I know I’ve written about my less than stellar minor hockey career before in this space, not to mention stories about Saturday afternoons spent swimming at the pool and Friday nights skating with my friends. But I could not let the 70th anniversary of Leaside Memorial Gardens pass unnoticed. Yes, Leaside Gardens opened in 1952, and has been serving the community in so many ways in the 70 years since.
As a kid growing up in Leaside, certain places loom large in my memory. These were usually the locations where we played and had our happiest times and adventures. Talbot Park, Trace Manes Park, the Bayview shopping strip, Bessborough’s schoolyard, etc. But no Leaside locale holds more memories for me than Leaside Memorial Community Gardens, usually abbreviated, depending on the activity, to “the pool” or “the arena.” I barely know where to start.
Our first visit to “the Gardens” was likely to the pool sometime in 1966 just after we’d moved to Leaside. My twin brother, Tim, and I were six years old at the time and were of course enrolled in swimming lessons. I confess, we didn’t love swimming lessons, so our early relationship with the Gardens was initially an uneasy one. But as the weeks passed and we grew more confident in the water, we started to enjoy it. Eventually, we were strong enough swimmers to venture into the deep end and start exploring the excitement of what we called “the low” diving board and “the high” diving board. That was a game changer.
There we were, springing as high as we could off the low board and executing the perfect can-opener (you know, one leg extended, the other leg crooked as we pulled our knee up and then leaning back as we hit the water almost in sitting position). Nothing gave us more satisfaction at that age than a can-opener and its attendant “boom” and splash that sometimes seemed to climb almost to the ceiling. It was how you got noticed at the pool.
A few years later, we were cavalierly bouncing – with all our 60 pounds – off the 12-foot high board, pulling off clean dives or crazy can-openers. It was like we were flying. Of course, this was long before cooler legal heads prevailed and the high board was dismantled, I assume as a hedge against liability claims. We went on to spend a good number of Saturday afternoons at the pool, riding our bikes from home. Great memories.
But in the fall, our allegiance shifted to the arena when house league hockey started. I still remember my very first hockey practice. It was Saturday, Oct. 12, 1968 (odd that I can remember the date, but I can). We were eight years old. I was on a team called Darryl Products – I never did discover what “products” our team sponsor supplied. Our coach didn’t hand out the team jerseys and socks until the first game. So, for my first three hockey practices, I wore the Leafs jersey I’d received the previous Christmas and a purple pair of my mother’s leotards with white hockey tape standing in for the stripes. Yes, I know, I was very cool. Our team won the championship that very first year.
Tim and I played hockey at Leaside until we finished high school and headed off to university. Along the way we collected several hockey injuries, including torn knee ligaments and a broken leg for Tim and a concussion for me (helmets then weren’t what they are today!). We also managed to earn spots on what they called back then, the All-Star team, and played tournaments in various communities, including a memorable tourney in Scituate, Massachusetts.
But our Leaside hockey connection did not end there. No, Tim and I went on to coach our sons in their house league careers for another seven or eight years. Nope, not done yet. Now, at 63(!), we still play some of our ball hockey league games at Leaside when we’re rained out at Withrow Park. It is quite surreal to play at Leaside now while still carrying such vivid childhood hockey memories spanning 55 years.
So, let’s raise a glass to Leaside Memorial Gardens and its 70 years of service to our community. Here’s to the next 70!
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of eight national bestsellers. His most recent, Operation Angus, is in bookstores. You can also subscribe to his newsletter: https://terryfallis.substack.com.