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Drawn Off Topic: Stephen Fearing on backyard rinks (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Drawn Off Topic: Stephen Fearing on backyard rinks (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)


Singer Stephen Fearing on backyard hockey rinks Add to ...

Juno-winning singer-songwriter Stephen Fearing is a member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and Fearing & White. As a solo artist, his latest CD is Between Hurricanes. He will be performing on March 23 at Fulford Hall on Saltspring Island, B.C., and on April 25 at Hugh’s Room in Toronto.

Do you skate?

I’ve sort of learned to skate. I was raised in England and there were skating rinks, not hockey rinks, but skating rinks that I recall when I was a little kid. I learned to skate much later in life when I was an adult living in Guelph, Ont., and basically on a backyard hockey rink.

Do you see backyard rinks as quintessential Canadian culture?

Oh, yeah, very much. To me, there’s a couple of touchstones [of Canadian winter]. There’s going to a sugar shack – that experience I love – and there’s the skating aspect, too. For me, it’s a lot less about the hockey and more about just being outdoors during the winter. There’s a number of sports I like to participate in when I can. Being a touring musician, it gets harder and harder. And because it wasn’t bred into the bone, skating … is one of those ones for me.

I’m kind of marvelling whenever I’m out on the shinny rinks. There’s always these little kids and they can practically skate between my legs, they’re so small. They have 10 times the skating skills that I will ever have.

I grew up skating on backyard rinks, but they’re under threat. Global warming is making then harder to maintain. Do you lament this little slice of Canadian culture seemingly soon to be lost?

Oh, yeah. It would be a very sad thing if it does happen. I haven’t watched it in the same way you have, and even winter, I don’t have the same sense of it as if I had grown up here. It’s funny. I just heard on the weather report, Saskatoon and Regina, where I have just come through, just set records for snowfall. I think they’re going to break the record from the ’50s.

There’s change afoot. Clearly, it’s hard to tell exactly how it’s coming down. But I remember vaguely, as a little as a kid in Vancouver, even then there was more extreme weather and more snow. If it does come down that there can be no more backyard rinks, I think that would be a terrible tragedy. It’s like finding out that the sugaring season has got so small that it’s useless. That would be awful.

For me, the beauty of the outdoor rink is it’s just so simple. It doesn’t require a great deal of equipment and expense. If everybody is relegated to the local hockey rink, that will change it immensely. Partly because it costs money, but being outdoors, that’s the whole thing for me.

An organization called RinkWatch is calling for Canadians who maintain backyard rinks to monitor them and report days when the rinks can be used and days when they can’t to get a clearer picture of how global warming affects real citizens’ daily lives. Do you think such efforts can help raise popular consciousness and lead to action?

I don’t honestly know that it will. In smaller communities where that’s more important to people, I think that probably would make a difference. If we’re going to try to change things and steer the boat back, perhaps that’s where it needs to start. Not in the cities. But everybody is so busy these days. I don’t know that people are even aware of the changes that are coming down, or if they are, that they have time to do anything much about it.

Making the connection … here I am sitting in a huge commercial district in Red Deer, Alta., looking at another Starbucks and a Canadian Tire and there are a gajillion trucks all around me – making the connection between that and the backyard rink is hard to understand. It’s going to take a lot of small poignant things, such as the death of the backyard rink, for it to add up. It sounds pessimistic, but I wonder, by the time it adds up and people finally understand, whether it will be too late.

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