A look back at Red Deer’s first arena

The winter months are upon us again.

With the unfortunate exception of NHL professional hockey, attention turns again to the wide array of Canadian winter sports.

In the earliest days of Red Deer, the Red Deer River provided the venue for many of the popular winter pastimes such as skating, curling and hockey. Since the river ice could often be a bit rough, the water reservoirs built by the Canadian Pacific Railway for the steam trains also provided a means to flood the ice and create a better rink surface.

In December 1898, David Linn and H.H. Drake, who owned a local sawmill and lumberyard, decided to create an outdoor rink on the south side of Morrison (52) St. just west of Nanton (48) Ave.

On Boxing Day, 1898, the first curling matches were played there. Shortly thereafter, the first hockey games were also played on the new rink.

The popularity of the outdoor rink, combined with a new spurt of growth in the village, prompted discussion of building a much improved combined skating, curling and hockey facility.

Consequently, a joint stock company, Red Deer Skating and Curling Ltd. was created in the fall of 1899.

Unfortunately, the village, which had a population of less than 300, was still too small for any kind of major venture. The Rink Company failed to get off the ground. Instead, George Love, who had bought out Linn and Drake, sold the small outdoor rink to William Bannerman.

Bannerman made some modest improvements and enlargement of the rink.

However, the winter of 1899-1900 provided to be quite a bit warmer than normal. There was insufficient snow on the ground by the later part of January for sleighing. Some farmers were able to start working the land in late March and the ice went out on the Red Deer River on April 3.

Hence, while most people welcomed the balmy winter, it made for a poor financial year for Bannerman. Consequently, he sold the rink to a new outfit, Townley and Bonnyman.

The improved weather, and a pronounced uptick in the western Canadian economy, caused a large influx of new settlers to Red Deer as the new century progressed.

By 1901, Red Deer had grown sufficiently that it was able to be incorporated as a town.

With the growth of the community and emerging economic boom, discussion of constructed a covered skating and curling rink was revived.

A new company, the Red Deer Rink Co. was organized in the fall of 1902. The old rink site was purchased along with an additional block of land.

Work on the new covered rink began in the fall of 1903. There was a 60 by 175 ft. skating surface along with an additional two sheets of curling ice created on the north side of the building. Total cost of the project was $3,000, a fair sum at a time when $1 a day was considered a pretty good wage.

With the completion of the new rink imminent, organized hockey in Red Deer took off. The Central Alberta Hockey League was organized in Red Deer on Nov. 13, 1903, with Carstairs, Didsbury, Olds, Innisfail, Lacombe, Wetaskiwin and Leduc joining the new league. It was agreed that the championship games would be played at the Red Deer rink at the end of the season.

The new rink officially opened with an elaborate ice carnival on Dec. 22, 1903. Almost everyone in the town turned out for the event. Several showed up in costume and prizes were given out for the best outfits.

The first hockey game in the new facility was played on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, it did not go well for the hometown crowd. The Red Deer team was soundly defeated by Lacombe by a score of 5 to 2. As had been the case with the old outdoor rink, the first curling matches were played at the new rink on Boxing Day.

Although the Red Deer Rink proved to be very popular, it was not very well built.

On Feb. 8, 1907, at 2:30 in the morning, the roof collapsed under a heavy weight of snow. Fortunately, the portion of the building used for curling was salvageable and was soon put back into use. However, Red Deer did not get a new covered hockey arena until 1925.

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