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Hockey in Kinmount

March 10, 2023

The Kinmount Imperials in the 1940s

By Guy Scott

Kinmount, being a typical Canadian small town, has a rather passionate affair with the sport of hockey.  A century ago, organized winter sports were rather limited. The only real competitive winter sports were curling and hockey. Both could be played outdoors on frozen ice surfaces, and the Kinmount area boasted lots of ice surfaces! The local pond was a primary focus once the ice was formed. The Burnt River was ‘ok’ but it was a rather risky rink due to poor ice conditions and current keeping it from freezing. The ideal ‘ice rink’ was manmade, complete with side boards that were left from year to year, and the ice quality could be more easily controlled by artificial flooding.

The earliest skates were rather primitive, usually metal blades strapped onto shoes or boots by leather straps. For the novice skater, a double bladed skate added extra stability. The modern skate was invented by a Canadian James Whelpley. By the early 1900s, one piece skates were common. They featured leather boots on a permanent, single blade.

The earliest hockey sticks were hand-made and rather primitive. Ash or birch were the preferred woods, and the stick was often a single piece of carved wood! These sticks were very heavy, but extremely durable. One hockey player could use the same hockey stick for an entire career! In today’s world of the expensive throw-away stick wow! By the 1940s, laminated sticks became the norm, followed by fibreglass, aluminum, graphite and composite sticks. In the 1970s, curved blades became fashionable to the point where a straight-blade stick belongs in the museum today. The common thread in hockey sticks has been the rising prices.

Hockey gloves to protect the hands were the first protective equipment used, followed by shin pads, shoulder pads and last but not least, helmets and visors! Early goaltenders used cricket pads for their legs and a baseball catching glove. Once again, the last piece of protective equipment for goalies was the face mask! Jacques Plante first wore this essential piece of protection in the 1960s. Today’s hockey players often dress like medieval knights in complete body armour. But old-timers were either much braver or more foolish!

While pleasure skating was fine on any old pond or body of water, to be part of a hockey league, you needed a proper rink. Most of the rinks were outdoors, but that was often all the small communities could afford and there was no stigma to an outdoor game in the early days of hockey. (In fact, the NHL has returned to its roots lately with the outdoor ‘Winter Classic Game,’ played on New Years Day. The outdoor rink had some drawbacks: snow had to be shovelled off the surface and it was open to snow and rain, but don’t tell the hockey purist it was colder under the stars! It also meant it was day games only.

Kinmount’s famous outdoor arena was called Tagalder Gardens. It was situated on the Simpson Garage site beside the LCBO store. The name was derived from the profusion of tagalder bushes that grew on this (or any other) ‘wet’ site. Besides the rink, the complex included a roofed viewing section, two dressing rooms and a snack bar. The dressing rooms were each heated by small wood stoves. Stan and Annie Silvers were the ‘staff,’ Stan flooding the ice surface and shovelling the snow while Annie ran the snack bar. Annie was a great cook and her homemade hot dog buns were legendary! Many kids came to the rink just for the snacks! (Some things never change; there is something about a rink hotdog…)

The local ‘league’ included teams from Haliburton, Minden, Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls. In the pre-motor car days, road trips were made by train. A ‘special’ excursion train was booked and everyone travelled together. When snow plowing became common in the 1930s, the train lost its role to the motor car. In 1960, the Kinmount Fair Board built a large Quonset hut in the fairgrounds as an exhibit hall. The new building was almost regular size for a hockey surface, but best of all, it had a roof!

Tagalder Gardens was abandoned and the skaters of all sorts moved to the new Fairgrounds Arena. The first years, there was no spectator area, so a balcony was built in the south end of the Arena. To see what went on around the net, spectators had to lean over the front rail! Two sheds were moved in as dressing rooms. These accommodations were unsatisfactory, so an addition was built on the south end to act as a viewing area/dressing rooms/heated area/snack bar/foyer. It was called the ‘kitchen’ because that’s the role it served at the Fair.

The old Arena went to serve its role as an ice palace for 45 years. Affectionately known as the ‘barn,’ it hosted skating, minor hockey, broomball and just about every activity on ice you could think of. It was a natural ice arena in an age when every other arena was using artificial ice. The big municipal arenas for all their bells and whistles were money losing propositions: The Kinmount Arena was run by volunteers on a shoestring budget. When it came time to ‘put in the ice,’ local volunteers would simply show up and using the basics (garden hoses and cold nights), make ice. Various groups would operate the Arena, the current caretakers being the Kinmount Lions Club. The Kinmount Agricultural Society provided the building free of charge to be used as a community arena. A lot of fun was had in the old Barn.

In the summer of 2005, the roof of the old Arena developed a sag. The old girl had run her course. Condemned by engineers, the barn was torn down and Kinmount was ‘arena-less.’ But the sprit in this community is strong. The Fair Board were determined to rebuild and in 2007 a new building was built on the foundations of the old Quonset. It was touch and go, but the new arena was ready three days before the Fair started. It took the builders a mere 3 weeks to assemble the ‘arena in a box’ structure. The community of Kinmount rallied and initiated a ‘Bring Back the Ice’ fundraising drive to raise the $40,000 necessary to convert the new building into an arena. The drive was successful, and Kinmount was back in the arena business.

In 2009, the Kinmount Agricultural Society procured a Trillium Fund grant to rebuild the ‘kitchen’ area. The updated structure included year-round flush toilets! Kinmount had come a long way since the frozen snowbanks of Tagalder Gardens. The completion of this project meant Kinmount had a completely new arena for winter sports.

Kinmount’s legendary hockey team won a lot of awards during the 1947 season. They were a once-in-a-century team. Local legend has it that one local sports enthusiast proclaimed them better than the Toronto Maple Leafs. To back up his claim, he was willing to rent Maple Leaf Gardens if the pros would play the Imperials. The offer was never accepted. From the Maple Leafs point of view, this was probably a good thing: imagine losing to a group of backwoods yokels!

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