The Winnipeg Roller Rink Oral History Project

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On January 17th 2006, the Winnipeg Free Press announced that a private holding company had worked out a tentative deal to buy the 25 000 square foot complex and the property at Portage Avenue and Landside Street. That complex was the historic downtown institution, Galaxy Skateland, formerly known as the Winnipeg Roller Rink and that buyer was the University of Winnipeg. Although outsiders of the roller skating community themselves, fourth year honours history students Hayley Caldwell and Lauren Finkel became interested in telling the story of the old building and the people that had once skated there.

 

In the fall of 2011 Hayley and Lauren began the difficult task of gathering former employees and patrons to interview. What began as a class project for Nolan Reilly’s course on the history of Winnipeg, turned into a greater inquiry into the history of class, gender, and race relations within the rink and downtown. They were dedicated to discovering in what ways the neighbourhood suffered now that the rink was gone. From the 1930s up until approximately the 1980s, lines to enter the rink are rumoured to have extended out the door, down Portage Avenue and people from all over the province came downtown to skate at the rink on Friday nights. In the 1990s and the 2000s up until its closure, the rink served as a popular hangout for neighbourhood kids. Lauren and Hayley interviewed eight different people and received enriching accounts of what the rink was like between the 1960s to the end in 2007. They expanded their research through collecting every newspaper article they could locate from the Winnipeg Free Press archives pertaining to the rink and its employees and patrons from 1890 until 2007. They furthermore received photographs and memorabilia from the interviewees. As Winnipeg’s downtown transformed, the Winnipeg Roller Rink had its ups and downs, however, the rink continued to provide the same service in an ever-changing neighbourhood for over 70 years.

 

The Voices of the Winnipeg Roller Rink

Thanks to a Facebook group started by former skaters of The Winnipeg Roller Rink/DJ's Roller City/Galaxy Skateland, we were able to get in touch with various people who held the roller rink in a special place in their hearts. This project would not have been possible without the following people:

 

FRED VERITY

Fred was born in the mid-1940s and started skating in his late teens. As an adult, he managed the roller rink until 1990 when Andre Atkinson took over. Fred has a lot of old photos, memorabilia and costumes from the earlier days of the roller rink and considers himself to be the rink’s archivist.

KEITH HAYCOCK

Keith was born in the mid-1950s, and started skating at the Winnipeg Roller Rink with his childhood friend Ron Corrin. In the 1970s, as a teenager, he worked at the roller rink, and continued to be involved in the roller rink throughout the 1990s doing security on a volunteer basis.

JOHN SAM

John was born in the early 1960s and started skating at the rink in his teen years. He worked at the rink throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He developed a close friendship with Keith Haycock and Ron Corrin. John is also known as one of the best of skaters to come out the Winnipeg Roller Rink.

RON CORRIN

Ron was born in the mid-1950s and started skating as a child with Keith Haycock. He worked at the rink as a teenager, and skated in rinks all over North America in the 1970s.

ANDRE ATKINSON

Andre was born in the 1960s, and got his first job at the rink as a young teenager. After years of employment, he bought the rink from Bob Beach in 1990, and managed it until 2007 when the building closed.

CURTIS DEVERS

Curtis was born in 1984 and worked at the roller rink from 2000-2007. He hoped to buy the building from Andre when he was ready to retire.

MELANIE KYRYLIUK

Mel was born in the early 1980s, and started skating at the roller rink as a teenager. Soon after she started skating, she was asked to work there. She managed the roller rink until 2007 when it closed.

KRISTINE MCGILLVARY

Kristine was born in the late 1980s. As a resident of the area, she spent most of her childhood at the rink. She continues skating as a part of the Winnipeg Roller Derby League.

 

The future of the project is yet to be determined, however Lauren and Hayley would like to in the near future inquire about funding to continue the research process. The end goal is to eventually have it published. They view this work as significant as it is a historic perspective of the often-overlooked negative social consequences of deconstructing buildings in the advent of progress in downtown Winnipeg.
 

 

The Legend

History: 1890-1950

Histories of the building and its previous ownership vary from sources to source and the original use of the building is debated. The official history states that the building was built as a rink from the ground up in 1908. However, many believe that the city's heritage department got the history of the structure wrong and that the rink was established in a livery stable that dated back to the late 1800s.

In 1930, the rink was converted into a permanent roller-skating rink which boasted the largest floor in Western Canada.

The Winnipeg Roller Rink was home to various skating groups and events, including the annual rollercades throughout the 1940s.

 

Audio File:

Podcast: Narration by Hayley Caldwell Production Assistance by Kent Davies

Images:
  • Skaters at the Winnipeg Roller Rink circa 1940

  • Photo board displaying early advertisements and photos for the Winnipeg Roller RInk

  • Advertisement flyer for the Winnipeg Roller Rink Rollercade in 1945

  • The famous vending machines before a concession stand was later added

  • Original Blueprints for the exterior of the Winnipeg Roller Rink

  • Advertisements for the Winnipeg Roller Rink circa 1940 from the Winnipeg Tribune

The History

History: 1951-1990Though the music changed throughout the years, the Winnipeg Roller Rink remained the same. The manager, Bill Angus continued to play old-style organ music. It wasn't until Bob Beach took over in the 1970s that the atmosphere of the rink began to catch up to modern trends and the growing popularity of roller skating. 

Audio File:

Podcast: Narration by Hayley Caldwell Production Assistance by Kent Davies

Images:
  • The inside of the Winnipeg Roller Rink during the 1980's

  • The outside of the Winnipeg Roller Rink during the 1980's

  • One of many Skates available for rent

The Decline

History: 1991-2007In 1990, long-time employee Andre Atkinson bought the roller rink from owner Bob Beach. With the rink in his possession, he renovated the interior of the building in hopes of making the place look more attractive and appealing.This area of the city suffered greatly over the years and was seen as a less-desirable neighbourhood.Andre's main goal was to bring the Winnipeg Roller Rink back into its former glory. At first Atkinson succeeded in bringing a new clientele to the roller rink. However, faced with the costs of bringing a century old building up to code and the declining popularity in the 2000s, Atkinson eventually sold the rink to the University of Winnipeg. 

Audio File:

Podcast: Narration by Hayley Caldwell Production Assistance by Kent Davies

Images:
  • Girls behind the skate counter in the 1990's

  • Andre Atkinson cleaning the floors of the dining area

  • A group photo of Winnipeg Roller Rink attendees during the 1990's

  • Advertisement for the Winnipeg Roller Rink, at that time Galaxy Skateland's, last week of business

  • The newly renovated Galaxy Skateland

  • A former regular skater from the 1930's came to skate one last time when he heard the news of the Winnipeg Roller Rink's closure