of Diamonds and jockeys.
Miss Benelle, in her memoirs, recalled many happy hours as a girl on the rink. “I’m sure I spent hundreds of hours skating there. Often Mina Stacey and I would leave home soon after 7 p.m., go to the rink, sit on the snowbank and change our footwear to skates and would be the first on the ice when the doors opened at 7:30. By the time our usual skating pals arrived we were getting tired, but we were often the last ones to leave and how we loved to do square corners.” (That is when the skaters swooped into the corners rather than cutting them off by skating in a curve). The east half of the rink had a wooden floor and in the summer we roller skated. This was called the roller rink.
All of this came to an unhappy end in 1922 when the rink was closed and all the equipment taken out. If I had been alive then I would have been devastated. But I have learned over my lifetime that the people in Creemore can arise to any difficulty. And that is what I will write about next month. `

Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long-time contributor to The Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.

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