SURREY – Hundreds flooded through the doors of the old Stardust roller rink Saturday, in a final farewell to the beloved venue before the building is torn down.
Oldies blared through the speakers. Skaters boogied to popular hits like Who Let the Dogs Out, Jessie’s Girl and, naturally, a Journey song or two.
And of course, what would a final Stardust skate have been without the Chicken Dance?
Organizers even pulled old Stardust skates out of storage for the event.
Stardust was a beloved nighttime venue for Surreyites.
Some might say the Whalley facility’s closure more than a decade ago was the end of an era. But rewind to the late ’70s and Stardust was the place to be.
A slow Friday or Saturday night in those days would see about 600 people fill the building.
With its flashing lights, laser beams, spinning disco ball and blaring music, Whalley’s Stardust roller rink drew huge crowds for decades.
As all good things must, the attraction came to an end in 2005, a casualty of the changing times.
The crowds dwindled and by the time Stardust closed its doors, the numbers had fallen to 50 or 60 a night.
But last Saturday, July 8, the building that used to house the beloved roller rink held one final event (via four different sessions throughout the day from noon to 10 p.m.) before its torn down to make way for a planned $200-million 50-storey “GEC Education Mega Center” project.
Tickets to the final skate, at Central City Arena as the rink has been known in recent years, sold out within 24 hours.
And that’s been the case with other reunion skates in year’s past.
Why is that?
Bonnie Burnside, longtime manager of the iconic rink, said it’s the memories.
“I always wondered why people were so excited about this rink because they’re just cinder block buildings but I realized it’s not the actual building as much as the things people did when they were here,” she mused.
Everyone has a Stardust story, said Burnside.
“Celebrating your 10th birthday. Playing roller hockey and getting your first goal. Seeing your first live band as a teenager. Sneaking in a bottle of beer and not getting caught. All of those kinds of memories, those are what people love about Stardust.”
She smiles as she explains her niece Jessica met her husband at Stardust and now they have a little girl.
“If they hadn’t met at Stardust, they wouldn’t have Aubrey, so that’s pretty special. And they’re not the only ones with a story like that.”
Over the years, Burnside’s mother, father, sisters and even nieces all worked at the roller rink.
Fond memories, for Burnside, were the many charity roll-a-thons, Battle of the Band events and special Olympic programs.
She also enjoyed being part of a rink that was “ahead of the curve,” as she put it.
Rinks from the U.S. would look to Stardust for ideas, Burnside recalled.
“We were the first ones to bring 10-foot video screens into the area,” she said of the ’80s. “And you actually couldn’t get MTV up here so what we would do is get one of the operators in Eastern Washington to videotape them and send them up.”
And the bird dance?
“We got them into that,” she said, laughing. “Then all the ones in the States started doing it. We didn’t invent the dance, but we brought it into roller rinks.”
While Burnside struggled to pick just one favourite song from her Stardust years, she smiled as she said Jessie’s Girl is high on her list.
“Then there’s Good Riddance,” she added. “That was one we played a lot when the rink was closing so that one makes me think of Stardust right away.”
Burnside’s nephew Jeffrey Patterson was the DJ for the final skates on July 8.
Stardust is in his blood.
“When I was born I actually came to Stardust before I went home,” he said, smiling. “This was like a second home to me. I grew up here, I played hockey here, I worked here. I wasn’t going to miss this for the world.”
Patterson said knowing the building is going to be torn down is like “tearing down some of my childhood memories.”
“I had dates here. Yah, I know, lame, but it happened anyways,” he laughed. “This was the greatest place to be and to me it will always be in my heart.”
He spent a lot of time picking out music, he added.
“I even brought some prizes to give out to people that I spent my own money on because I want the memories to last for other people who join today as well.”
Tracey Gravel was helping run the show Saturday. She worked at Stardust from 1987 to 2005, first as a cashier, then a concession manager and for many years, ran the roller hockey program.
“We have pictures of my daughter jammed into the car seat with skates all around the car,” she recalled, smiling.
“It’s pretty bittersweet,” she said of the final event. “It’s nice to be here doing another skate but it’s sad to know this is the last one. All along since 2005, the bulidling has been here so we’ve been able to pop in every now and then. But now it’s final.
“It’ll be even more final when the wrecking ball comes.”
Gravel said Stardust helped her adjust to life in Surrey when she first moved here from Thunder Bay.
“I moved here in Grade 12,” she explained, “and I wasn’t too happy about moving and having to come here, all my friends were graduating back home. When I saw the ad for this job, I used to skate all the time in Thunder Bay and I thought you know what? Maybe it’s something I can do, and meet people. I’ve met some lifelong friends I’m still friends with today – I met by best friend here.
“And then of course Bonnie’s family is like family, too. We all kind of become one.”
Michelle Edwards took her two young ones to the first of the four final skates Saturday, at noon.
Asked if she spent time at the rink growing up, Edwards replied, “All the time.”
“The first time I remember coming here it was in kindergarten and it was for my friend’s birthday party and I thought it was the best birthday party ever. I used to bug my parents all the time to come here. I came here through my childhood, through my preteens and a little bit of my teenage years before they closed down in 2005.”
It was her four-year-old daughter Raeleigh Olson’s first time rollerskating ever.
“She’s liking it so far, she kind of hit her elbow,” she added. “I wanted my kids to see where I used to hang out, how much fun it is, the music and the disco lights. I’m glad they did this and had the Stardust reunion type thing.”
Have a Stardust story? Don’t be shy. In a final farewell to the beloved venue, the Surrey Now-Leader is asking readers to submit their stories. Comment below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.