Parting ways with a community landmark is never easy, but as the old goes out, in comes the new.
The residents of Dewberry and surrounding area will be saying their good-byes to the local arena this Friday, with one last skate and a day of events.
“I guess you’d call it the going away party for the Dewberry Arena,” said Laurie Bowman, fundraising coordinator for the Dewberry and District Agricultural Society.
“We are moving forward with our rebuilding project, so this will be the final time that the public and many of our user groups will be able to skate in the old arena.”
The festivities kick off at 3:30 p.m. with a two hour family skate to the soundtrack of Robin’s DJ Services for anyone who wants to come enjoy one last time on the ice.
After a break, the Dewberry Figure Skating Club will hold a demonstration between 6:30 and 7 p.m., followed by a presentation of local teams that had some success this season.
Then Dewberry Minor Hockey will face off against the Dewberry Panthers, who have been a big supporter of the arena project, having used the rink for their physical education program six weeks every winter.
“Then we’re having Dewberry’s Ladies’ Recreational Team play their alumni,” said Bowman.
“And we’re going to have the Dewberry Mustangs, who have been a very important part of this arena and a huge part of our history, play our alumni with the Heinsburg recreational team, which I think may be the longest user of the arena.”
There will also be live and silent auctions and a unique balloon raffle.
The balloon raffle gives 100 attendees a chance to buy a balloon for $20, and at the end of the night they’ll be popped en mass to signal the end of the arena’s lifespan.Inside each balloon will be a number that corresponds with a prize, making every balloon a winner.
“We’re also having pictures for anyone who donates over a thousand dollars that evening and there will be a large cheque presentation,” she said.
Bowman, who also works on the fundraising committee for the new arena project, said demolition will start in the spring.
There are some logistical issues to wait on, including pieces of the tender process and warmer weather to arrive so the water main can be safely shut off. The plan is to tear down the entire building except the ice surface, which Bowman said is still in decent shape.
Dewberry’s arena came into existence in 1935 and went through numerous upgrades and renovations throughout the following decades.
Finally, in 2012, Alberta’s Ministry of Infrastructure took a visit to the facility and after a thorough look, found out the building had some pretty big structural issues.
Problems like defects in the cinder blocks, issues with mold, and troubles with the roof made it necessary for a new building.
“What isn’t wrong with the building?” asked Bowman with a laugh. “We also have some really old electrical, and of course, that leads to what we would consider some (more) safety issues.”
Fun and recreation are a given, but the arena means a lot more than those things to the village of Dewberry.
The facility is an economic driver for the little town, often bringing in bus loads of people from outside the area for tournaments and public events.
Maybe most importantly, the arena is a social epicentre for the town’s residents, a place where they can meet up and grab a burger and chat with neighbours.
Holly Holmen, Dewberry Arena project coordinator, can vouch for this sentiment because it was the arena that helped her become part of the community when she first moved there in the mid-80s.
When she arrived she had no relatives in town, no friends, and didn’t know a soul.
“My kids started playing hockey—I had three little boys at the time—they started playing hockey and I met people at the rink that became my closest friends and they are still my closest friends,” said Holmen.
“It integrated me into the community seamlessly. I didn’t even have to try. I just became part of the community immediately.”
She said if a person were to show up at a Dewberry Mustangs game on a Friday night they would see locals ranging from newborn babies born a week ago, to the senior citizens who probably shouldn’t be living on their own, but are.
Holmen describes it as “the old barn” where everybody in town feels comfortable and wants to be there because they know without question their friends will be there too.
“It’s the hub of the entire community,” she said. “It’s the gathering place.”
As for the economy, the arena brings in roughy $120,000 each year.
In a town of just 200 people or so, covering less than one square km., that figure could be seen as a considerable sum of money—and that sum doesn’t even count the revenue brought in when out of town teams come to play.
Bowman agrees wholeheartedly with Holmen’s assertion that the arena is the glue that bonds the locals together. “I believe it’s the heart of the community—it’s a place that not only our kids skate and we skate, but it’s a gathering place for a lot of community members.”
“We have various hockey games, figure skating and rec. team groups, but you also always have someone just sitting in there visiting; just hanging out.”
There’s no date yet on when ground will be broken for the new project, but an announcement is expected on March 18 and a general contractor, Castle Rock Engineering out of Edmonton, has been hired for the job.
The new arena will come in at an estimated $4.1 million, with $2.5 million having already been fundraised.
The building will also be turned 180 degrees, allowing more room for parking, and will be more compact than the existing building because the plans are forgoing the curling rink and other additions that currently reside in the arena.
“It will be more energy efficient and that’s one is big for us,” said Bowman.
“We don’t have much insulation, so there’ll be a better energy savings for us.”
All in all, Friday’s One Last Skate might mark the end of an era for the Village of Dewberry, but when ground breaks for the new facility, another era will be ushered in and a new place built to create memories for the generations to come.