The Working Class In Winter
Curling and Pleasure Skating
Curling was a gentleman’s game. Originally, local teams played on the natural ice of rivers and ponds. Above Goldie’s Mill was a favourite spot. Near Holidays’ brewery and above Alan’s Dam were two others. The first curling game took place in 1827 with William Dunlap on the ice. Later, curlers faced off in the covered rinks – the first built in 1868 facing Huskisson. This wooden building was home to the early curling clubs including the Union Curling Club (1838/reformed 1857/58). The second club emerged in 1883. The two played against each other often. In 1894, they faced off with the prize being the Sleeman Trophy. Both teams vied to end up playing for the Ontario Tankard Cup.
The two curling rinks combined in 1926 to form the Guelph Curling Club. By then, Guelph had several covered rinks. These were:
1. Royal City Rink 1868
2. Speed River Skating Rink 1882
3. Victoria Rink 1892
4. Paisley Rink 1909
The Speed Rink became a particular favourite for pleasure skaters. It boasted a sumptuous mezzanine balcony overlooking the ice surface. It was host to the musicians hired to play for events such as skating. This included the Bello Organ Band, the City Band and the 30th Battalion Band.
However, others preferred the “The Great Big Victoria” In 1908, a reporter waxed elaborately, touting it as the “largest covered Skating Rink in Ontario.” Its attraction was its “20,000 square feet, filled with a beautiful soft, effulgent, incandescent electric light, so restful to the eye…”
The rinks also became popular for two other recreational sports – pleasure skating and hockey.
Like curling, the initial rinks were the natural ice coverings of frozen lakes and ponds. However, the opening of covered rinks increased the pleasure while further indicating the division between Guelph’s different classes. While gliding across the Speed or Eramosa Rivers was free, attending an event at the covered rinks was not. Skaters needed to pay for a membership. They could then participate in all events, paying a minimum fee for the diverse carnivals and masquerades thrown at the Victoria and Speed Skating Rinks.
These events were quite elaborate. Skaters often purchased their own costumes for these special occasions. Bod’s Hardware offered the “largest assortment of Acme and latest skating styles” (1878). In 1893, P. Scragge & Co. stated they had imported from Toronto costumes for the upcoming Masquerades.
Masquerades and Carnivals were common affairs but not for the working class. They might have had the time to attend such events, but they did not have the money. Instead, they made due with the ponds, rivers and lakes. In fact, in January 1883, a bunch of “urchins” held their own carnival. The reporter described the event accordingly:
A SMALL CARNIVAL – Some urchins at the west end of town have taken to giving carnivals on their own account. Last night one of these events was held on a pond about twelve feet square in size near Gowdy’s factory, and there were about twenty skates dressed in the most fantastic costumes.
Yet, while skaters swanned about the ice at the Victoria and Speed Skating rinks or on local ponds and rivers, the older Royal City played host to a game that, like baseball, became a favourite among the working class all across Canada – Hockey.