Memories of Old Time Halifax Covered Rinks

Submitted by Devonna Edwards

Prior to indoor rinks, ice skating and hockey were conducted on frozen ponds and lakes in the Halifax area. The Halifax Harbour and Bedford Basin in earlier years would freeze over and provide winter recreational activity. These popular activities on a gusty cold day, although enjoyable, could be unpleasant when frozen toes and fingers began to unthaw. So it was exciting time for Haligonians when the first covered rink was built providing them with better protection from the cold, wind and other poor weather conditions. The indoor rink also provided a safe environment where skaters did not have to worry about falling through the ice.

High Society Rink

Hundreds of people frequently skated on Griffins Pond in the Public Gardens and had a vision for a more comfortable skating atmosphere during the long cold winter. In January 1863 their wish became reality when a covered skating rink was built in the Horticultural Garden, today called the Public Gardens. It was the first (natural ice) indoor rink on the east coast of Canada. The Rink was only available to the elite of Halifax, members of the Horticultural Society, or the wealthy. The structure built by the Halifax Skating Rink Company had it entrance on South Park Street. The long, low building was described as being 60 feet wide and 180 feet long with an arched roof. At the entrance to the Rink was a spacious room containing a stove, the room was separated from the Rink and was used by the members to not only get warm, but to socialize while enjoying tea and refreshments. An elevated platform was situated at the other end of the building to accommodate the band whose music contributed to the popular activity of dancing on the ice, especially the favored “waltz”. During the day the Rink was lighted by a row of large windows on two sides and at night it was lit with coal gas contained in burners found in four pendants. The skating season went from January to March due to the use of natural ice in the Rink. In the summer months, the surface was boarded for roller skating. The rink became dilapidated over time and in 1889 the old structure was demolished.

The Empire Rink Exhibition Building

This magnificent structure opened in 1879 on Tower Road where the Cathedral Church of All Saints stands today. The building was the largest in Nova Scotia at that time and was the first permanent Exhibition Building in Halifax. The rink built by the Halifax Skating Rink Company, had a semi-circular drive, which led to the main entrance on Tower Road. The structure was 231 feet long and 80 feet wide with a red slate coloured mansard roof. Towers stood at each corner, with an octagonal roofed tower occupying the front of the structure. The main entrance of the building had an open portico, with glass doors, opening into a large entrance hall. The ground floor contained offices and the rink. A balcony ran around the building, allowing a good view of the main floor. The 261 x 60 foot space bordered by the platform was used for an ice rink in the winter and exhibition displays, concerts and parties the rest of the year. They had a viewer’s gallery and general purpose rooms. The second floor contained an art gallery. The northwest tower contained the keeper’s apartment on the second and third storeys. The ladies and men’s retirement rooms were on the ground floor at opposite ends. The other towers were furnished for ordinary exhibition purposes. During the day, the building was lighted by floor-to-ceiling windows and at night it was lit by gas. An eight inch crock drain ran the length of the building. A hydrant inside the building was used for flooding in the winter and also for safety reasons against fire. In the winter hockey games were played, such as the one on March 14, 1888, when the Wanderes hockey team played a thrilling game against the Royal Blues. Ice skating carnivals and dancing on the ice became even more popular. In the summer, the provincial agricultural show and manufacturing exhibits were held there. Boxing matches and other activities also took place. In 1896, city council sold the Exhibition Building and grounds.

The Halifax Exhibition Building also known as The Provincial Exhibition Building

The indoor facility was built on the corner of Windsor and Almon Streets in 1880. The Exhibition show cased industries from all parts of Nova Scotia. Displays of fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers, livestock, fine art cutting edge machinery and other interesting displays were enjoyed by the many visitors. It was not clear if hockey was played in this facility, but it did have a rink because there is documental history that the Halifax Skating Club had figure skating there. It drew over 60,000 spectators a year. The Exhibition Building was destroyed in the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917 and temporary apartments were built on its grounds soon after, to house the homeless from the Explosion.

The Halifax Forum

The facility was built in 1927 on the site of the Provincial Exhibition Grounds. Architect Andrew Cobb designed the red brick Georgian styled structure, with its low pitched roof and central doors on each wall. The building has a concrete foundation and contained some wood construction. Two large brick pilasters formed the entrance on the front and rear of the facility. Impressive arched windows were located both in the front and rear of the facility. A white granite string course wrapped around the entire building and was located above and below smaller windows which were above the arched windows. MacDonald Construction Company was the builder and the final cost of the building, was just under $374,000. The Forum had the first artificial ice surface east of Montreal, with a seating capacity of 5,000. The new Forum also held the annual exhibition, which did not have a home since the Explosion destroyed the Provincial Exhibition Building. Over the years, the Halifax Forum building has had many additions and renovations, including the most notable feature; the removal of the glass from the windows, which were replaced with brick. Also, the doors on the Windsor Street side of the building were taken out of use. In 1961, a second rink, an annex arena called “The Civic Arena” was built on the side of the Forum structure and the arena lasted until 1995, when it was closed down as a rink and became the home for a recycling depot for eight years until 2003, when the depot closed. The building was completely renovated and was made into a Bingo Centre. A new Civic Centre Arena was constructed at the northwest corner of the Forum in 1995. A Multipurpose Centre was added and opened in 1989 and the Maritime Hall was added later, between the Forum and the Bingo Hall.



At the time when the Forum was built, it was an addition to a complex called the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition Grounds that included a grandstand, race track, cattle and horse barns and the Industrial Building. The main entrance to the complex was located on Almon Street. The Industrial Building opened as a display hall for the annual Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition but it also served as a Military Barrack, a Vocational School, the City Market and the Atlantic Winter Fair display. The Industrial Building was demolished in 1976 to make way for the new Halifax Postal Station. The Race Track in the complex was officially opened by the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Wilfred Laurier in 1897. The Track had a long history, with horses from Maine and Massachusetts racing there. The Halifax Explosion in 1917 brought a temporary end to harness racing there until 1922, because for about six years after the Explosion, the grounds were used to house those unfortunate people whose homes were destroyed. After the temporary apartments on the Exhibition Grounds were demolished, a new Exhibition Park was constructed in 1927. Entertainment was held there, such as international circus performers and acts. The park became so popular that crowds up to 10,000 people gathered there. The Park closed on September 2, 1939. In 1948 the property was owned by King George VI and sold to the City of Halifax that year, today HRM still owns it.

The Forum (only the original building) was designated as a heritage property in 2003. Today plans are in process to redevelop the 95 year old Halifax Forum building, which includes rebuilding the façade, two ice surfaces, multipurpose room and event space concourse, along with new green spaces. Constructed will begin in 2024 and the new Halifax Forum should be open by 2027, a hundred years after it was first constructed.

The Halifax Arena also called the Shirley Street Arena

The arena was located on the corner of Shirley and Cherry Streets. Although it is unknown when the structure was built, St. Mary’s College, on Windsor Street had a hockey team in 1906, and used the Shirley Street Arena for its home hockey games. They held their practises in their own rink called the ‘Rorum’, which was built in 1906. The Rorum was described as a low wooden building, situated beside the college and was demolished in 1946. The Shirley Street Arena hosted many events and was also, where the Suburban Hockey League had its beginning. Young men from all over Halifax and surrounding areas came to the Deal’s Pond to play hockey in 1927, but it wasn’t until 1930-31 the Suburban League was formed with six teams; Fairview, Rockingham, Bedford, Waverley, Windsor Junction and Beaver Bank. The Shirley Street Arena was demolished in 1957.