While there have been several different rinks during Kensington's history, each has been at the heart of the town's sporting and social life. The rink has been like a second home for town sportsfans, a place where athletic battles were waged, and a building whose walls have echoed with cheers of hometown pride.
In the fall of 1918, the first covered rink was built in Kensington, an effort spearheaded by Mr. Heartle Bowness. The rink featured gas-powered lanterns, as well as a gasoline engine to pump the water for the ice. But the accumulation of snow on the roof proved too much for the framework, and a snowstorm collapsed the structure. Bowness gave it another go-around in 1920, but his second rink soon met with a similar demise to heavy snows. In 1924, James Pendergast and Alf Essory built the first open air rink in town, which featured boarded walls, a pump house, and coal-heated dressing rooms to get the chillblains out of the skaters' feet. This rink played host to many lively skating carnivals, during which-- one year-- someone even took a goat out on the ice for a spin.
By 1929, there were renewed efforts to build a covered rink. The Granites hockey team were starting to generate a large following and the locals wanted better ice-- and more shelter-- than what was usually found at open air rinks. A company, the Kensington Skating Rink Co. Ltd., was formed to organize and raise money for the construction. The original architecture of the roof, comprised of an intricate pattern of trusses, ensured that it would not go the way of its predecessors. This elevated ceiling also allowed the ice to last longer into the spring than at other rinks with lower roofs, and the complex became the envy of other communities, whose players would always have travel here to play after their own rinks had melted.
Kensington was renowned for its excellent sheet of natural ice, a surface which took a real art to make in the days before freezing plants and zambonis. The major piece of equipment used was a barrel mounted on a sleigh. The barrel had three plugged holes on the front, and after it was full, the icemaker would open anywhere between one to three of the holes, depending on how heavy he wanted the sheet of ice to be. He had to push the barrel around the ice in clean and even sweeps to avoid creating any ridges. And once he had started, the icemaker had to flood the ice continuously until he was finished, which in Kensington usually meant between twelve and fifteen barrels full.
The Community Gardens opened in 1929 and one of the first big events was a skating party, where couples in costumes danced under the electric lights, as the electric amplifier played such favorites as "Sweet Rosie O'Grady" and "Sidewalks of New York." But then the Depression hit, the good times came abruptly to an end. While the rink directors had devoted much time and effort to making the rink financially sound, they were finding it impossible to meet their financial obligations and the shareholders were experiencing heavy losses. The Gardens were even forced to close their doors during the thirties. But after economic fortunes improved, it was reopened under private ownership and the ice was soon bustling with activity once again. The managers even managed to install an artificial ice plant in 1968, retiring the barrel and sleigh approach to flooding for good.
But disaster struck in the night of December 1, 1977, when the rink-- a building the town had worked so hard to maintain-- was consumed by fire. While the firemen made a valiant attempt to save the Gardens, they were soon driven back by the intense flames, as the fifty-year old rafters went up in a thick black smoke. The flames, it was said, could been seen for ten miles around. Just about the only contents of the building saved was the hockey equipment of the high school team, which-- as if inspired by adversity-- won the Island Interscholastic Championship only a few months later. But there was little else to feel good about in the aftermath of the fire, and Mayor Gerald McCarville spoke for all citizens when he said that it was the "worst possible building to burn in town." A school bus driver remembers driving a bus full of crying children to school the next day.
The town was down, but not defeated. Only hours after the building finished smouldering, the cleanup and plans to rebuild were already afoot. Local minor hockey players salvaged over 1300 sixteen-inch bolts from the rubble, and the scrap money went towards the new rink. Fortunately, the concrete floor was still in good condition and the town was able to build a temporary outdoor facility. Moonlight skates were held and the proceeds from these events-- a nostalgic return to early days-- went towards constructing a facility for the future. The outpouring of support for the rebuilding campaign was phenomenal, with cheques came pouring in from places ranging from Summerside to Switzerland.
After thousands of hours of fund-raising and planning, the new Community Gardens was finally re-opened for a community skate on February 10, 1979, and its interior has seen few dull moments ever since. In addition to ice events, the building is also the main venue for the Harvest Festival held at the end of the every summer, when citizens gather within its walls to celebrate their hometown. The Gardens continue to be a place where the community spirit flowers.