A small part of Red Deer’s history may be lost when the Red Deer Arena is demolished, but the memories will live on.
Next year, the 63-year-old rink will be torn down.
In its place, the City of Red Deer will build a new rink, since it has determined that it is much too costly to repair and maintain the existing building.
And if the walls on the Arena could talk, they would mention the controversial start to a building that has welcomed thousands of hockey games and practices, speed-skating competitions, concerts, political rallies, Remembrance Day services and much more over six decades.
In October 1951, city voters decided in a plebiscite to build the Red Deer Arena at the then-fairgrounds.
The project tenders came in much higher than anticipated, causing a stir in the town of 7,115 residents.
Spending an estimated $165,000 on a hockey rink following the Second World War just did not sit well with some residents.
Others were opposed to the project because they felt the designated site in southeast Red Deer was too far away from the downtown.
Michael Dawe, a city archivist, said the voters approved a scaled-back version of the project. He said they used a lot more wood in the building than originally planned.
“Right from the start, the building was never a state-of-the-art, modern facility,” said Dawe. “Even with the renovations they did 25 years ago, it improved the exterior appearance, the lobby areas were fixed up. The basic thing was the building was still pretty old.”
The 2,800-seat Arena opened in December 1952 without an ice plant.
“They had to postpone the official opening because it was just too warm,” laughed Dawe. “The ice plant was improved when the curling rink was built several years later next door. They had a shared ice plant for a few years. That helped with proper temperature control.”
As the largest gathering place in Red Deer at the time, the Arena was the place for political rallies, meetings, sporting events and concerts.
“It’s been a community centre in many ways over the years,” said Dawe. “I think there’s a lot of sentimental attached to it. People have fond memories of it. I have fond memories as a high school kid going down with my friends and watching the Red Deer Rustlers.”
But it wasn’t always about hockey.
In 1955, the celebrations of Alberta’s 50th anniversary as a province were held at the Arena. It was standing room only as residents listened to Premier Ernest Manning speak.
“I remember in 1968 there was a very contentious nomination meeting because the national leader of Social Credit (Robert Thompson), who had been Red Deer’s member of Parliament, had switched to the Conservatives,” said Dawe. “When they had the nomination meeting, they filled the arena. He re-won the nomination as a Conservative. It was a really big event. We had a lot of these Conservatives say we spent all these years fighting him and now he says he’s one of us.”
These days, the Arena is the home of the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs, Red Deer Vipers, Red Deer College Queens and Red Deer Minor Hockey. It has hosted many national championships, including the Telus Cup and the Allan Cup. The Red Deer Legion hosts its annual Remembrance Day ceremonies at the facility. The Saturday Red Deer Public Market sets up in the parking lot of the Arena through the summer.
In 1995, extensive renovations to the Arena extended its life.
But last year, an engineering assessment concluded the roof had one to three years left in its lifespan. The city installed a monitoring system to keep an eye on the roof.
Dawe said there was a lot of work invested in the Arena two decades ago, but now it has reached a point where there is only so much you can do.
Plans are in the works to give the old Arena a proper sendoff.
And a project contract is expected to be awarded in the coming weeks to build a new structure.
Council budgeted $21.5 million to build the new rink. The project includes resurfacing the parking lots that serve the surrounding buildings.
The new facility is expected to be completed by mid-2018 and will be used during the 2019 Canada Winter Games.