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YOUR HISTORY: Homemade toboggans and chilly winters for kids in Coquitlam's early days
If you are longing for a return to the good old days, be prepared for some mighty chilly weather.
Winter in Coquitlam in the early part of the last century was certainly colder than we know it today, with an annual average of 58 cm of snow.
“Children often enjoyed sleigh rides down Marmont Road to the back alley of Fraser Mills. Each sleigh would have between eight and 10 people. Someone would stop traffic on Brunette Road to prevent accidents...” That’s a city pioneer’s childhood memory recounted in the book Coquitlam Then and Now.
Sleigh riding was a popular activity, it seems.
“There were very few cars, so we would go bobsledding down the hills,” recalls another pioneer in the book. “We made our own sleds. Our parents used to make most of our toys, which was quite common. For example, you would take a broom and that would be ridden as your horse.”
Stuart Windblad remembers the chilling cold: “The house was partly lined with plywood and there was no central heating, only a potbellied stove in the hallway. We burned mill blocks but the fire would go our early. And the winters were much colder then, and I can remember piling blankets and my father’s great coat on top to keep myself warm. Sometimes, the cold and condensation would produce sparkling frost on the inside walls by morning.”
How cold was it?
“Sometimes, Fraser Mills used to get so cold... that the logs would freeze,” recalls Hercules Lamoureux in Coquitlam Then and Now. “I remember a few times when the ice got so bad on the logs that you couldn’t saw them. They would blast the logs out of the boom.”
Cold winters had an upside, too, and when the French-Canadians arrived in Maillardville in 1909, they brought their love of hockey and skating.
“People skated and played hockey on frozen lakes and rivers,” recalled one pioneer. “The foundations of a church that had burned down was flooded in winter to create a skating rink.” That improvised rink was one of the few easily accessible place to skate; Maillardville children faced a long hike up the hill to skate at Como Lake, which frequently froze.
Meanwhile, Canada’s first artificial ice rink, the Arena, opened in Vancouver in 1911. It was located at 1805 W. Georgia St., at the corner of Denman, and at the time it was the largest indoor ice rink in the world.
Hockey teams from around the area competed and the Fraser Mills Hockey Club won the Coy Cup, a provincial senior AA championship.
In the 1914/’15 season, Vancouver’s hockey team, the Millionaires, won the Pacific Coast league and the right to play the NHA champions, the Ottawa Senators, for the first Stanley Cup. Playing at the Denman Arena, the Millionaires swept Ottawa by scores of 6-2, 8-3 and 12-3, earning Vancouver’s first and only Stanley Cup championship.
We don’t have the cold winters we had at the beginning of the last century, and it’s a rare year that Como Lake freezes solid enough for skating. Coquitlam children now learn to skate indoors on groomed ice.
Was it more fun skating on a flooded church foundation? Maybe, but a heated arena is certainly warmer.
Your History is a column in which, once a month, representatives of the Tri-Cities’ three heritage groups writes about local history. Jill Cook is executive director of the Coquitlam Heritage Society.