By Lloyd Dolha
Southern Saskatchewan First Nations suffered a devastating loss on March 31st, when the Ochapowace First Nation’s community ice rink was completely consumed by fire. At 10:32 am, the Broadview RCMP detachment received a call from the Ochapowace First Nation that a fire had broken out on the north wall of the skating rink, known as the Fred Bear Communiplex. Fire departments from Whitewood, Broadview, and the Kahkewistahaw First Nation responded to fight the blaze. Witnesses at the scene said a gas line had been hit by a band employee operating a backhoe.
Built in 1985, the Fred Bear Communiplex was a fully functional ice rink with an artificial ice plant and an attached band hall. The communiplex was used as a community centre where members gathered for events including feasts, family functions, funerals, and bingos. “The Fred Bear Communiplex served as a focal point for not only for the citizens of the Ochapowace First Nation but the surrounding First Nations as well,” said Federation of Saskatchewan Indian First Nations (FSIN) Chief Guy Lonechild. “It’s a devastating loss for all these communities, especially for their talented, aspiring young hockey players who will no longer have ready access to a major sporting facility close to home.”
The Ochapowace First Nation developed a minor league hockey program for local youth, which also attracted youth from the surrounding First Nations of Kahkewistashaw, Cowessess, Sakimay, and White Bear. The communiplex was also the host rink for the Ochapowace senior hockey team, the Ochapowace Thunder, which participates in the Triangle Hockey League of southern Saskatchewan. “We have players from the four First Nations, and we won’t have a place to play,” said Ochapowace Thunder coach Stan Bobb. Bobb said the senior league team recently developed a Junior B team for 18-year-old players of the area. “It certainly will have an impact on our programs,” said the coach.
Acting Chief Ross Allery said it will probably cost about $5 million dollars to replace the facility, and the insurance only covered about one-third of that cost. “We’re getting fundraising committees together to come up with some ideas to cover the difference,” said Chief Allery. The facility was also used for hockey tournaments and hockey training schools for youth, as well as referee and coach clinics. “Our hearts go out to the people of Ochapowace,” said FSIN vice chief Morely Watson. “Hockey is quite popular in the community and surrounding areas. The loss of the rink will be felt by all.”