Most players were not identified in this 1970s hockey team photo other than goalie Graeme Hollingdrake and players Robbie deWitt and James Walker. Their team sponsor was local plumber George Peterson also known as Leaky Pete.

Most players were not identified in this 1970s hockey team photo other than goalie Graeme Hollingdrake and players Robbie deWitt and James Walker. Their team sponsor was local plumber George Peterson also known as Leaky Pete.

The birth of Cowichan Lake’s community arena

The birth and history of the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena.

The $7.6 million recent upgrades and new-look completed earlier this year at the Lake Cowichan Sports Arena brought back memories of the community excitement generated when the first opening took place in December 1970.

Over 1,200 skaters turned out for a weekend of free public skating on the new ice rink.  Next door at the curling rink, things were hopping with curlers participating in instruction sessions and the start of league play on the newly completed sheets of curling ice.

Young and old would-be hockey players figure skaters, their coaches and others were ready to begin.

The idea of an arena began with a group of local people, including Herb Halliday, Bert Brown, Bob Hepburn, Scotty Cook, Ken Irving, Ted Knott, Jim Hunt and Norm Rooke.  Buck Hollingdrake commended their “foresight, vision and determination” in his 1993 Family Trees article on the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena.

Endorsement from many groups followed, including the local Chamber of Commerce, whose members established their next official project was to pursue the possibility of establishing a skating and curling rink in the Village of Lake Cowichan.

The original group, along with Lake Cowichan mayor Moe All, included representatives from each of the community’s service, fraternal, sports, and church organizations met to discuss the course of action. Other interested parties also participated.

Pledges were made from citizens interested in investing in debentures ($100 each at 8-9 per cent per annum), which were to be guaranteed by the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

This was required before a referendum on the building of the project could take place. Without full community support, the idea would not take place since grants and government funds were then non-existent. This was the era of If you want it done, you do it yourself.

After the referendum was held the front-page headline (Lake News, December 10, 1969 issue) screamed out  “WHOPPING MAJORITY FAVOUR ICE ARENA.”

The results were 91 per cent of voters in favour, the number far surpassing the required 60 per cent majority needed.  Plans for the 300,000 square foot, arena complex were soon underway on the new site.

In January 1970, an arena commission was formed and preliminary work and tests on the building site began.

Dubbed the Centennial project, work went on at a feverish pace. Referendum pledges were collected; donations of money for equipment and furniture were received as were hours of service in-kind in the form of equipment and man-hours (women too, I suppose). Hockey, skating and curling clubs were formed throughout the year it took to complete the complex. Numerous fund-raisers such as bingo and walkathons took place and the construction of the new complex proceeded along.

The first arena manager was appointed in July 1970 naming former Victoria Cougars hockey player and coach Doug Anderson. Later Buck Hollingdrake assumed the position, which he held until his retirement many years later.

The opening of the area in December 1970 was, in the history of Lake Cowichan, a glorious day. From nothing but rough ground to a new arena complex accomplished in just one year!

Because of the many individuals (not enough space here to name them) who helped in such large and small ways, the little Village of Lake Cowichan had realized a dream.

Research Lake News articles, Buck Hollingdrake article, Kaatza Station Museum Archives.

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