…learn from the past!

Can I still skate? Make sure you check out the video after the blog post!

Here’s an understatement of the year! Growing up as a young gay male figure skater in small town Alberta in the 60’s and 70’s was difficult! In order to make it through each day, at a very young age you learn which bully to avoid and where your safe spaces are. You become a bit of an introvert so as not to draw attention to yourself.  You say it’s because you’re shy, but really its because you’re scared! So with all of that reality a huge part of growing up, it made it especially astonishing for me to relive this memory while I was building our outdoor rink. 

Edson’s arena was just a 10 minute walk from my house.  Winters seemed especially cold and always seemed to have meters and meters of snow when I was in elementary school! I started to skate very young so I still needed my parents to get up at the most ungodly hours to drive me for the early morning practices. I loved skating so it wasn’t as hard to get up at 5 AM as you might think at such a young age. The arena, in so many ways was a sanctuary for me.  It was one of those safe spaces, unless there was a hockey practice after us. Then the ‘macho’ guys would be grouped in the bleachers, verbally taunting us while they waited for their ice time to begin. It was uncomfortable to hear the mean words and hateful slang but I could skate to the opposite side and get far enough away I couldn’t hear them anymore.  It mattered to me throughout my school years-what they said- but it certainly didn’t matter to Bunny! 

Bunny was a local man in his 50’s or maybe 30’s…who knows, I was under 11 so everyone was really old! I’m not sure if he had been a figure skater as a youth or decided to take it up as an adult.  Either way, you could tell he really really loved to skate. He’d step to the ice to take his guards off with one hand, the other firmly on the boards. With both hands free, he’d push those first few steps forward and down the ice with the biggest smile on his face. The smile grew even larger as he glided around the corner! At the same time you could see his arms slowly loosen from the sides of his body.  He was in heaven as those hands moved freely with a certain amount of drama! There was definitely a strong sense of satisfaction for him while he skated.  He wasn’t Olympic quality, but then, none of us were. He just wanted to be out on the ice, with the music playing and like us, feel the freedom this environment afforded him! The rink it turned out was not just a safe space for me, but obviously for him as well. 

With COVID messing up our lives and plans this year, we decided to hunker down and make the best of winter.  Our plan was to build an outdoor skating rink for fun, but we’d use it as extra cardio exercise as well. It’s been a ton of work for a number of weeks and I could not wait to head out.  I even ordered brand new skates for the new rink. The day they arrived, I rushed to open the box and tried them on! Just like I remembered, they were stiff, unbendable, and that felt perfectly normal.  

Many a cold day, these past few weeks, I stood on the area we had packed with buckets and buckets of snow, with a garden hose dripping on my gloved hand.  When the water didn’t freeze inside the hose, I’d alter between using a wand or sprayer to add more of a mist and lighter spay to make the ice smooth and even. Eventually I had to put on snowshoes together with my hiking boots to keep my body upright because remarkably, the space was beginning to become a slippery rink!  I stood there one evening anticipating the first day I would be able to tie up my skates and head out.  I was so excited…almost giddy!  I was looking forward to playing my music up as loud as possible as I glided across the fresh ice! I could see it…crossover, crossover, turn, turn, arms up!  It was going to be incredible.  It was at that moment  I suddenly realized that I knew exactly how Bunny felt! 

There was no reason for me to be the person sitting in the dressing room, trying to be cool with my fellow skaters as we laughed about the old guy who showed up to skate. It was cruel of me, a kid who was constantly being made fun of, to make fun of someone else. All he ever wanted to do was to experience the activity that brought him such joy!  It completed a part of him and you could tell from his happiness, it made him feel alive.  He showed up each day fearless and resolute.  I could see that as a young boy, then, and especially now as I reminisced!  Suddenly I realized, today at 61, when I pulled those laces through the eye hooks, tied up my skates and stepped out onto the ice, I am going to be that guy. I am Bunny!  I should have known better but I was mean to Bunny for no reason other than that he was different…and for that I am sorry. As I stood there flooding my home rink, I feel guilt and sadness over this tough life lesson. It’s the kind of lesson I have always known, but this moment brought it home so clearly!

No matter our age, we should all find something to bring us such joy! Especially now, during COVID. I hope we all have those moments that are filled with such happiness!  I hope you can all step on your “ice” with the same amount of confidence and passion.  The negative words, the childish laughter, the hurtful looks, disappear with each push of your blade.  We all need to turn up the music, let our arms fly through the air, feel the same freedom as Bunny felt the moment he stepped onto the ice! Skate like no one is watching!

15 thoughts on “…learn from the past!

  1. I am so jealous ! Love this…the lights, the music ….just the very ethereal feeling of it. You go John!! You look amazing.🤸‍♂️

    Brings back memories prior to immigrating from Holland. I was six at the time and only had skated a bit on the canals…often the weather in Holland is not cold enough to freeze the ice safely for skating so I wasn’t allowed very often to do that. The only skates I had when we arrived in Edmonton were my Dutch ones..you know, the ones that are made of wood and strap on your feet. I was shamed and made fun of at our local ski rink …being an immigrant in the 1950s was a particularly nasty time for anyone that was not “one of them”. A bit like Edson I think…anyway I eventually got a white pair of skates and did participate at the rink. I still have my Dutch skates and treasure them.


    1. Thank you Lynn…its been a wonderful skate down memory lane for us! Tim’s a good skater as well! I would love to see you skate in those Dutch skates! Just skate like no one is watching! Hugs!


  2. I miss those days. Being on the ice was my escape, as well. The freedom of gliding on ice is the ultimate peace to one’s soul. I, too, am Bunny ❣️


      1. I do, John or at least up until these past few of years. I’m not teaching any more and so, no more arenas. If the lake ever freezes enough, I’ll give it a go. Lol I do miss being on ice.
        Bunny, of course, I remember, but I don’t remember Dennis. Weird.
        All the best to you and yours!
        And, yes, skate like nobody’s watching ❣️


  3. This brought tears to my eyes and a smile too.
    I remember Bunny! I’m thinking he’d be in his glory skating around the skating rink in your yard 😌


  4. Dear John I so remember those days, I was their skating with you at that arena..Dennis Callaghan was my best friend..I knew Bunny well..loved to watch them both skate..both were great guys..nice write up about skating sure enjoyed..I’m not gay but I got bullied lots in school and at the arena, I think it’s people who are un happy with life..keep skating enjoy your rink, you are really looking like your dad, he worked with my dad at Edson motors many moons ago for many years…..carol Hinchey hannah..


    1. thank you so much Carol…until you mentioned it I had forgotten about Dennis…I do remember your dad and in my world, Jim Hinchey and Fred Chwyl WERE Edson Motors…I hope all is well…thanks for the memories!


  5. I so remember Bunny as well, when you and I were walking and I fell and cut my finger badly, you took me to Bunny’s home and he tended my finger. What a nice person. I also loved walking to school and watching you skate at times. You were a good friend John


  6. Beautiful rink&beautiful video. Love seeing people enjoying winter this year like never before. Oh how I wish I could’ve learned to skate like that as a child. Sorry this winter ended early after all your hard work! Thanks for sharing this lovely video. ❄️


    1. Thank you Leslie….we didn’t expect to be around this winter…COVID changed everything…It was a great winter to build the rink and enjoyable skating on it…all the best.


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