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Lillian Michiko Blakey

Once Upon a Time, Dufferin Rink, 1960
By Lillian Michiko Blakey

From Lillian Michiko Blakey, who sent some stories after she read Catherine Porter's November 21 Star article about Dufferin Rink:

My mom and dad came to Toronto with my sister and myself in 1952, when they were finally allowed to travel after the war. We lived behind a dry-cleaning store at Bloor and Dufferin for seven years, where Mom worked for $32 a week. Dad also worked for the cleaners on commission. When the buildings were expropriated to build the subway, my parents bought a corner variety store at Gladstone and Dundas, where they remained for 20 years. After university, I moved to Willowdale. Since then, I have lived in Richmond Hill, Aurora, Innisfil and Sunderland. We are now back in Aurora.

When we were around nine or ten, all the kids in the neighbourhood went to the little wading pool in Dufferin Park on hot summer days. We ran in and out screaming because the water which bubbled from the fountain in the middle was icy cold fresh water. No-one worried about catching diseases or drowning. We just loved going there with the neghbourhood dogs in tow. We were like the little rascals in the movies, but not quite as naughty. We were outside all day, coming and going as we pleased, and our parents never worried. We were always back for supper.

We also used to visit the horses in their stalls at Dufferin race track across the street from the park. No-one ever chased us away and we had great fun poking around. It was there that my love for horses began. (Thirty years later, I owned and bred race horses myself.) Sad was the day that the race track closed and was replaced by a plaza. When they were building Loblaws, we used to go under the building. It was black and filled with water, about three feet deep. We found wooden planks floating in the water, tied them together and made a raft. We all got on and floated around. When I think of it today, I am mortified. If anything had happened to us, no-one would ever have known where we were. We could also have gotten infections or even Tetanus from all of the debris on which we were walking. I can't even remember why there were no workmen around - perhaps it was on Sunday when we did this.

It was like déjà vu, looking at the [November 21] newspaper photo of the outdoor skating rink at Dufferin Grove! I couldn't believe my eyes. Fifty years ago, my girlfriends and I went to skate there after school and on Friday nights. Looking at the photo, I was struck by the fact that nothing had changed in those fifty years. The rink is exactly the same as it was all those years ago. It was as if it were stuck in a time warp. And I was pulled back as if it were just yesterday.

On weekdays, the gates at either end of the boards running down the centre of the ice were closed and the ice was divided into two rinks. On the right was the pleasure rink for anyone in the community to enjoy - young and old, beginners awkwardly trying to stay on their feet and those more experienced spinning and gliding effortlessly. On the left was the larger rink, where the boys played games of pick-up hockey. In those days, there were no organized leagues in sports complexes, no uniforms, no fees, no admission. All the boys needed were skates and hockey sticks, which they had bought for ninety-nine cents. All the girls needed were figure skates they had bought for a few dollars at Woolworth's. Of course, girls did not play hockey then. We just watched the boys out of the corner of out eyes. And the boys knew that we were watching them. The first girl to play years later, was Abby Hoffman, who had masqueraded as a boy for ages before she was found out. There was a huge public outcry and she was in the newspapers for her audacity.

On Friday nights, the gates were raised and the ice became a large pleasure rink, with Strauss waltzes blaring over our heads. My girlfriends and I walked to the rink, with our skates slung over our shoulders, no matter how cold it was. We didn't have special winter pants, only brightly coloured cotton chino pants. By the time we got home, our legs were numb and bright red from the cold. We were always excited as we walked hurriedly to the rink, anticipating chance meetings with boys. No-one knew who would be there and that was part of the lure. We waited in anticipation, and invariably, some brave boys would venture to come over and ask us for a skate around the rink. And for the girls, there was great excitement just in skating in the hockey rink.

There were two small change rooms, one for the men and the other for women. I can still smell the wetness of wool and see the pools of slush on the cement floor. The only refreshment was a hot chocolate machine, which dispensed some of the worst watery hot chocolate you can imagine, but we loved that awful drink which warmed our insides and our freezing hands. I can still smell that hot chocolate.

And so, I just wanted to tell you my little story, because today, everything is so organized in the lives of children, that they have little opportunity for freedom to grow up the way I did. I am so happy to see that this little corner of my childhood is exactly the way I left it. At least a few children will have the chance to be free to enjoy my world from once upon a time. I'm sorry to say that I don't have a photo from that time. We would not have had any place to put the camera, if we had taken one to the rink.

I am sending you a photo of a painting I just completed as a result of the newspaper article, called "Once Upon a Time, Dufferin Rink, 1960". The two figures in the centre are my sister and our best friend.

If you would also like a link to my paintings on my family's experience during the war, they can be found on my website

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