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The Victoria Skating Rink

For the week of Monday, December 25, 2017

On December 29, 1866, Montréal newspaper The Saturday Reader stated, “skating has obtained in late years, especially among the fairer portion of our population, an unwonted popularity....” Ice skating has long been a favourite winter pastime for Canadians. In the latter half of the 19th century, the grandest place to skate was at Montréal’s Victoria Skating Rink.

A fancy dress ball at the Victoria Skating Rink 
© Library and Archives Canada / Acc. No. 1983-138-81

The Victoria Skating Rink opened in 1862 as the largest indoor rink in North America. Built for the Victoria Skating Club, it could accommodate 3,000 skaters and spectators, and featured a bandstand to provide live music. It even had a special viewing box for important guests. Since the rink was naturally frozen, people could only skate during the winter months. In summer, it was used for fancy balls, carnivals, concerts, and horticultural fairs.

Skating was a popular late-Victorian sport for women. There were several reasons for this. For example, it could be done in long skirts, thereby maintaining modesty, and it adhered to prevailing gender norms, since it was reasonably safe, graceful, and non-aggressive. The Victoria Skating Rink also offered women a fashionable location to enjoy the sport.

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A hockey game at the Victoria Skating Rink, 1893
© Library and Archives Canada / Molson Archives / PA-139443

Many milestones were marked in the Victoria Skating Rink. It was the first public building in Canada to be electrified. James Creighton organized the first indoor hockey game there. The dimensions of the ice surface, 204 feet by 80 feet (62 by 24 metres), set the precedent for later hockey rinks. Lord Stanley, donor of the Stanley Cup, saw his first hockey game at the rink, and the first Stanley Cup playoffs were held there.

Demolished in 1937, no physical trace of the Victoria Skating Rink remains. A plaque unveiled in 2008 at the Bell Centre, a sports complex in Montréal, commemorates the Victoria Skating Rink. James George Aylwin Creighton, often called the “father” of organized ice hockey, is a national historic person.

To learn more about ice sports, visit Hockey’s Holy Grail, The “Father” of Ice Hockey, Louis Rubenstein Skates His Way to the Top, and The Acme Ice Skate and Canada’s Favourite Pastime in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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