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By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society

The winter time sports of skating and hockey always had a broad appeal throughout the history of the Pincher Creek area. This particularly was true of the rural districts anxious to participate in these Canadian traditions while visiting with their ranching and farming neighbors. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, these local sporting traditions were well established.

In spite of living outside of town, rural skaters were welcome to utilize the Pincher Creek Skating Rink. Like their curling counterparts, the Skating Rink was located on the north side of the creek, east of Wentworth Avenue during the 1920s and 1930s. This is the site now occupied by the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. The rinks were managed by James Saunders, a community minded fellow who was a veteran of the South African War of 1899 to 1902. During the winter of 1929-30, children could skate at the arena on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 6 in the afternoon as well as from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. General skating (open to all age groups) was slated each evening Mondays through Saturdays. Skating schedules were subject to having good winter weather.

Long considered a winter treat, skating in the rural areas was held on frozen lakes and creeks. Before a skating party or local hockey game, adults and older children would head out to shovel the snow off the ice. A bon fire often was started at the lake shore where the skaters could warm up. Skates were laced up on shore. Clamp-on blades could be attached to work or outdoor boots and used for skating. Bob skates consisting of two parallel blades oft were used by young children just learning the sport.

McDowell Lake on the Windymere Ranch just northeast of Beaver Mines was one such favourite skating point. Warm weather in mid-January 1931 resulted in the ice melting and the lake being open but two very cold days, a Friday and Saturday, hardened the ice immensely. The younger crowd reported a very successful skating party after church that Sunday afternoon. Given the changeable winter weather and ice conditions, skaters needed to be careful.

Nearby Lee Lake was popular with pioneer skaters. Its narrow widths and deep depths in areas provided easy access and often thick ice for skating. To the south of Pincher Creek, Marr Lake also was a hit with skaters, particularly due to its close proximity to the Marr School which operated (with some closures) from 1917 to 1959. A small lake just to the south of the Twin Butte School saw many a student skating on it for over half a century of winters. Youngsters would sneak over there during lunch and recess breaks or try a round of skating after classes before heading home for chores.

Down at Waterton Lakes National Park, the sheltered Lake Linnet was a favourite skating spot. One such gathering was a Sunday afternoon in very early December 1930 when cold temperatures resulted in ideal ice conditions. Between forty and fifty community members of all ages were skating. On shore was the traditional bon fire. Lake Linnet’s skating popularity was due to its good ice conditions and shelter from the elements – the trees and hillside usually protected it from the worse of the weather. It was much more sheltered than the three Waterton Lakes. Lake Linnet also provided easy access to Waterton residents and generally could be accessed by rural residents to the north if the weather and road conditions were good. Remote mountain retreats like Bertha and Cameron Lakes usually were inaccessible during pioneer winters.

Rural hockey also was a hit nearly a century ago. One such match, dating Thursday, January 10th, 1929, saw the hockey teams from Waterton Lakes and Twin Butte compete on open ice near Glasgow Hill. The Waterton team won by a score of five to one. Three days later, a second game was played, this time down at Waterton. It was one of the fastest games in recent memory. Waterton was victorious again, winning three goals against Twin Butte’s two. Large crowds were in attendance for both games.

Two years later saw another ideal skating season. The open rink at Fishburn was flooded and easily froze. Skaters were in abundance enjoying the ice. The Fishburn hockey team challenged their friends in the Marr District to the southwest to a match. A very competitive game at Marr Lake was hard fought with the Marr team being victorious. A good time was had by all.

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