When it first opened, the crowd was 4,551. Not likely the Fire Marshall will allow that many tomorrow night, but with only one game on tap this weekend, a sellout at least nearing 3,000 might be in attendance for the 70th Cominco Arena anniversary celebration, and Smokies/Surrey Eagles BCHL game.
The anniversary date is actually tonight (Nov. 29, 1949 was opening night).
When, two years later, the Trail Memorial Center was fully operational – with the curling rink and kids’ rink running – the building was a world beater. There was more artificial ice under that massive roof than in any building in the world.
It wasn’t until the North Shore Winter Club opened with two near-NHL sized hockey sheets and 24 sheets of curling ice, that the capacity of Trail’s gem of an indoor winter sports building was exceeded.
The quality of the building was a testament to many things Cominco (CM&S, locally, at the time). The Hill provided enough decent paying jobs back then that Greater Trail residents enjoyed the highest annual average income in Canada for several years, and the company’s largesse enabled big projects like the arena complex, and the hospital which was just about to break ground in its current location when the Memorial Centre opened, to be considered as viable additions to the public facilities of this relatively small population region.
In the Cominco Arena case, design and logistical planning, the property, materials and machinery were all CM&S supplied. More than a thousand locals, from teenagers to fully employed adults to seniors, volunteered to perform much of the labour involved.
It was a project that did, and does, the Home of Champions proud. The Trail Memorial Centre is still, because of a commitment from stakeholders that has lasted seven decades, something of a miracle sitting in the middle of a relatively small community.
We should, and a lot of us will tomorrow night, celebrate its existence and the near miracles of athletic performance it has enabled since that night in 1949.
The late R. W. Diamond, then General Manager of Cominco Ltd., pronounced the building as, “a fine arena.” It seems certain he would be pleased, if maybe a bit amazed, that that description is still valid seven decades down the road of progress.
• Just an update. Although the five Smoke Eaters selected for the Junior A Challenge tournament are expected in Calgary by noon Sunday, I am told all will be skating for the Smoke Eaters against Surrey Saturday night. The team will find a way to get them to the dance on time, even if a bit weary.
Whomever is chosen for the Team Canada West roster will be unavailable to the Smokies during their mainland road trip next weekend, but everybody agrees that is a small price for the team to pay in order that those selected get the chance to compete, and be seen competing, at the very top level of Junior A play.