In 2017, Canada celebrated its sesquicentennial. And although the name was a hard one to pronounce, Canadians across the country found it easy to embrace Canada 150.
For its part, Canada’s capital held a number of momentous events throughout the year, including most notably the one of Canada's 150 Skating Rink on to wind down celebration of Canada’s 150-year anniversary.
Built by Canadian Heritage, in partnership with the Ottawa Senators and the Ottawa International Hockey Festival (OIHF), the ice surface was expected to be home to a variety of winter, cultural and sports activities throughout December 2017. In the end, the rink stayed open to include Ottawa’s Winterlude.
Eventually, this Canada 150 NHL-sized outdoor rink needed a permanent home since its location on Parliament Hill was always considered temporary. According to Canadian Heritage, “An important legacy element of the Canada 150 skating rink was that it be donated to a nearby community after it closed. The [OIHF] managed the selection process, and in November 2018 Gananoque, ON was chosen as the recipient.”
On November 21, 2018, three trucks moved the dismantled rink and accessories to the public works yards in Gananoque for storage. One source noted that approximately 10 small communities had written submissions on why they should receive the rink.
When announced that the OIHF would be looking for a community to receive the rink, Gord Brown, MP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes and a devoted hockey fan and player, had already begun fundraising for an outdoor rink for his home town.
When he died suddenly at age 57, after playing hockey, in May of that year, he had been part of a committee trying to bring the Canada 150 rink to Gananoque. Committee plans quickly changed after his death to focus on bringing the rink to Gananoque as a wonderful tribute to a highly respected and well-loved MP.
"Gord didn't think we'd get it." said his brother, Jeff Brown, but they did.
Once operational, the rink was to be named the Gord Brown Memorial Canada 150 Outdoor Rink.
“The outdoor rink would provide much needed recreation opportunities to residents and visitors alike,” said Canadian Heritage, about Gananoque winning the rink. Canadian Heritage would cover expenditures up to $150,000 for site preparation, installation and construction while “Gananoque and its local community partners were responsible for construction, operation and programming of the rink in its community.”
The word ‘phenomenal’ doesn’t even begin to describe the support for the rink by local community partners due to the well-earned respect of their late local MP. In the face of losing such an amazing supporter, Gord Brown’s community rallied to raise over $1.5 million to ensure not only the project completion in his name but years of enjoyment for surrounding area.
The overwhelming amount of money raised in such a short time and from a relatively small community was a clear demonstration of the appreciation felt for Mr. Brown and his work on its behalf over the years.
To put this amount into perspective, $1.5 million was raised by community partners in a town of only 5,500. This would be the per capita equivalent of raising more than $2 billion in the Greater Toronto Area.
“A community had lost one of its own,” noted Tom Russell, Executive Director of 1000 Islands Community Development Corporation, “and that was the best way to say, thank you.” Their contribution of $100,027 was used to kick-start the fundraising campaign. Why the $27 along with the larger amount? It was the number MP Brown always wore when he donned his hockey sweater.
The Thousand Islands Accommodation Partners comprises 11 businesses both accommodation and culture related. Their pledge was for $100,000 and as their Executive Director, Kathrine Christiensen, said of the rink, “It will be a centrepiece of the recreation offerings of Gananoque.” A Gord Brown Memorial Hockey Game Night on November 28, 2018, raised about $120,000 split between the United Way and the new rink. Former NHL players and politicians of all levels took to the ice to pay tribute to him. The first golf tournament in Gord Brown's name at the Smuggler’s Cove Golf Course in 2019 had 244 spots sold out in one week, with a portion of funds raised going to the rink. In 2022, a second golf tournament in his name raised thousands of dollars for good causes, including the United Way.
Hundreds of individuals committed their support in an amazingly short time and a GoFundMe campaign raised close to $50,000.
In March 2022, the Ontario government provided $250,000, in part to prepare the rink for continued public use such as ice skating and warmer weather activities, with the capital funding to be administered through the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
Members of both the Gord Brown Memorial Rink Committee and others have spoken about Jeff Brown’s tireless commitment to creating this rink as a tribute to his brother, Gord. Amy Kirkland, a Gord Brown Memorial Rink Committee member, summed up the experience, “It takes a community to build a community, and the rink is going to be the greatest asset in the region for many years. It was the most honourable time to [sit] on the Committee and most memorable moment in my life.
This rink brought passion to the community and I’m so proud to have been part of it, and to have stood by Gord’s closest companions Tom Russell, Jeff Brown and Chance Brown, who have been inspirational to our community.”
For his part, Jeff Brown has said, “It was [my brother's vision] to have an outdoor rink. It took a lot of people to bring this vision to reality and it is to be hoped that for generations to come it will be a great facility.”
By Carole Moult
Carole Moult is the Editor & Advertising Manager of the Riverview Park Review, published in Ottawa, ON. The popular community paper is printed five times a year, and distributed in the AltaVista, Riverview Park communities. It is also available online. Carole maintains her family home in Gananoque and often commutes to join in community activities.
This article was published in Ottawa's Riverview Park Review, an independent community newspaper, February-March 2023. To see the complete issue see www.riverviewparkreview.ca.
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