Two youngsters

Looking back: Skating, sledding in Maple Ridge

A column by Sheila Nickols, past president of the Maple Ridge Historical Society.

So far this year, winter seems to have bypassed us.  Our hardy fellow Canadians in the north, the prairies and the east have had an over abundance of snow, while we have seen a few flakes and some frost on the roof. The ice skates and sleds remain in the basement.

You do not need to be an old-timer to remember years when we have had an abundance of snow in Maple Ridge.  After a week or more of freezing weather, children brought out their skates to try their wobbly ankles on frozen ponds. There is a photo from the 1950s in the Maple Ridge Museum archives of a group of children tying their ice skates beside a frozen Whonnock Lake.

Occasional outdoor skating was the only local possibility for children to learn to skate or play hockey before the Centennial Arena was built in 1967 in central Haney.  In earlier years, the Fraser River froze over regularly, but with treacherous open patches of water.  As far down river as New Westminster, horses and sleds were known to cross the ice.

A favourite location for sledding has been the Maple Ridge Golf Course, built on the original McIver farm that gave our district its name.

The farm was turned into the first gold course in the district beginning in 1925. With a good layer of snow, the open slopes on the east side of the course attracted many people to slide down the bumpy ride. Families brought out their sleds and toboggans, or lacking the usual equipment, found pieces of cardboard, tea trays, or anything else that would serve the purpose for an exhilarating ride downhill.

An enterprising group of Hammond youngsters who shall remain nameless spotted a perfect sliding object on the outer wall of a confectionery store. It was an oblong Coca Cola sign, made of metal covered with a shiny enamel surface. They liberated it from the store, and carried it over to the golf course transformed into a sledding hill.

This big sign was large enough to hold about six children, with nothing to hang on to but the person in front of you. It was not a good idea to sit at the back, where a sudden bump could knock your off into the snow. Many trips were made on it, with shrieking children sliding down and trudging back uphill to slide down again.

The bigger and braver boys went a bit further to find what they called Suicide Hill.  This was a sharp downhill followed by a long slide. Riding on this steep slope was only possible on a sled or toboggan, but even on such, few made it to the bottom of the hill without being thrown off. Great fun for thrill seekers.

If someone has a photo of the seasonal sledding on the Maple Ridge Golf Course grounds, the Maple Ridge Museum would appreciate having a copy.

Also, can anyone confirm that the children in today’s photo are from the Churchard family?

Sheila Nickols is past president of the Maple Ridge Historical Society.

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