Two modern broiler barns became the center of my life as a child. I spent hours in the barn doing chores. After chores were done, the barns provided me with a chance to enjoy one of my other passions – hockey with my brothers.
It was common to see bank barns on most farms during my childhood. The barns on my farm were not typical, though. Each barn was three storeys high, square, grey in colour and made of concrete blocks. A steel ladder attached to the base of the barn lead to a flat, asphalt covered roof.
With winter’s arrival on the farm, I anxiously awaited for mother nature to provide the right weather for ice to form on the barn roof.
This created a playing surface large enough for a game of scrimmage. Father climbed the steel ladder to check on the condition of the ice. With his okay, my brothers and I gathered our skates, sticks and pucks and made the quarter mile trek up the hill to the barn.
Dressing in layers was a requirement with our favourite team’s jersey as the top layer.
The climb up the ladder was difficult, but only took a few minutes. Sweaty hands stuck to the cold, steel ladder rungs. Mittens were not to be forgotten. Skate laces tied together and slung over the shoulder helped make the climb easier. Pucks filled our pockets. Sticks in one hand as the other was used for climbing. Each storey had a landing if anyone needed to rest. Being young with plenty of energy, we rarely needed to though. Nearing the top of the ladder we tossed our sticks and skates onto the roof and clambered back down the ladder to get shovels to clear the snow off the ice.
After the ice was cleared, skates quickly went on to avoid exposing toes to the cold. One good skate lace tightening lasted all afternoon. Boots became goal posts. Games of three on two with teams switching frequently kept the scoring close.
Occasionally, Father joined us for a few hours so we could play three on three. Games lasted most of the afternoon. The Leafs versus the Canadiens. No one wanted to be the Canadiens, who seemed to lose a lot of games. Our coat pockets emptied of pucks quickly; most going over the edge of the barn roof. Layers of clothing were removed and scattered as we worked up a sweat. Jerseys always stayed on as a top layer.
The sun lowering in the sky was our signal to start heading home. On extremely cold days frozen toes and fingers lead us home earlier. One more game to three, off came the skates and on went freezing cold boots. Climbing down the ladder seemed easier as we dropped our sticks and extra clothing over the edge. Shovels stayed on the roof ready for the next game.
Wet mittens from sweaty hands stuck to the ladder and had to be peeled off. Once on the ground the search for stray pucks around the barn yard usually ended with some success. Most showed up in the spring after the snow had melted.
Gathering up our sticks and extra clothing, skate laces tied together and over our shoulders, we headed back down the hill. It was a slower walk home as exhaustion took over, but we chattered and relived all the great plays on the roof while planning the next game. Mother made hot chocolate while we put our equipment and clothes in the basement to dry.
Around the kitchen table we sat enjoying our warm drinks and cookies. Mother listened intently to our play by play running commentary on all our games.
The flat roofed barns no longer exist but the memories of hockey on the roof are cherished by my brothers and I.