Mark my words, the Pictou County Wellness Centre will become the focal point for county residents and visitors as soon as it opens next month. It will instantly be the place to be for sports activities, entertainment events and other major functions in the area.
I’ve seen it happen several times over the years.
When Stellarton Memorial Rink opened back in 1947, I was there – a nine-year-old youngster with my father – for a senior hockey game that marked the official curtain-raiser for the county’s newest hockey arena, named in memory of the town’s young men who gave their lives in two world wars. In the years that followed, I watched some fine hockey teams play out of there, and saw some exciting boxing cards. The now 65-year-old facility has certainly served its community well, and it’s still the biggest gathering place in the old mining town.
When New Glasgow Stadium’s doors opened four years later, it was a dream-come-true for town residents of all ages. My hometown had been without a hockey rink for a few years, since the days of the old downtown Arena. The new building in the south end, with its 2,500 seats, quickly became the centre for hockey, skating, boxing, concerts and other shows. Think of the great senior hockey that was played inside its walls.
Since moving to Halifax-Dartmouth 43 years ago, I’ve witnessed the opening of several other new facilities, all of which have proven to be the heart of the immediate areas.
When Scotia Stadium was built in Cole Harbour in the early 1970s, the fast-growing community had its first real community centre, even though it was initially just a single ice rink. It served its purpose as such, and was certainly an asset for young families like ourselves with children playing minor hockey and ringette.
A few years ago, when Scotia Stadium expanded into Cole Harbour Place, four times as large a complex, our community suddenly had two hockey arenas, three swimming pools, squash courts, a fitness centre, a library, meeting rooms and other programs. Cole Harbour residents had something to be very proud of. Look, too, at the attention it has received because it was where Sidney Crosby learned to play hockey.
Two years ago, an arena complex opened in the west end of metro, in the Bedford area to be precise. The BoM Centre, as its called, introduced advanced technology for on-ice sports and activities. It has four NHL-sized ice surfaces side by side, an attractive and impressive foyer that overlooks all of the rinks, and the facility advertises that it has the capability of attracting a million-plus people each year.
On a bigger scale, the Halifax Metro Centre became metro’s major entertainment venue as soon as it opened for business in 1978. Professional hockey moved downtown from the old Forum and, three and a half decades later, it remains the largest sports centre in Atlantic Canada, drawing crowds of up to 10,000 for the junior Halifax Mooseheads, 11,000 for the big basketball events, and as many as 13,000 people for concerts and entertainment presentations such as the Nova Scotia Tattoo.
And so it goes. Open for business and they will come.
Just look around at what has happened at all of those places. Stellarton’s and New Glasgow’s rinks have served their people for 65 and 61 years respectively. I just couldn’t imagine either of those towns having gone through those long periods without arenas of their own. Cole Harbour Place and the BoM Centre are remarkable additions to their respective areas, and most Nova Scotians have been to the Halifax Metro Centre for at least something.
Now it’s about to be the Pictou County Wellness Centre’s turn to put the spotlight on its activities. Just watch how quickly the focal point of the county will switch, and not just because the county’s top hockey teams will be moving there from New Glasgow.
With two ice surfaces,, a 25-metre pool, a leisure pool, a gymnasium, a weight training and fitness centre, a walking track, meeting rooms and so on, it will move the county into the 21st century, giving it a complex that certainly won’t take a back seat to any around. An area as big as Pictou County deserves no less.
From a distance, what has impressed me the most about the development of the wellness centre is the widespread financial support that the project has received from individuals, organizations and businesses during its massive fund-raising campaign. It seemed every time I read a new issue of The Advocate there were photos of cheque presentations. That financial success, perhaps more than anything else, has indicated to me that all of Pictou County is behind this new facility.
When I began working for The Chronicle Herald in Pictou County in 1959, one of the major topics on the news front was the persistent debate over whether or not to amalgamate the five towns and municipality. These 50-plus years later, such a political merger still hasn’t happened, though some services have been united.
Maybe this new wellness centre will prove to Pictonians – all Pictonians – that the whole county really can work together as one. But that’s a subject for other places.
Meantime, I truly feel the county has come a long, long way since my earliest days, when the only indoor rinks were the deteriorating Arena in downtown New Glasgow and the old rink in Pictou that continued to function on natural ice.
Now, as the doors are about to open at the county’s beautiful new centre, I’m sure Pictonians from one end of the county to the other will be very proud of its existence.
Congratulations to everyone who helped, whether in small or major ways, to make this become a reality.
Use it and enjoy it.
Hugh Townsend, a New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for almost 60 years, can be reached at 204 – 435 Portland Hills Drive, Dartmouth B2W 0A8.