As safe as … a game of hockey

In a hundred years of hockey in Canada, kids and skates and pucks belong together.

It didn’t matter how early on a Saturday, he still came with me. Even if he’d worked half the night getting his last newspaper column of the week finished at the Globe and Mail, and even if we played the first game of the day at 6 a.m., my dad was always there. He helped me tie my skates, made sure my Butch Goring helmet was in place, and sent me onto the ice to play house-league hockey. I felt secure too, seeing him at the end of the outdoor arena, through the chain-link fence, cheering us on.

“Go, Agincourt, go,” I heard him shout between puffs on his cigarette.

Having a parent take me to the rink felt supremely comforting. And, as I remember, we had a couple of coaches – volunteers – who made sure we had sticks, pucks and jerseys. It was always reassuring to have those familiar people there for us. A virtual security blanket.

Add water and stir imagination

Flooding a backyard ice rink the old-fashioned way.
Flooding a backyard ice rink the old-fashioned way.

It was like that 1981 movie, “Cannonball Run,” in which a bunch of fast-car addicts get a telephone call and immediately drop what they’re doing to join a cross-country auto race. Well, even if you don’t know the movie, suffice to say a couple of Saturdays ago I got a phone call from one of my hockey pals to assemble a work party.

“My house,” Mike MacDonald texted, “about 10 a.m.”

When I first arrived at Mike’s place, just after 10, nobody was there. But within seconds several of Mike’s neighbours, Kirk Buchanan, Scott Clayworth, Jamie Steele and Jim Sproxton emerged from their homes and converged on Mike’s garage. In seconds, they’d rolled up the door and were rifling through a pile of wood in the garage. Since this was my first time, I just offered to assist.

Call of the bell

If this doesn't look familiar, read on.
If this doesn’t look familiar, read on.

For those of a certain age, the sound of this bell is unique. It’s distinct from a church bell, a bicycle bell, a carillon bell, and even a fire engine bell. As close as I can put into words, it goes, “Ca-clang, ca-clang,” in a slow, swinging, walking-like rhythm. And it has a very specific translation for those of us who remember it.

“I’m nearby, on your block,” it says. “I’m here for one thing. So, come to the curb if you need your knives, scissors or garden tools sharpened.”

Just how cold was it?

That Fort McMurray hilltop where we tried to beat the cold with our introductions, in November 1985.
That Fort McMurray hilltop where we tried to beat the cold with our introductions, in November 1985.

We had been sitting inside our TV crew van for about 15 or 20 minutes, waiting. We weren’t about to venture outside until things were ready for us. Meantime, my co-host – Lee Mackenzie – and I, rehearsed what we would say. We wanted to make sure, the moment our producer called for us to speak our lines in front of the camera, outside, that we could deliver the introduction to our TV show in one take (without any mistakes). Why? Well, our camera location was on a hill overlooking Fort McMurray, Alberta, in wintertime. The temperature outside our van that day was about –40. Eventually, all was ready and we dashed outside, took our spots, rolled the video and spoke our lines.

“Hi, I’m Lee Mackenzie,” she said.

“And I’m Ted Barris,” I said. “Welcome to ‘Monday Magazine’ from Fort McMurray…”

No honour in silence

When I attended public school in the village of Agincourt (now part of Scarborough) because it was nearly a rural school the playground was sizable. Still, during recess, the boys in my class had to find the tallest maple tree – just off school grounds – to climb. The principal realized if one of us were hurt, he’d be liable. So he declared the tree “off limits.” That didn’t stop us. One day, we were blithely enjoying the tree, when out strode Principal Kilpatrick in a rage. Everybody ran for cover… except me.

“Were you playing in that tree?” Kilpatrick asked me directly.

“Yes,” I said, because I couldn’t hide the fact.

Passage out of childhood

For some it’s the first ride on the Ferris wheel or the bumping cars. It might be that first night public skating and holding hands with someone of the opposite sex. For a lot of young people it’s Prom night. I guess it depends on when the parents in the equation think the son or daughter is ready to move from childhood toward adulthood. For me, that move came at an unusual moment. It came, after harassing my mother for months, when she finally relented.

“OK, OK,” she said. “You can go, but you have to go with friends.”

You see, when I was about 10 or 12 years old, the place we considered the ultimate destination was the Royal Ontario Museum.

A skate of passage

Grandfather and granddaughter celebrate "skate" of passage.
Grandfather and granddaughter celebrate "skate" of passage.

Our family enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime moment last weekend. It was one of those events that almost always happens in this country. You can bet on it each winter when snow falls, ponds freeze and community recreation centres shift to wintertime activities. This rite of passage began a few weeks ago – at Christmas – when it was agreed our granddaughter would take her first skate this winter.

“I’ve got the bob skates,” my daughter told me last week. “Let’s take in a pleasure skate at the arena.”

“I’ll be there,” I said.