In 1862, the Halifax Skating Club was formed by a winter-hardy group of 'fancy skating' enthusiasts. They first took to the ice to perform the Lancers on Griffin's Pond in the Horticultural Society's Grounds, now commonly known as the Public Gardens. In the days before Zambonis, prisoners from Rockhead were tasked with clearing the snow from the pond for skating.
By January 1863, the fun moved indoors to a covered barn near the Public Gardens' original entrance on South Park Street. This covered rink is reported to be one of the - if not the - first of its kind in the country. The January 12, 1863, issue of The Nova Scotian recalled,
The building enclosing the Rink is 60 feet wide and 180 feet in length, and this area of ice constitutes the extent of the skating facilities. The structure is permanent in its character and is tastefully fitted up, and gas is introduced so that the Rink can be lighted at night. At the entrance end of the building, and joining upon it is a commodious room separated from the Rink, furnished with a stove, which is a desirable arrangement in connection with the enterprise [...]. In the centre of the far end is a recess with an elevated dais for the Band. By day the Rink is lighted by a row of large windows on the two sides, and by night by four pendants each containing several burners.
In its heyday, the rink's members enjoyed costumed skating masquerades replete with marching bands, ice cream, and out of season strawberries. Membership at the Halifax Skating Club in its early days was much like skating clubs everywhere in those times - a trifle choosy. A freshly sharpened pair of Starr skates wasn't enough; rather, you had to be a member of the Horticultural Society, have money, know someone in the Society, or all of the above. Even still, the sport was so popular that within weeks of opening, the Club had reached maximum capacity and could accept no new members.
The skating season, owing to the use of natural ice, was generally from January to March with the pond opening early in years in which Mother Nature cooperated. George Mullane, in his Mail Star column noted that one autumn, due to an early frost, "scores of ladies and gentlemen" hit the ice, which was "in capital condition, and the scene presented was a gay one."
Looking past the gaiety of the Halifax Skating Rink's skating parties, skating history may have been made on that rink. While in Switzerland, a British officer had experimented with recreating the movements of waltzing on ice. But it wasn’t until he was stationed in Halifax that he successfully performed his dance in public - at the Halifax Skating Rink. The officer's introduction of valsing to Haligonians was an important milestone in turning the upper crust on to the joys of ice dancing.
Two factors led to the demolition of the Halifax Skating Rink in 1889. One factor was a fire, perhaps in the rink's reception room, which was equipped with a coal stove. The other was the overwhelming popularity of the lavish skating rink in the Empire Exhibit Hall, which opened around 1880 at Tower Road and Morris Street - the present site of All Saints Cathedral.
An effort to revive skating in the Public Gardens failed in the 1970s, but who knows what the future will hold for this lost historical landmark?