Ice meets metal
Musée tells the story and the history of skating
By: Scott Hayes
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 07, 2013 06:00 am
Lace Up: Canada’s Passion for Skating
On now until Sunday, Nov. 3
Opening reception from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 12
Musée Héritage Museum
5 St. Anne Street, in St. Albert Place
Call 780-459-1528 or visit www.museeheritage.ca for more information.
Autumn in Canada means three things: falling leaves, back to school and thousands of skate sharpeners start to whir. This is the time when the arenas and indoor skating rinks start to experience population booms as a culture of steel-bladed gliders lace up and take to the ice.
For that reason, there’s no more appropriate show to check out than Lace Up: Canada’s Passion for Skating. Hockey is this country’s unofficial sport and a favourite pastime of millions. Why not get a better appreciation of our national culture than by visiting the Musée Héritage Museum? After all, the city was just visited by the Stanley Cup (hoisted by Chicago Blackhawk and hometown hero Ryan Stanton) last week.
The museum’s promotional literature lays it all out. Skating is one of the denominators that most of us have in common.
“Skating is more than a great Canadian tradition. It is an important part of our national identity. Skating is part of our culture. Millions of people lace up each winter to enjoy the unique experience of skating on ponds, rivers, rinks and canals across Canada. We participate in a tradition that is a central part of life in this country,” it says.
While the travelling exhibit is mostly text on display panels, the museum’s staff members are more than happy to run with it. Curator Joanne White always jumps at the chance to edify the local masses by dusting off and setting out some treasured relics and artifacts from the institution’s own archives.
“We have a few older pieces so it’s always nice to get those out,” she began.
She isn’t kidding. There’s a pair of wooden touring skates that date between 1859 and 1886. These fantastic objects look like quaint and simple contraptions that would easily strap over or connect with the skater’s own footwear. They also look like a pair of cruel shoes that would make anyone wince and whinge at the prospect of skating.
The love of the sport was obviously enough to overcome such torturous devices, likely prompting the rapid evolution of ice skates to the more modern and much more comfortable contraptions that are in use today.
“It’s also really interesting to see what’s out there in the community. Getting in touch with people and having them contribute is always really fun because then it’s about things we haven’t seen either.”
You might recognize the names of some of the people who have contributed some of their own personal paraphernalia to make this national exhibit much more interesting to St. Albert audiences. There’s speed skater Tamara Oudenaarden and hockey legends Troy Murray, Jarome Iginla and Mark Messier, and that’s just for starters.
“This community certainly has a very strong skating and hockey history!”
To her, some of the most interesting aspects of the history were the personal mementoes like Murray’s collection of hockey buttons. There are pics and pucks, jerseys and even Oudenaarden’s Lycra skin suit.
“I like some of the items that were from when the people were younger and coming up. Just those things that inspired the passion in these people to get into their sport, and what in St. Albert growing up here influenced them to go that way.”
She said that as much as the exhibit is meant to edify others, she’s always the first to benefit.
“I’ve learned a lot! That’s one of the things I love about my job is that every exhibit we do I get to learn new things.”
Skating through the ages
This exhibit comes to the city courtesy of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Québec. That national institution’s primary mission is to preserve and promote vital aspects of our collective past.
“Skating is everywhere. It is a part of our history. To appreciate its popularity and its importance,” one of the interpretive displays states, “we need only look at a newspaper or turn on the television.”
Case in point: if those wooden skates go back to 1859 then they would actually predate the country itself. What more evidence do we need of the importance of skating to our earliest settlers than such footwear? The philosophy was that if you’re going to live in a land with a long winter, you’d best know how to skate.
“This winter pleasure appeared on the Canadian scene early on, in the New France era, since our winters are ideal for fun on the ice,’ explains another display.
Is it possible that these crude but critical implements somehow shaped the nation? Not likely, but John A. MacDonald might have used similar gear if he ever decided to take a break from being the first premier of the Dominion of Canada by going for a wintry twirl on the frozen Rideau Canal.
All of that is pure speculation, of course. What is cold, hard fact, however, is that skating and hockey were integral activities to the St. Albert experience. There are teams like the St. Albert River Rats (check out the photo of them from the 1920s!) and people like Joe Benoit to prove it. Born here in 1916, he became our first hockey star with a Stanley Cup championship under his belt long before Mark Messier ever took a slapshot. Benoit was a right-winger with the Montréal Canadians in the 1940s.
Then came Eddie Joyal, whose NHL career was much more substantial than that of his celebrated predecessor. Born at the time that Benoit’s star was just starting to rise, Joyal learned to skate on the mighty Sturgeon River, and went on to play almost 500 games primarily with the Los Angeles Kings. His fortifying performances on the rink were so valuable to the team that the Kings have recently begun offering the Eddie Joyal Award to the player who tallies the most preseason points.
Both are well represented in the exhibit. Well, mostly.
“Interestingly enough, Eddie Joyal… we don’t have any photos of him in our collection but we do have pictures of a number of Joyal family members playing for the various local hockey teams so we know that the family was well involved,” White confessed.
There are plenty of photos of Mark Messier, Jarome Iginla, Meaghan Mikkelson, Troy Murray and Olympic speed skater Tamara Oudenaarden too.
Lace Up is meant to provide an interpretation of the importance that hockey played to life among the locals of the Sturgeon River valley.