Remembering the age of ice

The Falkirk Lions ice hockey team in 1945
The Falkirk Lions ice hockey team in 1945

A month or so ago I had the pleasure of attending the annual dinner of what must be Falkirk district’s oldest sporting association.

The honourable members of Falkirk Curling Society first gathered in the Red Lion Inn on February 23, 1816 and ever since their successors have assembled regularly to enjoy food, drink, good company and, even the occasional spot of curling.

Falkirk Ice Rink was popular for sporting and social events

Falkirk Ice Rink was popular for sporting and social events

For over a century the local sport depended on the weather and when the ice did form the great and good made a beeline for the loch at Callendar House or the purpose built curling ponds at Cobblebrae or Bells Meadow. Here for decades fierce battles were fought with other enthusiasts of the ‘roaring game’ from Camelon, Stenhousemuir or, the hottest stars of all, Banknock.

Until 1907 there were no indoor venues in Scotland but the opening of the rink at Crossmyloof in Glasgow offered a new solution to the vagaries of the Scottish weather.

Things really began to change in the 1930s. It started with a surprise victory for the British ice hockey team in the 1936 winter Olympics in Germany.

This prompted a rush to create new venues and in Falkirk an alliance of curlers, skaters and hockey enthusiasts made the case for a local ice rink.

At the time the Scottish Midland Guarantee Trust was in the process of winding up and had some cash left over which was to be used on a project to benefit the community. A rink seemed like both a good business venture and a welcome addition to the town’s facilities so George Strang’s farm at Randyford was purchased for £40,000 and by the end of 1938 the familiar building was ready. On November 30 the Earl of Stair, President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, threw the first stone and Falkirk Ice Rink was officially open for curling, skating and hockey.

And it was hockey that really brought the new rink to local and national prominence.

The mighty Falkirk Lions along with the Paisley Pirates, Ayr Raiders, Fife Fliers and the rest kicked off a golden age of ice hockey in Scotland.

Wednesday nights in the 1940s and 50s brought up to 4000 fans to watch the Lions rattle in the goals - or rattle into their opponents. Legendary names like Falkirk born Johnny Carlyle and Red Imrie joined a host of great Canadian players like goaltender ‘Happy’ Finch and attacker Nelson McCuaig to carry the Lions to the very top of the sport.

But the rink was more than a sports arena.

There were dance nights galore with Joe Loss, Victor Sylvester, Ted Heath, Jimmy Shand and, if I remember correctly, Dr Crock and his Crackpots.

Curling and skating continued but despite public support things were not well in the ice hockey world. Professional leagues were in the hands of financial power brokers and for reasons that are beyond my understanding the sport declined sharply so that by the mid 1950s the Lions had adopted amateur status. Attendances fell everywhere and by the late ’60s it was all over. The great nights rapidly faded into memory and the financial viability of the rink itself was called into question.

It closed down as an ice venue in 1977 and the curlers and skaters were left to find new homes outside the district. The building survives of course and has had a number of different uses over the years but none of them with the magical appeal of Falkirk Ice Rink in its prime.

Ask Ian

Valerie Salvemini would like to know the location of Prince Charlie’s Stones.

Go straight along Lochgreen Road, don’t turn down to the monument, and you will come to some trees on the right of the road. This is Canada Wood.

There is a finger post pointing into the woods through a gate. Twenty yards inside and down to the left are the two stones which legend says mark the spot where Bonnie Prince

Charlie stood on January 17, 1746.

They are covered in moss and a bit the worse for wear but you can just about make our what looks like CR carved.

The place is still known as Charlie’s Hill.