The Town of Hay River has started planning for alternative ice surfaces for this coming winter.
They will be needed because the community’s former arena is now basically flattened in a demolition project to make way for a new Don Stewart Recreation Centre.
“We’ve struck a sub-committee to work on coming up with a plan for the coming season,” said Mayor Brad Mapes. “We’ve got to meet here in the next little bit to kind of tie things together. It’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
However, one big piece of any plan – a covered ice surface – has already fallen into place.
“We’ve been lucky that Aurora Ford, a great partner in our community, has allowed us to utilize their tent for the coming year,” said Mapes, referring to a massive structure in the industrial area. “So we’re going to have an ice surface in there.”
The tent is only big enough for one ice surface, the mayor said. “We’re hoping to get some kind of stands set up there. It’s going to be very tight. People are going to have to realize that you’re not going to have a full-sized arena.”
There will be nothing that will be able to accommodate tournaments this coming winter.
Mapes said K’atlodeeche First Nation is also still looking at possibly building an indoor rink on the Hay River Reserve in time for this winter.
However, the First Nation has not yet finalized a plan.
“I think what it’s got to come down to is that you’re going to find we’re going to need to utilize outside skating rinks,” said Mapes. “We’ll need to get some trailers located so that people can tie up their skates and all that.”
Such trailers for heated change rooms and washroom facilities could be placed near several outdoor rinks.
“That’s something that we’re looking at,” said Mapes.
The mayor said there are currently two outdoor rinks in the community – one in Old Town and the other in 553 – and both need some work.
In addition, he suggested another outdoor rink might be set up in the downtown core, perhaps in the parking lot of the rec centre near the skate park, or in some vacant lot.
Mapes said the town is not laying off any staff who would normally work in the arena, so they will be able to maintain outdoor rinks.
The sub-committee has met a couple of times already, said the mayor, noting it includes representatives of all the ice user groups, such as figure skating, speedskating, curling and minor hockey.
One of the members is Pennie Pokiak, president of Hay River Minor Hockey.
“I think it’s very important to have a covered shelter,” she said, referring to the Aurora Ford tent. “We don’t know what the winter season is going to look like. It’s great to have the outdoor rinks and keep those in good condition, and people can use those at their leisure whenever they want. But to have a covered surface is something that everybody will use. Not everybody will go to an outdoor rink.”
Pokiak said, with a covered rink, it will be “absolutely possible” to offer a season of minor hockey, although it would have to be a modified season.
“If we get that rink in the Aurora Ford tent, then we would try to have as normal of a season as we can,” she said. “It would basically be replacing the arena ice surface just in a little bit different of an atmosphere. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
The major difference would be the natural ice, meaning the hockey season would be shorter.
“I would say the earliest that we’d get that in there, depending again on how early winter comes our way, would be the middle to the end of November,” said Pokiak. “And usually we’re on the ice for Oct. 1. So we are going to be behind this year. But for Minor Hockey anyway, we have some tricks up our sleeves to try to make up for some of that lost ice time.”
She said those ideas include things like possibly starting a floor ball league and travelling to more tournaments.
Plus, Minor Hockey will consider obtaining ice time in Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, Fort Providence and even northern Alberta.
“So I mean there’s lots of things going on, and I have no doubt that it will all come together,” said Pokiak.
Mapes said the town would welcome additional ideas from the public on how to deal with the ice surface situation.
Plus, the mayor even sees a bit of a silver lining in skating outdoors.
“I honestly think that it might give an opportunity for community bonding and family bonding,” he said. “You know, get back to the old days where you went out and skated on an ice surface. I think in some ways it’s a burden but in other ways it might be a way to create community wellness, where it brings families together.”