In December 1952, there was a lot of excitement in Red Deer.
The community was finally going to get a modern, 3,200 seat arena on the south side of the downtown on the Red Deer Fairgrounds. It was a facility which most felt was badly needed.
In the years following the end of the Second World War, Red Deer experienced an explosion of growth. The City, which had roughly 2,800 residents for many years, was now doubling and redoubling in population. Moreover, most of the newcomers were young families who wanted more sports and recreational activities.
With the tough economic times of the 1920s and 1930s, and then the Second World War, Red Deer had seriously lagged in its provision of public facilities. There was no public swimming pool. The only gymnasiums were located in schools.
There was an indoor hockey rink, but it had been constructed in 1925 primarily with funds donated by the community. It had a large, hipped tin roof, but moisture often dripped from the ceiling, causing problems with the ice.
Heating was very limited. Fans often had to gather around a large, pot-bellied stove in the lobby to warm up.
Most importantly, the old tin arena on Ross Street only had seating for 1,000 people, far too few in the community that now had more than 7,000 residents, many of whom were school-aged.
The City had attempted to deal with the shortage of facilities.
In 1949, an outdoor swimming pool was constructed on 49 St. east of 48 Ave.
In 1951, an old army drill hall on 58 St. was converted into a public auditorium and gymnasium.
Finally, the push to build a new arena came to a head. The old site was sold to Canada Safeway for $38,000. The old building was sold for scrap to Empire Metals for an additional $3,000.
However, where to build the new arena and how to pay for it remained major issues.
The Red Deer Fair Board offered $10,000 if the arena was built on the fairgrounds and the City accepted the offer. However, some people felt that this site was too far from the downtown core.
With the post-war construction boom that was being experienced across Canada, there was a significant shortage of steel. Hence, City council rather reluctantly agreed to use mainly wood in the construction.
Since the architects, Rule, Wynn and Rule, had estimated the cost of construction at $160,000, City council set a project budget of $176,000 to cover potential contingencies.
Council also had the ratepayers authorize, in a plebiscite, the borrowing of the necessary funds above those on hand.
Unfortunately, once again the post-war construction boom caused big problems. The cost of the new arena soared to $250,000. Major cutbacks had to be implemented.
The building was made smaller. The number of seats was reduced. The installation of an artificial ice-making plant was postponed to a future date.
With all of the delays, Red Deer was left without an indoor arena for the 1951-1952 season. Fortunately, Canada Safeway gave permission for the old arena site to be used as a temporary outdoor rink.
Finally, the grand opening ceremonies were set for Dec. 17th, 1952.
The Red Deer Elks Lodge agreed to be the sponsor of the evening’s festivities. A contract was signed with the Canadian Ice Fantasy show as the main attraction. The Ice Fantasy had just commenced a tour of Western Canada. It came equipped with its own snow plow, in case of bad roads, and portable heated dressing rooms.
Another problem struck on the weekend before the official opening.
A major chinook hit. It became impossible to maintain a proper sheet of ice in the building. Consequently, the opening had to be delayed until Dec. 23rd.
Fortunately, the Ice Fantasy was able to adjust its schedule. Despite the fact that Christmas Eve was only a day away, more than 3,000 people turned out for the ceremonies and entertainment.
Red Deer finally had its wonderful new arena. Red Deer had a popular community landmark which has continued to be actively used for more than 60 years.
On April 8th, the City of Red Deer will be holding special ‘farewell’ ceremonies for the old Arena which is to be demolished this summer.