For this New Brunswick dairyman, a frozen farm pond is more than just a hockey rink. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Like a sled barreling down a snowy slope, there was no stopping David Brown. Even if he wanted to put the brakes on the Christmas present he was creating for his four sons, the momentum was too much, the joy in his efforts too great.
Get the dairyman from Sussex, New Brunswick, to tell you about the hockey rink he built for the boys several years ago and phrases like “one thing led to another” and “the next thing you know” keep sneaking into the story.
“There’s a low spot not far from the house,” says David, “and I knew it had a spring in it. So, I dug it out one fall with the tractor, and when I was digging it, I decided to put in fence posts [to hold the hockey rink boards]. So, sure enough, the pond filled up and froze.
“The next thing you know,” David continues, “I put up this little lean-to shack. When the kids are over there skating, they’re going to want to get out of the wind, right? Then, while I had my machine there, I might as well put in an underground hydro-line. And one thing lead to another, so we decided we could put up outdoor lights for nighttime. The thing just went from there.”
Well, it went straight from there into the annals of Brown family traditions. Not only do the boys play hockey on the frozen pond each winter—many weeknights and most weekends—but the rink and shack, which the Browns call the “Lower Cove Lodge” or pond house, have become a gathering place for neighbors, even school groups, and a centerpiece for family gatherings.
“I’ve got a really great family,” says David, the third Brown to run the family business, Brownsville Farms. “There were seven kids in my own family … and now almost 30 grandkids. We’re a close bunch.
“We usually have a big family gathering every Christmas or at least once a year. They come home, and all my nieces and nephews get the skates on and come out and play hockey or go on wagon rides. We have a big bonfire, sometimes on the hill that overlooks the valley and sometimes near the pond house. We end up there to warm up and have some hot chocolate.”
“We’ve had lots of fun there,” says David’s wife, Edith, of the pond and lodge, just a few hundred yards from the house. “It brings people here, and that’s what we want.”
Life, like the ice on the pond, doesn’t last long enough. “If there is a reason to celebrate,” Edith says, “you celebrate it.”
The Brown boys say they appreciate the whole setup, too. While the two older sons, Nick and Mike, are away at college this year, Nathan and Marcus keep the rink in use. “It’s my favorite sport,” says Marcus, 8, about hockey. “I’ve learned how to play here.”
Says his 15-year-old brother Nathan, “The pond is really great, because in the wintertime I can go out and have a couple of friends over and have a pickup game. It’s a good time.”
Edith says she didn’t realize just how much the rink meant to her sons, until one Christmas at church. “Nick had to stand up,” she recalls, “and talk about his Christmas memories. He must have been in the 9th or 10th [grade]. He talked about our family gatherings and how we get together and do wagon rides and bonfires, skate and what not. It made me realize that it is part of their tradition. It’s something these boys look forward to.
“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she says with a warmth in her voice that could easily take the chill off a cold winter night.
Sure, David’s present to his boys was a hockey rink, but in reality it was much more.