What is the significance of a sheet of ice to the people living in the small mountain town of Fernie, B.C.?
Some may say it represents sports, community, or something more specific like hockey. In reality, it’s much more than that. A sheet of ice carries with it over 100 years of history.
January marked Fernie’s 110-year anniversary on the ice.
In the past century, Fernie has seen four skating rinks and arenas come and go. The first in town, The Fernie Rink, was built by the Fernie Rink Company near the river bottom along an extension of Fourth Avenue, leading into West Fernie. This was opened in 1908, and rebuilt after the Great Fire the same year.
The adjacent curling and skating rinks built after 1908 were seriously damaged by the flood of 1948. Although they were very much reliant on freezing temperatures in order to work properly, these rinks were heavily used throughout their 40-year existence.
After the rink was destroyed by the flood, there came a four-year hiatus before Fernie received a new arena. Under the direction of the City of Fernie, it was built on the present grounds and opened in 1952. Mayor Tom Uphill proclaimed at the official opening that, “No city with a population of that to Fernie’s had an arena comparable.”
With seating for up to 1300 spectators and two pairs of curling sheets underneath the opposing stands, the Fernie Community Arena was considered a very impressive facility.
In 1959, the Great Fire destroyed the arena, claiming the life of junior hockey player, Dominic Ferrarelli. It was promptly rebuilt for the following playing season in 1960.
57 years ago last month, Fernie Memorial Arena was opened. The opening ceremony was attended by many eager curlers, skaters and hockey players. Local businesses and clubs rallied to help purchase and finance new equipment for the facility.
Over 100 years after the first teams began to form, ice sports still thrive in Fernie. Many different groups have existed over the years, however the total amount is not entirely known. Various teams and groups that existed were never officially documented. However, many user groups exist now including the Fernie Skating Club, CanSkate, Fernie Minor Hockey, the Fernie Ghostriders, senior mens and women’s hockey, numerous school programs, junior curling, mens and women’s curling, as well as mixed and senior curling. Many of these clubs contain at least six age groups.
The Fernie Memorial arena has hosted many events, including the BC Winter Games in 1987. Now, it lies dormant following the fatal ammonia leak last October.
Over a century after skates first hit the ice, many things still remain the same in Fernie; the enthusiasm for the sport, and the community support by individuals and local businesses. This was evident during the construction of the new outdoor rink.
“It’s a Canadian tradition embedded in the DNA of Fernie people,” said Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano. “Hockey has been a part of the community… since Fernie was founded.
“Hockey is more than a sport, it’s a way to support the town, socializing, spending an evening watching a Ghostrider game with friends and family or watching the little ones play their hearts out. There is so much more that can be said about what hockey means to this town but truly saying that it means everything covers it all.”
The City of Fernie hopes to have an arena operational by the beginning of the next hockey season. They believe that the Kraft Hockeyville grand prize of $250,000 could help them achieve this. Nominations are open until February 11. Visit Krafthockeyville.ca for more information.
Photos courtesy of the Fernie Museum.