By Jennifer Thurbide
One of Red Lake’s landmarks was treated to a celebration this past weekend as past and present users of the Cochenour Arena gathered to celebrate 50 years of indoor ice sports. After a year of construction the district’s first and only indoor skating surface was completed in 1962 which 10 decades later is still being used by area youth to play hockey, learn to figure skate, or gather on a cold winter night.
With more than 80 gathered in the lobby the noon hour of the day-long celebration was reserved for a moment of remembrance as speakers gathered to discuss the construction, the history of ice sports in the community and personal experiences.
“After watching my grandson play hockey and my granddaughter figure skating this year I remembered how important this arena has been to the community for the past 50 years,” exclaimed Deputy Mayor Ken Forsythe while welcoming the crowd during his opening address. “From hockey tournaments to figure skating, to carnivals, to curling bonspiels to weddings, to various community events – this arena has culminated many activities for all ages to enjoy and I hope to see many more.”
Organizing the January 21st celebrations was Recreation Programmer Emma Karschti who says she spent a significant amount of time with then construction supervisor and Cochenour resident John Jeffries discussing the building’s assembly.
While recounting the construction story Karschti told the audience “It is important to keep in mind the machinery and technology we have today did not exist. So much of [the construction] relied on the community volunteers that were gathered together to build this arena. In 1961 they had about 60 volunteers working together and they worked on this facility. They had 17 arches that were put in place and 1,200 bags of cement so there was a lot of labour.” The artificial ice that is currently enjoyed is a relatively new feature having been added in 1972 again by a team of volunteers that worked throughout the night to get the surface ready for the next game. “As you can tell over the past few years the construction and upgrades this arena has had have truly been a community effort and for that it will be part of the Red Lake district history for a long time.”
Also speaking at the event was former Red Lake Mayor Duncan Wilson who reminisced about the construction materials and the years of enjoyment he has witnessed in the facility. “It has certainly been a well built structure,” noted Wilson. “I take some personal pride even though I was not in on the construction that after 50 years that the recent inspection, I understand from our CAO Brian Anderson – this arena passed with flying colours. I think that is just great and it seems to me every time I come into this arena it seems to be improving while guys like me don’t.”
Balmertown Figure Skating Club (BFSC) coach Debra Geary and ex-NHLer Mark Vermette also addressed the audience discussing how the two sports have flourished in their Cochenour home.
Throughout the day visitors to the arena were treated to on-ice games and demonstrations as the various age groups of the Red Lake District Minor Hockey Association took to the ice for 50 minute games. The BFSC also participated in the event offering a skills demonstration. Fundraisers were also held for the Red Lake Madsen Public School Grade 8 trip and Instep Dance.