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Chapter 12
The Village Transformed
Table of Contents

Title Page
Author's Preface
1 The Road through Richmond Hill
2 First Peoples on the Land
3 The European Settlers Arrive
4 From Miles' Hill to Richmond Hill: The Birth of a Community
5 Tories and Reformers
6 Stagecoach Lines and Railway Tracks
7 The Neighbours at Mid-Century
8 Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
9 Picture Post Card Village of the 1880s and 1890s
10 Rails through Richmond Hill
11 The Flowering of Richmond Hill
12 The Village Transformed
Parading, Dancing, and Skating
Richmond Hill's Fiftieth Birthday: 1923
Richmond Hill's One Hundredth Birthday: 1973
Skating in Style
Pure Water and Healthy Children
The installation of the waterworks in 1921 inspired a Richmond Hill bard to send this bit of doggerel in to the local paper:
"Mrs. Pankhurst's Lecture"
Flying Kites on Richmond's Hill
Between Old and New
"Dr. Langstaff Describes the Advent of the Horseless Carriage"
Alex Hume's Cushions and the Power of the Press
Turn-of-Century Tracks Block Yonge Street Construction
From Radial Cars to Rubber Tires
Epilogue
Appendices
Table of Illustrations
Index

Parading, Dancing, and Skating

Dedicating the First World War memorial in front of the Richmond Hill Public School, August 5, 1923. Umbrellas shelter Mr. and Mrs. Charles Cooper (to the right of the cannon) and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Monkman (to the left) from the midday sun.
When Richmond Hill's old-timers gathered for the municipality's fiftieth anniversary celebrations in August 1923, they took a much different approach than the villagers who had congregated for the Old Boys Reunion in 1911. For one thing, the exclusive "old boys" atmosphere had disappeared. To signify a new decade and a new awareness, the 1923 festivities were officially entitled the Grand Re-Union of Old Boys and Girls.

Old Boys and Girls Reunion of 1923.
There were the usual decorations on houses and places of business, the banners across Yonge Street, the parades and bands and speeches and athletic contests. But this time women were among the two hundred registered visitors, women participated in the organized program, and women enjoyed the festivities.

Entrance to the Village Park in the 1920s.
The reunion began on a serious note at two o'clock on Sunday afternoon, August 5th, when "two little girls from the Orange Orphanage" led a parade from the village park to the Public School. There the Ladies' Aid of the Methodist Church joined other community groups in laying wreaths as the memorial in front of the school was dedicated to those who had served - and fallen - in the First World War. That evening 3500 people gathered for an outdoor religious service at the park, where the combined choirs of the Anglican,Methodist,Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic churches" led the multitude in hymns in which everyone joined."

Parade turns off Yonge Street into the park during the 1923 reunion.
The real frivolity began on Monday morning with a second parade, featuring decorated automobiles, floats, Thompson's venerable stagecoach, as well as "old-time calithumpians." Mildred Wright and Dorothy Dunlop shared the prize for the best-decorated automobile. That afternoon the men played baseball and lacrosse and competed in running and jumping contests - women's sports would come the next day. Monday evening's entertainment in the park featured Agnes Adie, soprano, and Winnifred Haggas, "reciter and entertainer." Then came a community dance.

Cassie Murphy,Marjorie Wright, and May Robinson surround M.J. Green and his decorated automobile at the 1923 Reunion.
On Tuesday morning the main event was an "Auto Drive for Visiting Old Boys and Girls." The motorcade took them past "old familiar haunts of childhood's happy days" then on to the new: the indoor ice arena in the park, the greenhouses on the east side of town, and the Orange "orphanage" north on Yonge Street. "The changes in this village and district," noted The Liberal rather anticlimactically, "were a revelation to those who had formerly resided here." 1

Tuesday afternoon was again devoted to sports, but this time the activities included a ladies' softball tournament. That evening, men and women came together in the park for the grand finale - a carnival and community dance. "Masque if at all possible," participants were advised. "Bring along your confetti, paper streamers, and such like, and above all let your voice blend with others while they sing the popular songs of the day and the old familiar ones of long ago." 2

Of all Richmond Hill's new structures, the recently completed arena probably made the greatest impression on the Old Boys and Girls who returned for the 1923 get-together. There it stood in the village park, looming over most of the festivities, a giant of a building awaiting its first full winter of use.

An old nineteenth-century arena had served earlier generations well, but its defects were obvious by the 1920s. The new generation of Richmond Hill youth and adults wanted a more comfortable building for skating and for hockey - something with seats, with heat, and with modern amenities. At a ratepayers' meeting in October 1922, residents approved by a vote of 63-32 a new, $12,000 arena - to be owned and operated by the village council.

Construction on what is now known prosaically as Arena 23 (West) began early in 1923, and took only four weeks from the start of framing until completion. The new building measured 27 by 60 metres (about 90 by 195 feet), with an ice surface of 21 by 52 metres (about 70 by 170 feet), making it Ontario's largest arena outside Toronto. The gable roof and the walls were made of galvanized steel, there were benches for more than 1500 fans, and the interior was brightly illuminated with electric lighting. The building was officially opened with a Grand Carnival on February 16, 1923.

In late summer and autumn in the 1920s, the new arena featured box lacrosse, a popular sport that drew huge crowds and made the building profitable. Early in December the rink would be flooded, and hockey fever hit the village. Richmond Hill teams played in the Metropolitan League, featuring towns along the radial line from Willowdale north to Sutton. On nights when games were played out of town, teams would charter a radial car so players and fans could travel together.

The arena was manually cleaned at intermissions by teenagers pushing wide scrapers, who got free admission in return for their labour. Once they reached the end of the ice, they would push the snow to the doors at the north end of the building and shovel it to the top of a huge pile outside. During the day, the arena manager would have this pile of snow banked against the sides of the building, which helped keep the rink ice frozen during mild periods of weather.

Every Saturday night the arena was turned over to public skating, with the Richmond Hill band supplying live music, and couples skating gracefully around the rink. Many of these evenings featured old Dr. Rolph Langstaff skating alone at centre ice, "executing jumps and difficult figures" even during his later years. His physical fitness may have contributed to his longevity - he died at the age of one hundred. 3

Notes

1. The Liberal,August 9, 1923.

2. Souvenir Programme: Richmond Hill's 50th Anniversary Celebration and Grand Re-Union of Old Boys and Girls, August 5,6,7 1923(Richmond Hill:1923).

3. H.J. Suter,"Building the Richmond Hill Arena Tradition,"Richmond Hill Month(January 1988),p. 19.

 


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