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History of the Westmeath Rinks
Submitted by Bob Grylls. Resource was History of the
Corporation of Westmeath Township by Evelyn Moore Price (1984)
Ottawa has open-air skating on the Rideau Canal, Toronto at
Nathan Phillips Square but the very first Westmeath open-air rink was back in
the late 1800s. Situated below the only bridge in the middle of town, it
was adjacent to the original general store of Fraser and Patterson (now the
Canadian Hillbillys property). George Tucker had built a water-powered
sawmill on the stream to form a sawmill-pond. It was used in conjunction with a
sawmill operation in the summer season, in the winter it became the skating
rink. This rink was easily flooded. After sweeping off the ice, the dam water
level was lowered two inches and the new two-inch ice-surface emerged with a
minimum of effort.
In 1901, a boarded rink was built on Jessie Street. Its
construction was posts in the ground and boarded all around. It had a flat roof
and one side was for spectators. Wood burning stoves heated the anterooms. By
1907, the size of the rink was insufficient and it was dismantled to make way
for a larger one.
A third rink became a reality (66x166). Norman
Reid, August Carlson and Dr. John Graham formed a committee and provided
leadership. Stocks sold to raise money for funding. A mighty community effort
of volunteer labour and material made it possible to have the only covered rink
in the region, with the exception of one in Pembroke. The rink had a rounded
dome roof - built with gin poles. During construction, raising of the
supporting braces was done by hand with ropes and pulleys. There was over
two tons of steel was used in reinforcement. All the steel work was the
responsibility of E.O. Gervais, the village blacksmith. George Howard was the
contractor for the project. Later a cement foundation was added for stability.
Being the only rural covered rink, it had a much longer
hockey season. This was the era of seven-man hockey teams. Westmeath played
with teams from Renfrew, Pembroke, Fort Coulonge and Shawville, being
successful in winning the Reid Cup. William Johnstone went on to play in
Seattle. Harry Cameron played here and later became a member of the Hockey Hall
In 1929 players included these names; Bert Armstrong, Alex
Ethier, Joseph Bourke, Gerard Pappin, Hector St. Louis, Austin Shannon, Wilfred
Donnell, Alan Brown, Carl du Manoir, Weldon Graham, Clinton Anderson and
The rink had became unsafe by the spring of 1975. It was
taken down. The old faithful had served the community from 1907 to 1975, 68
years in all.
The official opening of the Westmeath and District arena
was on August 15 &16th, 1976 in conjunction with the inauguration of
Westmeath Days. Hundreds of former residents, tourists and locals attended.
This fourth rink in the village now provided sports and cultural entertainment
all year round. For this celebration, E.O. Gervais cut the ribbon and Dr. Lloyd
Reid delivered the main address. Izett McBride outlined all the work and
efforts done by so many of our citizens in raising $162,000 for the new arena.
The banquet hall, stage and kitchen were a project of the Riverview Seniors of
The groundwork for the rink began about four years earlier
when the land was purchased from John Gervais. An intense fundraising drive
began and continued over the next few years. A contract was struck with Murray
Moores company for the Behlen style building. A half dozen citizens signed
personal $10,000 notes to ensure delivery of the steel. The original plan
flowed into artificial ice installation the next year, again with the help of
more fundraising. Grants were obtained for the building, including one through
Ontario Hydro as well as a LIP (Local Initiatives Program) federal grant for
employing workers. The workers were supervised by Vilmaire Lacroix to construct
the hall and dressing rooms. A Wintario grant was later awarded to the WDRA as
Tragedy struck on Friday, January 24, 1983 when fire hit the
Westmeath Arena causing extensive damage to the hall section, kitchen and
anterooms of the Community Centre. It was fortunate it was not more extensive,
thanks to the alertness of nearby resident Mrs. Heideman, who called the notice
in at 3:30 am and the quick response by a 12-man fire department. They worked
valiantly to battle the blaze from 3:30 on.
The inherent pride of the community (who had put in so much
effort only 8 years ago) again became evident as citizens once more banded
together to help in the reconstruction. It could have been worse
was a familiar phrase heard. The ice-surface of the arena was able to stay open
for the remainder of the season. The WDRA asked for suggestions from the
community for ideas of a design. The rebuild added nearly 20 feet to the
length, allowing for a more functional hall and a more spacious lower level.
A ramp way for the disabled was also included. There was
fire insurance as well as grant money from the Province and Ontario Hydro for
the heat pump system, but the fundraising went on. A lighted ballpark, overseen
by Ingo Leinen, became a reality. In a way these were exciting times, built
around the principle that if it was not done as a community, it would never
happen. There was the faith its completion would propel succeeding generations
to cherish it and take pride in it as a Community Centre for everyone.
The property was in the name of Westmeath Township (later
Whitewater Township) for insurance purposes as well as increasing eligibility
for grant structures. While the Township was cooperative, all of the
development, funding and subsequent management has come from volunteers
a major accomplishment for a community of this size.