An old familiar pastime comes to the rescue

The Prairies are a diverse place, which can make it difficult to come up with a singular feature by which we can all define ourselves. After all, the Eastern Slopes of Alberta are a much different place than Manitoba’s Red River Valley.

However, I’m going to suggest that the one commonality across all three provinces are the sports we play — and that hockey is the most common of all.

Now I realize that not everyone plays hockey in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but I’m convinced that the distinctive sound of metal on ice is one that is more recognizable than just about anything else.

I wasn’t much of a skater growing up — I blame it on weak ankles — but I certainly spent my fair share of time on the ice.

My parents dutifully put me in minor hockey as soon as I was of age. The coach took one look at my skating ability and stuck me in net.

There was a handy ice surface next door to our farmhouse in the form of the Souris River, and Dad would clear a large chunk of it in the winter and turn it into a passable rink.

Outdoor rinks have never fallen out of fashion on the Prairies, but man, have they ever experienced a resurgence this year.

The Western Producer’s Dec. 31 issue was dedicated to life during COVID, and it featured a story by reporter Robin Booker about how more farm families are building outdoor rinks this winter.

My favourite quote in it was from Travis Wiens of Milestone, Sask.: “Our dugout is so low that it wasn’t keeping up any more, so we had to have a discussion if we wanted to invest our fancy water from town into this or not. We’ve spent money on stupider things. We’re glad we did it.”

The ultimate outdoor rink has to be in Regina, where the football field at the Saskatchewan Roughriders’s Mosaic Stadium has been flooded and turned into a rink.

Friends of ours from Saskatoon recently booked one of the hard-to-get ice times and made the 500 kilometre round trip to skate on a football field for 45 minutes.

Their review of the experience was positive, but they still sounded a bit incredulous about what they had done.

“Where else in the country would they do that?” one of them said. “If they did that in Vancouver, they’d ship you off to a home.”

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