GUEST COLUMN: When roller skating was king

Nadine Wark

There’s a revival of an old pastime underway in Sarnia, with Clearwater Arena offering roller skating each weekends this summer to both adults and children.

Sarnia-Lambton has a rich history of roller skating dating to the 1950’s, when old-timers might recall lacing up and meeting friends on a circular cement pad on London Line. There was also one in the Camlachie area.

The most popular and enduring place to roller skate was Rose Gardens in Point Edward (now the Sandy Lane apartments/condos), a place that defined the teen years for so many of the youth, and created such great memories.

Skaters hitchhiked or borrowed the family car, if they had no wheels of their own, to make the scene at Rose Gardens. It was a gathering place for youth from schools across Sarnia and a chance to hang out with peers while meeting new friends.

Record hops gave skaters a chance to rest their skates and hit the dance floor to slow-dance, jive and twist the night away to the Top 40. Popular Canadian bands of that era, along with local talent, attracted large crowds.

Dick and Elsie Rose were the owners/proprietors of Rose Gardens from 1951 to 1974. They were like second parents to many kids and became extended family. They were young at heart and dedicated to the well-being teens in our community, providing a fun, safe place to be.

In the late ‘70’s, Skate Country opened, much to the delight of roller skaters tired of making the trip over the bridge to skate in the Port Huron area.

Thursday evening was ‘oldies night’ when music from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s attracted an older crowd. I remember quite vividly those nerve-wracking nights when so many skaters picked right up where they had left off decades ago, spinning, weaving, racing and even dancing on their wheels!

The guys swished by and you felt the air move. On occasion, a stretcher could be seen taking someone to the emergency department after a bad fall. The scariest part for me was trying to get off the rink, which had to be done with quick planning and precision.

Sometime in the early ‘80’s Skate Country closed as interest waned. I think the younger crowd was immersed in other activities and the older crowd was busy raising families, and their bodies telling them to slow down and participate in something else.

It would be nice to see this generation lace up and make new memories. (And the old-timers who are so inclined!)

Nadine Wark is a retired office worker and freelance writer who resides in Sarnia