British Columbia

A new ice rink in Hazelton is more than a place to skate — it's 'a new sense of hope'

Hockey players and ice skaters in Hazelton are celebrating news that the community will soon have a new indoor ice rink— after their previous arena had to be suddenly evacuated in the middle of a hockey practice last year.

Volunteers have been fundraising to replace the 44-year-old indoor arena deemed unsafe in 2015

A concept drawing of the ice surface in the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre, which will also include seating for 500. (Courtesy B.C. Ministry of Transport)

Hockey players and ice skaters in Hazelton are celebrating news that the community will soon have a new indoor ice rink — after their previous arena had to be suddenly evacuated in the middle of a hockey practice last year.

The provincial and federal governments announced up to $12 million in funding for the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre at an event in Hazelton October 26.

The funding also will also provide room for a gym, community rental space, and fitness room

In March 2015 an engineer was assessing the Ken Trombley Memorial Arena when it was determined the 44-year-old structure could collapse at any time

The building, which was the main ice rink for a number of small communities in northwest B.C., was evacuated midway through a hockey practice and a figure skating carnival was also cancelled.

'A new sense of hope'

The community had known for some time the old, volunteer-built arena wouldn't last long and efforts were already underway to get a new one. 
Dr. Peter Newbery has been spearing funraising efforts for the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre, or "Heart of the Hazeltons", since 2013. (Heart of the Hazeltons)

The volunteer group Heart of the Hazeltons was formed in 2011 and has been fundraising for the past three years.

"We're elated," said Dr. Peter Newbery, chair of the organization. "The community is just tremendously excited... we're very, very happy with the announcement."

Newbery, who is also a physician, said the benefits of a new arena go beyond simply having a nice building.

We will be able to impact the whole issue of suicide and suicide attempts and mental health in general.- Dr. Peter Newbery

"We've had major problems with suicide and suicide attempts in the Upper Skeena for a long time," he said. "Our expectation is that by providing opportunities for activity and improvements in health ... we will be able to impact the whole issue of suicide and suicide attempts and mental health in general." 

"[It's] going to bring a whole sense, a new sense of hope."

'This is for all those kids whose water bottles froze solid'

Community members skate inside "The Barn," the volunteer-built arena in Hazelton that had to be evacuated in 2015. (Upper Skeena Arena)

After last year's evacuation, the roof of the old arena was demolished so kids could skate on an outdoor rink — but even before that, the roof provided little protection from the elements, according to Hazelton Hockey Association president Ryneld Starr. 

"This is for all those kids whose water bottles froze solid while they were out playing because it was 30 degrees below zero," he said of the new arena.

"It's for all the kids who tripped over the little ice bumps from the dripping roof. It's for the kids who had a breakaway get wiped out because a pile of snow stopped the puck because whenever it snowed outside it would snow inside."

A concept drawing of the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre, expected to be complete in 2018. (Heart of the Hazeltons)

Starr also praised community volunteers who worked to make the announcement of a new arena possible.

"There's people that have been working on this that their kids went through minor hockey and are done minor hockey and they've still stayed just as dedicated to getting the new arena as they were when they had a stake in the project," he said.

Construction expected in 2017

Newbery said that in addition to the $4 million his group has already raised, the $12 million from the provincial and federal governments will be enough to cover the capital costs of a new arena.

"Our hope is that with this announcement we will be able to get shovels in the ground in the spring of 2017 and that the centre will be open in the late fall of 2018," he said.

However, he warned more money will be needed to cover operating and equipment costs. "We're looking for another $5 million, at least," he said.

"But the great news is that we have a project. It's not just a concept, but an actual project."

With files from George Baker and Audrey McKinnon.


To hear Ryneld Starr and Peter Newbery talk about the importance of the new arena, click on the audio labeled 'New ice arena announced for Hazelton'.

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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.