Pictou Advocate sports

To Stellarton: save your rink

Sports

Though I’m in my 50th year living away from Pictou County, I still maintain a great interest in the county and its strengths.

Think of Stellarton Memorial Rink, for instance.

In my growing-up days, my high school and university years writing sports for the New Glasgow News, my 10 years working in the county for The Chronicle Herald, I spent many, many happy days and evenings in the rink.

I was there in 1947 at a Stellarton Royals game in the APC Senior Hockey League that officially opened the building, the night a plague was unveiled “in loving memory of Stellarton’s brave young men who made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of freedom” in the two world wars.

I was there for many league games during that 1947-48 season in which the Bobby Beaton-coached Royals won the APC championship, then knocked off the Valley winning Windsor Maple Leafs with players such as Leo Fahey, Mel Gadd, Stan MacDougall, Porgy MacDougall, Jimmy MacDonald and Frankie Prozenor.

I was there in the 1952-53 campaign when the Pictou Maripacs shifted “home” contests to Memorial Rink because there was no artificial ice in Pictou. Those Maripacs won the APC crown and reached the Nova Scotia finals under playing-coach Tic Williams, who had Prozenor, MacDougall, Mark Babineau, Chick Charlton and Laurie Burbidge on the roster.

I was there in a different capacity during 1955-56 — covering the home games of the Pictou County Pontiacs for the Evening News while sports editor Rick Fraser looked after the New Glasgow Rangers. That, of course, was the year the two local clubs reached the Nova Scotia finals, the series that never got out of the boardrooms and onto the ice.

I was there reporting Stellarton High School games that led to the club winning the 1956-57 Nova Scotia Headmasters title, a team coached by John Harris MacDonald and featuring star Frank Sim, along with Dougie Davidson, Richard Hayman, Jimmy Fleming, and brothers Stew and Johnny Young.

I was there in the rink’s early years for boxing cards at a time when the sport was huge in the province and county fighters like Jackie Hayden, Doug Odo and Gary Simon made Stellarton a leading boxing locale. I was there, too, when Art and Lawrence Hafey and a group of other young fighters began their ring careers in the mid-1960s.

Heck, I was even there doing baseball interviews when the Stellarton Albions and their opponents in the Halifax and District League played across the street and used the rink’s facilities for dressing rooms.

Enough about the old days.

I’m thinking of Memorial Rink nowadays for a very different reason — its very existence after serving the community so well for seven decades.

When the Pictou County Wellness Centre came on stream, New Glasgow Stadium — known in its last years as John Brother MacDonald Stadium — closed its doors not much later. I still can’t believe the town did that. I still cringe when I drive into town and see it sitting there, no longer a sports and entertainment facility.

Complexes such as the Stadium are important to communities large and small, and it’s been my opinion that New Glasgow did the wrong thing to close its doors.

I hope Stellarton doesn’t make the same mistake.

I wonder about the future of Memorial Rink, which opened four years before the Stadium. I wonder if Stellartonians will step up and find a way to keep its arena in business.

I’m not the only one with that opinion.

A group of Stellarton residents, I’ve been told, is working behind the scenes looking for an opportunity to obtain funds to upgrade the rink.

One of the group is Jeff Green.

The 60-year-old life-long Stellartonian, a retired teacher, who has been involved in local sports all his life, knows what Memorial Rink means to the town.

I’m sure most Pictonians know him. He played hockey in the Metro Valley and Northumberland junior leagues in his early years, then coached minor hockey, softball and baseball since he was 20 years of age. Last year, for example, he coached the county’s AAA peewee club, and he has twice coached Canada Games teams.

I agree with his thinking — that Stellarton should do everything possible to keep its arena going. There are many examples of upgrades saving buildings everywhere. This situation doesn’t have to be any different.

I think the old coal mining town, now the epicentre of the huge Sobeys empire, is looking great these days. I see many improvements as I drive around — the Wellness Centre, the county’s biggest hotel and commercial establishments in the same area. Outdoor athletic and recreational facilities in the town looking better than they’ve been for a long time.

Surely, out there somewhere, there’s a solution for the rink’s future.

When I watch Toronto Blue Jays games on television and see the big green and white Sobeys logo behind home plate, I feel a bit of Pictou County pride — not just because I do my grocery shopping at Sobeys, but because I’ve known members of the family since the late Frank Sobey got the business moving forward, and sons Bill, Dave and Don, took over and began the expansion that stretches across the country.

The massive grocery chain and Memorial Rink? Could the two become related? Could Sobeys be the financial saviour for the arena? Though I’ve never been a businessman, I often wonder — why not get Sobeys help?

If that’s not the answer, there must be other means out there — a good reason for Jeff Green and his colleagues to move into high gear.

The building’s there. All that’s needed is an upgrade.

I believe the time is now for folks in Stellarton to do everything possible to keep their appropriately-named “Memorial” landmark in operation.

For now, my personal advice to Stellartonians: Save your rink.