FOCUS - Face-off during a Red Deer vs. Lethbridge hockey game in the old Red Deer Arena on Ross Street

A look back at Red Deer’s winter sports scene

Another winter season is upon us.

While the onset of colder, snowy weather creates opportunities for such popular outdoor sports as skiing, skating, hockey and tobogganing, really cold weather also creates major challenges for even the hardiest of Canadians. Hence, ever since pioneer times, there has always been a push to create indoor venues for recreation and sports in wintertime.

In Red Deer, the first indoor sports facility was a covered ice rink which was built in 1903 on Morrison (52) St.

The new rink provided a venue for curling, skating and men’s and women’s hockey. The cost of the all-wood structure was $3,000.

The winter of 1906-07 was a brutal one. On Feb. 8th, 1907, the roof of the rink collapsed under a heavy weight of snow. While part of the building was salvaged for use as a curling rink, there was no indoor space for hockey and skating for more than 15 years.

The effect on the local sports scene was significant.

For a great many years, Red Deer did not have a championship hockey team. Miserable weather played havoc with league schedules. Games were often played in other communities, such as Lacombe and Innisfail, which had indoor rinks.

In 1913, the same year that Red Deer was incorporated as a City, the Fair Board made plans to build a substantial exhibition building on the fairgrounds, which could also be used as a hockey rink and a concert hall.

However, a sharp economic recession set in.

The availability of capital grants from the City and the Province vanished. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 started a renewed period of hard times that lasted for more than a decade. Any plans for a new rink had to be shelved indefinitely.

The Federal Government however, constructed a large new Armouries on 49 St.

While the building was primarily for military use, after the end of War, the authorities allowed the large open drill hall to be used for such sports as basketball and indoor baseball.

Finally, in the mid-1920s, the new Elks Lodge and Rotary Club helped to spearhead the construction of an arena for Red Deer. A non-profit joint-stock company was set up. Shares were sold to the public for $10 apiece. The new facility officially opened on Dec. 15th, 1925 with a grand ice carnival.

The new arena was a tremendous boost to sports in the community.

Within a year, Red Deer had a provincial championship men’s hockey team. The local women’s hockey team began winning a series of provincial championship as well.

In 1940, with a large military training camp being constructed north of 55 St., the Public School Board decided to build Red Deer’s first gymnasium onto the new Intermediate School (Central School) on the east side of 48 Ave.

The gym was used by students, civilians and military personnel.

After the end of the Second World War, Red Deer began to grow very rapidly again.

The arena on Ross Street became too small for the community. Consequently, in 1952, a large new arena was constructed on the Fairgrounds on the south side of downtown. In 1954, a new curling rink was built on the west side of the new arena.

Meanwhile, in 1951, one of the old drill halls at the Army Camp was extensively renovated and became the Memorial Centre.

One side of the building became a theatre, while the east side was converted into large gymnasium for use by high school students and the public.

In 1961, the City built a Recreation Centre on the north side of the fairgrounds. The complex was originally planned to have an indoor swimming pool, gymnasium and other recreational facilities. However, due to budget constraints, only the first phase, the swimming pool, was built.

Further improvements to the City’s indoor sports facilities came later with the construction of the Michener Centre, G.H. Dawe Community Centre, Centrium and Collicutt Centre.

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