TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

Even in Portsmouth

by

John McKenty

I was born in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1948, but moved with my family to the village of Portsmouth shortly after it was annexed by the city of Kingston in 1952.  It was a union, I later discovered, given little attention by the villagers who went about their daily lives as if they were still a recognizable entity unto themselves.

While Portsmouth, with a scant population of five hundred, had the usual small-town amenities, such as a grocery store, a drug store and a barber shop, it also had two rather rowdy hotels and two maximum security prisons, one for the men and one for the women.  Many a parent in the village reminded their male off-spring that staying too long in the former could result in a stay in the latter.

With the prisons standings as a stark reminder of what can happen when one’s life goes astray, it was around this same that Kingston building contractor Harold Harvey, troubled by the frequent sight of children playing in the streets or just hanging around with nothing to do, founded the Church Athletic League, an organization that offered youngsters the opportunity to play recreational hockey, softball, basketball and bowling.

The one stipulation was that all participants must attend church or Sunday school 80 percent of the time.  Based on his belief that ”a child brought up in church is seldom brought up short,” the Church Athletic League was Harvey’s valiant attempt to set the youngsters of Portsmouth and the city, as a whole, in the right direction.

When the Church Athletic League began its first season of hockey in 1951, it had 100 boys registered.  From there the number grew at a rapid rate causing Harvey to come up with a plan for a new outdoor rink to be built in the old quarry in Portsmouth, the same site where inmates from the men’s maximum security prison had once hammered limestone into building blocks.  It was here where hard labour had once been intended to teach the incorrigible about the error of their ways, that young boys were now to learn the rules of fairness, co-operation and team work.

It would be the summer of 1960 that the Harold Harvey Arena was constructed at 42 Church Street, directly across from where my family lived.  Being close at hand it wasn’t long before my two brothers and I became ”rink-rats” at the venerable old arena which began life as an open-air affair, before eventually being closed in.

As rink rats our job was to sign the team in and out and collect their rental fee and then at the end of the day to clear the ice of snow and put on a fresh flood for the next day’s activities.  When there was public skating, we were to don the official rink sweaters and go out on the ice in a bid to impress the girls and to discourage the boys from playing tag.

In exchange for our meager efforts we were given free ice time and a bit of money.  With the money I made, I saved up to buy my first set of CCM ”Tacks”, the skate of the pros, the skate of my dreams.  Unfortunately, the price of my dreams was always greater than the size of my savings and, as a result, my first pair of ”Tacks” turned out to be a used set.  They were beat-up and far too small, but it didn’t matter.  They were ”Tacks” and I was going to cram my feet into them no matter what.

Back in those days, everyone in Portsmouth had their skates sharpened at Baiden’s Hardware, a retail operation overseen by Henry Baiden and his younger brother Bill.  The only problem, according to the villagers, was that Bill knew how to sharpen skates correctly, but Henry, on the other hand, didn’t.  Thus, before anyone took their skates I to be done, they peered cautiously around the corner of the store’s front window to ensure that Henry was busy, while Bill wasn’t.

It was a ritual I followed faithfully for I didn’t want just anyone messing around with my ”Tacks.”  That’s the way it was back then.  Little did I know back then that my infatuation with my skates would eventually lead me to write a history of the CCM company.  But life can be like that.  You never know what will happen when you follow your passion.  Even in Portsmouth.

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