FERNIE, B.C. — Snow and bone-chilling cold could not dampen the enthusiasm of a British Columbia community as residents opened an outdoor ice rink Thursday night and took another step in their recovery from a deadly tragedy.
“This has been a huge step in the healing process, a place where we can gather again and get youth programming back on the ice,” said Jocelyn Sombrowski, the chairwoman of Fernie’s leisure services advisory board.
She spoke as volunteers put the final touches on the rink, which was made possible by a donation from the Calgary Flames Foundation in the weeks after three men died in an ammonia leak at Fernie Memorial Arena.
The arena remains closed indefinitely and Sombrowski said the lack of a rink was keenly felt as Fernie tried to regroup following the Oct. 17 leak.
Fernie city workers Lloyd Smith and Wayne Hornquist died, along with Jason Podloski, a Calgary-based employee of refrigeration company CIMCO.
“I believe that our actual arena was the heart of our community and there is hardly a person in our community that hasn’t spent some time in our arena,” Sombrowski said.
The Thursday night opening unveiled the NHL-sized boards, timekeepers box and players’ benches donated by the Flames Foundation. It also recognized the work of nearly 100 volunteers and the local donation of more than $225,000 in supplies and labour costs, Sombrowski said.
Volunteers built changing rooms and a heated Zamboni storage shed, in addition to the pad for the regulation-sized ice surface.
Sombrowski hopes the outdoor rink will become a permanent fixture in Fernie.
“I understand the city has only committed to it for this particular season, but moving forward, I think it would be a huge asset to our community.”