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Friday, February 7, 2014
Stories From Truro, Nova Scotia
The Colchester Forum on Queen Street… circa 1963
This story is about an indoor ice rink called the Colchester Forum. It was
at the center of skating and hockey for the people living in and around Truro,
Nova Scotia from the 1930’s until early in 1963. As an impressionable young boy
to whom the likes of Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante, Henri Richard,and of course the Rocket, Maurice Richard
were un-seeable Gods, I became engrossed in the life of the Colchester Forum,
and the hockey played there. In the early 1960’s I was well on the way to
becoming a hockey player and a life long fan. In addition to the Montreal
Canadians, I could recite the names of local hockey players from the Truro and District
Hockey League as well as each of the schools in the area. I learned how to
decipher all the sports stories and stats in the Truro Daily News and the
Halifax Chronicle-Herald. I could not recite the Periodic Table, but I knew if
Gordie Howe had more goals than Bobby Hull or more penalty minutes than Eddie
I played Peewee and later Midget hockey in the Forum, but I may as well
have been on the open ice of the flooded stone quarries that were around Truro.
This because the Forum was not heated, and was really just an artificial ice
rink built into an existing barn. The barn and its fields was originally owned
by Bill Fleming. His new ice surface was located on the north side of Queen
Street, near to downtown.
The new rink, and was destined to become one of the best known hockey
centers in the Maritimes. Truro proper was never known as Hockeyville, but
games played there included future NHL players. Allan Cup playoff teams
developed from the players who called it their home. Initially it was named the
Fleming Arena. Subsequent owners were Willard Cox who called it the Truro Forum
and then in the late 50’s it was owned by George McCharles and Larry Hadfield
who renamed it the Colchester Forum.
I retain vivid memories of the Forum, and many instances that occurred
there, real and some imagined. The Forum as a building was awesome to me, and I
suspect many of my age peers in Truro and Colchester County. It was one of the
first artificial ice plants in the Maritimes. It was among the first to have
the Blue Lines painted on the ice. Years later, it was among the first to have
a center Red Line that made a pass from the defensive zone behind the Blue
Line, to over the center Red Line, an off-side hockey rule. This was done to
slow down the fastest hockey teams who could get break-aways several times a
game with the long centering pass, down ice.
In many ways I am who I am today because of the Forum… I learned to wonder
and wander; imagine and observe; strive and achieve or fail; respect,
celebrate, grieve and so on at the Forum. Perhaps not my DNA, but definitely my
hardware and software were developed from the beginnings that were centered in
life at the Truro Forum.
I did a little research for this story, and received willing help from
several folks. I want to acknowledge them ahead of the story; just in case you think
my story and writing unworthy of completion… Lyle Carter, one of the Goalie
Gods of my early hockey memories and a historian, writer, and just
all-round-good-guy, has provided me with verbal, scanned and emailed notes… including
some pictures of the forum. Johnny Hutcheson provided Lyle with some of his printed
information including some pictures. My brother Harold Ross reminded me of
several incidents that took place at the old Forum. I did find some information
on the internet, but searches there made me glad that I have a brain, and grey
matter that is intact, so as not to have to depend on the lack of uploads from
the various news entities of the day. An article in the Truro Daily news, and
an editorial from the same News was helpful in understanding some details for
Here is my experience and the Forum’s impact on my memories…
Circa 1963… I am about fourteen
years old as I help this story unfold…
Six rink rats on ice hockey skates… each pushing rusted, black-bladed,
hickory shafted, snow-plows, circled the chipped-up almost snowy ice of the old
Colchester Forum. These were young people who volunteered to scrape the playing
surface. Their goal was to end up with two piles of snow, one at each end of
the ice. Hundreds of fans looked on from the edges of the boards… it was
between the first and second period of the big game… I was intent on making
sure I didn’t miss any part of the ice-making process… there wasn’t much else
to do during intermissions back in 1963. Making the ice between periods would
make a difference in the speed of the hockey in the next period. It could change
the outcome of a team’s efforts during the subsequent period.
Curious, besides watching the hockey, I remember watching these Truro rink
rats at every game I attended. Yes, I was there to cheer for teams named the
Owls, Elks, Lions, Dairymen, Imperials and the Aces, as they played. Hockey in
this Forum was like nowhere else in Nova Scotia… it was fast, powerful, exciting
hockey. It was that way this night… we were watching the annual Truro District
Hockey League All Star Game… Thursday, January 31st, 1963. Events of
this evening are seared into my memories like few others.
A few of the fans were actually waiting to see who would bull-doze the big
red snow scoop that would ultimately finish the ice cleaning job. I was among
that group, leaning over the boards, intently watching. There at one end of the
ice stood a very strong looking guy named Denny… one of the most powerful
skaters anyone had ever seen… tonight we would see real power at work on the
Denny watched the human plow-team scraping the chipped ice. Pushed in the
plows, the ice looked more like snow, piling up near where the goalie’s net
would soon be replaced for the second period. When the piles became too big for
the small plows to push, Denny bent over the scoop’s handle bars, and pushed it
ahead of him… the leading edge was about four feet across, and had a skid pad
on each side at the back. Denny first angled the scoop up, just a little, as he
circled the pile that was near the north end of the rink… as he built up speed,
leaning on the push-bar, driving his knees, skate blades ripping up ice-chips
and snow, gathering speed, coming around for the second time he headed down the
ice… more speed, more power… he lowered the leading edge to ice level…
It was heart pumping and then suddenly heart stopping, as the scoop
exploded with ice-flakes blowing into the air. It was a direct hit, the scoop
was full, but now at a dead stop. A small roar came up from the fans as we
looked on… like I said, there wasn’t much to do during intermissions in 1963!
Skating backwards is a technique that’s very special; hard to teach and
harder to learn… especially for some defenceman. It takes skill and strength… and
for the scoop man, from a dead stop, with a scoop chock-full of heavy, snowy,
ice it takes power. Denny, with bent hips and knees, dug into the ice with his skates…
wiggling at the back end, pushing back with the knees… the scoop dislodged from
the pile. A gaping hole was left in the drift-like pile, and then he stopped
At this stage, I was dreaming of one day being able to just move that
scoop… or at least pushing one of those steel snow plows. I’d show everyone I
could do it, small as I was… and I knew the next stage of the scoop would be
the hardest… bigger dreams…
Full of the white stuff, Denny started pumping ahead, driving the heavily
loaded scoop ever faster… aiming for the open doors at the end of the rink… he
had to get the snow well inside the wood-plank, floored area… where it would be
shoveled outside, only to melt or freeze into a huge pile that often
accompanied the really cold winter nights… faster, heart thumping fast… and
then “BOOM” he hit the end, the scoop stopped dead, and the snow went flying
into the back of the building…
Recovering the scoop, Denny rounded again for the next load… and this
would go on for about ten minutes… seemed like more, because it was almost as
interesting as the game, and getting the ice clean was critical to the quality
of the hockey… without good snow and slush removal, the next stage of the
process could never work. When Denny finished scooping the last of the large
piles of snow, two of the small plows came together cleaning the scoop dregs, and
followed him into the open doors… and back to anonymity.
Now came the big, heavy, fifty-gallon red tank, mounted on 14 inch black
wheels and tires. It was pushed onto the ice. Steam was spewing from the open
filling hole of the tank (hot water makes better ice), and then the real magic
show started… the tall, grey headed guy (as I remember him, he was Reg), who
would wheel the tank, went to the front of it. He was being careful not to slip
and fall as he bent deeply, and opened a screw valve on the tank, just above
ice level. Beyond the valve there were three-quarter inch pipes fixed onto the
tank’s frame. Opening the valve allowed the
barrel’s hot water to stream into the distribution pipes… onto a well-worn,
thick, thatched, hemp-like, rope pad that would disperse the steaming water smoothly
onto the cut-up, scraped-up ice… but only if you moved the barrel at
Big Reg was talented to the point where the old Truro Forum was known for
its great ice… this was science and magic, combined. I was mesmerized by how
smooth the ice could be… unless the home team was behind… then the ice would be
made sticky to slow the game, a trick only the best ice-makers like Reg could
do. For sure, this was no Zamboni, but the ice was as good as in the Montreal
Forum, hockey’s Gold Standard. Tonight, the ice was perfect! The second period
would be fast… lots of goals probably… unless the goal tenders were really
In the fan-stands, during the dead of winter, the wooden bench seats were
so cold one would be as likely to choose to stand, rather than sit. Perhaps the
winter hockey benches in towns like Truro, and around Canada, were the first to
be known as “stands”. Perhaps the name migrated with the weather to the warmer
sports of football, baseball and basketball, where the term “stands” seems like
an oxymoron. Perhaps this was also the genesis of the term standing ovations…
in fact, all ovations were standing in the dead of a hard winter in Truro, Nova
Scotia in the early ‘60s.
Parking for most games was at the First United Church, Lorne Street
parking lot. Walking to the Forum, in the dead of winter, could be treacherous…
there was a narrow, poorly lit driveway, going down a hill, to the barn-like building.
There were two levels of entry. The lower entrance took players and fans to the
ice level. The upper level doors were opened for important games, when they
needed the upper stands to be used, and there were only two very narrow, wooden
stairways inside the building, to the upper stands. There was a small canteen
near the entrance at the lower level, and a small ticket window by the door.
The rink surface itself was small by current standards… less than 200 feet
long, as I remember. The width was also narrow compared to today. The goal
posts, like the roof-girders above, were made of steel, but unlike the roof-girders,
they had a tendency to come loose at critical times of games… with assists from
the defending goal tenders. The netting was made of hemp rope, similar to that
thatch on the watering tank. It had a tendency to break when a particularly
hard shot got passed a goaltender… and had to be checked by the referee
regularly… a tradition still in place today.
There were thick wooden boards that had absolutely no give, around the
perimeter of the ice hockey surface. Today there are several inches of ‘give’
to the modern rinks… back then, the wooden boards seemed to jump toward you,
rather than give, when a player checked another into them.
Straight up from the side boards, every eighteen feet, there were open
structural beams; 12 inch, rough-hewn posts, soaring to the rafters. Defensemen
used these beams as the extra man… squeezing smaller, rushing puck-carrying
forwards into them… occasionally crushing a head or shoulder into them. In the
days of the Truro Forum there were leather helmets, but few if any players used
them… these pillar-like posts should have gotten danger-pay for unsuspecting,
head-down, forwards! The posts could also block the perfect view of a crushing
check, or a goal, for the unfortunate fan who was situated near a beam.
The Forum’s four corners were tight, not much more than square. They were
friendly to the defense; they made it hard for the offence’s forwards to
fore-check, without being slammed by a big defenseman. I can remember some of
those, seeming, giants that were able to range from the goalie to the corner,
without fear of a centering pass getting through… although I don’t remember if
it was size or the smallness of the corners that was the limiting factor.
In this undated photo one can see the upstairs area for fans; the tight corners; small size of the ice surface; large structural posts on the side boards; the goalie's crease was square; the downstairs areas where the wire mesh protected fans; a cigarette advertisement, and a Coke ad with the same logo as today. (Photographer and date unknown, sourced from Lyle Carter)
At the ends of the rink, and in the corners and behind the nets, there was
chain link fencing that protected the fans and goal judges from the shots that
missed the net. This chain link would allow clear vision of the puck coming,
right at your head… it was only macho thinking that allowed one to try not to
blink or alternatively jump-out-of-the-way, as the puck ricocheted off the
metal of the fencing!
The chain link was rougher than the palms of a defenseman’s glove when
getting rubbed or worse, checked into the end of the rink… it was when a
player’s jersey or head got caught in the metal that a fan could sense and see the
pain of a tear or the blood of a cut. We watched the offensive players who
fore-checked, with respect reserved for MMA Octagon Fighters in more modern
times… as defensemen lured forwards closer to their pending demise.
The Forum also had dressing rooms. The same two rooms that were used for
the home and away teams to dress and plan strategies, were used as dressing rooms
for the public skating sessions. During public skating days, one was for boys,
the other for girls. The dressing rooms were also unheated. Wooden planked
floors had openings to the ground, some so wide a skate blade could go through
and trip up the unlucky wearer of the skate. Each dressing room had one toilet
and they both had a long trough for boys and men to urinate… those that were
shy, if they went outside, where it cold be so cold a urine stream might freeze
in mid-air, might be stuck for a while.
Although it may seem like this was a den of horrors, the Truro Forum was
actually a magnet to the residents of Truro and District, all the way out to villages
like Brookfield, Middle Stewiacke, Debert and Tatamagouche. It wasn’t just
hockey that engendered participation and fans. The public skating on Sunday
afternoons at the Forum drew hundreds of skaters, young and not so. For the
first hour the participants would go clockwise with the music. The music
stopped, and all would reverse course, moving together in some sort of harmony.
Some days they even cleaned the ice between direction changes.
There was usually some classical skating music, and couples would turn the
ice loop, arm-in-arm, with long, smooth strides to the beat. At the same time,
there were individuals on figure and hockey skates going in the same general
direction, but not in unison. Every week there were a few really smooth skaters
on the long, racing blades that could make it end to end and around the corners
with just a few strides… smoothly pushing and gliding around the ice. These
skaters were reflections of the population in Truro that still had their roots
in Holland. The combination of all of these forms of skating made for
interesting sessions with youngsters racing, adults skating to music and the
long blades taking wide corners… organized chaos.
On any given open skate, I would pay my twenty-five cents (if I couldn’t
sneak in) and meet many of my friends from Willow, Douglas and Alice Street
schools, along with Saint Mary’s school. As I grew older, I started meeting
each of my new-found girl-friends, as well as their many friends. Being a very good skater was a great way to
earn time with the girls, and not being reliant on having a hockey stick in
one’s hand for balance, got allowed me to hold hands with favorites. I got to
meet girls from all over Truro, and from Onslow and Brookfield, simply by being
a good skater.
So the Truro Forum had become my social hub, as well as where I learned
how to play my chippy style of hockey. It also became my escape place… to get
away from home when I wasn’t getting along; and from school when I was bored. I
would just go to the Forum and watch Truro live.
During this time my brother Harold was also becoming a strong hockey
player. He was in his last year of peewee hockey in the winter of 1962/3. He
had become tall and strong for his age and was becoming a leading defenseman
for Willow Street School. I can remember that watching his games became another
reason to be at the forum. I had started being the recorder for games and did a
little refereeing around this time. I don’t remember if I ever gave him a
penalty, but probably I sh/could have…
The rest of my life was moving along in a direction in which not everyone
was happy. My teachers and parents seemed to be contriving to make me do only
the things they wanted me to do. Of course, I was willing to fight the system
and as a result, started failing in my school grades. At the time, hockey,
skating and girls had become my focus, anything other than school.
In 1962, I had been held back a year after failing with Ms. Croft in Truro
Junior High School. I was hanging out at the rink more and more. I had started
smoking cigarettes, and acting out. The only positive influences I had seemed
to be a couple of teachers and my hockey gods. The Physical Education teacher
Bill Gatchel was also my Midget Hockey Coach. I liked history, English
literature and geography, but not much else about school interested me.
While I was keeping a lid on most of my life, my memories are wrapped in
the Truro forum and hockey… and it seems that many of us were going through the
same thing. There was little else to do in the smallness that was Truro… small
in many more ways than size, it was a time where I was bursting to get to the
rest of my future.
All of this life experience was continuing as I stood and watched that
All-Star game that Thursday night. It was brutally cold outside. Temperatures
hovered near the low of zero degrees Fahrenheit, for the evening. It was an
exciting game, with Bible Hill, the previous year’s championship team, playing
the all-stars. But the cold caused the end of the game to be a relief, and most,
if not all the fans headed, hurriedly, back to their parked vehicles. If the
battery was frozen and the car didn’t start, the passengers joined the rest of
the fans in trudging home in the sub-zero cold. No church in the morning, so
cars were left in the parking lot.
I remember getting home having some hot chocolate with Mom, and getting to
bed which was by far, the warmest place in the house. My brother Harold was
playing his peewee hockey game in the morning and had gone to bed early. His
game would be played at 8 AM… and he would be walking to the rink, hockey gear
on with his skates and a hockey stick over his shoulder. Sleep came early for
Soon after I went to bed, the Truro Fire Alarm, which sounded like a loud
horn, started to blare. It was not unusual to hear the alarm ringing from the
top of the fire hall, in Truro’s center, at Prince and Young Streets. In the
crisp winter air, it sounded like it was next door. I paid it little mind and
settled into sleep. My dreams were of the game earlier in the evening, and how
on Saturday I would be playing center on the second line of a Midget league
game. I am sure I was dreaming of scoring goals and winning the game.
When the second alarm rang just 30 minutes after the first, it actually
woke me. A second alarm was indeed, unusual. The town of 12,000 people had an
all-volunteer fire department, so good that it often placed high in the Nova
Scotia Firemen’s Competition at the Provincial Exhibition Grounds. A second
alarm would likely pull everyone from bed, phones ringing, dreading fighting a
fire in the biting cold of late January. We lived a mile or so from down town,
and I could hear fire-engines’ sirens again, in the distance. But they didn’t
sound for long… that meant the fire must be downtown I thought, but drifted off
to sleep. No point in getting up, it was too cold to watch a fire, and at that
hour, I wouldn’t have been allowed to go, anyway.
In just a few minutes I was sleeping soundly again… only to be awaken by a
third alarm. This time I was up and looking out my bedroom window… the frost at
the corners and edges of the windows couldn’t mask a glow in the sky. It was so
bright, I didn’t notice that the cover over the three holes in the storm
windows were open, that’s why I could hear the sirens and horns so clearly… and
why my room was so cold. I slammed the cover over the holes and the inside
My parents were up already… we all wondered what building was burning. It
was still too cold to head out… it was unlikely that the green Simca V8 car
that my parents owned would start anyway. The car was made in France and was
modeled after the Fiat… neither were intended for the Canadian winters of the
60’s. Even plugged in, it likely wouldn’t start. And, there was no way one should
walk a mile, just to see a fire, in the cold frost of the night.
So, the speculation was on, as I crawled back into bed. Again, sleep came
In the dark of the early morning I wakened to my alarm. I would be walking
with Harold to the Forum for his game. We needed to leave at 6:30, so I had set
the alarm for 6AM. I could hear some voices in the kitchen, which was unusual
for that time of the morning. I could smell coffee, and breakfast… and the
voices were excited.
My parents had not gone back to bed after the third alarm… the bright glow
in the sky to the east of our home was too much for my step-father to resist.
He was not a fireman, but he knew many of the members of the Fire Hall, and he
likely thought that this was a big fire, so perhaps he should go downtown.
Perhaps it was his workplace on fire… Margolian’s was in an older building, and
it would be a disaster for him were he to lose his job. The glow was apparently
so bright and massive that he couldn’t pinpoint the location, so off he went.
He had come home at around 5:30AM to warm up and to talk to Mother about
how to break the news to her two boys. The Colchester Forum was gone…
In its place was a skeleton of twisted steel beams, just the front wall
and door would indicate what had stood prior to the disaster. Amazingly, no one
was hurt in the three alarm fire. Apparently there was no saving the building
from the first alarm… the Fire Chief indicated the fire started in the
compressor room. There was an ammonia explosion, and a 250 gallon fuel tank
burned like a torch according to the Truro Daily News report the afternoon of
February 1st, 1963. The building was a total loss. The owners of the
Forum estimated the financial loss from the fire to be around $30,000 and it
was only insured for half that value. They indicated they had no intention of
rebuilding the facility.
As I wakened to the news, I was in denial, as was my brother. He was
determined to head down to the rink to play his peewee hockey game. This, in
spite of Radio Station AM600, CKCL reporting non-stop on the loss of the building
in the still smoldering, overnight fire. We sat, mostly in wonder of what we
would do now… there were games to be played; time to be spent; whole lives
seemed to hang in the balance of what would happen. Charles Archibald, the
President of the Truro Minor Hockey Association reported there were over 1,000
children in the leagues of the association… they would be meeting soon, to plan
for the future of hockey in Truro and its surrounding district.
These two scanned pic are from the Daily News. Sorry, but it is difficult to scan in JPG, so perhaps a little
explanation is in order... the upper picture shows the inferno with a couple of Truro Firemen in the foreground. The second is the aftermath... just twisted structural steel was all that was left. The article says it best:
"NOTHING BUT GURDERS"
It was the editorial the next day in the Daily News that actually captured
the real impact of the fire. While many were talking about the cost to rebuild,
estimated at $150,000 to $300,000 and the locations of such a facility…
Victoria Park, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, TAAC Grounds and so on… the
editorial stated among other things “the loss will be keenly felt by the young
people. The Forum, such as it was, was of vital
importance to them, not only to those resident of Truro, but the
For me, the editorial was an understatement. It was my world.
Mine was a fragile existence. The Forum had provided what in the popular
game of tag was called Home Base. For many reasons, school and family/home were
not doing it for me at the time. I suspect that there were many of the 1,000
young people in the same situation. In perspective, it was the time of the
Beatles invasion; cigarette smoking; girls; and many other confusing
influences. This was the lot for many, we had problems with vision and
We had the radio… we could get the AM signal from CKCL and CJCH in
Halifax. And with the help of signal skips we could on some nights get WCBS
(Cousin Brucie), WABC and others, mostly rebroadcasting from Boston. We had the
Truro Daily News and the Chronicle Herald and Mail-Star from Halifax. We had
CBC TV and Radio and the very new CTV that was getting viewers by 1963. We had
our parents and teachers, books and magazines. Stories from families lucky
enough to travel to Florida for a few weeks in the winter gave us visions of a
horizon… but not much to learn from.
For the next year, putting a hockey league together playing on open ice
with rinks at most of the grade schools and the Junior High was helpful. These
open rinks did not have artificial ice making, and weather was iffy, at best.
For me, I was old enough and played a style that got me onto the Colchester
County Academy, Brown and Gold, Hockey Team. It played in 1964 in the
Headmaster’s Hockey Championships. The arena in New Glasgow, forty miles away,
became our home ice. We played against Kings Academy, Sydney High School and then
in the provincial finals, losing to Queen Elizabeth High School at the Halifax
Physical Education teachers started becoming important to me. The biggest
impression was made on me by Bill Gatchel. He got me thinking about the things
I could do if I was in shape. In addition, he taught us about healthy living,
first aid, and calisthenics… which became my big interest. Hundreds of push,
pull and sit-ups became my mantra. While running wasn’t yet a fad, I was
starting to ride my Fuji ten-speed bicycle some distances… for example riding
to the Wild Life Park in Shubenacadie. In those days I hadn’t even heard of the
Tour de France, but that ride in 1964 comes to mind occasionally when I am
ascending a difficult hill, on my bike, even today. In ‘64 it took me almost
all day to get to Shubie, down and back. Today, it would be a matter of five
hours, with time to watch the Otters, the stars of the park.
Absent these side-lines, I don’t know what would have happened to me. Yes,
hockey came back with my playing for the Bearcats in Junior Hockey… but it was
during these times that we went through our first exposure to American life.
John Kennedy was assassinated later in 1963. More music was coming from more
liberated writers and bands like the Beatles and Stones from other worlds. And
while the boards of trade, city councils and political leaders bantered about
the need to build a skating edifice, they forgot that it’s what happens inside
those buildings… the institution within, that has the influence on young people.
For me, the lessons of scraping the ice cleanly; removing the snow
completely; using hot water to make smooth ice… left a long lasting impression.
Seeing a great local hockey player move up the ranks into the pro leagues gave
me hope that one day, perhaps I could do the same… whether it be in hockey, or
business, or politics. Having a place to go in dark hours, where I could play
hockey, or get lost watching it, kept me out of the trouble into which I may
easily have fallen, into early in life.
The life of the Colchester Forum as an institution more than just a building,
had an impact on the history of Truro, Colchester County, Nova Scotia and at
times Canada. When it burned that night in 1963, that all became a memory.
Subsequent facilities became cookie cutter buildings with no personalities.
They had Zamboni machines to clean the ice… and water them at the same time.
These machines could even shave the ice so that games could be played longer
into the spring because the ice could be kept just an inch thick, allowing the
freezing pipes to keep the ice playable even when the building warms up. But
most have no personality, at least not like the Colchester Forum in 1963.
The Editorial in the Daily News got it right… the loss of the forum was
keenly felt by the young people of Truro. It is vaguely remembered by people who
were not necessarily in its grasp, but clearly it has been a magnet for many a
memory, for a very long time.
Grad. Saint Mary's University, 1975, got into the medical device business initially in sales, then various management positions up to president, all in Medical Devices. I prefer therapy products over diagnostic, but they are all fun, and in a way have defined my life. I have now evolved, with help from my 35 year partner Lynnda with whom I now share every hour. I am into staying healthy, photography, kayaking, bicycling, gardening and two books a week. I wish I had gotten to this stage earlier!