Community centre experiences, a lifetime apart

We had to go “into town” to go to our arena. That in itself made it a special event because we only went to town if it rained and to shop.

Today, we ran home from school so that we could to the Memorial Centre and sign up for minor hockey. Mother had my closely guarded birth certificate as we waited in line with a lot of really big “city kids.” You had to keep an eye on them.

I’m not exactly sure that I was ever shown my birth certificate. I know that I needed it one day for something. I guarded it with my life. I’m pretty sure that Mother was waiting at the door when I got home to retake custody of the crumpled parchment document. I don’t think I saw a plastic birth certificate until I was 18.

On this day, we faced a determined group of volunteers at long tables who collected information and cash. My first exposure to the power of adult bureaucracy. Imagine my relief when I was deemed to be a fully registered minor hockey player.

The next stage was the tour of the Memorial Arena. This was not one of those natural surface, wooden trussed, rural arenas. It was a Centre. It had a multiple-use room, artificial ice, a centre ice clock and, wonder of wonders, a Zamboni. They were still dragging a water barrel around the Olympia at the time.

We were taught to be especially respectful because the Memorial in the name meant the arena was built in memory of our war dead. Just imagine stepping onto that stage and grinding your skates into sawdust. My ankles always stood between me and a professional career.

Imagine our excitement when we attended the opening hockey game at our new building. The Red Wings played an exhibition against our local team, the Royals.

Uncle Charlie told us that the Royals were named for The Royal Hotel, a local tavern, and he would know. There were several choices for names: The Park, The Brunswick, The Station, The Midtown, The John Scott, The Talbot and The Grand Central.

My personal favourite was The Devil’s Half Acre. I think my grandmother named that one because she was very down on drink. She would be alarmed that I can recite a comprehensive list of taverns in town.

Back to the big game. We joined a sizeable crowd at the train station to see the Red Wings pull in at noon. Big steam engines were becoming rare but this train had a huge steamer on the front end. The last car was said to be the Red Wings sleeper. After they played the Royals, the Wings would continue east, likely to New York or maybe Montreal.

Anyway, a switcher picked up the sleeper and the diner and took them to a side track by the ball park. We all stood there and waited to see if the Red Wings might appear even at a window. They must have been at lunch in their dining car because nothing moved not even a window shade. “Brutus” the railroad cop eventually drove us away.

Our goalie was a guy from Port Colborne named Ed. We all liked Ed because he would often stick around after the Royals’ practice to take shots from us kids. We wondered how Ed was going to manage against the likes of Howe and Lindsay. The Wings were, after all, the powerhouse of the ‘50s.

We all waited in our seats for the warmup. Then the door opened and there they were. We knew all of their names from “WJR-The Goodwill Station in Detroit.” There was Gordie and Ted flying by the boards in real life. Pretty serious dudes, those Red Wings.

The Royals did okay in the first period. Ed was exceptionally good. We were all cheering for him. He was even outplaying Terry Sawchuck, and he stymied Gordie and Ted. The Royals were flying and checking like fools. I think we were amazed to see that our Royals were tied with the Wings at the end of the first.

Competitive instincts must have eventually taken over. The Wings started to go like it was overtime in seventh game of the Stanley Cup. Poor Ed. It looked like the Wings were now making a game of firing the puck at a six inch triangle at the top corner of Ed’s cage. I don’t remember the score but Ed and the Royals were still our heroes.

It was too late for us to stay and see the Wings take their taxis back to the station. We went home and stood in the yard to hear the train whistle when the Wings left.

What a great day and evening!

Now a long fast-forward to last Saturday, when I had the privilege of working with Mayor Junkin and several volunteers on the Pelham Cares Food Drive at the Meridian Community Centre. It was a very busy place. There seemed to be at least ten different events going on.

Many people tell me that we cannot change the debt and we should learn to really use and appreciate this wonderful facility to the fullest extent possible. I think they are right about that. It is easy for me to transfer my pride and allegiance to our fine centre, a truly iconic symbol of our Town.

As country kids, we were not exposed to figure skating or recreational skating because we were on the frozen farm pond when not at the rink. We didn’t know much about basketball because we rode the school bus. It’s great to see so many different sports and activities at our MCC. A neighbour has invited me to watch his granddaughter figure skating. I’ll be there, Jim.

Many other things have not changed. The moms and dads bringing their exited kids to the rink. Smiles all around. There is nothing more enjoyable than seeing families together. I always like it when those young NHL millionaires thank their parents. Usually moms come first. Soldiers are like that, as well.

I do want to add an important statement of appreciation and support for our Pelham Panthers Junior B hockey team. The pandemic has hit a lot of organizations hard. The shutdowns have drastically reduced revenue opportunities. Let’s get behind our team. Sunday in the late afternoon is a great time to get out and around. I’m looking forward to a hockey game and a trip to one of our great restaurants.

Hope to see you there.

Town Councillor Wayne Olson represents Pelham’s Ward 1