“The Villagers” reminisced about their ability to make their own fun when it came to leisure time. Many of them spoke of family gatherings where they sang and played music together, accompanying each other on the piano or violin. On festive occasions they would gather with close neighbours and hold square dances, or improvised concerts and singalongs. They enjoyed their holiday seasons and made the most of them with those closest to them as travel, particularly in winter months, was difficult.
Many recalled playing hockey on Sawmill Creek under the CNR Bridge. One even stated that on Saturdays they could easily assemble as many as 50 hockey players. Under the bridge there was less snow so it was easier to clear. Some years there could have been as much as 2 miles cleared off the Creek for skating by the Billings villagers, men and women alike. They flooded the Creek by cutting holes at various points and taking out pails of water to fl ood. They did this weekly. No doubt it was an icy and at times, dangerous job.
In a certain time period, there were some men who maintained a rink in the village but it was a fair bit of work. To flood it, they would have to go by horse and sleigh with big barrels to the Rideau River to haul the water to fl ood it. One fellow recalls going and getting 6 x 45 gallon drums of water and hauling them back in the sleigh to fl ood the rink. The rink for a time even had lights. It was well used but represented a lot of work, and folks who weren’t afraid of hard work or the cold.
Before 1937 they often strapped blades to their boots for skating. Knee pads were created from newspapers, magazines or catalogues and strapped to their knees. I’m sure more than a few players lost a few teeth over the game as they didn’t really have masks then. By 1937, most had real skates and real hockey sticks and maybe a few fortunate (i.e. wealthier) fellows had other hockey equipment.
For skiing they often used staves of large barrels that were smoothed down with sandpaper. This seemed to be very popular at the time. Of course, green space wasn’t as limited as it is now, and traffi c wasn’t really an issue (hard to imagine in 2007 isn’t it!). Their toboggans were typically made out of circular cheese boxes by unhooking them where they had been stapled. Some also had sleds made out of tin. Many of them often went sliding down the big hill or hills that were by the old St. Thomas Aquinas Church. A simple and inexpensive way to have a lot of fun!
We can learn a lot from those who lived before us in this area. How they made the most of what they had along with family, neighbours and friends who lived nearby. They knew how to enjoy themselves during the cold winter months, both indoors and outdoors, without the various modern and electric inventions that we surround ourselves with now. Although they were a lot poorer in material things and technology, in many ways they were richer in their enjoyment of the more important things in life. Perhaps this winter, you may want to put the DVDs and PlayStations aside a bit more and venture out to the skating rinks at Heron Park North or the one adjoining the park in Heron Park South to enjoy the brisk outdoors with family, friends and your neighbours in Heron Park.