Published Date Written by Tom EastmanRevamped North Conway Rink to be dedicated Saturday
By Tom Eastman
There's new look to the old rink in North Conway's Schouler Park.
Through a consortium comprised of local businesses, the North Conway Water Precinct, the North Conway Outing Club, the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Conway, the rink is being re-dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony set for 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, followed by a tree-lighting ceremony at 5 p.m.
Following a tragic accident last year that claimed the life of a local woman, the town, the precinct, the chamber and outing club came together with a new plan for the governance of the rink.
As attendees will see come Saturday, the result is a newly remodeled warming hut. New 10-inch, 2-by-10-inch pressure-treated, low wood boards will be installed by next week to replace the old chest-high hockey rink boards.
The boards will be attached to rebar.
Donations have been raised by the community through the Community Celebrations group formed by the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the town, water precinct and local businesses to promote local holiday celebrations.
"Everyone pitched in,” said town manager Earl Sires, who said that the town Parks and Recreation Department will staff the rink this upcoming season.
The North Conway Water Precinct annually makes a budget article contribution, which this past year was $6,750.
The rest of the maintenance cost has been matched by local businesses, bringing the budget to $12,000.
“No taxpayer money other than the precinct voter contributions will be involved this year,” said Sires Tuesday.
Under the arrangement, the town will provide liability insurance and supervision of the rink during operating hours.
No ice hockey will be allowed on the rink — it will be for figure skating only. Hours for the December to March season will be 2 to 8 p.m. Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and every day Dec. 23 through Jan. 1, Jan. 21, and Feb. 18 through 28; and Sundays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Those hours could be extended, should fund-raising efforts allow, noted Conway Parks and Recreation director John Eastman.
“Janice Crawford [of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce's Community Celebrations] is continuing to seek business and community donations,” said Eastman during a tour of the new warming hut and skating area this week.
Eastman noted he was happy to see the improvements and to see how the community has responded.
As he spoke, rec department staffers Lee Champagne and Chris Rouleau were busy putting the finishing touches on the warming shack, which has been painted to match the colors of the Conway Scenic Railroad's 1874-built North Conway Train Station.
“Russ Seybold [of the CSRR] nicely gave us the paint code so we were able to get the warming hut colors to match,” said Eastman.
The windows in the warming hut were replaced with five larger recycled windows that were taken from the town transfer station.
“Now, people will be able to sit inside the warming hut and look out the windows to the kids skating on the rink,” said Eastman.
The door will now feature a carpeted ramp leading from the hut to the ice surface. The inside flooring of the hut has also been covered with a matting. Benches are being installed, and the propane heater has also been upgraded.
Lighting has been upgraded on both ends of the hut, which features an equipment/maintenance room.
As he spoke, Champagne and Lee erected the new sign that has been created by Gemini Designs of Conway.
Names shown on the metal sign include: the North Conway Water Precinct, the Town of Conway, the North Conway Outing Club, the Home Depot, Bryant Wrecker Service, J&J Flooring, D.W. Eletrical Contractors, the Colonial Motel, Ragged Mountain Equipment, Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Association, Leone, McDonnell and Roberts; the Valley Originals, Zeb's General Store, Cranmore Mountain Resort, the Mount Washington Radio Group and Gemini Sign and Design.
The rink will be situated on the softball diamond, with the raised pitcher's mound removed for the winter.
“We've placed the rink in a position so it will be best served by four of the ballfield lights,” said Eastman, noting that the department is currently working on upgrades to the sound system for music to be played for skaters. “The new sign will also be well visible from Main Street.”
Eastman saluted the efforts of John Cannell of the North Conway Outing Club and the commissioners of the North Conway Water Precinct (chair Robert Porter and fellow commissioners Jim Umberger and John Santuccio).
“The North Conway Outing Club and the North Conway Water Precinct have been instrumental in keeping the rink alive,” said Eastman, a Conway native and athlete who played many a hockey game in his youth at the old Schouler Park rink.
Although hockey will now be a thing of the past in the park, Eastman said he thinks that the public will respond well to the upgrades.
“The rink is such a focal point for the village. It's part of the local tradition of a small New England village,” he said.
Although hockey is no longer allowed in Schouler Park, players of all ages may play at the indoor Ham Arena, built by the community in 1998 off West Main Street in Conway. The Ham also offers indoor figure skating and programs offered by the MWV Skating Club.
Eastman's comments were echoed by Cathy Hunter of the Village Barbershop of North Conway.
“I learned how to skate on that rink when I was 3 years old,” said Hunter, while giving a haircut at the local landmark establishment this week. “That rink is part of our local heritage.”
She has received donations form her patrons, just for the rink. “We raised $500 in the past month and we're going to keep it going,” said Hunter. “The rink is something that locals and visitors alike can enjoy.”
Treelighting and more
The Nov. 24 Schouler Park rink dedication and tree lighting are part of an overall effort to enhance local traditions as outlined by the community, notes Janice Crawford of the MWV Chamber and Community Celebrations Committee.
Holiday festivities are to continue Dec. 1 with a “Holiday Spirit in Conway Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting.”
On Dec. 31, the group will present fireworks in North Conway Village at 9:30 p.m.
Other events throughout the year include the Fourth of July parade and events in Schouler Park.
“We are all bringing our strengths to the task,” said Crawford, praising the work of the committee member, including Eastman; chamber staff member and selectman Mary Seavey; Melody Nester of the chamber staff, who is also a member of the MWV Skating Club; Sheila Duane of the Eastern Slope Inn/River Run Associates, who is chairing the Conway Village Christmas Parade; Lynn McCarthy of Northway Bank, a past Conway chamber board member; and Deb Jasien of Fields of Ambrosia of the Shops of Norcross Circle, who is chairing the treelighting/lights effort in Schouler Parks.
She said the chamber is able to publicize events.
“We have the data base, we can get the word out, we can call the people we know who would like to support such things,” said Crawford.
Visit by the Grinch?
The Nov. 24 Schouler Park rink dedication and tree lighting with all new lights and decor will feature a visit by “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” and a group of Who's from Whoville as M&D Productions will visit and sing carols from 4:15 to 4:45 p.m. (M&D is to present the Grinch, Dec. 13-16 and Dec. 20-23).
The Shops of Norcross Circle will present their Snowflake Festival from 3 to 7 p.m. Nov. 24, with a live radio broadcast on WMWV 93.5-FM and free attractions for families and friends.
A photo tent will be set up with “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and Who Folks cast members; a snowflake tent featuring the Snowflake Queen and her Fairies will help children create their own snowflake tree ornaments.
A North Pole Tent will be set up with Santa's elves to be on hand for face painting.
A refreshments tent will be set up serving hot cider, hot cocoa and wassail. Holiday sales and specials will be featured at all Norcross shops.
“There will be a lot of festivities taking place, including holiday-themed arts and crafts. There has not been an official treelighting for years in the park, so this is all about trying to give holiday events for our community to enjoy,” said Jasien.
Conway treelighting Dec. 1
“The Holiday Spirit in Conway” set for Dec. 1 is to include:
• 10:30 a.m.: Free movie at the Majestic Hometown Theatre.
• 1:30 - 3 p.m.: Free Photos with Santa at Northway Bank.
• 4:30 p.m.: Tree Lighting and Wreath Hanging, Conway Information Center, Conway Village, along with awards presentation for the parade. Sponsored by MWV Skating Club. The Kennett Middle School Chorus will lead the music under the direction of Jennifer Ouellette and the Mineral Springs Brass Ensemble under the direction of Randy Ouellette. Refreshments provided by local community businesses.
• 6:15 p.m.: Holiday on Ice, presented by MWV Skating Club at the Ham Arena, Conway Village. Admission is $8.
Community Celebrations Community Caretakers include WMWV 93.5-FM, North Conway Hannaford Supermarket, the Eastern Slope Inn Resort, Public Service of N.H., the Town of Conway, Badger Realty, Northway Bank, PainCare, the Muddy Moose Restaurant, Zeb's General Store, Varsity Beverages, Fields of Ambrosia, the Conway Daily Sun, the Mountain Ear, Gamwell, Caputo, Siek and Co., Conway Family Dental Center, North Conway Rotary, North Conway Country Club, Vito Marcello's Italian Bistro, North Conway Water Precinct, North Conway Fire Department, and the Red Jacket Mountain View Resort and Kahuna Laguna Water Park.
Century of skating
The new rink carries on a tradition of skating in the park that goes back nearly a century — or perhaps even before.
“I know they were skating there directly just before and during World War I,” said John Cannell, 82, of the North Conway Outing Club, and operator of Cannell's Country Store of Intervale.
“At that time,” said Cannell in a recent interview at the store, “the Outing Club was founded, and it went on from there. [The late] Chubbie Whitaker [after whose family Whitaker Woods is named] was a figure skater and a hockey referee.”
Norma (Ashnault Haynes) Wassall, also 82, recalls Whitaker giving local kids skating lessons in the park.
“He was quite good,” said Wassall in a recent interview.
Cannell saluted Whitaker and the late Dana Haley of the Outing Club for keeping the rink going all through the years.
“Dana was key,” said Cannell.
Both Cannell and Wassall remembered the North Conway Granites hockey games that were played in the park every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
“Jean Fernandez was a very fine player,” said Cannell, “and so were all the Twomblys, the Macombers, the Jameses and the Haleys. They were all local families and they all played hockey.”
In an interview with The Mountain Ear in November 1989, late early ski instructor J. Arthur Doucette of Jackson related how he was recruited from the Granites by early Eastern Slope Ski School founder Carroll P. Reed (1905-1995) to become one of the valley's first ski instructors.
That changed his life — he went on to be certified by passing a ski examination with other local ski instructors in St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria. He later joined the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops in World War II, and founded his own ski school at Black Mountain after the war.
Early ski instructors were skaters
But back to the skating, and playing in the park.
The late Arthur Callan, a fellow early ski instructor with Doucette, was a Granites teammate, as were the Twomblys (John, Raymond and Robert), Wallace Sanphy, Woody and Earl Merrill, George ThompsonTrujy and Charles James, and Andy and Tom Reny.
The star defenseman for the squad was Bob Twombly, who died in 1989. According to Doucette, Twombly was invited for a tryout with the Springfield Indians, the farm team for the New York Rangers of the then six-team National Hockey League.
Playing an instrumental role in that invite was Harvey Dow Gibson (1882-1950), a North Conway native sun and part-time resident who was president of the Manufacturers Trust Company in New York City.
“Harvey Gibson had the coach of the Springfield Indians come up to North Conway to give us some help for a week in 1934, and then he had Jack Fillman, an announcer for the Rangers who had previously played pro hockey, come up and coach us. As a result of that tutoring, Bob Twombly got invited to training camp with the Indians.”
“I don't know if they decided to teach him a lesson or what,” continued Doucette, “you know, Bob's getting a tryout without coming up through the system. He was after all, an American [in a sport that was then and still is dominated by Canadians]. But he got a broken shoulder blade out of it and got sent home. But the coaching for us was great, and it gave our team a real boost.”
Front page newspaper ads on the front page of The Reporter newspaper in winter in the 1930s always carried updates on the Granites' games.
Just as businesses now are asked to support the Community Celebrations efforts, merchants back in the 1930s were asked to help support the team. In a Feb. 2, 1939 editorial in The Reporter, the following notice was carried:
“If you live in North Conway,” noted the editorial, “you will be asked within the next few days to contribute ti the support of the local hockey team. Don't pass this off as just another drive; it is actually of decided importance to the winter welfare of the village. Large contributions are not asked; but is hoped that every resident will give something to permit the continuation of this desirable activity.
“With the hockey games,” it continued, “weekend visitors find a busy Main Street on Saturday night; without them, the village would be quite likely to seem after nine o'clock like any other of its size that makes no pretense at being a winter sports center. Aside form this angle, the game brings its devotees who come to North Conway especially to see the games, and we can't have too many people coming to town on its winter evenings during this building-up stage.
“One more plea — attendance at the games has been fair this year, but could be decidedly better. The local team is one of the best, and is importing real competition; you're missing something if you haven't been seeing them.”
The Granites played teams from Berlin, Laconia, St. Dom's of Lewiston, Dartmouth and alumni of Boston College, to name a few. The competition was intense, and the cold was at times severe, remembered Doucette.
“Boy, oh boy, it was mighty windy and cold out there some nights when we shouldn't have been out there,” said Doucette, uttering comments that would later be shared by men players in the former Mount Washington Valley Senior Men's Hockey League and the early days of the Kennett Nordiques hockey team that evolved into today's Kennett Eagles. “It was so damn cold it got down inside your throat.”
Winter carnivals of old
Other insights about the early days of the rink are given by a front page story in the Feb. 2, 1922 edition of The Reporter, which talked about the area's first White Mountains Winter Carnival.
The carnival featured ski jumping at the old Cathedral Ledge jump off West Side Road, horse surrey racing on the snow-covered Main Street of North Conway, hockey games, and a masquerade ball on skates at the rink.
Noted the paper's account, “While the out of town people did not return for the fun of this day there were plenty of people left to make an excellent showing. The hotels retained their guests with the townspeople, an audience was not lacking to witness some of the the most wonderful skating performed by Mr. and Mrs. Nat Niles and Theresa Weld, all of Boston. Mr. Niles represented the United States at the Olympic games at Antwerp, and Thersa Weld is the champion woman skater in this country. They not only performed in the morning but also for an hour in the afternoon. A fitting climax for the carnival was held Saturday evening when a masquerade ball was given on the rink. For a half hour the rink was given over to those only who were masked. Fully a hundred presented themselves in various kinds of costumes and kept the immense throng of spectators guessing. Then all were privileged to use the rink and those who did not enjoyed a special performance at the movies.”
“Wow,” said Sires, Conway's town manager, upon learning of that past tradition, which also echoed of the old Winterfest costume skating obstacles competitions held at the rink in the mid-1980s. “Maybe we should bring that back for Conway's 250th in 2015.”
Sounds like a good plan. In the meantime, come out to the park for the rink dedication at 4 and the treelighting at 5 p.m. Saturday.