From storage space to full-fledged curling rink: How Makwa got its groove back

Hits from Pat Benatar will soon be blasting over the speakers at an 80s-themed curling bonspiel in Makwa, Sask., population 84.

Volunteers got the blessing from village council and fired up the ice-maker in late 2017

Aimée Loehndorf (far right) pictured with the volunteers who are breathing fresh life into the 30-year-old rink. (Submitted by Aimée Loehndorf.)

Hits from Pat Benatar will soon be blasting over the speakers at an 80s-themed curling bonspiel in Makwa, Sask. and tiny town with a population of 84 people.

However, it wasn't long ago that this vibrant rink in Makwa, 300 kilometres north-west of Saskatoon, sat empty, used for a decade as storage space.

"There was no ice in it for 10 years. So the rocks just sat there… and collected dust," resident Aimée Loehndorf said in an interview with CBC's Blue Sky.

Makwa curling rink had been used for storage for a decade before it reopened. (Makwa Curling Rink/Facebook.)

Before the rink closed in 2006, the community's grocery store and school had closed.

"I think it was just a general progression, kind of a loss of things in a small rural community. Everyone was working out of town and just too busy I guess," Loehndorf said.

It's a story many small communities like Makwa have heard before —not enough volunteers, board members or participants to keep up their recreation.

People from nearby communities have been coming to Makwa to play. (Makwa Curling Rink/Facebook)

The rink wasn't shuttered though. Since it's attached to a bowling alley with shared bathrooms the heat stayed on, the upstairs kitchen would occasionally get fired up for events and community garage sales would fill up the rink floor.

That all changed a few years back when the space emptied out. Makwa's recreation group, which Loehndorf is a part of, asked the village council if they could fire things back up.

"We thought well now is our chance, if it's empty and everything's still here, let's see if it runs," Loehndorf said.

The "it" she's referring to is the ice plant. It was a big gamble to see if it would get going again but it's run for a year with no problems.

Now the rink, which was built entirely by volunteers 30 years ago, has become a community hub for the two and a half months of the year it's open.

"We had people come in, they have their coffee, their pie. They come have a burger for lunch. They'll come back at supper and have another burger because they just enjoy visiting and having a place to go," Loehndorf said.

There are kids toys for the young families who use the rink, 24 regular league players filling the three rinks two nights a week, and about seven bonspiels a year.

"The kids have been responded really well. They love coming back, and they're always very enthusiastic," Loehndorf said.

"We hope that they that this is maybe the start of their curling and they can enjoy it whether it's competitive or just casual. But at least they're learning the skills to be able to play it."

Volunteers have taken a lead in restoring the building. They've added new lighting, waxed the floors and put in a new deep fryer—and children have even started helping out pebbling the ice.

CBC Radio's Blue Sky is doing a monthly segment about good news happening in small communities around Saskatchewan. Have an idea for our next segment? Email us.

with files from CBC's Blue Sky