BIRCH ISLAND—The excited laughter of children mingled with the sharp cracks of slap shots hitting the boards provided a fitting soundtrack to the official opening of the new Whitefish River First Nation state-of-the-art outdoor hockey rink.
The term “hockey rink” is a bit of a misnomer, however, because although the rink board encircled ice surface is painted with the circles and lines that would be familiar to just about any red-blooded Canadian kid, the facility will see far more taking place on its new concrete pad than local games of shinny.
“This is more than just a hockey rink,” explained WRFN Chief Shining Turtle as he helped lace the skates of a young player in the newly insulated and heated dressing room. “In the summer there is the possibility of an outside marketplace, dances and all kinds of other events.”
The new rink’s concrete pad was laid down over a layer of epoxy, itself leveled over the old rink pad, providing a very substantial base. The rink boards surrounding the pad are constructed out of heavy duty aluminum and the board surfaces are a very heavy gauge plastic. This rink is built to last.
“These boards will probably outlast you or I,” agreed Band Manager Nishin Meawasige. “They will last at least 20 years before we have to really do much to refurbish them.”
The project was funded by FedNor and the band, each kicking in half of the $200,000-odd dollar tab. The band anticipates the lifespan of the new rink will far outstrip the old traditional wooden construction.
“This is amazing,” said hockey legend Reggie Leach, who traded in his hockey stick for a set of sharp scissors for the ribbon cutting. “I travel to a lot of communities across this country, to a lot of communities up north, and they don’t have anything like this. You should be very proud and take very good care of it,” he exhorted to the young skaters around him.
Mr. Leach, an NHL record holder and bestselling author who delivers inspirational talks and popular hockey schools across the nation, was home for two weeks before setting out again on a 30-day round of appearances. “This is the longest I have been home for a long time,” he smiled. “It is really great to have been able to be here to see this facility open.”
Mr. Leach advised the young people of the community to get out and use the facility and he commended the chief and council of Whitefish River on their foresight in providing a safe place for the youth of the community to get out and play.
Hockey players from the Espanola Express Junior A hockey team were on hand for the official opening of the rink and played a pickup game with the kids from the community following the opening ceremonies.
Coaches Jason Rapcewicz and Dennis Martindale were on hand as well, gifting the community with 100 tickets to the next couple of Express games.
Outside the change room a sacred fire burned. Chief Shining Turtle and other members of the community and band staff offered tobacco before the ceremonies got underway. “Traditions are important to the future of our children and our community,” he said. “This new rink will provide a safe place to play and provider a place to warm up.”