The history of Blyth's arenas
The first ice surfaces in Blyth were outside and privately constructed. At one point there was one across from the Blyth Public School and a chap named Charlie Burling operated one that was good enough that he could charge to use it on Saturday nights.
Blyth’s first official arena was built at a cost of $27,000 which amazingly was $2,000 under the original estimate. Although officially opened January 16, 1951 the building had been used the previous December.
The opening ceremonies attracted 800 people and guests included M.P.s L.E. Cardiff, North Huron and A.Y. McLean, Huron-Perth. Thos. Pryde, M.P.P., South Huron was in attendance and the building was officially opened by guest speaker, J. A. Carroll, the Director of the Agricultural and Horticultural Societies of Toronto.
The arena had a natural ice surface that was 70 feet by 170 feet with two dressing rooms and a lobby area at the east end of the building, but no auditorium and limited facilities for fans to watch the games.
Apparently the natural ice surface was a problem from the start. Dependent on the weather, the ice tended to be of uncertain quality much of the time. Those who used the arena in the 1950s and 1960s recall some
very wet hockey games.
In an effort to make the building more useable the local Lions Club decided to spearhead a local fundraising campaign to install artificial ice making equipment in 1967.
Artificial ice making requires more than an ice plant and money was raised for the cement pad, piping, excavation and drains that were needed to complete the project. In all approximately $35,000 was raise through grants and the generosity of individuals in Blyth and the surrounding townships.
By November the artificial ice sheet was in place and, in what appeared to be a Blyth tradition, the official opening ceremonies occurred about a month later in December. Dr. R. W. Street, the chairman of the recreation committee, was presented with a key to the ice plant by the Lions Club.
The ice plant was officially declared open by Reeve Borden Cook. Cook’s opening remarks gave credit for the achievement to the Blyth Lions Club, the Legion, the Agricultural Society and Morris, Hullett and East Wawanosh Twps. which supplied centennial grants.
In the mid-70s worries about the structural integrity of old wooden-truss arenas caused the Ontario government to order many of the buildings to be closed across the province. Blyth suffered this fate and once again plans were afoot to raise funds for a new building.
The community quickly rallied to the threat of there not being a community arena. An order to halt operations of the old arena went into effect June 9. A meeting was held June 23 at which William Riehl was named the fundraising chairman for this effort and George Hubbard was the chairman of the building committee.
By July 10 volunteers had dismantled the old arena and an auction of salvaged materials on July 24 raised nearly $10,000 toward the new building.
In order to save money it was decided to retain the old ice pad and construct the new arena around it. To ensure maximum use the designers included an auditorium, four dressing rooms and some storage space and a lobby area.
The $471,000 building was officially declared open on February 26, 1977. Such was the enthusiastic support of the community that the cost had all been raised except for awaiting the provincial government to send along its contribution through the new Wintario lottery fund.
The opening featured a smorgasbord dinner for 350 guests including the M.P. and M.P.P. representing Blyth, Doug McNeil, Warden of Huron County, Reeve Don Noble of Blyth and the Reeves of Morris, Hullett and East Wawanosh Twps.
The Master of Ceremonies for that occasion, Jim Lawrie, is reported to have had his hands full with the large crowd. The official party nearly forgot to ceremonially cut the ribbon and even when that was accomplished they nearly forgot to officially declare the building open.
The new building proved to be more functional than its predecessors and rapidly became a centre for village activities. Broomball, hockey, public skating, figure skating and at one time roller skating all flourished in the new structure. It was used for banquets, dog shows, trade shows and dances. It has been one of the main venues for the Threshers reunion from that organization’s early years.
By 2002 the community felt it was time to take the arena into the new millennium and the Heart and Soul Campaign planned a $2.5 million expansion. The impetus for the expansion once again came from interested citizens. Early discussions led to a co-ordinating committee composed of Todd MacDonald, Fran Cook and Steven Sparling, though literally hundreds of volunteers would be involved during the process. Pledges of financial support were received from North Huron (of which Blyth was a part since municipal amalgamation) Central Huron (including the former Hullett Township) and Morris-Turnberry as well as provincial and federal governments.
The ice surface area was increased to 80 feet by 190 feet. A 29-foot extension on the south wall provided a space for referee’s room, skate room, refrigeration plant and four new dressing rooms.
Two new seating areas provide a raised and heated area for wheelchairs in the north-west corner of the arena and a “Dog pound” in the north-east corner.
Community volunteers came together in late March to demolish as much of the old building as possible. By late September there was an open house and fundraising auction in the new building.