RCMP takes Ross River fire to heart

Gordon Peter's hockey skates were in the Ross River rec centre when it burned to the ground Thursday morning. "There was so much gear in there," said the Oldtimer and hockey organizer. "Some of the kids were crying.

Gordon Peter’s hockey skates were in the Ross River rec centre when it burned to the ground Thursday morning.

“There was so much gear in there,” said the Oldtimer and hockey organizer.

“Some of the kids were crying.”

By 4 a.m., flames were leaping from the building, considered by many to be the heart of the community.

A back-up fire truck was dispatched from Faro.

Standing outside at minus 35, the community gathered to watch the building burn.

Everyone’s in shock, said Doreen Etzel, who works at the general store.

“It’s especially bad for the kids, they lost all that hockey equipment and now they have nowhere to go at night.”

Above the rink, there was a drop-in centre where Ross River’s youth played pool, video games, watched movies and just hung out.

Kyle Smith worked at the drop-in for the last 10 years.

Open from 3 to 10 p.m. weekdays, later on weekends, the rec centre was a second home for many of the community’s children.

Some nights the centre saw more than 30 youth using the facility.

“We had kids as young as six,” said Smith.

Others were in their mid-20s.

Three big-screen TVs, several Xbox 360s, a pool table, couches and the canteen were also lost in the fire.

Now, with nowhere to go, Smith is worried some kids might turn to less-healthy activities.

“It’s very disappointing – it’s a great loss,” he said.

“We also lost our workout room and the rink.”

In the last month, Peter had just finished outfitting the workout room with new training equipment.

“We bought weights, treadmills, everything – it was in the thousands,” he said.

“And now it’s all gone.”

And the arena – which was featured during Hockey Day in Canada – had just been renovated.

Ross River’s RCMP detachment put hours of work into the rink, replacing the boards, grading the sand before the ice was laid, and painting the lines on the frozen surface.

Const. Adam Lightfoot did most of the work, while other officers covered his shifts.

The RCMP also collected gear and outfitted the kids with skates, said Cpl. Tom Howell.

But the greatest loss is the youth centre, he said.

Still, Howell remains hopeful.

“In every sad case there is an opportunity,” he said.

“I am optimistic something new will come out of this and YTG will come through with funding (for a new rec centre and rink).

“In the meantime, we need to find something for the kids.”

It was a bittersweet day for Lightfoot. He was in Whitehorse with his wife, who’s having a baby, when he heard the news.

After all the work he put into the rink, Lightfoot’s efforts were rewarded as more and more of the community got involved in hockey.

“We had three teams signed up for the Native Hockey Tournament,” said Peter.

There was a youth team, a B-division team and an Oldtimers team, which Peter was on.

“And we had a growing fan base with more than 25 people coming out for games,” he said.

“It’s sad for them too.”

Some of the kids had just gotten new skates, added Peter.

“And those are expensive – $800.”

Peter’s skates cost $400 and were considered top-of-the-line when his wife bought them 10 years ago.

But it’s not the money that he’s sad about – it’s the memories.

“I had those skates a long time,” he said.

“They were comfortable.”

Now, with no gear, Peter is not sure if Ross River’s teams will be able to compete in the upcoming tournament.

“I’ve been to every tournament since they started in 1977,” he said.

Peter is hoping to round up some skates and shovel off a small lake outside town.

The community can also use Faro’s rink on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he said.

But without gear, there’s not much point.

Ron McLean is trying to help the youth, said Peter.

After the rec centre was featured on Hockey Day in Canada, McLean has a vested interest in the community’s fate.

And some people are already donating gear, he said.

The RCMP is investigating the fire, but does not suspect foul play, said Howell.

The aging facility, its recent renovations and the cold weather could all have played a role, he said.

Beyond that, it’s tough to determine what sparked the blaze, since the site has turned into one solid block of ice, he said.

The community will pull together, said Howell.

“No one is down and out yet and we hope the government will put in another rink – we need this.”

The RCMP is going to do all it can to help, he said.

“This is my community,” said Howell.

“And we are going to continue to work with the kids to make sure we do something.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at