As Mayor Glenn Witherspoon addressed those on hand at yesterday morning’s sod-turning ceremony on the arena grounds, he referred to the new indoor ice surface as a “great addition” to the community and future of Fort Frances.
A small but enthusiastic crowd of about 30, representing a wide cross-section of the community, showed up to lend their support to the project, which will see a second ice surface built adjacent to the existing Memorial Arena and Sportsplex.
“I apologize for this taking so long but this [project] will be great for the kids and the users of this community,” Mayor Witherspoon said after the 10-minute ceremony.
“Where we are [standing] right now, people will be proud of what they will see,” he added.
Mayor Witherspoon said work should begin at the site in about a week, with construction to take a maximum of 51 weeks.
“Ice for Kids” co-chairs Dave Egan and Les Baker both agreed the project took longer to get off the ground than expected but are more than excited about seeing a new indoor ice surface completed here.
“This is a great day for the Rainy River District!” enthused Egan. “We started this eight-and-a-half years ago basically because of a shortage of practice ice and for scheduled games.
“You have to go back and give credit to all the minor hockey coaches who had to go to the outdoor rinks, [or] to places like Atikokan and International Falls for indoor ice,” he added.
“Now, they’ll have the convenience of having another home rink.”
“It feels great to be part of this,” echoed Baker. “To work all this time . . . this is the moment we’ve been waiting for.
“I couldn’t be happier.”
Lynn Kellar, president of the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association, said youngsters here definitely have suffered in recent years due to a lack of quality indoor ice time.
“No doubt it has suffered in the development standpoint of the kids,” he noted. “When the kids can only get one hour every week, or two weeks, they will suffer.
“We’ll finally be able to start to improve the program, and it’s also going to help the women’s hockey program because they’ll be able to draw more [players],” Kellar added.
Egan felt the local Border Figure Skating Club also would benefit greatly from the additional indoor ice time, noting it had “suffered more than anyone” with all the early-morning practices and having so many practices interrupted on weekends due to hockey tournaments.
But that shouldn’t be the case when the new ice surface is finished, and Mayor Witherspoon predicted Fort Frances will see a boom in the number of tournaments and functions held here.
That, in turn, will mean an economic boost for the town.
“Everyone will look at Fort Frances as a destination and it will be looked upon to host big events,” he enthused.
The mayor also envisioned the town possibly becoming a “preliminary training centre” for such teams as Canada’s national hockey one. He hoped Fort Frances can be put on a “level playing field” with surrounding towns like Kenora and Dryden.
“Ice for Kids” already has hinted it is looking at hosting an exhibition game involving Canada’s national team once the new ice surface is completed.