Another era on the ice
Before the days of artificial ice surfaces, area players competed on outdoor rinks, ponds
Hockey action nowadays in the Conception Bay North area is played primarily at two locations — the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace, and the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts.
It’s been this way since the Bay Arena opened its doors in 1985, some 27 years after the Stadium in Harbour Grace was completed.
Both feature artificial ice surfaces, state-of-the-art ice resurfacing machines, top-quality dasher boards and glass, and electronic scoreboards and public address sytems.
The facilities are often brimming with activity, including hockey at all levels, and figure skating.
But turn back the clock to an earlier era, and ice hockey in Conception Bay North was played under very different circumstances.
Men and women in communities like Carbonear, Harbour Grace, Shearstown, Spaniard’s Bay, Brigus, Bay Roberts and Coley’s Point were skating — and playing — wherever and whenever they could.
This usually meant frozen ponds, but the region also boasted its fair share of outdoor rinks — some crude and some first-rate for the era — dating back to the 1930s.
It was common to use rocks as goal posts, while in many cases boots were also used. Player equipment was very rudimentary, and goalies would often wrap grass-filled bags or Eaton’s catalogues around their legs to protect their shins.
Some communities had their own outdoor rinks with boards, topped off with chicken wire. Some even had lights to allow for night games.
Not every rink had boards. Earlier manifestations saw snow piled high, enough to prevent pucks from flying out of play.
Now, every community had its own team, and hockey intricacies; and its own cast of characters to tell its individual sports story.
This week, The Compass takes a look back at hockey in the Conception Bay North region, before the days of artificial ice and methodical rink schedules.
Bay Roberts has a long, deep history with the unofficial national pastime. In 1938, the Bay Roberts Roverines female team beat St. John’s to capture the All-newfoundland trophy.
When the Rovers and the Coley’s Point Pointers men’s teams met in a regular season game in April 1955 at the old Memorial Stadium in St. John’s, 1,750 people from the area travelled to the capital city to watch the game.
The game was moved to St. John’s because of poor conditions on the natural ice surface of John North’s Rink in Bay Roberts.
Coley’s Point blanked the Rovers 3-0, recalls Wilbur Sparkes, who was in the Rovers’ lineup.
“They got a goal at the end of the first period, a goal at the end of the second period and a goal at the end of the third period,” says Sparkes, a retired educator and longtime mayor of the Town of Bay Roberts.
As for the crowd, Sparkes says he and the other players didn’t notice the fans.
“But they were excited,” Sparkes says.
Growing up, Sparkes played wherever there was ice. Some of his favourite ponds no longer exist, particularly one in the East End of Bay Roberts once known as Joe’s Pond. It’s now just a bog.
Sparkes would grab his skates, and leave his family home in French’s Cove and make the trek across several gardens to Joe’s Pond, beginning in 1944 when he was just 11 years-of-age.
“We learned our hockey on the pond,” says Sparkes.
On Green’s Road, there was another rink constructed by John North, the rink’s namesake, and Walter Baggs, the longtime fire chief in Bay Roberts.
The rink was made of board, with chicken wire strung across the top. These were before the days of reinforced plastic and tempered glass.
John North’s Rink, as it was called, was 180 feet long by 80 feet wide. The boards were four feet high, and one corner was constructed around a shed on the property.
“When you brushed up against that, the shingles would fall onto the ice,” says Sparkes.
Lighting was available for night games, and there was evan a loud speaker system.
A house sits where the rink once did, directly behind what was St. Matthew’s Hall, on Green’s Road, which is now a retirement home.
Across the street, there used to be a post office, and in front of the office was an old artillery gun, which now sits in front of the Royal Canadian Legion in Bay Roberts. On gameday there would be a posting on the gun as to whether the game that night was going ahead.
In 1956, another rink opened in Bay Roberts — Bennett’s Rink.
Named after Fred Bennett, it was the first artificial ice surface in Conception Bay North, according to Sparkes.
It closed in 1957, a year before the opening of the stadium in Harbour Grace.
Sitting on a piece of land behind what is now the Fortune Restaurant on the Conception Bay Highway, Bennett’s rink saw a lot of hockey action. In 1956, for example, the Boston Bruins took to the ice for an exhibition game.
“I helped (goalie) Terry Sawchuck with his pads,” recalled Sparkes.
Sparkes vividly recalls seeing Sawchuck hold an umbrella over his head to repel the heavy ran that day.fell that
Bay had a local team, the Pirates, that used to play in the 1930s, prior to the building of a rink in that community. The team played in Bay Roberts and sometimes on Bell Island.
Spaniard’s Bay had two outdoor facilities for hockey, recalls retired educator and longtime hockey figure Ed Neil. One was built in 1948 in Back Cove, or “The Mash.”
“It was headed up by Jim Randall,” Neil says. “It had low boards along the sides and high boards on the back.”
There was a clubhouse next to the natural ice surface, which contained a stove and served as a dressing room for the players. The rink also had lights.
“Across the harbour we could see the lights of John North’s rink,” says Neil.
The ice surface sat in the area across from the parking lot of today’s Holy Redeemer Elementary.
When you brushed up against that, the shingles would fall onto the ice. — Wilbur Sparkes
of Bay Roberts
A few years later, Harold Noseworthy built a second rink in the town. It was located on the current site of O’neill’s Gardenland, says Neil.
Playing on these rinks were the team of the day, the Rangers. They played teams from Tilton and Upper Island Cove, but were not in the same division as Shearstown, Bay Roberts and Carbonear.
“They used to be called matches, the name taken from football.”
He remembers watching the legendary baby bonus line — Wes Gosse, James Jewer and Mike Brazil.
“They were all collecting a baby bonus at the time,” Neil explains.
Other great players Neil remembers watching were Fred Smith, Cliff Mercer and Fred Sheppard.
George Jerrett says hockey was a big deal in Brigus, and he should know. Jerrett was a part of the Brigus Bruins team that squared off with the Harbour Grace Seniors in the first game played at the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace in 1958.
He says when the team went into St. John’s to play teams at the Old Forum, there would be two or three bus loads of fans going in over the Conception Bay Highway. “People loved hockey,” he says. Jerrett says on the days of games the store would be alive with the talk of hockey — how they were playing, what kind of team they were and who they thought would win.
While the residents of Brigus played hockey on ponds in the town, there was only one outdoor rink. It was located in Wilcox Gardens, where the Blueberry Festival takes place nowadays. The rink was owned by Jerrett’s parents, Ernest and Janet Jerrett.
Built in 1949, the rink was 178 feet long and 60 feet wide.
Here the Bruins played the likes of Coley’s Point, Bay Roberts, Shearstown, Carbonear and Harbour Grace in the old Conception Bay North league.
Teams from St. John’s would also make their way out to Brigus for games.
Players like Jerrett and his brothers, Charlie and Dave, Howard Roberts, Leslie Barrett, Bill Roach, Hawyard Fry and Percy Rideout were just a few of the standouts who skated on Jerret’s outdoor rink.
Of course, Harbour Grace is the birthplace of the Ceebees franchise. The great George Faulkner came to the town in 1958, with the opening of the new stadium.
Before its construction, players like John Thomey, Jim Penney, Jim Coady, Carl Penney and Ed Pumphrey needed a place to play. Prior to the Ceebees, the town had a team called the Harbour Grace Seniors.
“There wouldn’t be a stadium if it was not for the CBN league,” says longtime Harbour Grace hockey stalwart and town councillor Bud Chafe.
Prior to the opening of the stadium, there was a rink on the site of the old liquor store on Harvey Street, says Chafe. He can’t remember exactly when it was built, but he figures it was sometime in the 1950s.
“I can remember shovelling the snow off of it, many a time,” he says.
Prior to this rink, there were rinks at the Greenspar building and across the road from it. This building used to be the old St. Paul’s High School and the school had its own rink. Cathy Martin and the late Bill Martin owned the rink across the street from the school.
The games played on these rinks were always “filled to capacity,” says Chafe.
As time progressed, hockey became even more popular in the town, especially with the arrival of George Faulkner and the Ceebees.
The last stop on the outdoor rink tour is Carbonear. The town only had a single outdoor rink, but hockey was still played on Carbonear Pond and other ponds west and north of the town. It was called the Carbonear Rink, and was built largely by Billy Howell and his sons in 1927.
When it came time to put on the roof, the project became a community affair, with everyone lending a hand.
“It was the only indoor rink in the bay,” says Carbonear historian Heber Mcgurk.
Located behind the former Dr. Mcmahon’s premises, one could access the rink via Tucker’s Lane. The roof was destroyed in 1930, only three years after its construction. When it was rebuilt, it was renamed Jubilee Rink.
“It was built in the year of the King’s Jubilee,” says Mcgurk.
Mcgurk remembers when the “big teams” would come to play at the rink two or three times a week. It was an exciting time to be a hockey fan in the town. Sometimes this excitement turned violent.
“The fans would … start fighting,” he says.
Everyone in town had a team they loved to cheer for.
“They were enthusiastic about the teams, and loved to talk about their favourite one,” says Mcgurk.
Carbonear produced some great players, like John Goff, Bill and Jack Penney and Walt Earle, just to name a few.
Mcgurk was a “rink rat” and watched these players square off with Conception Bay’s finest.
Now, not all hockey was restricted to the outdoor rinks that littered the landscape of the era. Players in Shearstown honed their skills on the Shearstown Pond, while on the Koch in Bay Roberts there were two or three games happening at the same time.
Spaniard’s Bay had Mint Cove Pond, which was a popular place, according to Ed Neil.
It was golden era for hockey in the region, when citizens proudly and enthusiastically supported and cheered on their locals teams. Times have changed, but in the memories of those who were there in those early years, it was great entertainment, says Neil.
The Jubilee Rink in Carbonear was operated by Roy Howell until 1955, and then sold to the Kiwanis Club. It was torn down in the early 1960s. Rovers player Wilbur Sparkes poses in the corner of John North’s rink in February 1955.
The 1955 Bay Arena Rovers, taken at Memorial Stadium in St. John’s. Members of the team are: front (l-r) — John Hillyard, Frank Mercer, Art Winsor, Gordon Snow, William Badcock, Greg Delaney and Doug Bradbury; back — coach Bren Dawson, David Mercer, Fred Hussey, Wilbur Sparkes, Ed Caravan, Walter Yetman, Mac Parsons, Weldon Parsons and Ches Brown.
The Brigus Bruins team who played the first game at the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in1958. Team members were: front (l-r) — Dick Antle, Bill Kennedy, Clayton French, Charles Piercey, Bill Roach, Danny Brown and Dave Jerrett; back — manager Lloyd Lemin, Clarence Pomroy, Andy Spracklin, Pat Connolly, Charlie Jerrett, Reg Roberts, Bonse Walker, Tim Roberts and George Jerrett.
The brush marks the area where an outdoor rink was made from the piling up of snow in the east end of Bay Roberts.
Across from what is now Holy Redeemer Elementary in Spaniard’s Bay, a rink stood on this land in the middle part of the twentieth century.
The white picket fences form the outline of John North’s rink, which sat on this property in Bay Roberts in 1950.
Benett’s Rink used to sit here, behind the Fortune Restaurant in Bay Roberts.
Behind the old Liquor Store building in Harbour Grace, there is a piece of barren land which used to be the site of an outdoor rink in the town.