Sandy Hill Arena on Mann Avenue is on thin ice

Ken’s Bygone Sandy Hill

Ken Clavette


Mel Malette, President of the Sandy Hill Ottawa East Sports Association, demonstrating his continued community engagement and passion for kid’s hockey in another President’s Report, published by IMAGE in 1982. [Click for larger]
The February 1982 edition of IMAGE (vol. 10(2)) marked the 10th year of publication. In that edition there was an extensive article on Mel Malette, the president of the Sandy Hill Ottawa East Sports Association. It was headlined “Our Neighbour.” Mel contributed a regular column to the paper, reporting on the association’s activities and often on his struggles with the bureaucrats at City Hall. The association also organized the kids to deliver IMAGE. In a letter to the editor, George Wilkes, a founder of Action Sandy Hill and pioneer of community organizing, expressed his appreciation for Mel’s work, saying it made Sandy Hill a “place for families.”

Back in the late 1960s, Mel secured a small grant from Saint Joseph’s parish that helped him kick-start the association, which was a grassroots organization that made sure any child that wanted to take part in sports had a chance to do so in our community. The association also ran men’s and women’s fastball, but at the heart of it was kids’ hockey.

The only rinks available for use in those early days were several scattered outdoor ones that the association maintained. Then Mel teamed up with Nancy Smith from Ottawa East, who would go on to become our city councillor (1980-1991). They made it their goal to have an arena built that would serve both Sandy Hill and Ottawa East. In those pre-merger days that created the big City of Ottawa, the two communities were combined into St. George’s Ward. Under Mel and Nancy’s leadership, and with community support, they were able to open the Sandy Hill Arena on Mann Avenue in 1974.

Time has moved on, and if you haven’t heard, the City is now looking at 10 community rinks that may be demolished as a money-saving move; the Sandy Hill arena is on that list. These are all single- surface rinks that are about 50 years old. When I heard this sad news it was Mel and Nancy and all they did to secure the funding for the local arena that came to mind.

There has certainly been a decline in the use of the rinks for hockey, as that sport has become so expensive. Combine the penny pinchers at City Hall with the Recreation Department, which likes larger multi-surface arenas, and our small community rinks could find their days numbered. If the City invests in new facilities, those are not going to be built in the older communities like Sandy Hill. They will be built in the suburbs, and therefore will require time and a car to travel to them. This will deny a great number of families close access to arenas.

While the city is preparing to undertake community consultations, we are emerging from a winter that has shown us that outdoor community rinks may not have much of a future with climate change. The canal didn’t open this year, and local outdoor rinks struggled. Without those rinks, where will local kids skate and play hockey?

Perhaps the answer lies in rinks like the one opened at the Canterbury Recreation Complex in 2017. Attached to the current arena is an outdoor rink with a permanent roof and a refrigerated ice surface that can be maintained by the arena’s Zamboni. This rink allows a long skating season, December to April, weather permitting. The surface is completely covered to ensure usage in most weather conditions. Just imagine: no shovelling of snow before you get to skate! There are real hockey boards, benches, and glass, that provide a fantastic experience for outdoor hockey and public skating.

In the summer, the structure provides a community space. Once the ice surface is completely removed, it creates a space for basketball, with permanent hoops lowered from the roof structure. Ball hockey and community events can take place under the covered roof. No need to worry about rain. If the City were to pursue this type of rink/arena combination, we could double our ice surfaces all while increasing community space. Keeping our community arenas will mean easy access for everyone.

Ottawa’s aging urban indoor hockey rinks are on thin ice.

If the City of Ottawa closes the Sandy Hill Arena, neighbourhood kids will have nowhere else to go. If we lose these, we’re never going to get them back. It’s time to speak up for our community. Just ask yourself what Mel and Nancy would have done, then get to it! If we manage to save our community arena, then maybe we should rename it after Mel Malette, the Sandy Hill community member who helped get it built.

A wall of trophies at the rink preserves some of Sandy Hill’s deep hockey heritage.
Photo F. Adam Sopuck