THE PIONEER TRADITION OF SKATING DURING THE CHRISTMAS SEASON
THE PIONEER TRADITION
OF SKATING DURING THE CHRISTMAS SEASON
Winter pastimes were important sporting and social institutions during Pincher Creek’s pioneer era, particularly at the Christmas Season when family and friends gathered to celebrate the festivities. For many, one of the favourite pastimes was that of skating.
PIONEER SKATING POPULAR AS SPORTING AND SOCIAL EVENTS
Rural ranching and farming families from the pre-World War One period often went skating during the annual Christmas Seasons. For them, the outings were both of a sporting and social nature. They enjoyed the exercise which skating offered in the crisp weather of a Canadian winter. The hard work of the ranch meant that those on the frontier were physically fit but the chance to actively participate in an invigorating winter activity such as skating would never by missed. Many would vigorously skate the full length of the frozen pond or lake cleared for the event and others would be out there for hours on end.
Yet for others skating was more than that – it was an opportunity for family and friends to socialize with each other. Given the isolation of the Canadian frontier – there were vast distances between ranches, and travel in this non-mechanized era was time consuming if not down right difficult – there was little opportunity for people to visit back and forth with others beyond their local areas. Skating affairs during those early Christmas eras were informal gatherings where people from near and afar could catch up on the news, discuss the weather and the year’s ranching activities and find out how everyone has been doing.
CLEARING THE SNOW FOR SCHOOL AND FAMILY EVENTS
Christmas skating parties were popular with both the country schools as well as at family gatherings. The traditional one-room school housing grades one through eight often would host skating gatherings or hockey games on a nearby frozen pond or creek bed. These favourite outdoor events often were held over lunch, during a special afternoon event (these would have only been held during the Christmas Season as it was rare to interrupt classes and study time with recreational activities), or on occasion, after school. The latter allowed the event to be played during daylight hours before the children had to be home for their daily chores.
Family skating gatherings usually were evening or weekend affairs, the latter most often being events which the school children could attend. Family members and friends would gather at a house designated for the skating party, one which was located close to a frozen pond or lake. Several of the men and youngsters would gather before hand to physically clear the snow off the ice. If there had been a recent storm, this could be an arduous job. Yet if the snow had drifted part of the surface may have already been cleared and brightly polished, eagerly awaiting the arrival of skaters. Ambitious workers would have attempted to clear as much of the pond as possible which allowed for more skating possibilities. Clearing the skating surface could have taken hours at a time, and given the chance of additional snowfalls, would have to be repeated virtually every time a skating party was planned.
ATTACHABLE SKATE BLADES
Skaters would dress warmly and wear their most sturdy outdoor boots. The skates themselves would be put on once they reached the shore of the pond. There, they would attach the spring loaded clamp-on-skates to the souls of their footwear – there were no “modern skates” back in those days. For the ladies, long blades would be attached to flat healed boots. Children had the option of learning to skate on double-bladed skates which assisted them with their balance. These blades also were adjustable in terms of their length, making them more versatile given the child’s growing size. One of the better-known pioneer skate building companies was that of the Staff Manufacturing Company which was based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Its products could be ordered through the mail order catalogues or purchased at the early general or department stores (remember the old Fraser-McRoberts business downtown?) here in Pincher Creek.
SKATING ACTIVITIES PROVED TO BE POPULAR
Skaters would play on the ice for hours. They would race up and down the length of the skating surface, show off to their friends, and partake in games. Some would start an informal hockey match in one corner, and others attempted the game call “Crack the Whip”, although the potential danger from this activity led many families to discourage it being played. Others practiced fancy skating maneuvers such as figure eights.
Many skaters often would gather at the lakeshore for an after-skating party. There, a bonfire started earlier served as a gathering point, keeping everyone warm. Hot chocolate and homemade Christmas snacks (descendents of our local pioneers tell us the family made desserts were mouth watering!) were served to keep the skaters’ energy levels up. The singers in the group would practice their favourite Christmas carols and the entire groups would have enjoyed a wonderful festive season gathering. Christmas gatherings such as these truly were important events for our ancestors thirsting for sporting and social opportunities.