The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the December 15, 2010 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Wakefield rink makes road trip to the past

by By Phil Cohen and Louise Schwartz

Old-timers in Wakefield are doing a double-take these days as they drive along Riverside Drive, just south of Cafe Molo, behind the former site of Hamilton Motors.

Here, a community ice rink has taken shape at its temporary home, while the keenly-anticipated Wakefield Community Centre is built. Anyone over a certain age will recall the spirited hockey games played in the village for more than 30 years, beginning in the 1940s.

The Way We Were
The first ice skating rink in Wakefield beside La Pêche Creek. The clubhouse for the Wakefield Community Club is seen on the horizon. Circa 1930. Photo courtesy Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

Aside from occasional forays onto the frozen Gatineau River, outdoor skating in Wakefield began some 90 years ago. The fIrst ice rink was well placed along the La Pêche Creek (where Le Moo sits now), behind the MacLaren General Store. Life-long resident, Irwin Stewart (born in 1920), recalls a rink being there when he was a child. To maintain the ice surface, water was hauled from the creek in buckets, poured into huge barrels, and then dragged by horse to the rink, where it dribbled from the barrels via a pipe with multiple holes.

In 1941, MacLaren's burned down and was never rebuilt. Sometime later, the rink was relocated behind Hamilton Motors. In 1951, Fred Hamilton sold a northwest corner of his property, along with a right of way, to the Wakefield Athletic Club, a local club formed after the end of the Second World War. The rink behind Hamilton's had electricity and, at first, only a basic shack (called the "rink shack"). It was big enough room to accommodate two hockey teams, who warmed themselves around a makeshift barrel wood stove between periods. In the 1960s, the Athletic Club built a two-storey cinder-block structure, with two dressing rooms and a canteen which served up hotdogs and soft drinks. The upstairs room had a hardwood dance floor with a juke box, sometimes supplemented with live music from local musicians. This was a popular dance venue and even Harry Fairbairn played the fiddle there on occasion. To raise money, the club charged 25 cents to anybody who came to watch the hockey games. This wise move allowed hiring of an official, non-partisan. Before that, brawls were known to erupt, especially by visitors claiming penalty calls went against them when the referee was a local. Flooding the second Wakefield rink was as laborious as coating the first. Using an improvised "backyard Zamboni" technique, volunteers using pails would fill two 45-gallon barrels at the creek (behind the current Chez Eric location). A horse would then pull a stone boat to drag the barrels over to the rink, where the water would be tipped from them onto the ice surface. Since the rink was regulation size (200 feet by 80 feet), this meant plenty of trips to the creek.

The Way We Were
The 1948 Wakefield hockey team after losing to Gracefield. Clarence Hamilton, who later became their coach is front row centre. Photo courtesy Clarence Hamilton.

Later on, a hose and a pump replaced the horse and barrels, and water was drawn from a nearby well. Because the well would occasionally be pumped dry, the club eventually installed a pipe under Valley Drive to draw water directly from the creek. Hockey had a huge following, with leagues representing every community. The Central Gatineau Hockey league included Wakefield, Low and Kazabazua, Farrellton and Venosta. The Lower Gatineau Hockey League comprised Chelsea, Farm Point, and Masham. Long-time hockey player and coach Clarence Hamilton, whose father, Fred, had sold his land for the rink, still has two jackets from the time he coached the Wakefield team. His squad, which included Brian McGarry, won the Central Cup three years in a row, between 1969 to 1971. In the early 1970s, interest in organized village sports died out and the Athletic Club sold its facilities to Wakefield for $100. The rink remained behind Hamilton's until 1976, when it was relocated for a third time to its Valley Drive home, where Wakefielders enjoyed it to the end of winter last season. The grand opening of the ice rink at its new (old) location takes place this month. Prepare to lace up your skates and reminisce with friends and neighbours as you glide along the ice surface of this historic site. Then hold on for January, which brings Dragonfest, the annual village celebration of winter, to this same venue.

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