Parading, Dancing, and Skating
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
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991