I read in the PassPort, the Briercrest alumni rag, that Barkman Arena in Caronport is up, running and officially opened. In some ways I want to say, “It’s about time.” They were talking about a new hockey arena when I was in high school–someone had already started fundraising at the time and it looked like I might even play hockey in the new rink, but things fell through. But good for them for getting it up and running.
Sparrow Gardens, the hockey rink in which generations learned to play hockey, has seen better days. It’s old, dusty, cold, and the ice is not regulation size. The PassPort said that it is to be torn down this month, which I noted with a bit of sadness.
I could only find one picture of Sparrow Gardens online (wait–the Moose Jaw Times Herald has a photo gallery with some shots of Sparrow Gardens as well as Barkman Arena, which looks slick):
That’s less than half of the building, but it’s the rink portion. It’s a converted airplane hangar from the days when my hometown was a RCAF training base. It’s one of the few remaining RCAF buildings in town.
And it’s filled with memories.
When we moved to Caronport from the Netherlands in 1985, we lived in “the hangar”–we never called it “Sparrow Gardens”, a name which I think was given to it to try to make less what it is (that is, old, dusty, ugly) during conferences and youth events–although sparrows did fly around in there. We always called it “the hangar” or simply “the rink”. In the picture you’ll notice portions of the building jutting out, with lower roofs. I imagine that back in the RCAF days they housed offices and machine shops. The portions in the picture are now dressing rooms. However, further back on this portion of the building as well as to the right, those jutting parts were, in 1985, apartments in which student families lived, and they looked the same as they do as the portions in the picture (except they had the old RCAF windows in them).
We lived in two different apartments in the hangar in our first two years in Caronport. My best friend at the time (James D., are you out there somewhere?) also lived in the hangar. The first apartment we lived in was right next to the rink and my bedroom was on the inside wall of the apartment, so some nights I went to bed to the sound of pucks hitting the wall and the mesh covering the window.
I don’t remember this, but my mom often recalls a story from our first winter in that apartment in Caronport. I would have been 7-turning-8. It was during the first major snowstorm–cold, big snow drifts, white-outs. My dad would have been familiar with them from his days in Caronport in the late ’50s and early ’60s, but for my mom, who had always lived in relatively mild winter climates, this was completely new and terrifying. And it just so happened that during that snowstorm I didn’t come home when I was supposed to. My mom immediately had mental pictures of me frozen in a snowdrift somewhere in the village and both she and dad walked into the storm to look for me, calling my name. But they didn’t find me.
I don’t know what brought it to mind to look where they did–desperation, I suppose–but they found me sitting in one of the dressing rooms with one of the local hockey teams. I had never left the hangar and had simply lost track of time.
In later years, Christmas holidays–two, three weeks?–would be spent mostly in the rink. Many of the kids and some of the adults who were still in town for Christmas would be at the rink first thing in the morning and play shinny all day–maybe stopping for lunch, but then rushing right back afterwards to keep playing. Those were great days. Looking back, it’s strange to think of the people who joined us to play. We had children and adults playing at the same time, people who played very well (I believe Ryan Smyth may have shown up once–he used to play for our high school team) and people who could barely skate. Even the president of Briercrest Schools (Dr. Barkman himself) came out every now and then (he was among the very good players).
Christmas holidays in those days were about all-day pickup hockey, until one year some parent complained that there was no free skate time for the figure skaters and non-hockey players. So rink officials stepped in and gave them their timeslot as well. Picture in your mind 15 or 20 hockey players of various ages, sticks and skates in hand, standing on the bleachers watching one or two little girls twirling around the rink, waiting for them to be done their one or two-hour time-slot. It was an injustice.
In the summer, the hangar was a cool refuge from the dry, 35-degree weather. And there were no grasshoppers there. The summer of ’85 was the worst year for grasshoppers I’ve ever experienced. I would step near a 6″x6″ patch of grass and what would seem like hordes of grasshoppers would jump up and buzz around me, crawl on my shirt. I had never seen such a creature before. I was terrified. But they didn’t go in the hangar. Too cool, maybe.
The hangar was dusty and a little damp, too, as I recall. It was filled with all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies–places kids would climb into, passages under the floor connecting the hangar to different parts of the old air base. Rumour had it that some of those nooks and crannies had rat poison in them, but I suspect that was said to keep the kids away. I never saw a rat in the hangar. But it was probably not the healthiest place to spend summer days. I remember mom telling us to go outside all the time. Being out of the apartment but inside the hangar didn’t count.
Back in the day, Caronport, being a “Christian town”, banned trick-or-treating and legend had it that on All Hallows’ Eve, Satanists from Moose Jaw would come into town and do all kinds of Satanisty things. Nobody ever explained what sorts of things those would be–we never found skinned cats or any other such rumoured-to-be evidence of Satanist activity. Except for the one year that a couple of friends found what appeared to be a pentagram drawn in chalk underneath the old wooden bleachers in the hangar. In chalk. We all bought it and were creeped out.
In later years, the apartments in the hangar were converted into more dressing rooms and weight rooms.
And now it is going to be torn down. But, if I may speak sentimentally for a moment, I hold onto the memories.
I hope to get out to Caronport this summer or maybe next, just to wander around the place again.