Beachburg – When Archie Vereyken heard the Beachburg Arena was set to be closed by the municipality, it broke his heart and he decided to do something about it.
“I came here in 1971 and when I came here I was a real hockey nut,” the retired dairy farmer said. “We had no rink here last year and we need that for the kids.”
The Beachburg Arena was a big part of his life and he was active running things and helping with the Zamboni for many years.
“We used to run our own things here,” he said.
The arena was run by the community for the community and it worked very well for a long time, he said. Then the municipality took over and when the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down for three years, it did not bode well for the arena. At a recent Whitewater Region council meeting, council agreed to open only one of the three arenas this year and Beachburg did not make the cut. Instead, Cobden will open and if there is a need for a second rink, as would be determined by ice time requests, then the Westmeath Arena would open. The Beachburg Arena is not up for consideration to open and for Mr. Vereyken, this is a tragedy, so he decided to do something about it.
At first it was getting people to sign a petition and people from across the community were willing to sign, as well as people visiting the community, because most people feel rinks are important. Then it moved to a community meeting, which was held on Sunday at the arena. With summer holidays and a beautiful day outside, he did not know what to expect but the community responded.
“We had a really good meeting with about 75 to 80 people,” he said.
Not only were they there but people then signed up to volunteer to help run the facility.
“Now we have to go to the township,” he said. “We want to look after it.”
Mr. Vereyken knows all about running the arena. Now 85, he was one of the volunteers who built and then ran the arena for many years.
“I would milk the cows and then flood the rink,” he recalled. “I made the ice before we had artificial ice.”
When the arena was in full swing, there was a lot of community support.
“We operated it and we ran our own cafeteria,” he said. “We had a week each.”
Volunteers would run the canteen, hand over the money jar to the next group and that kept things operating. Having that kind of volunteer base again is what Mr. Vereyken is hoping will happen.
“We have to take it to the township now and see if that will work,” he said. “It will be a big thing.”
An immigrant from Holland, he loves skating and hockey. He also loved knowing the community was enjoying the rink, especially the children.
“Then that three-year sickness killed everything in Canada,” he said, referring to the pandemic.
The rink was shut down and now it seems it won’t be operational again unless volunteers take it on.
“We need volunteer help,” he said.
Although there have been reports the arena needs to have some work done to it to make it fully operational again, Mr. Vereyken said they already have volunteers who are ready to make the necessary repairs.
“It is in good shape,” he said. “The township keeps saying ‘this is wrong and that is wrong’.”
There are repairs needed where the new building was put up to house the artificial ice plant and a new wall needs to be put in there, but people are committed to do the work, he said.
When he was a volunteer running the facility, it went smoothly, but he believes when the township took it over and it was all done with paid staff the costs went up and the rink is now slated for closure.
The volunteer committee will go to township council soon with a proposal to save the Beachburg Arena and run it like it used to be run.
“We have advertising signs there and what was made collects $30,000 to $40,000 a year,” he said. “I think we can pull it off.”
Mr. Vereyken is hoping there will be a place for children to skate and learn to play hockey again. He said in the last three years there was nowhere for them to participate in the sport.
“They were not supposed to go anywhere,” he said.
And there are lots of kids in Beachburg these days. The school is full and the community needs activities for the youth, he said.
“We have a pile of kids here,” he said. “We need something. We hope we can pull this off.”
If council agrees to let the community volunteers have a shot at running the rink, it will be a success, he is confident.
“If we get it, it will work,” he said.
At the same time, he is realistic.
“We need money too. People donating. Bigger companies.”
The Beachburg Arena is one of the three arenas in the township. It is located about 10 kilometres from the Astrolabe Arena in Cobden and the same distance from Westmeath.
“People don’t want to see it close,” Mr. Vereyken said.
Although the meeting was open to the public, Councillor Joey Trimm of Whitewater Region was the only member of council present.
Meeting with Township
Leo Regier has been a long-time volunteer and member of the local recreation department for the last 40 years. He was asked to facilitate the meeting on Sunday and said while it is all very early stages, there is a great deal of enthusiasm in the community.
“There are a lot of people who want the arena to stay open,” he said.
He said it has been encouraging to see the amount of support in the community and he has already begun discussions with Mayor Neil Nicholson to see what the next steps are and what would need to be done to open the arena this year.
“Our biggest thing is to find out if the ice plant can be turned back on,” he said.
Next steps will likely include a public meeting and meeting with council, he said.
“There is no use to blame anybody,” he added.
At almost 65, he is also a senior like Mr. Vereyken and has a long-standing relationship with the Beachburg Arena. He noted it is very expensive to run the facility and there was a good relationship with past councils with a lot of support for the facility.
“It was always volunteer run in the past,” he said.
At the same time, it was a challenge to have the necessary funds for the arena and the township did step in to help even when it was run by volunteers. The township would provide loans for larger budget items, for example. Costs increased to the point it was necessary for the municipality to take over the operation.
“We could not even pay the insurance,” Mr. Regier said.
As the discussions begin with WW council, he is very cognizant this is not the only community dealing with the issue of closing the arena. He pointed out there are people in Westmeath also working to ensure the arena there will open.
“I do know to keep three arenas may not be feasible,” he said.
However, he wants to work with the community and council to see what can be done for the Beachburg Arena and to examine the options to open it for the season.
“If it is to open, it has to be safe,” he stressed.