Let the games begin: AWG arena opens doors

A throng of Iqalungmiut explore and enjoy entertainment.



The 2002 Arctic Winter Games arena has proved it can house a big crowd.

The building’s lobby was crammed full last Friday afternoon, as hundreds of people of all ages streamed in to be part of the recreation centre’s first official event.

Home to a hockey rink, the City of Iqaluit’s recreation department offices and a youth centre, the approximately $4-million construction cost was funded by the private sector and different levels of government.

In partnership with Nuuk, Greenland, Iqaluit will host the 2002 Arctic Winter Games next March and then take over the cost of running the centre when the event is over.

Following the ribbon cutting and entertainment component of the arena’s opening, officials encouraged the public to tour the facility and explore its nooks and crannies.

Holding a coffee and a sandwich from a large white kitchen area on the left side of the lobby, longtime Iqaluit resident Gordon Rennie tried to avoid collisions with people moving in and out of the regulation-sized hockey rink.

“I think this is just tremendous, it’s going to be a real benefit (to the community),” he said.

Rennie compared the event to the opening of the hall in Apex in the late 1950s.

“I think it’s going to be a place for the young people to go and I think that’s going to be very important,” Rennie continued. “At one time we did have a drop-in centre right about where the Snack is now and it was a good place for the young people to go, but for the last few years they really haven’t had a place. I think if they’re able to come here and devote their energies to a place like this, it’ll be a big benefit to the community.”

On the other side of the lobby, a corridor runs down the side of the building beside the rink. Past a series of changing rooms, a door opens into a 3000-sqaure-foot youth centre. A group of teenagers hang out near the door playing video games on the centre’s computers.

The room has stairs leading to a mezzanine overlooking the ice, where much of the action is. Able to hold 840 people, there’s lots of spare room in the bleachers as two adult hockey teams put on a show for spectators.

Lizzie Flaherty and her sons Michael, 5, and Matthew, 3, are glued to the glass at ice level watching the hockey players glide up and down the ice.

Every once in a while someone is checked into the boards and the noise reverberates. The boys themselves are almost vibrating with excitement, and Flaherty explains their babysitter’s husband is on the ice and they’re calling out to him.

“They can’t wait to start playing,” she said. “I want to start them as soon as possible. I’ve been a hockey fan for years and years. They already use my Christmas ornaments for hockey pucks.”

She is worried, though, that the glass is too low and doesn’t offer enough protection from pucks, which might fly into the stands.

Aimo Arnaquq, 10, sits nearby in the stands, eyes riveted. He’s a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, he said, and thinks the hockey game and the arena is “cool.”

He said he plans to come to the arena on Saturdays to skate and he’s glad it’s finally open.

Pascal MacLellan, 15, is on the wrestling team at the high school and is working as a security guard at the arena. The facility, he said enthusiastically, is great.

“It’s a place to go and keep us out of trouble,” he said. He’s also a hockey player and will use the rink once practices begin, as well as hang out at the youth centre.

Speed skaters will also be using the ice, and on the first night of the games 970 athletes will march into the arena for the opening ceremonies, which will be broadcast across Canada.

Such a grand event requires a facility of grand stature and the people milling about the arena last week seemed dully impressed.

“I almost got lost here,” Noolee Iou said, laughing. “I thought I was in the Molson Centre.”

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