Hockey’s presumed birthplace in the N.W.T. upgrades rink

Hockey’s presumed birthplace in the N.W.T. upgrades rink

It has been touted as the birthplace of ice hockey and now major improvements have been made to the ice rink in Délı̨nę, NWT. The municipality plans to use the new facility to promote recreation and tourism in the area.

Délı̨nę’s ice rink, formerly gravel, has now been upgraded to concrete. This means that in addition to a smoother surface and a fraction of the water needed to make ice, the community can use the facility year-round for soccer, roller skating and other non-ice sports.

There might also be ice hockey in the summer if the community has the infrastructure for artificial ice. The community is working to raise funds for an ice plant that would connect to the plant’s new subsurface pipes and create artificial ice.

The community had a grand opening ceremony for the facility on Friday. These events included a community festival and public skating in the morning, a hockey tournament throughout the day, and a gala to close the night.

Délı̨nęs Ɂekw’ahtide, or Chief, Danny Gaudet, said the facility will encourage activity and community health for kids like Suze Tutcho, who skated on the new ice for the first time on Friday, and will grow up with access to the new rink.

A man holds a child on his knee in an ice hockey arena and shows a thumbs up at the camera.  The child is wearing a hockey helmet and skates.
Gerald Tutcho with his son Suze. Gerald said that Suze went ice skating for the first time ever on Friday. The couple took part in public skating following the dedication ceremony for the new ice rink. (Natalie Pressmann/CBC)

“Recovery has always been very important in my opinion,” said Gaudet. “When we have great minds, strong minds, we end up healthy and our community really benefits.”

Gaudet said they are exploring a tourism program that would allow families to drop off children to hone their hockey skills in the sport’s presumed home and spend the day fishing at Great Bear Lake – known for its trophy lake trout.

A man stands on an ice rink and looks at the camera.  The man is wearing a buttoned shirt and jacket.
Danny Gaudet is leader, Ɂekw’ahtide, of Délı̨nę, NWT. He said the facility is an investment in the health of the community. (Natalie Pressmann/CBC)

since reach self-government 2016, Gaudet said the leadership had worked towards full independence from other government programs. He said that the modernization of the ice rink and related plans will create opportunities for work and great economic growth.

“We have an airline, we have hotels, accommodations and we want to maximize that to our advantage,” he said. “I think everyone in the community should work once we get this program going.”

“Quite an operation”

Getting the necessary supplies and equipment to a remote community, accessible only by plane or winter road, is no easy task.

Northern Industrial Construction Ltd. (NIC) designed and built the ice rink.

Project manager Jeff Oldfield said it took 66 truckloads of premixed concrete and other materials to drive from Calgary to Délı̨nę.

“There aren’t many trucking companies with the ability and experience to deliver materials to Délı̨nę,” Oldfield said. “We contacted just about every trucking company in the Northwest Territories that we knew who deliver truckloads for winter roads. I think we had eight or ten different companies all doing a lot for us on this project.

It was quite an operation to get all the materials here.”

A construction crew pushes wheelbarrows loaded with materials from another side of an area to an area where concrete is being leveled over a surface.
To re-concrete the rink, construction crews spent two and a half consecutive days pouring concrete. It had to be done in a back-to-back pour, requiring day and night crews to complete the process. (Submitted by Warren Seeley)

Oldfield said another challenge was that the rink had to be made from a single slab of concrete, cast in one continuous pour. This took over 50 hours due to the available equipment.

“We had a day shift and a night shift that worked around the clock for two and a half days.”

This involved about 35 people in total, 17 on each shift, to fill about 250 cubic meters.

Rodney Johnson, President of NIC, added that over 90 percent of the project’s workforce are local workers, more than half of the trucks are with a Délı̨nę-owned company, and Délı̨nę artist Daniel Takazo, also part of the construction team, painted the art around the ice rink.

Two men sit at a table and smile at the camera.
Rodney Johnson, left, is President of Northern Industrial Construction. Jeff Oldfield, right, is the company’s project manager. Northern Industrial Construction designed and built the upgraded facility. (Natalie Pressmann/CBC)

The process of improving the rink began under former Ɂekw’ahtide Leeroy Andre.

It was an idea the community had wanted to pursue for years, but only seemed realistic after a new preschool was completed in Délı̨nę last year.

NIC also had the contract for this project, and after the success of the preschool, the community and contractors began talking about other projects.

After bringing up the materials on the winter road, Andre said construction started in the spring and finished in November. Community members tested the ice last week before the official ribbon-cutting on Friday.

Man in a black jacket stands in front of the ice rink and looks at the camera.
Leeroy Andre is the former Ɂekw’ahtide or chief of Délı̨nę. The project began under his leadership. He said on the day of the opening ceremony, community members shook his hand to thank him for “getting this started”. (Natalie Pressmann/CBC)

Andre said the community is happy with the new facility and so is he. He took part in the Friday tournament.

“When I came out of the dressing room, a couple of young people shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you for doing that,'” he said.

“Hopefully they will be proud of this facility and use it for many generations to come. I wish for strong, healthy people in the future.”

The upgrade cost the community about $2.9 million, according to Phebie Kenny, director of housing and infrastructure.

Two seated men smile at the camera.
Former NHL player Sandy McCarthy (left) will be responsible for kickstarting community fitness, hockey skills clinics and coaching sessions. (Natalie Pressmann/CBC)

Whatever the cost, “it’s cheaper to keep this guy active and skating,” Ɂekw’ahtide Gaudet said, pointing to a boy doing laps on the new rink.

After the upgrades are complete, the programming work begins.

Former NHL player Sandy McCarthy will be responsible for kickstarting community fitness, hockey skills clinics and coaching sessions.

He was introduced to Gaudet through a friendship after the two met years ago at an event in Quebec.

McCarthy plans to be in the community through April and aims to make the programming sustainable so training can continue after he leaves. He said he will return to the community next year as well.

Birthplace of Ice Hockey

Délı̨nę’s claims about the birthplace of ice hockey come from records in the diaries of explorer Sir John Franklin. On an 1825 expedition, during which Franklin spent the winter in present-day Délı̨nę, he wrote: “Until the snow fell the game of hockey on the ice was the sport of the morning,” according to an exhibition at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center in Yellow Knife .

An image of a cartoon shows two people facing each other and silhouettes of hockey players in the background.  The lyrics above it read
An exhibition at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center in Yellowknife details Sir John Franklin’s account of watching hockey in Délı̨nę and why the community is considered by many to be the birthplace of hockey. (Natalie Pressmann/CBC)

Délı̨nę residents say Franklin’s records aren’t the only ones to cite the community as the birthplace of Canada’s national sport.

Leonard Kenny said his great-grandmother’s account was among the oral traditions that continue to be passed on. He said she shared stories of people “floating on ice” and wasn’t sure how else to describe skating.

Kenny also has something to say to anyone who disagrees that Délı̨nę is the birthplace of ice hockey.

“Well, we’re going to have a really good debate,” he said.

“But if you come to Délı̨nę, pay us a visit, you’ll know why.”

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