Northern municipality feeling the pinch of maintaining unused arenas

The COVID-19 shutdown is bringing an early end to hockey season in some corners of northern Ontario.
West Nipissing council is spending thousands on maintaining arena ice that isn't being used during the pandemic lockdown. (Peter Evans/CBC )

The COVID-19 shutdown is bringing an early end to hockey season in some corners of northern Ontario.

With the province ordering arenas closed until mid-February, some towns, including Sundridge, have decided to take the ice off their rinks. 

West Nipissing council heard last night that the hydro bill for each of their two arenas runs about $2,500 per week.

Mayor Joanne Savage asked staff to find out if hockey associations and figure skating clubs plan to start up again if the lockdown ends before spring. 

"We would probably have a better idea of the usage, if we need to maintain two arenas or just one arena," she said.

"Because I hate the fact that we're spending $16,000 for nothing right now, unfortunately."

Savage says an easier and cheaper solution would be allowing outdoor skating rinks to re-open.

But they are closed in the Nipissing and Parry Sound district by order of the medical officer of health, along with sliding hills and snowmobile trails.

The health unit did not reply to CBC's request for comment. 

Meanwhile, North Bay area health professionals, teachers and residents are petitioning the health unit to reverse its decision.

In a public letter to Dr. Jim Chirico, they say they are opposed to the closing of outdoor skating and tobogganing facilities in the region.

"Some of us are professionals in front-line health care and education; all of us are the parents of kids who were using the skating and tobogganing facilities as a way to mitigate the stress of living through a pandemic. The North Bay and Parry Sound District Health Unit's 'vision' is 'a healthy life for everyone in our communities.' Since health includes both mental and physical health, we ask that you take into consideration the mental health of the citizens, especially our youngest ones."

They argue the province considers the region's COVID-19 numbers to be low enough to send kids back to class, "yet in Toronto, where schools are closed until Feb. 11 by the province, kids are still able to access skating and tobogganing facilities."

Mayor Al McDonald says North Bay's "outdoor rinks and tobogganing hills have attracted crowds in recent weeks and we are implementing measures to protect the public and prevent the spread of the virus."

In west Nipissing, the fate of an old school considered an eyesore in the community was up for discussion at town council. So was the cost of maintaining arenas during the lockdown. In Temiskaming Shores, the discussion around the council table was about the effect the pandemic is having on small businesses. We have audio from both council meetings for you to hear. 8:21


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