The Gravel Pit play ground (or the GPHL vs the ASRHL)
by J Pinsent
When the military constructed Gander during
WWII, as a source for material they dug this giant hole, which we
called the ‘gravel pit’, just to the east of the Army side. It
wasn’t a square hole like you would figure but a hole shaped in the
form of the letter “L”. From recollection, it wasn’t very deep,
about 10-15 feet. This pit was located a very short distance from
the apartment complex where we lived. During the spring and summer
this pit collected all the melting snow and rain water becoming a
lake of tepid stinking water and mud. By the time autumn rolled
around, there was enough dry surfaces exposed to provide space that
allowed for a bon fire.
We started, after school opened in September, collecting
used auto tires and any combustible material we could find or steal. Our parents
helped by motivating the various garages including Transport Canada to
contribute their condemn rubber tires. Eventually a pyre began to emerge. The
older boys cut trees and added them to the ever growing mountain. When Guy
Fawkes night arrived there was this massive pile of tires, dried out trees, old
wooden crates and wooden barrels, rising high on the floor of the dry part of
the gavel pit.
I don’t know who lit the thing, one of the older guys no
doubt, but supper would just be about over when the word would get out. The bon
fire was going. We would jump from the table and head for the gravel pit. All
curfews were cancelled for this event. As you were going by Jim Noel’s place you
could feel the heat. It was almost like daylight, the fire was so bright. People
came from all over Gander to watch our fire. The Army side pride was at stake.
Comments saying that the fire this year was better than last year, encouraged us
to get ready for next year, as soon as next summer ended.
The next morning we would go down to the pit. You could
still fell the heat rising from the area and when you stirred the ashes the
coals would glow and burst into flame if you fanned them. This of course would
prompt us to start a smaller fire from any lying about debris.
With winter approaching, everyone anticipated the cold
weather with great delight. With the remaining water left in the pit, the depth
was only a foot or more, a lot of frost wasn’t necessary to make the gravel pit
into an Olympic size skating/hockey rink, with just a scattered rock or so
sticking up like pylons. Just a few obstacles to challenge our skating and stick
handling abilities. They also acted as defensemen when the opposing team was on
the attack. The gravel pit would be transformed into a perfect roofless skating
bowl. At least we thought so.
The hockey sticks and skates would come out and everyone
headed for the pit Saturday morning. Teams would be chosen by two selected
captains that picked ‘sides’. The bigger guys would be selected first and
descended down in order of age, size and ability. Imagine 8 year olds playing
with 14 year olds. We could only play when the older guys were short of
players. Most of the time we were assigned to the minors, ‘the Army side road
hockey league’, when the numbers became too large. There we played with kids our
own age and size.
The streets on the Army side were not paved as opposed to
the other roads in the rest of the town but consisted of gravel. The streets in
the winter became compacted snow, which more than often turned into ice. The
streets in Gander were never salted. There were four heating plants that burnt
coal to provide steam heat for apartments and public buildings on the Canadian,
RAF & American side. When the streets became too slippery, they were “salted”
with cinder ash from the heating plant residue. Between the “salting” periods of
the streets, the surfaces were completely ice covered. I can remember putting on
my skates and skating up and down the street in front of where we lived, just as
if it were a skating rink. A little bumpy but adequate. If we were out in the
evening, when it was dark, you could see the sparks flying from our steel skate
blades as they stuck the occasional cinder or stone embedded in the compacted
The streets were not busy, not everyone had a car, so
playing on the street was accepted by everyone. After the gravel pit it was our
winter play ground. Every hundred feet or so was a street light. We could play
hockey at night till curfew time (if you had your home work done). After curfew
time, it was bed time.
Not all of us had hockey sticks. Some of the dads made
sticks for us, especially goalie sticks. The puck was a puck. Not a ball but a
regulation, hard, black rubber puck. In a pinch, we would saw an end from a
birch stick to the same approximate dimensions of a puck. Some of us had shin
pads but didn’t wear them much. Couldn’t waste valuable time putting on hockey
equipment. It was, home from school, in through the door, “hi mom, going playing
hockey”, drop your book bag, grab your hockey stick and “GONE”.
The goalie was normally the odd guy out. Some of the guys
developed a liking for the position and made their own pads out of brin bags
stuffed with catalogues (after Christmas) and straw, kept in place with leather
straps or rope. Cec Lush was one of our goalies who later became a key player
for the Gander team in the senior hockey league. The goal posts were two clumps
of compacted snow placed the width of the longest hockey stick in the group.
During the game, a time out would be called to re-measure the goal post if one
of the goalies were suspected of moving them a little closer. If your goalie
didn’t have pads, no raising the puck. The slap shot wasn’t invented yet. No
body checking, but bumping was allowed.
One particular game, I was involved in an incident that
became pretty intense. I got entangled with another lad my own age, while
fighting for the puck. Someone struck the other in the shins with their stick
(no pads). The other retaliated. Then a re-retaliation. Then a strike to the
wrist area (no hockey gloves). Another retaliation. Finally, enough is enough. I
clunk the guy on the head with my hockey stick. He was wearing one of those
leather caps with the earflaps. Well, the blow was hard enough for him to turn
tail and run home crying, geeze I felt good. I won. So back to the game at hand,
also a plus for us, the other team was now down a man.
Not too long later we broke the game off because of
supper. My mother met me at the door, wanting to know what I had done to my
friend. “What are you talking about mom” I said, as innocently as I could
muster. Then she starts to tell me what my friend’s mother told her. At that
time, my grandfather walks in through the door and says, very proudly, “I see
you sent young Scott home crying this afternoon”. My mother goes ballistic on
hearing my grandfather’s comments. She tells him how I hit him on the head with
my hockey stick. He starts to retract by telling me that I should have dropped
my stick and pounded him out like a man. My mother is more infuriated. “What
nonsense. Telling a ten year old boy how to fight”, she scolded him.
My mother immediately proclaimed herself as President of
the ASRHL(Army Side Road Hockey League) and suspended me for remainder of the
season. Oh well, there were only a few more weeks left anyway. The cinders would
soon be poking up through the ice and the gravel pit was beginning to melt,
Cricket & Baseball would be starting when things dried up.
Like my grandfather, Don Cherry would have been very
disappointed in me, for not dropping my stick. I continued to play organized
hockey till after high school and I never had another fight. But I knew how to
But we eventually grew older and bigger. We rose up
through the evolution chain, becoming the dominating gravel pit hockey players
in the GPHL (Gravel Pit Hockey League) and when it got dark in the evenings,
played on the streets under the lights.
The gravel pit never lost it’s attraction for being a
useful place. Up until the early 90’s it was used as a demolition derby site for
the annual Gander Day event.
Good places last a long time.
Morley & I