Communities and Families | Logan’s 1845 Journal | The Rinks Through the Years
Hockey Heritage | Memories | Strategic Planning & Feasibility

 

The Rinks Through the Years

Text by Bobby Grylls, cutlines & auxiliary notes by Gayle Stewart, Newspaper clippings from Linda Bromley’s scrapbook and photos from Ron Ethier, Eric Blackwell and Linda Bromley

Resource: ‘History of the Corporation of Westmeath Township’ by Evelyn Moore Price (1984)

Click on any picture to get a pop-up enlargement for a closer look.

Ottawa has open-air skating on the Rideau Canal, Toronto at Nathan Phillips Square but the very first Westmeath open-air rink – Rink # 1 – was back in the late 1800’s. Situated below the only bridge in the middle of town, it was adjacent to the original general store of Fraser and Patterson (now the Canadian Hillbilly’s property). George Tucker had built a water-powered sawmill on the stream to form a sawmill-pond. It was used in conjunction with a sawmill operation in the summer season, in the winter it became the skating rink. This rink was easily flooded. After sweeping off the ice, the dam water level was lowered two inches and the new two-inch ice-surface emerged with a minimum of effort.

In 1901, a boarded rink – Rink #2 – was built on Jessie Street. Its construction was posts in the ground and boarded all around. It had a flat roof and one side was for spectators. Wood burning stoves heated the anterooms. By 1907, the size of the rink (40’ x70’),was insufficient and it was dismantled to make way for a larger one.

A third rink became a reality (66′x166′)- Rink # 3. Norman Reid, August Carlson and Dr. John Graham formed a committee and provided leadership. Stocks sold to raise money for funding. A mighty community effort of volunteer labour and material made it possible to have the only covered rink in the region, with the exception of one in Pembroke. The rink had a rounded dome roof – built with gin poles. (See Vintage Post Card pictured below). During construction, the raising of the supporting braces was done by hand with ropes and pulleys. There was over two tons of steel used in reinforcement. All the steel work was the responsibility of E.O. Gervais, the village blacksmith. George Howard was the contractor for the project. Later a cement foundation was added for stability.

Turn of the Century Fundraising – Ten Dollar Shares: The first covered rink in Westmeath was opened in 1907 and funded by the sale to the public of $10.00 Share Certificates in the Westmeath Skating and Hockey Rink Company.  There were only 400 residents in Westmeath and the construction estimate was $4,000.00. Stocks were sold and the $4,000.00 was raised.  On completion of the rink, the Construction Committee found they still owed $1,700 for construction and $22. for lights. But after more fund-raising, the debt was wiped out and the shareholders received a 20% dividend. This structure with improvements would serve the community for 68 years until 1975. This original share certificate is owned by Ron Ethier.  Linda Bromley has a copy of a share signed by Wm. F Grylls, Sectretary, and Norman Reid, Chairman, to certify that Sam C. Bromlee (sic) is the holder on One Share. Norman Reid and his brother Alfred came from Portage du Fort and built a large brick store in the lower end of the village of Westmeath in 1884. Reid’s store was a popular gathering place when Saturday night shopping was in vogue. Mr. Reid had 43 shares – one had 8 ½ shares – a few had 5 shares while most had only one share.

Vintage Souvenir Postcard: These postcards went on sale to the very proud citizens and visitors to the new 1907 Westmeath Rink.   The herculean efforts of the community had paid off and now it was time to promote this lovely new rink and take home a souvenir.  This is a copy of an original postcard now owned by Ron Ethier – never mailed; always safely kept by the family.


 

Upstairs Meeting Room in the Old Rink: The Curling Club members met here and this little room could get very crowded some evenings.  This room was used by the Snowmobilers Club on a regular basis as well.  Is that the Cotnam Shield on the pillar?

Being the only rural covered rink, it had a much longer hockey season. This was the era of seven-man hockey teams. Westmeath played with teams from Renfrew, Pembroke, Fort Coulonge and Shawville, being successful in winning the Reid Cup. William Johnstone went on to play in Seattle. Harry Cameron played here and later became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In 1929 players included these names; Bert Armstrong, Alex Ethier, Joseph Bourke, Gerard Pappin, Hector St. Louis, Austin Shannon, Wilfred Donnell, Alan Brown, Carl du Manoir, Weldon Graham, Clinton Anderson and  Wilfred Ethier.

The Old Westmeath Rink 1907-1975

Interior of the Old Rink: The Ice Surface in the old rink looks pretty  primitive by today’s standards but everyone who played or skated  there enjoyed themselves and esthetics  or lack of fine amenities didn’t enter their minds.

The rink had become unsafe by the spring of 1975. It was taken down. The old faithful had served the community from 1907 to 1975, 68 years in all.

Dismantling Work Bee: Like their grandfathers and great-grandfathers who had worked so hard to build the Westmeath Rink, now the men of the community all joined a work bee to strip the “Old Faithful” and dismantled it piece by piece.  The empty site would become the Ball Diamond of today.

The official opening of the Westmeath and District arena – Rink # 4 – was on August 15 &16th, 1975 in conjunction with the inauguration of Westmeath Days. Hundreds of former residents, tourists and locals attended. This fourth rink in the village now provided sports and cultural entertainment all year round. For this celebration, E.O. Gervais cut the ribbon and Dr. Lloyd Reid delivered the main address. Izett McBride outlined all the work and efforts done by so many of our citizens in raising $162,000 for the new arena. The banquet hall, stage and kitchen were a project of the Riverview Seniors of Westmeath.

The groundwork for the rink began about four years earlier when the land was purchased from John Gervais. An intense fundraising drive began and continued over the next few years. A contract was struck with Murray Moore’s company for the Behlen style building. A half dozen citizens signed personal $10,000 notes to ensure delivery of the steel.

The original plan flowed into artificial ice installation the next year, again with the help of more fundraising. Grants were obtained for the building, including one through Ontario Hydro as well as a LIP (Local Initiatives Program) federal grant for employing workers. The workers were supervised by Vilmaire Lacroix to construct the hall and dressing rooms. A Wintario grant was later awarded to the WDRA as well.

Tragedy struck on Friday, January 24, 1983 when fire hit the Westmeath Arena causing extensive damage to the hall section, kitchen and anterooms of the Community Centre. It was fortunate it was not more extensive, thanks to the alertness of nearby resident Mrs. Heideman, who called the notice in at 3:30 am and the quick response by a 12-man fire department. They worked valiantly to battle the blaze from 3:30 on.

 

 

 

 

 

The inherent pride of the community (who had put in so much effort only 8 years ago),  again became evident as citizens once more banded together to help in the reconstruction. ‘It could have been worse’ was a familiar phrase heard. The ice-surface of the arena was able to stay open for the remainder of the season. The WDRA asked for suggestions from the community for ideas of a design. The rebuild added nearly 20 feet to the length, allowing for a more functional hall and a more spacious lower level.

A ramp way for the disabled was also included. There was fire insurance as well as grant money from the Province and Ontario Hydro for the heat pump system, but the fundraising went on. A lighted ballpark, overseen by Ingo Leinen, became a reality. In a way these were exciting times, built around the principle that if it was not done as a community, it would never happen. There was the faith its completion would propel succeeding generations to cherish it and take pride in it as a Community Centre for everyone.

The property was in the name of Westmeath Township (later Whitewater Township) for insurance purposes as well as increasing eligibility for grant structures. While the Township was cooperative, all of the development, funding and subsequent management has come from volunteers — a major accomplishment for a community of this size.

 

 

Recreation Centre Physical Plant Improvements:

Since moving into the newly rebuilt banquet hall and new downstairs change rooms and lobby facility in the early 1980s (the ice surface and arena area had not been destroyed by the fire) the community has continued to keep the physical plant of the Centre in good running order.   Like with any structure, the effects of aging and the elements result in a constant demand for maintenance and refurbishment. And after 30 years plus of service to the community some parts of the physical plant are just old and used up.

The community responds as best it can and works diligently to maintain and refurbish where possible.  Constant vigilance and repair work is all part of the workload.   In the last couple of decades the volunteers have handled the following and more…..

Renewing the plumbing and watching  for leaks either from pipes or from the building’s roof is constant, updating plumbing fixtures; – undertaking extensive electrical upgrades in a bid to save energy and improve the infrastructure;  – checking that the wells serving the building are performing well and the potability of the drinking water is at the highest standard; – bringing the building up to modern handicapped accessibility requirements with new doors and ramps; – new banquet tables and chairs with comfy seats and replacing the original cigarette stained ceiling and refinishing the scuffed hardwood floor in the Hall; -  then a fresh coat of paint in a modern decorator colour and new draperies totally gave a facelift to the upstairs;   – installing new countertops in the kitchen and keeping the appliances such as the stove and refrigerator in good working order as they age;  – meeting all health and safety concerns and standards for the safe handling and storage of food in the kitchen; – keeping the ice plant compressor and the Zamboni in good repair; – hoping that the hockey score clock lasts another season; – and excavating and the installing new drainage beds along the exterior of the building at the front and side.   This list hopefully highlights the wide spectrum of maintenance  and upgrades undertaken on an ongoing basis.