Looking Back: Winter That Was

Skaters on Whonnock Lake in the early 1970’s

January 9, 2019

With an abundance of winter storms in the last month coming in the form of torrential rain, it’s hard to remember that in the early settler era, these storms would have come down as snow and ice.  We tend to think of snow today as a dangerous nuisance, especially if one was born and raised on the temperate coast, but who better to remind us of the fun and excitement of a fresh blanket of snow than children.  Through the history of Maple Ridge, it is the children who come up the most when looking through the records of winter, and it certainly was the children who made the most of the season.  

While we know children and adults alike took advantage of a frozen over Fraser River, to cross in wagons and early cars over from Langley, or to simply strap on your skates and go skating.  It was the kids who would take to the hills and streets with their homemade sleds and to the frozen lakes, ponds, rivers, and even streams with their skates.  Back then, skates were little more than a blade soldered onto a flat piece of metal with some leather straps to tie them on.  And early sleds were usually homemade, the simplest made from barrel ties and a piece of wood. 

With no indoor skating available until the Centennial Arena was built in 1967, the only opportunity to learn to skate was outside on any piece of frozen water they could find.  We have some great pictures of people enjoying skating on the Fraser River, which in 1946 reached 23 inches thick with ice.  We also have photos of groups enjoying a skate on a frozen Whonnock Lake.  Another popular spot for skating was Kanaka creek, which would usually freeze over nicely.

One little known application for skating was courtship. In the early 1930’s, Roy Lehman, who worked at Hammond Mill and lived in Hammond, was courting a girl who lived in New Westminster. On a day off, he would strap on his skates and skate to meet her there. Such dedication won the girl’s heart and they were married until death did them part.

Many of you may know that a popular place for sledding has long been the Maple Ridge Golf Course, a spot that has been used for sledding ever since it was built in 1925.  We still don’t know if we will get any snow this year, but if we do, and you take to the golf course sledding slope, remember that you are carrying on a tradition that has been taking place for nearly 100 years.  And maybe a blanket of snow is the perfect opportunity to release your inner child.  Have fun out there!  

A group of kids getting ready to skate on a frozen Whonnock Lake, 1950s