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East Toronto a curling hotbed

Now that winter is setting in, a question has to be answered about the great sports of the cold weather season. You probably thought of skating, but you are partially correct – the other sport is curling! In the East End there were many places where skating and hockey were played, but there was one place where curling, hockey and pleasure skating were combined, and this place was called the Aberdeen Curling Rink (ACR).

Hockey and pleasure skating took place at the Kenilworth Avenue Skating Arena, Kew Gardens, Ashbridges Bay, Small's Pond, the Grand Trunk Railroad Park and others, but the place that was the oldest and most used was probably the ACR.

It was located at the southeast corner of Main and Danforth, and was started in the 1890s. It was the closest thing we had to a multi-faceted recreation centre in the town of East Toronto. The town had a population of nearly 5,000, with its own police department, three fire stations, several schools, a high school, its own water supply, a hospital and the ACR, which was used for both recreation and social functions.

The Aberdeen Curling Rink was named after the Governor General of Canada at the time of its building, the Rt. Hon.  Earl of Aberdeen, John Hamilton-Gordon, who served as the seventh Governor General from 1893 to 1898. Lord Aberdeen and his wife were very progressive people for their era (in fact Lady Aberdeen founded the National Council of Women of Canada). Both were involved in education and politics in Canada.

Many of the people of East Toronto were interested in recreation, so they picked a location close to where the apartment buildings and current recreation centre at Main Square are now, and built a sate-of-the-art skating rink. It was covered so the facility could be used for different functions all year. Though all types of activities were held at the club, curling was to be its dominant sport. You must remember in those days, in the time before radio and television, there had to be a place to hold sporting events, religious meetings, political meetings and meetings of fraternal organizations.

Curling was a very popular sport and the people of East Toronto took it very seriously. Though at the beginning it was a strictly amateur event, it would later become a nearly professional rink, playing against much better and larger teams.

For over three decades the ACR was the hub of many social events. There would be autumn balls, Christmas balls, dancing, masquerades and parties of all sorts, along with curling. There was pleasure skating for the family. All of the winter activities were subject to the temperatures in the era before artificially cooled ice.

The ACR came into the modern lighting era, when gas lights were introduced in 1898. Imagine the night time, with the gas lamp-lighter doing his work while couples skated around and around. Skaters and curlers would travel to the rink in horse and buggy, or once in a while, a horseless carriage.

Much time was spent managing the establishment, arranging for all the different activities the people of East Toronto enjoyed at the ACR. Occasionally people would become angry and threaten to build an alternative site, such as near Lyall and John Street (now Malvern Avenue), but they patched up their differences, continuing to enjoy skating, curling, dancing and more from night to night.

A notice from the early days states:

ABERDEEN RINK ASSOCATION
PRES. – ANDREW GRANT
SEC. TREAS. – G.W. ORMEROD
VICE. PRES. – R.G. KERR
CURLING – ICE SKATING
FARM EXHIBITS – POLITICAL MEETINGS
REASONABLE RATES!

This was a business, and apparently many townspeople were shareholders – and the ACR made a profit.

In 1907 officers of the Aberdeen Rink Association include President G. Empringham, Vice President J.W. Brandon, Secretary-Treasurer H.G. Ormerod, and members J. Richards, N.W. Booth, G.W. Ormerod, J. Parkinson, F. Blakeley, Dr. Walter and Rev. T.N. Rogers. These were the leading citizens of the area, financially, recreationally and spiritually.

At times over the years the ACR was used for a myriad of events. Some of these were court cases, where the justice of the peace would mete out sentences for offenders.

It wasn't until later in the last century that the farmland surrounding Danforth and in Scarborough was built up with houses and buildings. Farmers and poultry men from the surrounding district would come to the Main and Danforth area. Many would bring their wares to the ACR on weekends during the spring and summer, to offer them to the public. The area was being built up to the south and east, and people would not only purchase goods, but award blue ribbons for the best chickens, turkeys, etc. This practice of brinksmanship lasted past the First World War.

After many years of amateur status, the ACR was being taken seriously by other curling clubs. The professional teams of the City of Toronto accepted the ACR as a bona fide club worthy of competition with the best rinks. This was a tribute to the sportsmen and women of East Toronto, finally getting the credit they deserved.

Sometimes words would be exchanged between teams, sometimes because of the spirits consumed (times don't change much). The ACR curling team met many other rinks, playing undefeated for two years, a great experience for the players and onlookers.

Around this time changes were being made in the ACR. Dressing rooms were added, the interior and exterior were painted and electric lights installed. This was the hub of activity for the northern part of East Toronto.

Dark clouds came with the First World War, as many young men went off to war. The ACR wasn't used as heavily, although sometimes the local militia and army units would use it for recruiting or drills. In 1917 a poultry show was held. Some dances still happened.

Then in 1921 a new bridge was built, and the ACR was no more – like all good things, it came to an end.

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