In past winters when there were no radios, televisions, cars, computers or video games, people found other kinds of diversions. For some, skating was a great way to enjoy themselves and get a grip on winter.
Although we can confirm the existence of skaters from the time of New France, this activity became a genuine pastime in the early 19th century. On many occasions, the only evidence of skating on the surfaces of icy expanses of water came from the tragedies reported in newspapers.
To find a solution to the dangers of drowning, space was set aside for skating on solid ground, and some ice rinks were built indoors. These safe rinks contributed to the popularity of skating and to the appearance of a new activity, the masquerade, a kind of masked ball on ice.
Skating was so popular that in early 20th century Montréal fans of the sport enjoyed no fewer than ten skating rinks. Such impressive activity prompted the directors of the Francophone club Montagnard to send out over 2,500 invitations for the official opening of their ice rink. This location, on the corner of Duluth and St. Hubert in Montréal, became known as the most fashionable place for entertainment in the city’s east end.
If the strains of an orchestra occasionally added to the enjoyment, the masquerade ball remained the ne plus ultra of skating parties. Participants would dress in disguises that allowed them to make fun of everyone. They lined up one at a time before the viewers: clowns, jockeys, soldiers, Parisians, matrons and more, all costumed in similar manner and all vying for the prize of best costume. However, they had to compete with those who strangely resembled the Prince of Wales or even Queen Victoria! There was also a prize for the skater demonstrating the greatest virtuosity.
The masquerades were very popular and attracted their share of spectators. In fact, to citizens who only had a literary or journalistic awareness of the outside world, the sight of someone dressed up as an Amazon, a king, a rag merchant or soldier, appealed vividly to the imagination.
So this winter find a patch of ice where you can skate outdoors and in good company. What’s more, if you go in the evening and hear the sounds of music playing, remember that this cozy ambiance is reminiscent of the past when we did not fear braving the cold.
Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on ice skating.