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Wishing for one more afternoon of winter fun on The Commons

When I was a child, winter on The Commons (Hill Street) was my favourite time of year. I grew up with Mother Nature’s skating rink, right in my own backyard. Each year, I waited impatiently, until my father declared that the ice in the harbour was safe. Then, after school, I would grab my skates and clamber down the steep embankment behind our house which led to the shores of Picton Bay. After lacing up my skates I would glide over the ice to my friend Margo Publow’s house, near Prince Edward Yacht Club. We had nearly an hour of skating time before dusk and we always made the most of it.

On weekends, skating on the bay was not just for children. Grown-ups joined us for an afternoon of winter fun. Hockey games, games of Crack the Whip, and figure skating demonstrations all were part of our spontaneous winter carnivals. Margo’s father, the late George Publow, hooked up speakers in his workshop to provide music for Picton’s stars on ice.

When we had skated until we could no longer feel our toes, reluctantly, we left for home. I would unlace my skates, put on my rubber galoshes, stiff with cold, after sitting on the shore for several hours, then climb the steep bank leading to my backyard. Once in the house, I would hastily remove my boots and hurry into the living room to thaw, in front of our oil burner.

Wintertime on The Commons always meant a cutter ride with Uncle Bob. His horses, Star and Effie Mae, were stabled in my grandmother’s barn, directly across the street from our house. When sleighing conditions were favourable, my uncle would pull his cutter from granny’s barn, hook up one of the horses and take my mother and me for a sleigh ride. Sleigh bells rang merrily as we drove through the back streets of the town. Uncle Bob, dressed in a full-length coonskin coat and matching hat always drove too fast for my mother’s liking and she would repeatedly caution him to slow down before we had an accident. Fortunately, unlike the hapless merrymakers of Jingle Bells fame, we never were “upset”.

Even our Samoyed dog, Kara, took special pleasure in those long ago winter days. She would romp in the snow, reluctant to come inside, even when the thermometer plunged below zero. One bitterly cold night, when there was a full moon, she refused to come, when my father called her. Instead, she charged through the snowdrifts, sometimes leaping high in the air, as if jumping for joy. Finally, the promise of a cookie persuaded her to come indoors.

Now a Boomer, I no longer tarry in the cold. I hung up my skates, long ago, fearful of breaking bones. There was a time, in the mid-1960’s, when I had a horse and cutter of my own, complete with buffalo robes, but I sold the cutter when heavy traffic made it dangerous to go driving in a one-horse open sleigh. Today, I often remember those happy childhood days when I skated on the bay and wish for just one more Sunday afternoon of winter fun on the harbour.

Filed Under: Margaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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