It might be hard for some in Terrace to remember a time when there was only one sheet of ice here, not two. But imagine growing up with no indoor arena at all. That was the case for years here in Terrace, even as other, smaller northwest towns built rinks and grew their minor hockey leagues. But by the end of the 1960s, the community was committed to working together to fund and build the Terrace Arena, and from there the seeds of the Terrace Minor Hockey Association (still going strong today) were planted, with both acts serving as a symbol of unity and co-operation in the town.
It was 1972 when the Terrace Arena was completed and the Terrace Minor Hockey Association first registered players. Organizers weren’t sure what to expect that first season, but on the first day of registration, nearly 750 boys lined up outside of the new arena, snaking the block. They were eager to finally skate—and spectate—inside. It was the first indoor ice rink for the town of 10,000, and that first season almost 900 new hockey players were registered.
“In the first year, I’d say that 90 per cent of the kids couldn’t skate,” says Jim Macintosh, TMHA’s first vice president, noting that many of the kids signed up for figure skating and power skate and that coaches often spent hours giving one-on-one instruction to shy recruits. “It wasn’t until January that we even allowed them to interplay. It actually worked out well. It gave would-be coaches the chance to get their feet on the ground.”
Because that first year, hockey organizers and parents in Terrace flew by the seat of their hockey pants, taking on roles new to many of them.
Jim MacDougall, who was also part of the first core group of 14 volunteer directors — with Richard Olsen as president, and Les Smith, Donna Donald and Fred Nicholson rounding out the executive — remembers being told he was going to be the bantam manager.
“‘Well, how do you be a bantam manager?’ And they said, ‘Oh, you’ll find out,’” he says.
But the feeling that they were all figuring it out together as they went along was part of the fun, both men concede.
“It was quite the exciting time, enthusiastic energy,” says MacDougall. “The enthusiasm was just unreal.”
Part of the enthusiasm came from the fact that the arena and the hockey league had been coveted by the community for so long.
For years neighbouring communities were building indoor arenas of their own while the citizens of Terrace skated on backyard rinks.
A 1967 editorial in the Terrace Omineca Herald, the newspaper at the time, compared Quesnel, which had a rink, to Terrace, and called on Terrace’s then-MLA Dudley G. Little to pressure the provincial government to put more money into parks and recreation. It also warned the taxpayers there would be a cost.
“Make no mistake, it’s going to cost you money,” the paper said. “But it’s well worth the expenditure. All one needs for proof is a recent copy of the Quesnel Cariboo Observer in which three full pages of pictures appear. They are pictures of young, healthy, happy faces sticking out above bulky hockey sweaters.”
And Macintosh remembers moving here with his family in the mid-60s from Prince George and being worried about how his children (who were used to playing hockey and figure skating) were going to skate.
But outdoor rinks popped up everywhere—there was even a group of boys from Uplands who called themselves the UHL and would organize games—eventually leading to a larger outdoor rink behind Skeena school, that Macintosh, Bill Watson and Twin River Electric outfitted with outdoor flood lights.
“That really brought people into it, all of the sudden they could watch local hockey on an outdoor rink, floodlit, at night,” he said. “So we did that for maybe two years before we got started on the arena.”
And the arena was an all-hands-on-deck effort, with community members of all stripes and capabilities pitching in to help wherever they could. Bake sales and dances were held, and there was a big thermometer erected outside the Terrace library so people could see the donations for the arena come in.
“The arena was all volunteer, too, there were guys that put in hours and hours and hours,” said Macintosh. “Everybody got behind it, it was unbelievable. The whole town just jumped right in there and away it went.”
And once the rink was ready, it wasn’t hard to find volunteers to help with the hockey league.
One of the early organizers, John Donald, went door to door during the summer of 1972 shoring up support. The very first TMHA meeting was held at John Custus’ office on Railroad Ave., with a larger meeting taking place shortly thereafter at the Veritas Hall.
“That was the big one,” said MacDougall. “People just came up and spoke in droves.”
They figured out who would do what right there, and Terrace Minor Hockey was on its way.
And finding sponsors for the 43 teams was not a problem, says MacDougall.
“We had sponsors for every team,” he says.
The rink was hopping busy from day one, with some of the older leagues taking to the ice after midnight, highlighting a struggle that is still here in Terrace today.
“One of the big problems was allotting ice time,” said MacDougall. “The rink was never shut down except to put water on it.”
And even though they all had full-time jobs, the minor hockey group found themselves at the rink every day, for hockey, figure skating, a meeting, or to help a new player sharpen his skates.
Family members of the executive often found their houses filled with extra hockey equipment, or piles of jerseys to be laundered, and girls from the skating club ran the concession stand. The city took care of the Zamboni. And All Seasons was there to sell equipment—though suitable goalie gear was always hard to come by.
But the first year was “not without its problems” as the group figured out how to run a hockey league, but watching their kids grow up playing hockey, and seeing the town pack the arena to play games made it worthwhile and joined the community together.
The town would even pack the rink to watch the youngest league, the equivalent of today’s Timbits.
“I can always remember those little guys,” says Macintosh. “We had two sets of teams on the ice at one time… They didn’t know which end to skate to. We’d have people come down on the Saturday just to watch them—they had prime time, eh? People just flooded in to watch these little guys try to skate.”