Back in Time: Romantic Skating at Cedarena in Markham, Ontario
It is with fond memories that Bob and I recall skating on the woodland skating rink called Cedarena. Nestled into a valley along Little Rouge Creek in what is now Rouge National Urban Park, this skating rink provided the most whimsical experience when visited on a Tuesday evening.
Tuesday evenings were set aside for adults only. Of course, regular skating hours for families and even times available for local kids’ hockey teams were also made available other days of the week.
Bob and I did not learn of this quaint creek-side skating rink until the late 1990s, but it soon became our favorite venue for a romantic evening skate.
Cedarena sits on land now owned by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, but it was the Cedar Grove Community Club that built the wooden clubhouse in the 1950s on land owned by Arthur Lapp. Volunteers operated the rink and concession stand within.
In bygone days, it was a group of about 24 dedicated volunteers who took time out of their busy schedules to help set up the rink and get it ready for skaters. Originally workers from the local mills, and later mostly farmers from the local community, offered some of their free time to prep the rink for skating.
Making of the natural ice was accomplished by running hoses from the pump house to draw water from Little Rouge Creek. If the river froze over, holes were chopped to access the water.
Driving out into the country from our home in northeast Toronto soon put us in a rural atmosphere where few farmhouse lights sparkled across fields cloaked in darkness. A beacon of fun times ahead was a humble sign at roadside made from 2 sturdy cedar posts with a board secured between them. A string of fairy lights added an air of whimsy. We joined dozens of other cars in a make-shift parking lot that was achieved by pushing back snow to make a clearing in a farm field.
The mood was set as soon as we launched from the car. At the edge of the adjacent woods, a rustic wooden archway beckoned us to step into the past. Often, a starry sky set the stage for the evening’s entertainment, and it was extra-special if we were blessed with a full moon.
Crossing the threshold into the dark shadows of the forest was like traveling back in time to another era. Our boots crunched on the well-packed snow covering the steep winding path down into the ravine, and already the strains of old-time music would be heard floating on the air.
Slowly, as we neared the quaint clubhouse, a circle of light grew to include the entrance way and the skating rink. Reminding us of summer bonfires, aromatic smoke from the wood stove inside assured us of a warm place to put on our skates.
Colourful Christmas lights twinkled around the eave of the building, and golden light spilled from the small window next to the door.
Tuesday evenings skating at Cedarena were always romantic. Bob and I tried to make it a regular outing when conditions were right. Often, because of warm weather, the rink would be temporarily closed.
Not to be missed was the annual Valentine’s Skating Party.
Every time we visited Cedarena, Joyce Lapp greeted us with a smile at the ticket booth. Married to a descendent of the original man who donated the land, it was Joyce’s responsibility to collect $5.00 from every adult and $2.00 from everyone younger than 15.
Guests dutifully recorded their names and how many people were in their party. The rink could accommodate as many as 400 people at one time.
In honour of the occasion, flowers were often given to the ladies.
Everyone was in a happy, playful mood.
Cedar Grove Community Club ensured that the Valentine’s skate was extra-special.
Warmth from the wood stove enveloped the guests as they prepared to lace up their skates. We always tried to nab the little alcove opposite the wood stove where one time, Austin Reesor used to sit and spin the old-time 78 vinyl records to provide music for the skaters.
Original wooden benches stretched from wall to wall around the inside of the clubhouse with extra benches running down the middle of the room. Gone are the days when the chalet was divided with one side for the women, the other for the men with two wood stoves used to heat the space.
From the outside deck of the clubhouse, two wooden steps made it easy to access the ice. Bob and I were always eager to get whirling around the rink for that is when the magic began. Music from the 1940s to the crooners of the 1960s stirred nostalgic sentiments and set the pace for laps around the ice.
Like scores of skaters before us, Bob and I were buoyed by nostalgic tunes such as The Tennessee Waltz (1947); Doris Day’s 1956 hit Que Sera Sera; and Perry Como’s Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity…Boom) from 1956. One of our favorites was Edelweiss that had us matching our strides to the beat. It was also fun to sing along to Patti Page’s tune How Much is That Doggie in the Window (1952), or Ned Millers’ From a Jack to a King.
Periodically, the music was interrupted for an announcement about the upcoming spot prize skate. What fun it was trying to guess where the next winning spot on the rink would be when the music suddenly stopped. An elimination round was also held to determine the oldest skater who then was awarded a prize. Near the end of the evening, a winning ticket was drawn for a 50-50 draw. (Photo courtesy of Averill Maroun)
Every so often, a rest was required, and what better place to park it than on the porch of the clubhouse. Perched on the wooden benches, we could observe the ebb and flow of other skaters and perhaps nibble on some treats from the concession stand.
If the cold air didn’t have our breath swirling around us in a fog,
it certainly turned our noses as red as cherries.
The evening’s festivities culminated in the generous provision of an assortment of donuts, and hot chocolate was dished out to everyone present. (Photo courtesy of Averill Maroun)
As everyone gathered to have a snack, conversation flowed until finally all the skaters started to leave for the night.
Numbers on the ice dwindled, and by 10 p.m., Cedarena would close for the night. Of all the ways that Bob and I have celebrated Valentine’s, our times spent skating on the ice at Cedarena ranked as some of the best. It’s sheer existence is like a time capsule that holds charming memories for so many people.
Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean