No.5

Chapleau's Arenas

By George Evans
Index
The old arena on Lorne Street in Chapleau

The tough skaters of Chapleau had to put up with fresh-air skating until 1904, the year in which the rink was fully enclosed and roofed. This structure, much altered as time passed, served as Chapleauís arena until it was demolished around 1949 to make way for the Chapleau Community Arena.

In the background is the old arena built by Lombard Lafrance. This photo was taken in 1905 at the July 1st celebration on Lorne Street.


In northern Ontario, it seems that there have always been arenas. Just as a thousand years ago, each European town tried to build a grand cathedral where the whole population could gather in worship, so, in our time, northern towns have striven to provide themselves with a building where the whole community could skate and watch hockey.

Chapleau is no exception to this rule.

It was never easy. Small populations and limited amounts of money always made it difficult to build these temples of recreation and sport. Nevertheless, in the early days of isolation each community felt it had to have one and build them they did.

In Chapleau, public skating seems to have taken place on the east side of Lorne Street, where, in the late 188s, J. Gill opened an outdoor skating rink. Eventually, Chapleauís first and second arenas would be built on this site.

The tough skaters of Chapleau had to put up with fresh-air skating until 1904, the year in which the rink was fully enclosed and roofed. (This structure, much altered as time passed, served as Chapleauís arena until it was demolished around 1949 to make way for the Chapleau Community Arena.)

When ďa group of citizens bought the rink in 1912, they built seats over the changing rooms and a 3-foot wide walk along the sides and south end of the rink to accommodate spectators.

A major enlargement took place in the 1920s when the building was extended eastwards to the lane, thus enlarging the ice-surface and providing room for benches along the new east wall.

Understandably enough, there was concern about the safety of a building that had been built and altered without a lot of expert engineering advice. In the 30s, cross-braces and steel cables were inserted to hold the ageing building together. The building stood through the rest of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

After the war, Vince Crichtonís proposal for a new arena to be built beside the Curling Club on Pine Street received no support from the Town Council and nothing was done about the 40-year-old arena on Lorne Street until about 1949, when ďwell-meaning citizensĒ undertook to demolish the old arena and put up a new one.

Demolition was the easy part. Building a new arena was trickier. An appeal for funds through public subscription failed and the town had to debenture for $40,000 and later authorize a bank loan of $5000 more before the new arena could be completed. In theory this debt was to be paid off from the profits derived from the new building. Actually, the debt was retired by the town.

Despite everything, the new wooden arena on Lorne Street was open for public skating in early 1951.

There was, of course, no artificial ice. In those days, Chapleauís winter provided the necessary refrigeration. Thus, the skating season began an ended according to the whims of Mother Nature.

Mrs. William Moore made it her personal crusade to raise money to improve matters by running hockey pools, winter after winter. In 1964-5, renovations were made to the building and an artificial ice plant was put in at that time, just sixty years after indoor skating has begun in Chapleau. Mrs. Mooreís hockey pools paid for much of this work. (When the Recreation Centre was built in the 1970s, the new arena was named the Moore Arena to honour Mrs. Moore.)

With the artificial ice in the 1951 arena, the late 1960s saw Chapleauís frenzied golden age of Junior B hockey. Crowds filled the arena to cheer on Chapleauís Junior B Huskies and carloads of fans followed them out of town to Timmins, Wawa, and the two Sault Ste-Maries.

In the early 70s, the Government of Ontario became alarmed by the collapse of some snow-covered arenas around the province. Government inspectors began to look closely at the structural integrity of arenas built in an unregulated era. Not surprisingly, Chapleauís arena was found wanting. In order to keep the arena open, a major programme of re-enforcing beams and trusses had to be undertaken. This postponed the 1951 arenaís demise but did not save it in the long run.

In the mid-1970s, the Town Council undertook to build a new Recreation Centre on the other side of the tracks to replace both the post-war wooden arena on Lorne Street and the ancient Curling Club on Pine Street. In the years since, the Chapleau Recreation Centre with its arena, curling surface, workout room, and Community Hall-with-kitchen has served as home to much of Chapleauís sporting, social, and entertainment life.

Its fabric has been improved and repaired over the years, and though it is now older that the wooden Lorne Street arena was when it was abandoned and demolished, the Chapleau Recreation Centre shows every sign of serving the community for many years to come.


-article by George Evans, based on material found in the book, Pioneering in Northern Ontario, by Vincent Crichton.

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