Pictou Advocate sports

Stellartonians doing it right


For the past three months, the word “emotion” has been uttered far more often than usual on the streets of Stellarton, in its coffee shops and shopping establishments, at dinner tables across the community. And yes, in town council chambers too.

There’s good reason.

Back on March 11, town council made what has been referred to as “an emotional decision” to close 72-year-old Stellarton Memorial Rink.

Since then, emotion has swept through the old coal mining town.

It seemed at the time that the arena on Stellar Street had been placed on death row, about to face the same fate that closed — and later demolished — John Brother MacDonald Stadium in New Glasgow.

But not so quick. Memorial Rink has since been given a stay of execution, at least until next February if required.

I got a clearer picture of the Stellarton situation while reading editor Jackie Jardine’s article in the May 15 issue of the Advocate. In it, she reported on an interview she had with retired school teacher Phyllis Porter Baker, a spokesperson for a Memorial Rink Citizens Group working behind the scenes to save the arena. In that conversation, Porter Baker labelled Memorial Rink “an asset to the town, a connection.”

So true. Jackie’s article indicated that many people in the town are emotional about what may happen to their rink.

That’s easy to understand.

Last week, Porter Baker phoned me and, for an hour, she outlined her concerns, the concerns of other committee members, the concerns of people in the community.

I never met her — in fact, I didn’t know of her until the arena issue arose — but after our lengthy conversation, I can see where she’s coming from, what she and the committee hope to achieve.

I remember Clarence Porter, her father, a life-long businessman who served as mayor of the town for almost a decade. Phyllis spoke of how her dad had “an emotional attachment” to the rink. He cared about many things in the town and he obviously passed those affections on to his daughter.

She convinced me. But do you know what? It didn’t take Jackie’s story, or my chat with Phyllis, to become emotional about what may happen. I was already concerned.

I have many fond memories of my lifetime in the sports community. Included are childhood recollections that have never disappeared.

I recall, as a nine-year-old, being in Memorial Rink with my father on the night the facility was officially opened, when the senior Stellarton Royals played their first hockey game there.

I remember, at the age of 13, being in New Glasgow Stadium on opening night that included a game between the Charlottetown Islanders and Sydney Millionaires.

I can’t even guess how many times I was in Memorial Rink, how many times I was in the Stadium. I lost count a long, long time ago. I loved both places.

They’re where I got my start in sports journalism 65 years ago. They’re where I watched literally hundreds of hockey games, from novices, to high school, to senior, to NHL exhibitions. They’re where I saw countless professional and amateur boxing cards at a time when the fights were big in the county. They’re where I met many dignitaries, from hockey goaltender Terry Sawchuk, to singers Johnny Cash and Hank Snow, to world boxing champion Carmen Basilio.

And I sure haven’t forgotten the local personalities.

I watched so many hockey players wearing the uniforms of the Stellarton Royals, Pictou Maripacs, New Glasgow Rangers and others. I forever recall the boxing debuts of Stellarton brothers Art and Lawrence Hafey, fighters like Jackie Hayden, Babe Mason, Doug Odo, Gary Simon and others.

They were fun times.

What I want to stress is that, even though I’ve lived away from the county for 50 years, even though I’ve attended the Olympics, World Series, Stanley Cup and Grey Cup championships, even though I’ve met icons like Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax and Muhammad Ali, I still remember fondly the great times I had in the Stellarton and New Glasgow rinks.

They were my second homes.

I almost can’t talk about the loss of the Stadium — I was angered when New Glasgow’s town council made its decision — and I was just as upset when I learned Memorial Rink may be next on the demolition block.

On that opening night in Stellarton in 1947, I may not have been old enough to fully understand the meaning of the rink’s name, or why a plaque was unveiled inside. Through the years, I paused more than once to read it.

“In loving memory of Stellarton’s brave young men who made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of freedom.”

The names of 117 young Stellartonians have been there for almost three-quarters of a century. Lest we forget.

What a wonderful tribute to those who died.

But will the tribute continue? Or will it go the way of things that are being lost in our communities everywhere?

I think of the Stadium’s demise. I was particularly upset when the name John Brother MacDonald Stadium came down. I still am.

Since then, I haven’t heard a word about where the sign went, or if there will ever be a new means of honouring the man who was such a huge icon in the town, who meant so much to so many of us.

What happened in New Glasgow shouldn’t have happened the way it did. That’s why I wonder now, if the rink in Stellarton isn’t saved, what will become of the name “Memorial”? What will become of those 117 names on the plaque?

At least, in Stellarton, a dozen or so folks, like Darren Stroud and Phyllis Porter Baker, are being given an opportunity to see if there is a way to keep the wreckers off Stellar Street.

Let’s hope they succeed.