Photo courtesy of stirling-rawdon.com
Every year, my dad would flood the pond in our Stirling, Ont. back yard to make a rink, he even hooked up an old street light so we could skate late into the evening. It was awesome! I would crunch down the hill, my blades slicing the surface of the snow, to practice my figure-eights alone there for hours — or until my toes got numb. On the odd occasion that we weren’t using it, you could be sure the neighborhood kids were out there, trudging across the cornfield to play hockey on our little rink. In the spring, the ice would melt and Mork and Mindy, a pair of mallard ducks, would move in.
Like a lot of Canadian kids I learned to skate almost as soon as I could walk. I vividly remember using a wooden stacking chair for balance as I looped around and around the Stirling Arena — eagerly anticipating the day I could go fast enough to swoosh to a stop in a flurry of ice and snow. My winter coat was navy blue and my little bob skates were white with fur at the top — my helmet was white and even though I felt it was very unglamorous I needed it. I fell a lot!
The arena was my social hub. I took skating lessons there and I faithfully watched all of my dad’s Old-Timer hockey games there; if the Stirling Saints were hosting a tournament I even got to work at the snack bar, dishing out hot chili and bussing tables in exchange for all the candy I could eat. I went to weddings upstairs at the arena and flew up from Brownies to Guides there. And who could forget marveling at how weird the ice-free surface looked as I scoped out the craft entries at the Stirling Fair before I gleefully ran to the midway.
Two professional hockey players were raised in “the little village with a big heart.” As the sign says when you drive into town, Rob Rae, former Ottawa Senator (I think I went to Brownies with his sister!) and Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins (my mom babysat him!) both called Stirling home. Not bad for a farming community of 1,800 people. Not bad at all.
When I was 13-years-old my family moved away from the rolling Oak Hills of Stirling and sadly, I haven’t been back much since. For a 13-year-old girl it was a good deal — I mean, sure I couldn’t ride my bike to Becker’s or eat popsicles on the covered bridge any more, but I could go shopping at the Oshawa Centre if my dad would agree to drive me. And let’s face facts, to a tween with a fashion conscience, the choice was obvious.
But I’m a suburban parent now, and I find myself longing for the simplicity of small-town life. My kids might have a bevvy of arenas to play hockey in, but no one rink that defines the culture of our entire town. We have a beautiful backyard with a pool but it’s just not the same as skating the winter away on an outdoor rink, where only the cornfield sees if you wipe out.
This weekend, Stirling won the title of Hockeyville 2012! Prizes for this honour include:
- $100,000 in arena upgrades from Kraft
- Hosting an NHL® Pre-Season Game
- A CBC Hockey Night in Canada broadcast from their community