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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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.