First impressions are almost always lasting impressions.
That ideology came to mind a few days ago when my oldest granddaughter Claire Townsend and her young hockey teammates travelled to Pictou County for a league game at Stellarton Memorial Rink.
Claire, 10 years old, is the captain of her atom AA girls team, Metro East Inferno. The club includes players from the Cole Harbour, Dartmouth and Eastern Shore associations and plays in what is called the Southern Conference of the Female Hockey Federation.
The opposition was provided by the Fundy-Highland team that is made up of girls from Pictou and Antigonish counties. The ever-improving league is another example of the impressive growth of girls hockey in this province.
It wasn’t the Inferno’s first trip to Pictou County. They had already played Fundy-Highland at the Pictou County Wellness Centre and at the Hector Arena in Pictou. But it was the first time the girls were scheduled for action at Stellarton Memorial Rink.
For most of the Inferno players – if not all of them – it was the first time they had ever seen the aging Stellarton arena. Having played most of their games at Cole Harbour Place and Bedford’s BMO Centre, both modern facilities, it was a bit different for the girls to visit a rink that’s 69 years old.
Afterwards, Claire couldn’t believe it when she was told her “Papa” was in the Stellarton rink when the first hockey game was played there in late 1947.
“Is that true, Papa?” she asked. Yes, Claire, I was there that night.
Her reaction? A loud, lengthy laugh. With an arithmetic exercise dancing in her head, she quickly added, “You were only nine.”
Yes, Claire, I was once that young. What may have seemed like eons ago to a 10-year-old, it actually didn’t seem like seven decades to me, even though I was a year younger than she is now.
In those years just after the Second World War, I used to get to games with my father and an uncle. And the three of us were there in the Stellarton rink on opening night in 1947.
I don’t recall all the details of that particular evening. Time does wipe out some things. What does stick in my mind after all this time was being so impressed by such a big and grand arena. Prior to then, most of the games I saw were in the old downtown arena in New Glasgow, a building that was in the final days of its life.
One thing I always remembered was wearing my Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. I wore it to a lot of games.
In 1947, Stellarton people could brag of having the finest hockey rink in that part of the province. It would be another four years before New Glasgow Stadium opened.
Who played that night 69 seasons ago? The Stellarton Royals in an APC Senior Hockey League game. I never remembered the other team. It could have been the Pictou Maripacs. It might have been the New Glasgow Bombers. Anyway, just being at the first game is what stuck in my mind.
At one stage I must have checked the records, why I know the Royals were coached that winter by the legendary Bobby Beaton. As years passed, as I got into the newspaper business, I got to know Bobby well, got to enjoy his company for years and years. He was one of the true gentlemen of hockey.
As he did in many hockey seasons, Bobby coached those 1947-48 Royals to the APC championship with the likes of goalie Frankie Prozenor, Leo Fahey, Mel Gadd, Stan MacDougall, Porgy MacDougall, Tommy Higgins, Jimmy MacDonald and Lionel Hancock.
Stellarton had one of its best senior years in that initial campaign in the new rink. After taking the league title, they defeated the Windsor Maple Leafs of the Valley Senior League in the provincial semi-finals, before bowing to the powerful Sydney Millionaires.
I saw several games there that winter – on nights when I finished my grade four homework early.
Through time, I enjoyed many, many evenings in that building, not just for hockey, but for some very exciting boxing cards featuring such fighters as Jackie Hayden, Gary Simon, the Hafey brothers and other local fighters. And yes, Bobby Beaton was busy then, too, being one of the province’s finest boxing referees ever.
When the new Wellness Centre opened not very far away, there were reports the county’s other rinks would close.
The Stadium – by then John Brother MacDonald Stadium — though four years younger than its counterpart, did close. A move that still bothers me.
But Stellarton Memorial Rink still stands proudly, across the street from Albions Park, where we, in our youth, enjoyed such wonderful baseball as the Halifax and District Baseball League’s Stellarton Albions.
It will be another sad occasion when it becomes time to shut down Memorial Rink, a place that, for almost seven decades, has been there, a fitting memorial to those who died in the two world wars.
I’ve read the plaque inside many times through the years: “In loving memory of Stellarton’s brave young men who made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of freedom.”
As I outlined in my recently-published book, my career memories include being in many of the great sports stadiums, from Maple Leaf Gardens to the Montreal Forum and Boston Garden, from Yankee Stadium to Fenway Park and Olympic Stadium. Yet I have even fonder recollections of the places at home – from New Glasgow Stadium and Stellarton Memorial Rink to the ball fields in Stellarton, Trenton and Thorburn.
So, yes, Claire, your grandfather does remember being there the night 69 years ago that the Stellarton rink was brand new.
Just as I’m sure, as time passes, you’ll recall playing there.