Ranee Field was about a mile from my house in the Lawrence Heights housing project. (*see above photo, the upper blue star was Ranee Field and the lower, my apartment) It was located on a street called Ranee Avenue which ran east west between Dufferin and Bathurst Streets just south of the Yorkdale Shopping mall. A five minute walk east from Dufferin Street on the north side, a small neighborhood park in the winter transformed itself into a hockey paradise.
When I was young, Ranee Field would get an annual visit from the city workers who installed old wooden boards into a rectangle shape at the beginning of each November. When the temperature got cold enough constant nightly flooding would begin until the ice was ready for skating.
Every year eager skaters would skate on the ice before it was ready, they would chop up the thin layer that had already been frozen into millions of jagged ice fragments.
Eventually, it happened, the rink was ready, and like a magnet, it would attract dozens of kids and parents every winter day and evening. Some were just learning to skate while others who in their own minds were determined to be professional hockey players. (myself included)
I will never forget the “twangy” sound of the puck hitting those rotting wooden boards or the build up of snow which seemed to coat the ice every five minutes from the dozens of people skating. Somebody would always bring a snow shovel and every hour or so the snow was pushed to the sides, then up and over the three foot high boards. The corners were square and not rounded so the snow always accumulated the most in those four spots.
At night the rink would get cleaned and flooded and ready for the next day. Some days we would all get along, and we would organize ourselves into two teams. Four winter boots usually would be stood upright and act as our goal posts. It was a priority if one of the boots fell over to upright it quickly so no team would get the advantage of shooting on a goal that was larger than the one at the other end. The width between the boots was usually the length of a stick.
Looking back, I do not think the nets were ever equal size.
The later it became, fewer kids remained until I would have to quit because my feet were actually frozen and my winter boots (goalposts) would be filled with snow. I would walk the mile home, exhausted from hours of skating and breathing that cold fresh winter air with my skates slinged over my stick resting on my shoulder.
The two rules that I remember most, when you fall, brush the snow quickly off your pants and do not ever raise the puck. I learned that lesson very early in my shinny hockey career when I hit a much older kid on the shin with a wrist shot. You would of thought I had broken his leg. After he speared me and kicked me with his skates he warned me never to come back again or he would knock out my teeth.
Funny, I never lost any teeth and I returned many more times
Ranee Field was like a thousand neighborhood parks in Canada that would keep kids playing ice hockey outdoors during the frigid winter months until the first signs of spring would produce those small puddles of water. Eventually they would stop freezing at night and would quickly give way to grass patches that would sprout up from under the melting ice due to the warm spring sun.
The city workers would return and remove the old wooden boards. I don’t think I ever went to Ranee Field ever during the summer. Nothing attracted me to Ranee Field when there was no hockey.
They do not build a rink at Ranee Field anymore and it is now known as the Ranee Tot Lot. There is one thing that remains from those good old days, a single street light high atop a wooden pole. It was like our lighthouse, our beacon and Ranee Field was our safe harbour.
Whenever I return to the area I drive along Ranee Avenue. I can’t help but think of all those cold winter evenings when the snow would gently fall. I would be out there, thinking I was the best hockey player on the ice with my wet pants, cold hands and numb feet trying to remember to never raise the puck.