ÎYÂRHE NAKODA – The ice rink at the Eden Valley Arena hasn’t hosted a single hockey game this year, not even a game of shinny.
One of the motors on the dated facility’s ice-making plant is shot and no ice is being produced for the 2023-24 season.
But the arena is set to make a $1.45 million comeback with a federal investment helping to replace the ice-making plant and supporting electrical and HVAC system upgrades to get skates back on the ice and fans in the stands.
“I played hockey and my kids played hockey – sports are huge, having access to a rink is huge. Discipline, self-esteem is very important, and I see the arena functioning that way again as helping to provide that in our community,” said Keith Lefthand, a Bearspaw First Nation councillor for Eden Valley.
The arena opened around 1981, said Lefthand. It hosts community events, powwows and funerals, but it is in dire need of energy-efficient improvements to reduce maintenance and utility costs for its ongoing operations, as it uses more energy than needed.
Modernization work is expected to slash the facility’s energy consumption by about 46.7 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions by 133 tonnes annually.
“The retrofit will save costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, allowing the community to accommodate additional programs and their growing needs,” stated an Infrastructure Canada press release.
The federal government is funding the project through the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings program. Approximately 10 per cent of program funding is designated for initiatives benefiting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, encompassing Indigenous populations in urban areas as well.
Bearspaw First Nation CEO Rob Shotclose said the arena equipment is dated and needs continual maintenance. For the last number of years, what ice was formed on the rink was also rough and uneven.
“With that grant, we should be able to replace the entire HVAC system and we’ve already put a down payment on a new ice-making plant,” he said.
“It’s always a problem getting these things delivered on time, but we’re hoping to have that ready for next year to put ice back into the building and make it usable.”
The arena used to host many minor hockey games for youth playing in the area and Ranchland Hockey League games.
Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon called the 40-year-old facility a focal point in the tight-knit community of about 650 people.
“Eden Valley has had a rich history of winter sports participation, including hockey. This arena has been very central to our community for many years and has brought our community and the communities around us together in sport,” he said in a news release.
“I think it helped a lot with keeping those connections to outside the community,” added Shotclose. “It’s kind of fallen off with the arena not fully operational a lot of the time. This will be good if we get a building that’s put back into good working order and we can work on getting that restarted – the youth hockey and recreation league and giving people something to do in the winter months.”
Most minor hockey players in the community play in the High Country Minor Hockey Association out of Oilfields Arena in Diamond Valley. However, Shotclose and Lefthand said they’re hopeful upgrades to the arena in Eden Valley will attract more youth to the sport, which hasn’t had a minor league association in Eden Valley or Mînî Thnî since the mid-2000s.
Despite youth often having to travel to participate in minor hockey programs and games in surrounding communities, hockey is alive and well in Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation. Eva Powder, a volunteer coordinator with Alberta Native Hockey Provincials, said more than 300 U17 players from the Nation have registered for the April 4-7 tournament in Edmonton so far. Calgary hosts the Alberta Treaty Hockey Games the following weekend, April 11-14.
The Eden Valley arena announcement was made last week when federal Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu visited the community to tour its new 15,000-square-feet multipurpose building, which will have a full-size gym, weight room, meeting room space and a commercial kitchen, among others.
“That’s about 95 per cent complete and when that’s done, we’re going to have two really great recreation centres for the youth and for the community,” said Shotclose.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.