By Liam Kishinevsky
Please note, the following blog post draws from Murray Kelsey’s extensive 40 page article, “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey” (March-October 2023), a copy of which is at the Archives of Lennox and Addington. Please contact the Archives for more. To read more about the history of hockey in Napanee, please read my previous blog post “A Brief History of Hockey in Napanee,” that also draws from Kelsey’s article. And, finally, to read more about the building of the York Street Arena as reported by the historical local newspapers, see Jim Sova’s blog post, “Napanee Arena, Adding the Colour.“
Building the New Arena
In 1954, a Community Centre Fundraising Campaign was announced with plans to build an artificial ice rink. The goal was to raise $131,500, with local businesses and citizens firmly behind the venture (and the Campaign asking citizens for $0.10 a week). The project began after $105,000 was raised, with local figures like Bruce McPherson Sr. of Gibbard frame being instrumental in raising the money needed to build the structure (while also acting as chairman of the fundraising drive). The Rotary Club also supported the venture, spotting an initial $5000 for the project. All funds were raised without debts or tax-money, and the building was open for the 1955-56 hockey season. The Comets would begin to play here, and there are references in the Napanee Beaver to kids’ hockey teams playing here as well. In 1956, the Napanee Beaver reported that the Lions Club Hockey League had six under-18 teams, as well as a bevy of under-20 and under-23 teams as well. It cost $50 per game to rent the ice, with the ‘Industrial League’ paying only $25 per game.
The Origin of Hockey in Napanee
A view of the York Street Arena in 1973 shows its intense usage and importance to the community of Napanee. Improvements were made, and the roof was now lined with banners thanks to the success of minor hockey teams, as well as the Comets. Hockey players from the community were able to meet here and facilitate the skills needed to then travel, develop their teamwork capabilities, and meet others from varying walks of life, an opportunity not always afforded to those of this time. For example, in 1974, a Minor Hockey team from Napanee was able to visit and play in Sweden.
Dave Fox managed the York Street Arena in 1974 and suggested the construction of a second ice rink in the municipality of Napanee. The teams relied heavily on volunteer and community support, as there was a need for people to organize sporting schedules, prepare uniforms, fill coaching positions, deal with complaints, balance budgets, set fees, and time-keep. Also, lots of energy went into fundraising by volunteers, often taking the form of bake sales, skate-a-thons, raffles, bottle drives, 50-50 tickets, phone book deliveries, contests to win vehicles, as well as sponsor donation. Managing these “rep” and “house” leagues required the efforts of Executive members of the Napanee Minor Hockey Association, as well as organizations like the Mother’s Auxiliary. Logos changed and provided people on the road with a sense of local affiliation as well. Starting with a simpler black and white logo in the 1980s, the letter “N” would start to become synonymous with hockey in Napanee through to the 2010’s.
The Strathcona Centre
In the 2000s, a large change came in the form of local leagues. During the early days,
there would be maybe four peewee teams in the house league. They did not travel and would play on York Street every week. But, these teams started playing each other while travelling out-of-town to play ‘house league’ games in areas such as Frontenac, Gananoque, Tamworth, Stirling, Picton, Wellington, Amherstview, and Desoronto. These changes became part of the impetus for a new place of play. On September 4th, 2004, the Strathcona Paper Centre arena was opened near Highway
401 to replace the York Street Arena, with a large financial backing from sponsors and citizens. It housed two ice-rinks (200 feet by 85 feet) in a 93,350 square foot multi-purpose
complex. The arena can seat 1000 spectators on the Goodyear pad and has 200 bench seats in the Home Hardware section. The center also houses a banquet hall, capable of hosting meetings, presentations, vendor sales, and wedding receptions.
The Arena on Fire
Tragically, the York Street Arena, which had served the community from 1955-2014, came to an untimely end. A fire and explosion on October 23rd, 2023 burned the structure completely, with firefighters from Napanee, Loyalist County, and Kingston fighting to save the nearby Curling Club and residential buildings. The arena was beyond repair, with residents even finding roof fragments on Simcoe Street (over a block away from the blast). The event was declared an arson attack, with a fire at about the same time destroying a garage and vehicle in Yarker, at the home of a Fair Board Executive.
However, Napanee is a resilient community, capable of weathering this hardship and thriving in its midst, a sentiment verified through Murray Kelsey’s statements on hockey in Napanee, as he says that “change is constant… the Executive always needs volunteers, tries to keep costs down, and struggles to please everyone. The OMHA, which makes rules, sometimes conflicts with parent expectations. Player safety, league composition, changing playoff formats, and at what age should players play ‘real games’ are a few of the present issues… [but] certainly, Napanee District Minor Hockey has been a driving force in the area… I am sure when you read this, minor hockey in Napanee will still be thriving.”
Source: Kelsey, Murray. “Hockey in Napanee, and Napanee District Minor Hockey.” The Archives of Lennox and Addington (March-October 2023): Pp. 1-40.