Minden breaks ground prior to new arena build
By Sue Tiffin
When Sue Sisson heard the demolition of the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena was beginning at the start of last month, she stopped by the site at 55 Parkside Street to watch some of it take place.
The Minden resident said it was a sentimental moment for her, remembering her husband, Bryan, who was the arena manager when the facility first opened in 1972. He worked there for 23 years.
“It’s hard, it’s very hard,” she said. “I did [go there] as soon as I heard, and then I couldn’t stay ... It’s just so heartbreaking, just because of the memories, but then I think, OK, you have to just move forward and think, what’s going to come, and it’s going to be wonderful.”
Sisson was also in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony held May 31 – the event was held after the demolition of the arena was completed due to Minden’s flood-related state of emergency declared April 24 – and said she was there in memory of Bryan.
“I think it’s great, I think he’s looking down thinking he would have loved to work in it,” she said.
She recalled rock concerts and Rotary meetings and events Bryan had organized in the arena.
“He got people coming to all kinds of events, so the arena was always making money,” she said.
Sisson said she was at the groundbreaking because she wanted to see the drawings for the new $13 million build, which she called “very impressive.”
“I know people are really caught up in the price tag, but I think it’s going to be wonderful for our future kids,” she said. “They’ve thought of lots of other things in there. I think it will accommodate so many people, especially when they can’t walk outside in winter – we don’t have our beautiful Riverwalk [in winter] – they can come to our arena and walk indoors and have a great beautiful facility to do it in.”
Sisson remembers the town’s original quonset-style arena located where the municipal office is now, on Milne Street.
“We used to have high school Teen Town and it was in Minden, always,” she said. “If you were lucky you could get a ride down and go to these sock hops.”
Now, she expects her grandchildren will come and visit the third arena in her lifetime, expected to be completed next year in 2020.
Mayor Brent Devolin was joined by councillors, MP Jamie Schmale and MPP Laurie Scott as well as municipal staff and members of the arena’s task force committee in posing for pictures with shovels and wearing hard hats in front of the demolished building (the community centre portion of the facility remains intact) at the groundbreaking ceremony. He remembers playing hockey in Haliburton as a child after moving to the area in 1969 and said the build of Minden’s arena then was impressive because it was steel.
“I remember when it was built it was, in Central Ontario, it was the best,” he said. “I remember as a kid, coming to play in the Minden arena was a big deal.”
The Haliburton arena, he said, wasn’t old but was built with wood, and compared the two buildings then to “big and fat and rounded” cars of the 1950s and cars of the 1960s with “nice clean lines.”
“We’re on the cusp of that again, 50 years later, kind of the new, wider, full-featured, encompassing kind of facility for young and old,” he said. He said he hoped the walking track would bring opportunities for seniors in the winter.
“And the young people, the multi-fitness [room], a lot of 20-somethings and 30-somethings ... that’s a huge thing for them,” he said.
On the day of the groundbreaking, Devolin said he wasn’t feeling emotional about the demolition of the physical building, which an engineering analysis had determined was eroding, and unable to bear the weight of a rebuild.
“If it was coming down at the end of the line and there wasn’t a new iteration of it, yeah, it’d be sad and emotional,” he said, noting that another facility in Ontario was facing closure due to structural complications.
“It’s a completion of a process to get to this, and then the next part of it is ... expectant father,” he said. “And then the other part of it is, my hope is that the youth and the enjoyment, that it’s perceived that it has the value that I think it will. Because it’s a lot of money and I’m sure from people’s perspective that there’s so many needs, and why does this one [trump] some other needs so ... anyways, we’ll see.”
Devolin made note of the support of councillors in the project, particularly praising those who voted against it in February – his vote broke the tie for the project for a final vote of 4 – 3. The high cost of the project, the single bid, that a feasibility study was not completed, and that the design does not include a pool had made the issue a contentious one for the community and council.
“Once the decision was made, they’ve been supportive and behind us and moving forward,” he said of the councillors.
Wendy Connelly and members of the Nesbitt family were at the groundbreaking ceremony, pleased to hear the new arena will carry S.G. Nesbitt’s name forward. Sinc Nesbitt was Connelly’s dad, a councillor and reeve in the former township of Stanhope, and had stepped in to fill a spot on Minden council before his unexpected death in 2000.
Connelly said her family spent much time at the arena.
“The first young lady that played hockey, my dad built her a dressing room so that she wouldn’t have to go into the washroom and put on her uniform,” said Connelly. “It was a little storage closet right behind the canteen downstairs, and he put in the benches and everything for her, and then as more girls started to come along then they weren’t stuck in the washroom changing their clothes.”
Now, she said her family goes skating at the arena when they come visit from out west. Nesbitt’s great-grandson Walker and great-granddaughter, Sterling, who shares his initials and questioned as a youngster if the arena was named for her, were also in attendance at the groundbreaking.
“I think he would be very honoured, even when they did the first naming, I’m pretty sure he would have been very, very honoured,” she said. “He wouldn’t have expected anything like that. He didn’t take any praise, just all in a day’s work sort of thing.”
Arena task force member Diane Peacock said she has logged 175 volunteer hours on the project so far,
“[When the building first came down] I had mixed feelings,” she said. “I’ve done the last five years with minor hockey, timekeeping, so I’ve seen a lot of memories in there. But, with what I knew with what was in the structure, the problems and the issues, it was nice to see it go because no more liability issues.”
Peacock said she also has memories of concerts and wedding dances and community events at the arena, but said the groundbreaking ceremony was the “start of the rebirth of the arena,” and an exciting time.
“There’s a lot of memories there, but it’s an opportunity for us to make more memories and bring our town up into the 21st century.”
Patrick Brousseau, chief estimator for McDonald Brothers Construction, said the project was going well.
“As it stands right now, we’re mobilizing on Monday to begin excavation, formwork, reinforcing steel, so that’s on schedule and most importantly it’s on budget,” he said. “That’s where the risk is, during the presentations we mentioned that the civil work, and the concrete work, getting out of the ground is where the risk is. So we’ll know probably by the end of the summer where all the risk was.”
He said the groundbreaking ceremony was unique.
“The particularity of this project is the fact that we have a 6,000 [population] township funding the whole project, I’ve never witnessed this before,” he said. “Usually there’s some cost-sharing involved, so it takes a lot of effort from all the members, and most importantly it takes a lot of vision from the council because every municipality that we’ve been involved with building these hubs, it benefits everyone, and the one they currently had was dilapidated. It needed a lot of love, to the point where, we tried, during our investigation work, and it was nothing to salvage. So we tore it down and now we’re going to build a new one. And we know it’s going to be a beautiful facility.”
Brousseau said in the demolition, wooden doors and insulation were discarded, but all steel was recycled and rubble now on site will be reused to raise the parking lot.
“Everything else got recycled, the metal roof, the metal walls, the steel, the reinforcing in the concrete, the masonry block, the concrete slab and even the granulars that are there now are going to be reused for compacting and for raising the parking lot.”
Often, he said, nostalgic pieces from the former building will be integrated into the design of a new building. The task force is currently accepting any memorabilia that might suit the lobby of the new facility.