First Nation communities are rallying around the Ochapowace First Nation in Saskatchewan after the tribe lost its community center and ice rink, also a hockey hub for the region, to fire.
No deaths were reported in the March 31 blaze.
Built in 1985, the Fred Bear Communiplex was not just a community center that hosted everything from community feasts to funerals, but also contained an ice rink and ice-making plant and was a center for hockey training, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) said in a press release.
“The Fred Bear Communiplex served as a focal point for not only the citizens of the Ochapowace First Nation but surrounding First Nations as well,” said FSIN Chief Guy Lonechild in a statement. “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 First Nation developed the Ochapowace Minor Hockey Program, with players participating from the surrounding First Nations of Kahkewistahaw, Cowessess, Sakimay and White Bear, the FSIN said. The Fred Bear Communiplex was also the host rink for the Ochapowace Senior Hockey Team, which participates in the Triangle Hockey League in southern Saskatchewan, and is home to the Ochapowace Thunder team.
“The rink was also used for hockey development schools for the young people, hockey tournaments as well as referee and coaching clinics for the area First Nations,” FSIN Vice Chief Morley Watson said. “Our hearts go out to the people of the Ochapowace First Nation. Hockey is quite popular in the community and surrounding areas. The loss of the rink will be felt by all.”
The fire started at around 11 a.m. after an employee hit a gas line with a backhoe, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) told the Regina Leader-Post.
The Broadview detachment of the RCMP received a call at 10:52 a.m. from the First Nation that a fire had started along the north wall of the building, the Leader-Post said. Although fire departments from Whitewood, Broadview and the Kahkewistahaw First Nation fought the fire, according to the local news site SaskNewsNow.com, the structure burned to the ground two hours later.
“It was just the gas line,” RCMP Staff Sgt. Dean Bridle told the Leader-Post. “Once it got going, it kept going, and eventually SaskEnergy was able to shut the gas off. Not for a while, though. They weren’t able to get at where the shut-off was. It didn’t take very long for the rink to burn up.”