Arena celebrates 50 years

In honour of the anniversary, there will be a free community skate on Sunday, Oct. 25 from 3 - 5 p.m.

(From left) Current arena staff Lilly Bryant and Kim Johnson met recently with pioneers Erna Gobbett and Art Stavenjord to recall the early days of the Grand Forks Arena.

Grand Forks’ arena is celebrating its 50th birthday and shows no signs of slowing down.

The arena was built back in 1965 and has been through many changes over the years. After 49 years, the arena was renamed last year to Jack Goddard Memorial Arena in recognition of one of the men instrumental in the building of the arena.

In honour of the anniversary, there will be a free community skate on Sunday, Oct. 25 from 3 – 5 p.m. There will also be cake and an opportunity to view photos and swap stories about the arena and the various users.

 

The beginning

The arena was built largely by volunteers and was open to the public on Oct. 23, 1965. The mayor at the time was Alfred Downey and the aldermen were Peter Podovinikoff, Richard Bartlett, James Glanville and Jack Goddard.

Before the arena was built, Grand Forks had an outdoor arena with lights in the downtown area, which meant users were at the mercy of the weather.

Because of that, Goddard proposed an indoor arena be built in the west end of town. He and others worked diligently to ensure the success of the project.

“I remember Dad coming home meeting after meeting informing us how close it was to the possibility of being defeated,” said Jack Goddard Jr.

The project was finally approved in 1964 and work began almost immediately.

Art Stavenjord vividly remembers when the arena was built and how it was mainly volunteers who did the work.

“I recall going to Vancouver with Wes Docksteader and Harvey Parliament (they were both on the committee to build the arena) to someplace where they built the beams,” he told the Gazette. “They said, give us a purchase order. We didn’t have one from the city so I used one from Boundary Electric.”

Stavenjord, who was later in charge of the landscaping around the rink, recalled that the city had hired an architect to design the parking lot area. “They had a whole array of grassy areas like the two they have now that you park around,” he said. “The maintenance people saw that and said, ‘don’t you dare put that in because we have to plow the snow around all those stupid things.’ So we never put them in on the other side.”

Another interesting story about the arena is that when they were pouring the cement for the ice floor it became so cold they had to stop.

“Sandner Brothers from Christina Lake had an older mixer and they had steam running some part of it,” said Stavenjord. “They had to go down there and mix the cement with warm water and bring it up here. They got to the blue line and they had to quit—it was 30 or 40 below. We were standing there almost frozen. Regrettably, they had to quit and leave a seam and it was supposed to be a non-seam floor.”

Name change

In May 2014 the Grand Forks Arena was officially renamed the Jack Goddard Memorial Arena in honour of the former mayor and alderman who was instrumental in the building of the arena.

Attending the re-christening ceremony were several dignitaries including then-mayor Brian Taylor; Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) area D/Rural Grand Forks representative Roly Russell; then-RDKB director of facilities John Mackey and Jack Goddard Jr.

Mackey said at the event, “Right from the get-go, everyone that heard the presentation and was involved at any level thought it was a great idea.”

Goddard passed away in 2013 at the age of 93. He was remembered as a very enthusiastic supporter of athletics. Not only was he instrumental in the building of the arena that would later bear his name, but he also helped bring Babe Ruth minor baseball to the area.

His son Jack Jr. told the Gazette at the ceremony that he and the family were very honoured by the arena naming recognition.

“Everyone was so ecstatic about it,” he said. “A lot of people who didn’t know Dad said it was the greatest thing that could happen. It’s a great tribute for a person who did so much for the community.”

Jack Jr. added that it was great to see so many family members out to the ceremony. “Everyone was here,” he said. “His two sons and two daughters, all his grandchildren. It just worked out great. It was super. It’s a great honour. Now every time someone comes to town they’ll see his name and remember who Dad was.”

Iris Hooge, who was involved with the Border Bruins and the arena for many years, agreed that it was very fitting. “I came from Nelson where we had an arena and here we come to Grand Forks and they had no arena,” she said. “It was really exciting (when it was built). It was a thrill to me that they named it after Jack Goddard. He was instrumental in us getting the arena. There were others at the time but he really worked hard on council and I’m really glad they put his name on it.”

Present day

The arena operates from late August until the end of March. Operating the arena now is Grand Forks Recreation (GFREC) under the umbrella of the RDKB. Funding for recreation services comes from the City of Grand Forks and RKDB Electoral Area D as well as from facility and program user fees.

GFREC consists of 17 permanent staff members and a 10-person advisory recreation commission comprised of volunteers representing the city and Area D.

The primary users of the arena are hockey clubs (including Junior B Border Bruins, minor, adult and drop-in), figure skating and public skating.

Public skating sessions are available on Sunday from 3 – 5 p.m. (Session cancelled if Bruins game); Thursday from 1:15 – 2:15 p.m. for adults only; parent and tot skate and play goes Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:15 -11:15 a.m.; and toonie skates go Tuesdays from 3:45  -4:45 p.m. and Fridays from 1:45 – 3:30 p.m.

Drop-in hockey programs are always popular with casual hockey on Fridays from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. and Sundays from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. Seniors 55+ hockey goes Tuesday and Thursdays from 9 – 10 a.m. and 65+ goes Monday and Wednesdays from 9 – 10 a.m. as well.

Hockey for kids 12 and under is Fridays from 11:15 – 12:15 (parents welcome); and family drop-in is Saturdays Oct. 3 to Dec. 19 from 4:45 – 5:45 p.m.

Hockey

The rink is the home to the Grand Forks Border Bruins junior B hockey team of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. The Bruins have inhabited the arena every year (except two) since 1969. They have had seven winning seasons in 43 years with the last one being 1996-97 when they had a 22-18 record. Despite that lack of success, the Bruins continue to draw decent crowds to the arena for 26 home games per year.

The Bruins have sent a number of players on to the NHL including Craig Redmond (L.A. Kings and Edmonton Oilers), Steve Passmore (Hartford Whalers, New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings), Alan Kerr (N.Y. Islanders, Detroit Red Wings and Winnipeg Jets) and Kevin Sawyer (St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Phoenix Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks).

Sawyer grew up in Christina Lake and played his minor hockey in Grand Forks. He played one season with the Border Bruins before going on to the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. Sawyer then went on to play parts of six seasons in the NHL. After retiring from hockey, Sawyer returned to the Lake and is currently coaching his children in the Grand Forks Minor Hockey Association (GFMHA).

“I remember as a kid sitting in ‘The Jungle’ and watching the Bruins play—Darren Burrows, Vince Burrows, Rick Wright, those type of guys,” said Sawyer. “The Jungle was where all the high school kids would watch and it seemed larger then life. It was exciting and fun to be a part of. We had this big, loud siren we used to ring every time the Bruins scored. It was pretty cool.”

Sawyer said the rink used to always be packed for Bruin games. “It was so exciting to be there as a fan and eventually as a player,” he said.

Sawyer remembers trying out and getting cut as both a 15-year-old and 16-year-old.

“As a 17-year-old I got cut but was able to make my way on to the squad a couple of months into the season because of injuries,” he said. “I was elated to be a Border Bruin.”

Sawyer said the team back when he played was competitive. “We weren’t a championship team but we won more than we lost,” he said. “We had really good support from the community. We were really competitive and the support from the town reflected that. It was something special to be a part of that’s for sure.”

The following year, Sawyer tried out for Spokane of the major junior Western Hockey League. He made the Chiefs as a walk-on at 17-years-old. He was captain in his last year as a 20-year-old before moving on to the professional ranks.

Sawyer is back on the ice at Jack Goddard Memorial Arena both as a coach for his kid’s minor hockey teams and also as a player with the Boundary Adult Men’s Hockey League (BAMHL). BAMHL is another big ice user at the rink with 80 players and five teams competing this year.

“It’s awesome,” said Sawyer. “There’s a lot of guys who used to play junior here in Grand Forks or elsewhere. Now it’s a big group of friends trying to pretend we’re in the NHL.”

Sawyer said the league organizers have done a great job ensuring that the league is competitive.

The league is in its third year and has had a draft for the last two.

“Last year was amazingly even and this year looks to be the same again this year,” he said. “It’s fun when you go out each night knowing you’re going to be competing and have a good game.”

This year, Grand Forks Minor Hockey Association has 85 players registered including 12 females. The players are divided over six teams ranging from pre-novice (ages 5 and 6) right up to midget (ages 15 to 17).

Current Border Bruin defenceman Josh Hammett played his minor hockey in Grand Forks starting with pre-novice. He ended up going off to Osoyoos to play rep hockey in midget before returning to town to play for the Bruins.

“I always wanted to play with the Bruins growing up,” he said. “It was my dream. Being in Osoyoos and then getting to come back and wear Grand Forks colours was a dream come true.”

Hammett loved attending the Border Bruins home games as a kid and loves being a part of the hockey community in Grand Forks once again.

“I’ve always been in awe of how fast the pace was,” he said. “I said I want to play with them. I’m lucky enough to get the chance. After playing out of town in Osoyoos for two years it’s nice to play at home again with the rink five minutes from my house.”

Hammett said that he’s always enjoyed playing at Grand Forks (Jack Goddard Memorial) Arena.

“I love playing here,” he said. “It brings back some great memories. It’s amazing. I love it. Home games are by far my most favourite part of playing.”

Figure Skating

The Grand Forks Figure Skating Club has been around for as long as the arena has. The first executive was formed in 1965 and shortly after became a member of the B.C. and Canadian Figure Skating Associations.

The first president of the club was Jean Cline. Other directors were Tannis Verigin, vice-president, and Nancy Dale, secretary-treasurer. The first coach was Jim Corrigan who remained as coach until 1970.

Erna Gobbett was also involved early on with the club and carried on a number of positions including president and judge.

“All we needed were skaters and that was no problem as we ended up with 150 skaters that first year,” said Gobbett.

The figure skating club held their first show in 1966 with Art Stavenjord acting as MC. Starting in 1967, the shows were called carnivals and became very involved.

“Coach Corrigan loved a big show and that is what we got,” recalled Gobbett. “The first one was called A Centennial Extravaganza with MC Ron Frazer and included a speech by Mayor Jack Goddard and organ music by Alexander Leander.  Four hundred people came and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.”

Gobbett said the carnivals became bigger and better each, and the skating improved as well. The Gazette stated, “The carnival showed that Grand Forks has some talented skaters.”

Throughout the years, many skaters from the club competed at the West Kootenay and the Kootenay Regional Championships. Later on, top skaters began to enter the B.C. Championships as well as the B.C. Winter Games.

“In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s we had more than a dozen skaters that qualified for the B.C. Championships or Winter Games,” said Gobbett.

Beverley Vatkin went on to place fourth in the Western Championships. Geoff Gobbett was the Kootenay regional champion for three years and placed fifth in the B.C. Winter Games and sixth in the B.C. Championships. Tyler Bidnyk also qualified in B.C., then Western Canada Divisionals and then the Canadian Championships. Raymond Makortoff received a bronze medal at the B.C. Winter Games.

Starting in 1977 Grand Forks Skating Club hosted the Sunshine Valley Open Competition, which was a new freeskate event.

“This was mainly a fundraiser and a fun event everyone could enter,” said Gobbett. “So we had people from Spokane and even the Fraser Valley. We had about 150 skaters come out. The event went on for 33 years and is sorely missed.”

In 1980 the club ended up hosting the Kootenay Regional Championship, B.C. Winter Games skate-off and Sunshine Valley Open all on the same very busy weekend.

“That was a very fun three days of skating,” said Gobbett. “We also had the top judges from Vancouver who all thought we did a really good job.”

Other memories

Bev Wisnicki recalls renting the ice at the arena with her friends back in the day and playing mixed hockey. “We would rent the arena for $10 an hour and play pick-up hockey,” she said. “It was a lot of fun. There weren’t as many people using the rink back then so you could actually get a prime time spot.”

Wisnicki worked in the arena for a number of years. “I remember all the fellows who worked there in the rink,” she said. “Everyone worked there for a long time. It was a really good crew. It was a great place to work.”

Wisnicki said it was great to watch the arena evolve over the years and add more dressing room, offices, an expanded concession and more.

“It’s an amazing building to be in such good shape,” she said. “It’s been looked after well. It’s a great asset for this community and hopefully always will be.”

Iris Hooge is another local who has fond memories of the arena in Grand Forks. “My kids started playing minor hockey in the 1970s,” she said. “The arena has changed somewhat. Where the office is, the warm room, and the Bruins dressing room—none of that was there. That was all added later. Where the concession is now was wide open, I guess you’d call it the foyer where everyone would go to smoke.”

Hooge recalled that the concession used to be where the skate shop is now. “The next concession was built by the Lion’s Club in the 1970s and was actually built for minor hockey,” she said.

Then-RDKB recreation director Randy Johnson decided that the concession should be operated by all three clubs (minor hockey, figure skating and Border Bruins). “That’s when I became involved,” she said. “We all took our turns. We did really well. That place just rocked. We made pretty good money there.”

Iris and her husband Ron took over the concession in 2003 and ran it until 2013. She said the fries were always very popular.

“It was really good,” she said. “I loved the arena. I like hockey and love being there.”

In between, Ron and Iris were very involved with the Border Bruins doing everything except drive the bus, she says.

The Hooges still come out to every Bruins home game they can and cheer on the team. “I give them credit for keeping the team going all these years,” said Iris. “That’s why we go to support them. I would say everyone should get out and support the Bruins.”

So if you’ve ever been to or used the arena over the past 50 years be sure to come out on Oct. 25 from 3 to 5 p.m. for the free community skate, cake and chance to look at old photos and reminisce.