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Group working to keep community rink alive

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A dedicated group continues to work behind the scenes to keep Stellarton Memorial Rink from closing.

Town Council made the difficult decision to cease rink operations, effective March 31, due to the exorbitant costs to renovate and repair the 70-year-old facility. It was an emotional decision made for financial reasons. Council agreed to give the group until February 2020 to bring forth a reasonable and affordable solution to address the needs of the facility. Since March 11, 2019, the date of Council’s decision, this group has been working toward gaining a clearer understanding of the costs facing the building as well as alternative and efficient ways to address them.

Phyllis Porter Baker is a member of the group working to save the facility and she said the group would like to keep it operating as a rink.

“We see it as an asset to the town, a connection,” Porter Baker says. “If you use hockey as an example, the children of the town have a better opportunity to get there. A couple of mothers who have children in hockey have said that removing the memorial rink from the mix may make it difficult to secure ice time at other arenas.” She says if the memorial rink disappears, there may be further distance for kids to travel to get to hockey.

The rink, Porter Baker says, is “a sense of community.”

This is explained on the plaque that once had a place of honour in the entryway to the rink that explained its beginnings. It details how the rink was started following the end of the Second World War when residents of Stellarton, Plymouth and Riverton rekindled a long standing interest in the possibility of constructing a new arena, so they formed a committee to make it happen.

“The citizens unanimously agreed the proposed new rink would be built as a lasting memorial to the young men of the Town of Stellarton and adjoining communities of Plymouth and Riverton who had given their lives in the two World Wars,” the plaque reads.

The estimated cost at that time was $70,000 and a campaign was organized to seek contributions. “There was a genuine desire by the community at large to ensure this proposed project became a reality.”

At a special meeting of the Memorial Committee and town council, held on Friday, January 13, 1947, the decision was made to proceed with construction. The plaque notes: “It was re-confirmed the new rink would forever be a memorial to the area’s fallen native sons, and a suitable plaque bearing their names would become an honoured fixture within the new complex.”

The rink opened in 1947 and a memorial plaque was erected, then replaced when a committee with members of the Rink Commission and Branch 28 Royal Canadian Legion was formed in 1996 to pursue the design and building of a new memorial which contains the names in alphabetical order of the 117 young men who made the supreme sacrifice during the two world wars.

The undertaking of this new memorial was a combined project of Branch 28 Royal Canadian Legion, the Ladies Auxiliary Branch 28; members of town council, and the Rink Commission, under the leadership of chairman, Mayor Clarence Porter.

It was a true community effort, Porter Baker explains, and the miners also were large contributors to the rink. “They had a portion of their wages taken away to be put toward the Memorial Fund.”

Today, Porter Baker says the group is making progress and there are currently about a dozen or so community members regularly meeting to explore ways to save the facility. The group, facilitated by Darren Stroud who made a presentation to town council on their behalf, is endeavouring to explore all avenues and reach all community members interested and willing to participate in this project.

The last several weeks the rink was open, Porter Baker and her husband strapped on their skates to take a final glide around the ice. “It was fantastic,” she beams. “And I almost cried the last night. But that’s emotion and that can’t pay the bills.”

But she questions, “How can you put a price on the sense of community the rink holds? Hockey players, parents and grandparents in the stands in the mezzanine cheering them on… And our Olympian, Blayre Turnbull would have got an early start playing hockey at that rink…”

“We’ve lost so much already. I just keep thinking about the historical significance of the rink and the honouring of our veterans,” Porter Baker says. “We are going to exhaust all options.”

Anyone interested in participating in this citizens group is encouraged to email stellarton.memorial.rink.citizens@gmail.com.