Reflecting On Sports History

Image: Hockey team practicing on one of the outdoor rinks in the Bear Creek Valley, ca. 1950 (SPRA 1969.59.318)

The following transcription is from the Betty Welter fonds (Fonds 129, Series 4: Writing Portfolio) and was completed by volunteer Suzanne Dunn. Betty’s writing portfolio includes a submission to the Clem and Muriel Collins Millennium Contest in 2000, called “A Personal Recollection of Life in the Grande Prairie Area, 1939 to 2000.” The following excerpt, from the “Sports” section of the article, has been abridged for inclusion in Telling Our Stories (June 2021) and on our website.

In 1939 Grande Prairie had one natural ice skating rink and curling rink side by side. We attended numerous hockey games, skating performances and carnivals in that drafty cold, crack filled old building. Weather always seemed to turn warm whenever a hockey tournament or bonspiel was scheduled. I can remember some games being played on pretty wet sloppy ice. In 20 the winter of 1947/48 the roof fell in on this old building after a very heavy snowfall so we had no covered rink at all. Max Henning and Bill Bessent told me they had a temporary natural ice rink at the airport in an unused hanger and played all their hockey games there in 1949 and 1950.

The Kinsmen Club spearheaded a new Memorial Arena being built on 99 Ave, and started in 1949. This arena was still using natural ice, and was mostly built by volunteer labor and many donations of time, building materials and money. Max Henning tells me they poured huge six feet square pilings of cement for supports. This cement was mixed outside and wheeled in by volunteers with wheel barrows via a gang plank over a thirty hour continuous pouring event. Many men in the community volunteered during this cement pouring marathon including my late husband, Jack. There were no augers to transport cement to wherever needed – it was truly man power. The main surface was poured a few days later by the same method. This covered rink was a great improvement and used for many activities. The ‘rink rats’ scraped the ice with wide wooden boards between periods, this was quite a coveted position and never short of volunteer boys. The artificial ice was installed some ten years later and now the chinooks didn’t affect hockey playoffs or bonspiel finals. This also saw the early version of a zamboni to scrape and spray the ice, the rink rats were now unemployed. This arena served the area for years and was eventually knocked down and a curling rink took over the space….

There were always outdoor rinks on any available empty lot where needed around town. The youngsters certainly enjoyed these free sports and many a budding hockey player was born there. Two regular sized outdoor rinks were built in the Bear Creek Flats and the Minor Hockey Association was formed in 1959. In 1960 it consisted of 221 players on 17 teams, membership was $1.00 and equipment rather poor to say the least. Temperature is usually 10 degrees colder on a creek or river and these children from mites to bantoms played in many degrees below zero F weather. Ice space was still short for many junior teams so a natural ice rink was started in the huge barn at the old fair grounds in the 1970s – now Crystal Park School area. Dozens of boys spent many happy hours there in organized games from pee wees to juniors.

In 1999 Grande Prairie’s population was now 34,000 and the G.P.M.H.A. had 750 children registered in 47 teams – again how we have grown. Registration fees vary with different groups starting at about $100.00 a player.

Ball diamonds, tennis courts, basket ball courts sprang up all over town when and wherever needed. A lawn bowling green was installed in Muskoseepie [sic] park a few years ago. In 1939 we had one golf course and club house situated on Richmond Hill. In 1999 the golfers have access to nine courses in our area.

In the 1940s a ski-jump was built where the log pile is now situated on the west side of the city. Years later a larger ski hill with a lovely club house was built on the south bank of the Wapiti River. They have a lift, snow making machines, lunch room and give lessons.

A few years ago part of the old ‘nuisance grounds’ in south Grande Prairie were reclaimed and now contain several ball diamonds, campground, concession booth and children’s play area. In 1998 an indoor soccer facility was established and is booked solidly all winter long and is a very welcome sports addition to our city.

In the early 1950s an outdoor swimming pool was built, again spearheaded by the Kinsmen, where the Telus Building now stands. This certainly was a popular and well used facility all summer long. Red Cross swimming lessons were established for all ages.

A larger, better equipped outdoor pool was later built in the Muskoseepi Park Area and is still used from May to September each year. In the mid 1970s a full sized heated covered pool was built complete with diving boards, dressing rooms and wading pool beside it in the Recreation Center. Lessons and aerobics are available here for all ages year long.

Two couples playing tennis on an early Grande Prairie tennis court, ca. 1920 (SPRA 1969.59.372)

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