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Alberta arena destroyed for second time in five years

For the second time in five years,. a small Alberta town is faced with the daunting challenge of rebuilding its local arena.
In many small Canadian communities, the local arena is more than just a place to play shinny. It is the social centre of the town – the place to talk with your neighbors while the game is going on.

Grimshaw, Alberta is such a place. As of last Sunday, it had a population of 2,537 and a 50-year old arena that had just purchased a brand new Zamboni for the upcoming hockey season. As of Monday afternoon, it still had the 2,537 residents.

The arena was a different story. A fire broke out about 9 a.m. Monday at the 50-year old wooden structure. By 10 a.m., there was little hope of saving the building. By 2 p.m., all that was left was the cinder blocks in the dressing rooms. Along with the rubble was lot of consternation and wondering.

Brian Nadish had been the arena caretaker for the past dozen years. For him, Monday was a very painful day. "It’s devastating to watch," he said. "There were a lot of memories in there. I’m just hoping the community gets together and starts rebuilding as soon as possible. An arena in a small town like this is really the focal point. It’s where everybody meets and all the kids hang out."

Unfortunately, Grimshaw has dealt with a similar problem. Five years ago, a tornado blew the roof off the building. On that occasion, the NHL Edmonton Oilers — located 317 miles southeast of Grimshaw — came to the rescue with a fundraiser that helped raise the $1.5 million needed for repairs. On Monday, Oilers president Patrick LaForge said his club is ready to help again.

"To a lot of these communities, the arena is really the key centre point for families. Whether it’s hockey — which is really important to boys and girls and families — or curling and entertainment, it’s a critical feature because it’s used for everything," he said.

No estimates have been given yet for how much it will take to rebuild the arena, which was insured. Of more immediate concern is the fact the minor hockey season was scheduled to start October 1. The local hockey association was starting to contact neighboring towns for help.

Grimshaw residents don’t have to look far to find somebody to commiserate. In late July, a similar tragedy hit Mayerthorpe, a small town 235 miles southeast of Grimshaw.