Palaces of Ice

November 2019

Each year at this time our local arenas are abuzz with activity with the sounds of skate blades etching the ice and pucks slapping against the boards. I always have a great feeling whenever I step through the doors of a rink and get that initial blast of cool air upon my face and the smell of popcorn and hot chocolate emanating from the concession stand.

Our history of community rinks and arenas dates back to the late 1800s with open-air rinks located throughout Port Arthur and Fort William. Eventually outdoor rinks would progress to having large canvas sheeting placed over them. Often these roofs would sag under the weight of heavy snow making it difficult to see one end of the ice surface from the other. Some of Port Arthur’s early rinks included the Pavillion Skating Rink on Pearl Street and the Landsdowne Skating Rink on Cumberland and a large rink on Wilson Street between Court and Algoma.
The canvas was soon replaced by wood, with Port Arthur’s first indoor rink known as the Lake City Rink, which was constructed in the early part of the last century on north Cumberland Street near McVicar’s Creek.

In 1923 the Port Arthur Arena Rink was built on South Court Street at a cost of $65,000, financed and operated by a group of local citizens who held shares in the Arena Rink Company. This two storey facility served as the home of our first three Allan Cup championship teams. As was the fate of many wooden arenas at that time, in the spring of 1931 the rink burnt to the ground in a spectacular fire. A newspaper report noted that “the roof and the wall on the Cornwall street side caved in with a crash that sent sparks as far as the corner of John and Algoma Streets… with houses on Machar, Cornwall, Johnston and Bay streets in danger from the heat.”

In 1932, a new 4000 capacity arena was constructed on North Court Street, where Safeway now sits. Originally a natural ice surface, artificial ice was installed in 1939 and hosted the New York Americans fall training camp that same year. This rink remained active until 1959 when it was condemned, and demolished, much to the dismay of the citizens of Port Arthur. It was reported that the unbreakable cables broke in the effort to take down the old beloved shrine. It was not until 1964 that a new arena was built, with the official opening of the current Port Arthur Arena taking place in November of that year.

The 1930s was also a time when skaters in Port Arthur could enjoy a unique experience of skating on a rink made of milk when the Port Arthur Co-Operative Dairy used nearly 500 gallons of skim milk for the final quarter inch coating on the rink located near their facility.

Over on the Fort William side of town it was John McKellar who initiated one of that communities first rinks, with a structure on the Kaminstiquia River. Constructed with paper sides and a board roof, the rink was known as the Princess Rink. In 1905 a local sports group called the Young Men’s Association erected an indoor arena for skating and hockey. Called the Arena Rink it was built adjacent to Arena Park, on Archibald Street and like its Port Arthur counterpart also suffered the fate of fire, burning to the ground seven years later.

In 1919, the Fort William Arena Company completed the construction of the Prince of Wales Arena which was located at the corner of Leith and Archibald Street, adjacent to McKellar Park. Officially opened on January 13, 1920, the arena, which had a 3,000 seat capacity, was a very popular community facility which hosted a number of sporting and entertainment events and remained active until 1942, when it was turned into armories in 1943 and eventually torn down becoming the site of the former Archibald Post Office.

It was not until 1947 that plans began for the construction of a new arena for Fort William. On March 6th, 1951 the Fort William Gardens officially opened and it has served as the site of local, national and international sporting competitions and many cultural events for close to 70 years. Although nostalgically considered one of the great ‘old barns’ of sport, one can only hope that one day, in the not too distant future, it can be replaced by a newer model.

Since the amalgamation of Port Arthur and Fort William into Thunder Bay other indoor rinks have been constructed including the Thunder Bay Tournament Centre, Fort William First Nations Arena and Current River Rink, which along with such satellite rinks as Grandview, Delaney and Neebing all continue to provide great recreational opportunities for people of all ages.

Diane Imrie is the Executive Director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. She can be reached at

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