When you’re a kid, especially when your age hasn’t reached double figures, big new buildings can grab your interest and leave you with life-long impressions.
Long ago, Stellarton Memorial Rink did that to me.
The “new rink up in Stellarton,” as my father used to call it, opened in late 1947 and I was fortunate to attend, with my father, the first hockey game in the building.
Wow, what a place. There had never been anything like this before in Pictou County, this small kid thought.
The only senior hockey I saw before that were games in the Arena in downtown New Glasgow. From my earliest recollections, New Glasgow needed a new rink.
Stellarton got there first.
So there I was, nine years old, getting to see the Stellarton Royals open their new home. It would be the first of many games I watched in that building.
I don’t know if I even knew who the Royals were playing that night. It was a real hockey game, and I was there hearing the crowd cheer on the team coached by Bobby Beaton, a man who would later become a great friend, just as he was a great friend to so many.
The rink looked awesome to a little guy and I don’t think I could have been more impressed if I were entering Maple Leaf Gardens or the Montreal Forum, then the cathedrals of hockey.
Inside the new surroundings seemed huge. Remember, New Glasgow’s old building was all I had to compare it to. Everything was so new, so clean. It could hold more people than any place I had ever been.
I’m sure, because of my age, I didn’t take in the meaning of the plaque that was unveiled that night. In later years, though, it meant much more to me.
“In loving memory of Stellarton’s brave young men who made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of freedom,” it said. There were 117 names included.
That’s where the new rink got its name “Memorial,” a fine way for the citizens of the old coal mining town to honour those who died in the two world wars.
I don’t know how many games I saw that winter, but my father often said I had seen quite a number. For good reason. He was a big hockey fan and, as long as I behaved, I was allowed to tag along.
Together we saw a pretty darn good hockey team that season. Goalie Frank Prozenor, Leo Fahey, Mel Gadd, Jimmy MacDonald and Stan MacDougall were among the Royals who helped win the APC league championship.
If you’re wondering why I’m reminiscing about an arena, there’s good reason.
As the Pictou County Wellness Centre approaches completion, not very far away, just out on the Trans-Canada Highway a few slapshots from the Memorial Rink, it’s understandable the new complex, with its two ice surfaces and other facilities, means the days may be numbered for the Stellarton rink.
Like New Glasgow’s Arena in the late 1940s, the Stellarton rink is now an aging building, no longer displaying the brightness and newness I saw as a youngster.
If buildings are like people, we can now call the Memorial Rink a senior citizen. It turns 65 this year.
All these years later, I still recall walking into the rink and being greeted by Bill Dudka, the manager for a long time in those early years. It seemed like he was always there.
I haven’t seen much of the rink since moving to Halifax-Dartmouth 43 years ago. But between that first occasion in 1947 until I left the county in 1969, Stellarton Memorial Rink was somewhere I was many, many times. I have great memories from that 22-year period.
There was some fine hockey, not just that first winter, but throughout the years. I can easily single out the 1953-54 season as the one that produced the best team to play there. That was the year Stellarton Royals had some great personnel who turned their efforts into a great campaign and a great provincial championship.
I can’t talk about the rink, or Stellarton sports in general, without special mention of Leo Fahey, one of the best senior hockey players and coaches ever in Pictou County. A Cape Bretoner, he had come to Stellarton to play for the Royals in the rink’s first winter and, when a powerful team was assembled in 1953-54, it was Leo at the helm.
Fahey put an impressive squad together in 1953-54. Greg Floyd was in nets and Leo was still out there, playing with the likes of Nelson Wilson, Jim MacDonald, Danny Dorrington, Geno Scatalone, Arnie Baudoux and Jack MacKenzie.
Senior wasn’t the only level of hockey played in the rink. The facility was home to local industrial and commercial leagues for years, when that calibre of the game was at a very high level. Many very good local players participated in the two leagues.
And let’s not forget that high school hockey also played a big role in Memorial Rink, the home for some very strong Stellarton High School clubs. School hockey can’t be addressed without mentioning the 1956-57 Stellarton High club that won the Nova Scotia Headmaster’s A championship.
The Memorial Rink served much more than hockey. When the ice was out, boxing cards took over, both amateur and professional. Before New Glasgow Stadium opened, Stellarton was the centre for the fight game. Boxing was at a high level in the province and some of the biggest fights of the era were held there.
Yes, the Stellarton rink has had many quality sports events, providing memories that will last well beyond the day its doors close for good.
It may be a 65-year-old building now, but it has been a great place to enjoy sports.
Hugh Townsend, a New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for over 55 years, can be reached at 204 – 435 Portland Hills Drive, Dartmouth B2W 0A8