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The wistful recollections of the Walden Skating Club

Memories never die.

Earlier this week, the Walden Skating Club confirmed, via Facebook, that they are no longer operational, bringing to a close a run that began in 1973, shortly after the opening of T.M Davies Community Centre and Arena.

"When I was young, the ice was packed," said Rachael Duhamel, one time skater and coach, frequent volunteer and member of the board, current past-president, not to mention proud aunt to one of the most accomplished Olympians that this area has ever produced.

"Though the fundamentals of skating are still the same, the program delivery was done differently, back in the day, with badge programs and progressions. We were such a busy ice."

In a sense, both the club and the venue it has always called home evoke an era of far simpler times, a rekindling of all that was special in small-town Ontario, a vision that ironically has been revisited more frequently by virtue of a global pandemic.

"The rink is a gathering place for our community - always has been, always will be," said Duhamel. "The folks in Walden like to think of ourselves as a pretty special community, and the community extended to both on and off the ice. Our entire community always felt like it was represented on the ice."

"You've heard the saying, "we're not a family tree; we're a wreath". Well, we're not a community tree, we're a community wreath, where everyone is intertwined. Our club wasn't just our club, it belonged to the community. It was a really big source of pride. The community took ownership of the club, they supported us."

In terms of more specific memories, few are conjured up with the same emotional connection as the skate carnivals that have passed. "I remember the costumes of the 1970's, they were so bad," said Duhamel. "I look through some of the old pictures and laugh like crazy. We thought we were so cool, but we look back now and shake our heads."

And though the greatness of Meagan Duhamel first flourished with this club - "she was a spitfire from the day that first she started" recalled coach Cathy (Dediana) Swick - she was not alone in terms of the elite talent that would take to the ice in Lively.

"When Jeffrey Buttle was about 11 or 12 years old, he skated at our carnival," recalled Rachael Duhamel. "He came out and skated to "I Just Can't Wait to Be King", choreographed the whole routine himself, was singing at the top of his lungs, while he was skating. He was just a little guy, but everybody in the crowd said, "that guy is going to be a king of skating, some day"."

Few performances, however, would match that of Jennifer (Prowse) Swearengen, then in her late teens, capturing the Novice Ladies crown as Sudbury played host to the 1990 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Sudbury may have been the host city, but Walden staged the novice ladies competition.

"The place was so full, I remember my entire high school came," recalled Swearengen, who remains in the area, 15 years into her teaching career. "Before I stepped out on the ice, I could see all of those people. I will never forget that feeling of finishing and thinking that I had landed everything. It was so surreal, but it was so comfortable."

"I was just so blessed that it was in my home."

The connection to the club of your youth seemingly never fades. Swearengen continued to compete at nationals, all while training in Barrie, but proudly representing the Walden Skating Club, all the while. Same goes for Meagan Duhamel.

"They (Walden Skating Club) were the ones who fostered my development, my love for the sport, my competitiveness, I guess," said Swearengen. "They were the ones who supported me."

That is music to the ears of Cathy (Dediana) Swick, who returned to Sudbury following her post-secondary studies at Ryerson. For the better part of the next forty years, save for a short stint in Elliot Lake, Swick coached in Walden, one of the countless pillars whose names were mentioned frequently as I chatted with all three ladies.

Swick, Nancy White, Deb Franceschini and others would ultimately give way to Marg Elliott and the more recent cast of coaches. Duhamel would join the likes of Barb Laframboise and Tammy Dixon as long-time club executive members.

"When I came back home, in 1975, it wasn't necessarily with the intent to coach," said Swick. "But there were clubs that needed coaches, and Walden was one of them."

The 68 year-old local resident, who still enjoys watching her grandchildren perform in the sport, quickly became enamoured with her newfound home. "That beautiful arena, and the people - they were wonderful," said Swick. "The people there worked so hard, it had a real community feel to it which was different than Sudbury."

"A small community and a city are very different - they just are."

"There was always an atmosphere at that arena," Swick continued. "I think it was maybe because it was not one of those cookie cutter arenas - there was a warmth to the facility itself."

"The Walden Arena is a hugely skater friendly rink," Duhamel concurred. "The ice itself has the most ideal conditions. Skaters like the ice just a little bit softer, to catch our edges and have a good takeoff and softer landings. We have perfect, perfect ice conditions (in Walden). And then having spectators on both sides of the rink is important."

"It's great to be out there and feel like you are surrounded by that love."

It's a love that radiates from every word, as Swick recalls the joy that was interclub competitions.

"That was when we would get our babies out on the ice, our little kids, just four or five years old," she recalled. "These kids would be doing their little half-ice solos, the girls all dressed up with their pretty dresses and their hair done up. That's where it started, that's how we built our clubs."

"For the most part, interclub competitions fostered this camaraderie, with the clubs working together," Swick added. "The clubs would take turns hosting the Rainbow Interclub. You would get a chance to get out and see what other clubs were doing; our little skaters would meet skaters from other clubs."

Time will tell if the equivalent of the former annual Rainbow Interclub meet will be held in January of 2021 or not. Either way, the Walden Skating Club will not take part.

Folks will have to be content to live with the memories.