I had never been away from my New Glasgow hometown for such a long time. When I drove into town last week, it had been eight months since I’d “been home.” I felt almost like a stranger as I came in East River Road from the Trans-Canada exit at Blue Acres.
My destination that day was the Breakwater Restaurant in downtown Pictou where a group of relatives and friends converged for lunch and lots of catch-up chatter. They were from Pictou County, Prince Edward Island, even Rhode Island. But I couldn’t be in the area without the usual side trip. I had to make “the rounds of town” in New Glasgow.
I had previously vowed a number of times – in my column and to myself – that I wouldn’t go along South Washington Street again. I didn’t want to see where John Brother MacDonald Stadium stood so proudly for 68 years.
One day last November I did drop by the site. At that time, the wrecking crew had just smashed its way through the north side of the building. Even that early sign of demolition upset me. So many memories were about to be physically stricken from the landscape.
As I passed the Aberdeen Hospital last Tuesday, I still didn’t know if I could “take a look.” But as I reached the intersection with MacGregor Street, I realized I couldn’t just drive through and head downtown.
Curiosity got me.
I put on my blinker lights at the last moment and made the left turn. I instantly felt I was somewhere I had never been before. There was no sign of the Stadium, no sign of the big gravelled parking lot where I parked so many, many times.
But even with all the construction activity going on, I could pinpoint the exact point where the rink had stood since 1951.
There was plenty of construction activity as I reached South Washington and, though the sign said the extension to the street was closed, I drove into the area anyway. Just like I used to.
The multi-coloured, one-storey structures that have already been built were unlike any others in town. I didn’t hang around very long. I saw enough. I saw many life memories vanishing before my eyes.
Was I really in this part of town where I watched the first hockey game played there? Where I saw so many more games through the years. Where John Brother hired me to cover high school games for the radio station, the beginning of my long career. Where I served as public address announcer and scorekeeper for many years and many leagues. Where I watched John Hamm score the first goal ever by a local player. Where I was working the bench when a young Lowell MacDonald scored all of his team’s 14 goals one Saturday morning.
I could go on and on. But I won’t.
I wanted to check a few other changes in town since my last visit.
I went along McColl Street, westwardly towards Stewart and Glasgow streets, to see where Maritime Steel operated for some 100 years, the workforce usually exceeding 200 men. I even thought of the Maritime Steel hockey club that played in industrial and commercial leagues with guys like John Dorrington and Mick Melanson..
This day, however, I was looking at a large vacant property, almost 20 acres in size, I’m told.
I thought of a great many fellows who earned a good living in that old place. Gone now, but surely not forgotten. I thought, too, of Wayne Harris, the co-owner who bought the property. In the 1960s, I bowled with and against Wayne numerous times at the Heather Lanes over on the west side. The bowling alley, as well, is gone.
I took a few minutes to make my trip around the downtown – up Provost Street, down Archimedes and back again. A route I used to circle many times a day. It’s so different now.
I’m actually getting used to the fact the tallest structure in the county, the Maritime Building, is just a vacant lot. I’m also becoming accustomed to not seeing many of my old haunts like McCarrons Tea Room, the Coffee Pot, Royal Sweets, Goodman’s, Waldren Studios, the Norfolk Hotel, Woolworths, the Met, Zellers. So many missing places.
I no longer feel I’m in New Glasgow when I circumvent the area, stop signs at intersections that used to be clear sailing in the days when I drove around and around.
More than anything, though, the changes on South Washington hit home the hardest. It was like somebody in the family had been taken without my permission. It was like a big part of my heart had been cut away.
I’m from the generation that was growing up when there was no indoor rink in the community. I had begun to watch hockey games at the old Arena Rink down by the East River. When that facility became history, there was nowhere to see or play hockey except in Stellarton and Pictou.
When children from the town schools paraded through the downtown in the late 1940s, chanting “We want a rink,” I was one of the hundreds who believed this was the way to get something done. Sure enough, within a couple years, New Glasgow Stadium opened. A generation of school kids realized their dream.
It’s heart-breaking how my age group saw a beautiful new rink built in our town, only to live to see it demolished.
Even though I’ve lived away from the county for half a century – watching hockey regularly in Halifax, Dartmouth and Cole Harbour, and in the big arenas in Toronto, Montreal, Boston and beyond – it was the Stadium, there in my hometown, that produced more wonderful memories than any other place.
To paraphrase an old saying, they can demolish the building, but they can’t enter our hearts and take away the good times we experienced.