Genevieve O’Keefe, 9, holds the hand of her 6-year-old sister, Harper on a recent day at West Brook Skating Rink in Biddeford. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — Hockey players at the back, figure skaters at the front — that is the way it works at West Brook Skating Rink, a popular winter recreation venue in Biddeford for about 100 years.

On a recent chilly day last week, the rink was busy. A careful listener could sometimes hear the slap of a stick hitting a puck at the far end of the rink, while helmeted youngsters skating or learning to skate laughed and chatted with friends as they glided around the ice at the front— or wobbled and promptly fell on their posteriors.

It was pure fun — and it came with a lot of volunteer work to get West Brook

Sometimes, even if you’ve learned to skate, a frame comes in handy, as Genevieve O’Keefe, 9, displayed at West Brook Skating Rink on a recent day. Tammy Wells Photo

Skating Rink in shape. The outdoor rink is a Biddeford legacy asset that has been around for 10 decades — and over the years has had some peaks and valleys. There were valleys a few years ago — but now it is definitely on the upswing.

Skating on a recent day were sisters Genevieve O’Keefe, 9, and Harper O’Keefe, 6. Both used skating frames — but Genevieve was an old hand at the skating past time, as she demonstrated on some solo glides. It was Harper’s first day, her father Sean said as he watched their progress, and she was doing well — even letting go of the wooden frame to skate on her own a couple of times.

Glen Marquis was also there with his daughter, Natalie, 11.


Asked what she likes about skating, she said “I like it all,” as she laced up a skate.

“I’m glad to see it open,” said Marquis of the rink.

Pete Dumoulin, Marty Grohman and Denis Litalien are among a group of volunteers with Friends of West Brook Skating Rink. The rink has undergone a resurgence in the past few years. Tammy Wells Photo

West Brook Skating Rink was open 23 days during the season last year — 23 days where the temperatures cooperated: when it wasn’t snowing, and there was good ice — a lot longer than the season before that, when the weather just didn’t cooperate at all, and there were nine skating days — but they were nine good days. This year, said Marty Grohman, the Friends of West Brook Skating Rink are looking to have the rink open well beyond 23 days. While some mild above 32-degree days are all part of the late winter scene, it seems likely there will be more skating before spring arrives.

Grohman, Denis Litalien and Pete Dumoulin, who are among the group of volunteers, stopped by the rink on a recent weekday morning to check the ice for the upcoming afternoon and chat.

“I skated here as a kid — my parents brought the whole family,” Litalien recalled of those days. Families would sit in their cars up top, and watch their youngsters skate — or watch the professional ice-skating races, he said.

A news clipping posted on the West Brook Skating Rink Facebook page dated Feb. 23, 1923, tells a tale of one winter afternoon at the rink, when Raoul Nadeau won the mile ice race there, and Alcide Cote took the second-place spot.


“St. Andre’s Band was present and discoursed sweet music, and made it lively while the racing was going on,” the unnamed reporter wrote, estimating about 1,000 people turned out for the event.

The Friends of West Brook Skating Rink (named for the West Brook, nearby) began its efforts to improve and maintain the city-owned rink a few years ago, and there are always tasks that need doing and volunteers required to make sure that happens. One task is making sure the reeds are kept cut low over the off-season so when it comes time to let the water in, they’re not an impediment. Litalien said volunteer Paul Therrien brought a bush-hog type machine to the rink over the summer, cutting three times, to keep it tidy.

West Brook Skating Rink is located on Pool Street in Biddeford – and when there’s an open flag hanging on this new sign, skating is on. Tammy Wells Photo

Dumoulin outlined other tasks that always need attention — like brush-cutting, keeping the snack bar open, plowing snow, flooding the rink, and more.

Maintenance tasks involve fundraising at times; donations are graciously accepted inside the snack bar, there’s a Go Fund Me opportunity on the West Brook Skating Rink Facebook page, and there are fundraisers when necessary — such as when the Friends needed a bigger snow blower to clear the ice after a storm. The new 13 h.p. machine is doing the job — and all but about $600 of the cost to buy it had been raised as of one day late last week. And there are other projects ahead — like perhaps additional lights for night skating.

Dumoulin, whose son Brian is a defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins, is thinking of what might take place with another fundraiser, such as raffling off a hockey stick autographed by his son.

Grohman said the city has been supportive of the rink and the Friends efforts; one example was not charging the Friends group the usual fees as they sought municipal permits to halt erosion of the banks around the perimeter. The Friends sought and received a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers; Labbe Excavation, at no cost, dug a deep ditch around the rink into which a lining was installed to shore up the embankment.


Besides Litalien, Grohman, Dumoulin and Therrien, volunteers include Dave Gagnon, Matt Haas, Don Grenier, Mike Bouthillette, Chandler Jones, and Kurt Pray.

The group is grateful to all those who have helped, said Grohman, including TJs for donating pizza, and Perfect Sign Co. for the new sign at the rink.

These days, Grohman said, West Brook Skating Rink is somewhat of a self-serve model.

There is no cost for skate rental, he noted, and no admittance fee.

Skating enthusiasts can check Facebook to see when the rink is open — and when people are asked to keep off the ice so volunteers can improve the surface, or if there has been rain. Another way to tell, of course, is to drive by — there’s an open flag hanging when the ice is good.

Litalien said the rink is popular with local residents, and those from surrounding communities.


“Someone came here from Scarborough, who had lived in New York, and said they were made to feel welcome,” at the rink, said Litalien.

Later that afternoon, there were many out skating, and the deck area outside the snack bar was busy with people lacing up their skates. Among them was Sarah Morton, who had played in a hockey league many years ago and her father, George Morton, who had once played in a men’s hockey league. Morton, retired, said he was 45 years old before he took up hockey. He said he was looking forward to a skate that day and perhaps a hockey game later in the season.

Sarah, a special education technician at a Saco elementary school, said she’d played hockey for close to 15 years, but it has been a long time since those days. When the ice is nice, she likes to be out there.

“‘I’m skating as an outdoor activity to have fun,” she said.

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