Thursday, 9 February 2012

BELONGING TO WELLINGTON


CHAPTER 1
 
I was born on October 24, 1953 to Yvonne (née Gaudet) and J. Wilfred Arsenault of Wellington.  My mother was the daughter of a well-established businessman, Emmanuel Gaudet, partner in the mercantile firm of Arsenault & Gaudet, Ltd.  My father, born in nearby Saint-Raphaël, came from more humble beginnings, and was a member of the Legislative Assembly at the time of my birth.  Sadly, my parents separated when I was very young, and I have no memory of my father.  I have photos of him with others, but only one of him with me; him and my mother holding me on the day of my baptism.
I grew up in a big, thirteen-room house, built by my maternal grandfather in 1913, using lumber he’d purchased from a salvaged ship.  My first memories are of outings with my mother, and spending time with my cousins and my maternal grandmother, Mannie.  My mother wrote in my baby book that I was bilingual by the age of two.  Wellington was one of those rare communities on the Island where it was possible to learn and maintain both languages.  For many years, until consolidation, the village boasted a French school and an English school.
My little world expanded as I was allowed to wander from my yard, visit neighbours, and generally explore my environment.  After my parents separated, my mother was hired as the manager of the Wellington Co-op.  She worked six days a week and, being an only child, I was alone much of the time, especially after my grandmother’s death in 1961.  My mother was an exceptional person, a single working mother long before this status became generally accepted.  She managed the Co-op for twenty-one years and, for most of that time, she was the only female manager of a Co-op store in Atlantic Canada.
I left Wellington for good in 1990 after my mother’s tragic death, but I’ve always belonged to Wellington.  The word ‘belonging’ may be defined in a number of ways.  It can mean a shared sense of community, a shared emotional connection, participation in a shared history, or an affiliation with a place that has great spiritual meaning.  For me, Wellington is all of those.  Besides, in the old days, people didn’t ask where you were from, they asked: "Where do you belong to?"  Someone much wiser than me posed the question this way: "Ask not who am I, but where is this place?"
One of the reasons I remain so attached to Wellington is that it was such a wonderful place to grow up in the 1950s and 1960s.  I have many fond memories of my childhood, and I’ve decided to share a few of them through this blog.  Periodically, I’ll post items remembered from my youth, with photos when I can to supplement the text.  My plan is to relate the story to the time of year.  So, for example, this first post will be about hockey; the next one will be about riding the ice cakes and trout fishing.  And so on.
Eventually, I want to write about my maternal grandfather’s rather extensive business and community interests, including Arsenault & Gaudet, Ltd.  He was what we would call today ‘A big wheel’.  Also, I’ll expand on a few of the topics covered in the history of Wellington, By the Old Mill Stream.  I was one of the contributing authors and a member of the committee that published the book in 1983.  Only three of the committee members, Allan and Mary Graham of Alberton, and myself, are still around to remember how much fun we had researching and assembling the book.
My interest in history was kindled at a young age.  I loved to ‘hang around’ places and listen to older folks talk about bygone days.  One of my favorite haunts was Rufus MacLure’s Barber Shop, located at the time next to Arsenault & Gaudet’s store, in a modest square structure originally built to house the store’s generator and batteries in the days when it provided its own electricity.  Every Saturday morning, the older men would gather to reminisce and get a ‘trim’ from ‘Rufe’: Stephen (Steve Roe) MacNeill and Théodore (Big Ted Élisé) Arsenault, both of them World War I veterans; George Bishop, Émile (Clovis) Arsenault, Cyrus (Gil) Gallant, Cyrus F. (à Stanislaus) Gallant, Joe Gaudet; and others who’ve faded from my memory.
They spoke about farming in the old days, of winters past, hard times, fast horses, and how the new-fangled contraptions would be the ruination of us all.  They cursed at the government, no matter who was in power, and they generally took a hard line on the ways of the young generation.  Other places I hung out to bathe in the wisdom of my elders were the two village stores, the CNR station, the post office, the potato and feed warehouses, and the two garages that operated in the village.
But, being a free-range kid and ‘runner of the roads’, I also spent a great deal of time with the women of the village.  My first sanctioned trips outside the yard were to visit neighbours Irene (Cyril Gallant), Cora (Joe Gaudet), Tilly (Rufus MacLure), and Eunice (Henry Arsenault).  Later on, I would venture farther from home, up the Mill Road, to call upon my aunts, Bernice and Faustina.  In those days, women were not known by their first names but rather, for example, as Mrs. Cyril Gallant; or Mrs. Cyril, for short.  I know now that these women kept an eye on me while my mother worked to put bread on our table and keep our big house warm.  They were always very kind to me, and I shall always remember their kindness.
For this first chapter on the theme of belonging to Wellington, I’ve decided to write about hockey, the first organized sport I played, and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
HOCKEY
Hockey was far different for a kid growing up in Wellington in the 1960's than it is today.  I didn't get my first pair of real skates until I was eight or nine years old, although I remember having a pair of ‘bob-skates’ when younger.  My first attempts were not very successful, and the only thing I vividly remember is sore ankles and numerous falls.  In those days, we skated on the Ellis River, Barlow’s Millpond or the sewage lagoon, manoeuvring around cracks and rough spots and trying to keep from freezing our fingers as we laced up our skates.  It really bore no resemblance to the experience of our children who have known only indoor rinks and artificial ice.
The picture below is of Lorne Bell, son of Russell (Buff) and Pearl Ferguson, and it would have been taken in the mid-1930s.  He is skating on Barlow's millpond, the place where I learned to skate.  Lorne was an early boyfriend of my mother's and played for the Halifax Canadians hockey team after he moved away from Wellington.
As a youngster, I was a very weak skater and therefore had only two options: find another sport or be the goalie.  Since there was no other winter sport for us, I was destined to strap on the pads.  Maurice and Gabriel Arsenault, sons of Euclide and Jeanne-Mance, had their own outdoor rink, and that’s where I got my start, there and in their basement where guys took turns trying to take my head off!
My first team was made up of kids my age from the village, and we played against Richmond in the Wellington Parish rink where the W. Ralph MacLellan Sports Centre now stands.  It was exciting for us to play in a real indoor rink and on the same ice surface as our Sunday afternoon idols, the Wellington Battlers. 
But our Saturday morning games against Richmond were far less glamorous.  To begin with, we had no coach and no one to drive us the five-mile distance to the rink.  In order to get there, we had to bum a ride, and our reluctant driver usually deposited his charges at the door only to speed away, never to be seen again.  Back in the mid‑1960s, people worked from Monday to Saturday; so whoever drove us to the rink had to return to work.  But concerns about how we would get home soon vanished when we crossed the threshold and headed for the dressing room.  Once on the ice, our goal was clear, to beat Richmond and bring honour to Wellington!
Despite frozen fingers and toes, my memories are fond ones: the excitement, the camaraderie, the feeling of belonging to a group, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  Richmond usually won, because the referee favoured their side, or so we maintained, but we did manage a few victories along the way.  The game over, our main preoccupation was getting back home.  Unfortunately, we often failed in this regard and had to walk all or part of the way to Wellington on the railway tracks, wearing half of our frozen gear and dragging the rest behind us.
One of the more interesting team activities was the annual lottery.  Fund‑raising lacked the sophistication of today's campaigns, but it did serve the purpose, and we raised all our money ourselves.  In order to buy a few spare sticks and a goalie stick, we sold tickets on a box of Moirs' chocolates at ten cents each or three for a quarter.  One year, we made ten dollars profit, sufficient to buy half a dozen sticks at the Co‑op!  The sticks were the team's most prized possession, along with borrowed goalie pads, and we reserved them for use by those who couldn't afford their own.
One game evokes vivid memories because it was the first time Mom watched me play.  It was in 1964, the Centennial of the Charlottetown conference, and it was probably held on a Friday night as part of a winter carnival to mark the Centennial.  I remember this because we attended Mass (first Friday) before the game, fully dressed in our hockey gear, which was a novelty in itself.  I can still see the opposing goalie, Charlie McNeill, glaring at me from across the aisle.  After Mass, players, parents and Father Leonard MacDonald all trooped over to the rink and we played a spirited game against Richmond, which ended in a 2 ‑ 2 tie.
Others who played on our team were Gerald (Abel) Arsenault, our top scorer, Gary Fidèle) Gallant, Nazaire (Agno) Arsenault, Urban (Sylvère) Arsenault, Donald (Julien) Arsenault, Robert (Abel) Arsenault, Jean-Guy (Cédric) Arsenault, Eldon (Clifford) Arsenault, Randy Ferguson, Ralph (Joe) Gallant, Roger Collette, and Bennett (Ira) Barlow.
I idolized the Wellington Battlers.  They were the ‘big team’!  And they always won, except when the other team cheated.  The Prince County Intermediate C League trophy was proudly displayed on a shelf behind the counter at Alta’s Restaurant, and it seemed to me like it sat there forever; that no other team would dare claim it!  Two of Alta and Leo’s sons, Robert and Grant, played for the Battlers.  Others from the village who played were Martin (Cédric), Phil (Sylvère), Paul (Archie), and Roger (Edmond).  Other members of the team were mostly from Wellington Centre: Doug and Gary Goodwin, Bert Ayers, Merrill Cameron, Billy MacLellan, Donnie Gillis, Everett, Desi and Gerald McNeill, Leonard MacDonald and Kenny Noonan.
The Battlers played in a league with Lot 16, Mont-Carmel and Baie-Egmont.  Mont-Carmel called itself Les Anges, while Baie-Egmont was Les Jets.  If Lot 16 had a name, I don’t recall what it was, but they were the roughest of the four teams.  I used to hitch a ride to the games, played in one of the three parish natural ice rinks (Lot 16 didn’t have one of its own), with whoever would give me a ride.  Usually, someone would take pity on me, as I stood outside the rink after the game and bummed a ride home.
Most games were held on Sunday afternoons at 2:00.  After one fiercely fought affair between Wellington and Lot 16, a fight broke out in the parking lot.  It was mostly Lot 16 fans against Wellington players.  Paul (Archie) Arsenault made the mistake of rolling down his window to argue a point with a woman from the Lot 16 crowd, and lived to regret it.  If memory serves, he ended up with a black eye for his trouble, and had a lot of explaining to do the next morning!
As we reached our early teens, we played occasional games against Egmont Bay and Mont‑Carmel and, in grade eleven I decided to try out for the École régionale Évangéline team.  This was the big time, with a coach, road trips and, for me, a complete set of almost new goalie equipment!   To say I inspired confidence at the outset would be a terrible exaggeration, and I distinctly remember our first league game against Kensington.  I was scared shitless, and the coach must have sensed my discomfort since he brought a right‑handed trapper to the game in case I flopped.  Had this happened, his backup plan was to dress one of the defencemen; I know this because Coach Hitchcock told me so on the bus.  Talk about a confidence builder!  Actually, things went better than planned, and we won the game 6 ‑ 5.
We did have a decent team and managed to win our share of games against our rivals from Kensington, O'Leary, Tignish, Alberton, Englewood, Central Queens and Stella Maris. The only team we could not beat was Athena.  I also played during my last year at Évangéline but, by that time, we had lost most of our good players to graduation and were relegated to the role of league doormat.  To be honest, by this time I was interested in things other than hockey, and the long rides to and from the games were an opportunity to get acquainted with the girl I would eventually marry.  The longer the ride, the better I liked it!  Since I didn't turn sixteen until grade twelve, they were our only such opportunities.  A number of fans and our very own cheerleaders accompanied us to the games and, win or lose, we always had fun.  You may recognize the cheerleader on the far right.
All goalies have their idiosyncrasies, and one of mine was to play with my jeans on under my gear, as this got around the uncomfortable socks and garter belt.  After one particular game, it also meant riding all the way home with my hockey pants on since I'd ripped the crotch out of my jeans when I did the splits!  I played with my glasses on and, until my last year in high school, I never wore a mask.  But I can never remember getting hurt very badly.  The photo below is from the 1970 Évangéline yearbook.
During the year I spent at UPEI, I played a lot of hockey.  I started playing intramural and was scouted by Vince Mulligan to join the junior varsity team that played in the Island Junior B League.  My role was to act as the backup goalie and to provide target practice to the head hunters on the team.  One guy in particular, Don Kinsman, had a wicked slap shot and an uncanny ability to hit me where it hurt most.  I stayed with the team through most of the year but eventually got tired of warming the bench and quit.  I played a grand total of two periods, and then only because the regular goalie had received a game misconduct for fighting.
Others I remember on that team were Shawn Murphy, Urban ‘Rabbit’ MacDonald, Ernie Dunsford, Fred McCardle, John ‘Pud’ MacMillan, Brent Coffin, Grant Killorn, Jim Killorn, Gene Power, Louis Docherty, Jim MacIntyre, Paul Norris and Danny Dalton.
By the time I got to UNB in the fall of 1971, I was getting tired of the game.  Although I played for a couple of years with my residence team, Bridges House, and for the Forestry Faculty team, I did so with little enthusiasm.  From 1974 until 1982, I didn't play at all, and then someone suggested I join some local guys who played just for the fun of it in Abram-Village, Les jeunes boîteux.  I started to have fun again and found that I was still able to compete with players my age and younger.
The following winter, the Richmond team in the Evangéline Rec League drafted me: a new lease on life for an old goalie!  I proceeded to buy my own equipment and did quite well.  Although the calibre of hockey wasn't particularly high, we were competitive.  That first year, I was named team MVP, and the next year we won the regular season championship, bowing out to Abram-Village in the playoffs. 
The following year was ours however, and we beat the favoured Cape Carmel Crackers in a best-of-three final.  It was to be my only league championship, and what a thrill.  No twelve-year-old was ever more excited than I was when the siren sounded ending the game.  Ironically, that same evening, Richmond's senior team, the Oilers, also won their league championship and we all gathered for one hell of a party at the Saint Eleanors Lions Club.  The photo shown below was taken by the reporter from La Voix acadienne; the Crackers had asked him to attend the game to take their pictures.  Surprise!
I played one more year with this team and hung up the pads in 1987 as I had taken over as president of La Société Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin.  Throughout this period, I also played with the Forestry Branch team in three interprovincial tournaments, two of which we won.
Though never better than an average goalie, I've always enjoyed the game as a player, team member and spectator, and expect I always will.  Today's children have the opportunity to learn the game far better than we did and they benefit from superior coaching, equipment and facilities.  However, too much emphasis is placed on competition and not enough on fun and fitness.  Already, at the novice level, some parents, coaches and players take the game too seriously.  But, I always loved to watch my son, Clément, play and I accompanied him to many games at the minor, junior and university levels.

3 comments:

  1. This is one high quality blog, cousin. I'm getting back to work on my genealogy database!

    ReplyDelete