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Hockey returns to Ross River

At a community meeting about the centre, hosted by the Ross River Dena Council on Tuesday, people pointed through the windows at the massive twisted frame and talked about its arrival in the summer of 1989.


Every window of the Ross River Community Hall looks across a snowy field to the giant black and blue hulk of the burnt out recreation centre.

At a community meeting about the centre, hosted by the Ross River Dena Council on Tuesday, people pointed through the windows at the massive twisted frame and talked about its arrival in the summer of 1989.

It turned out to be quite a surprise since the corrugated tin colossus was nothing like the plan they had submitted.

The rink was natural ice and had no bleachers.

“You could only watch from the one end,” Dorothy Smith stated. In winter it was cavernous and cold.

“When it was 40 below outside it was 60 below inside” said another citizen.

The stairs to the second floor were steep and there was no wheelchair access. Call that “elder unfriendly.”

Prior to the arrival of “Big Blue,” as the centre was dubbed, Ross River residents had shuttled between a collection of dilapidated structures, including an outdoor hockey rink (provided in response to a request for an indoor rink), a Quonset hut connected by a corridor to a log curling rink, and a small community hall.

A larger complex was definitely needed, but not one that looked and felt like an aircraft hangar from Siberia.

Now that “Big Blue” is history, the people of Ross River are nervous.

What will the replacement look like?

What will it contain?

Rumors circulated at the meeting that Community Services Minister Archie Lang was flying in that day to view the devastation.

At the hall, the council and community prepared a special display outlining their ideas for the new building. It was a bit of rush to get it ready by noon so they could show it to Lang at lunch.

Meanwhile, over at the First Nation building Chief Jack Caesar sat in his small office waiting. He would call when Lang appeared and then bring him over to the hall.

Ross River is a “have not” community in official eyes.

It is not a hamlet, village or town, and is therefore ineligible for municipal funding.

It does not have a land claim and is, consequently, beyond the pale of the Umbrella Final Agreement.

And it is definitely not Faro - its wonderful stepsister, which still enjoys government largesse like the Campbell Region Interpretive Centre that, according to the Ross River Dene Council, was originally planned as a cultural visitor centre in Ross River at the head of the Dena Cho Trail linking the two communities.

So the Ross River Dena Council and its citizens fret about the new recreation centre.

Their history with governments and buildings has been frustrating at best and frightening at worst. Like back in the spring of 1962 when the people went beaver hunting and returned a month later to find that the government had towed all their cabins across the still frozen Ross River, depositing them helter-skelter along the south bank. Some were just pushed into the willows and, as the snow melted, they settled at bizarre angles.

“My grandpa’s door was chest high” Dennis Shorty reported at the meeting.

By 5 p.m. it was clear Lang was not coming. His officials were reported to be due the next day, but that was later postponed to the day after.

The display was finally taken down and, instead, a letter was composed by Caesar proposing that the Ross River Dene Council and Lang meet in Whitehorse the following week.

And what does the council and community want?

They want to be in on the ground floor of planning the new building.

After 22 years with “Big Blue” they know exactly how a recreation centre should and should not be built.

Most of all, they do not want another surprise package designed by an architect from far far away.

Ross River may be a “have not” community in official eyes.

But one thing it does have is plenty of spunk.

RCMP Cpl. Tom Howell, who dropped in to the meeting, reported that he will partition off part of the existing community hall to provide a youth centre in the near future.

Of course, they have nothing to put in it as all their brand new TV sets, video systems, DVDs, pool table, chairs couches etc. were destroyed in the fire (donations can be made at the First Nation Bank in Whitehorse).

And as the community planning meeting wore into the afternoon, two enterprising young men in a pickup truck arrived to salvage the sooty, half-melted nets out of “Big Blue’ and truck them up to a nearby lake where a friend in a Bobcat was clearing a rink.

Hockey was back in Ross River before the day was done.

Doug Urquhart is a cartoonist known for his Paws strip. His Eyes of a Husky: Skookum’s Penetrating Insights Into the Hearts and Minds of Northerners is available from Harbour Publishing.