More than 100 hockey parents, players and community members arrived at the Cloverdale Arena Monday night (Dec. 10) to protest the proposed “postponement” of a new ice rink in the community.
“We’re not able to grow the game, and we really do desire to grow the game,” Marty Jones, president of the Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association, said to the crowd during the rally. “My son Josh and I are up at 4:45 to drive to practice. And then he comes home and has to go to school, and that’s difficult. He’s falling asleep during the day.
“I know people say we make the choice to play hockey, but we love the game. Do you guys love the game?”
The crowd cheered, and handmade signs were waved in the air. Jones said he had been hoping to get maybe 20 or 30 kids to the rally — instead, legions of hockey-minded people were rallying in front of the Cloverdale Arena on 176 Street. Chants of “save our rink” had risen from parents and young players throughout the 30-minute rally, some of whom were carrying signs of protest.
“Give our youth a safe place to be,” read one. “Invest in our youth,” read another.
One echoed the political frustration of many at the rally: “Doug McCallum’s plans stink like a bantam locker room.”
The City of Surrey’s draft budget, released a week before the rally, saw the new Cloverdale ice complex as one of several civic projects being put on the back burner in an effort to reduce the city’s accrual of debt.
Two new ice sheets were planned for a property on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds just south of 64th Avenue and east of 177B Street. Work had begun preparing the site after approval from the previous council, and it was expected to be complete in the summer of 2020.
The city had already spent just over $2.9-million on site preparation for new Cloverdale facility. According to communications manager Oliver Lum, this amount included site preparation for the road that was intended to go next to the arena. Mayor Doug McCallum had vowed to stop the construction of that road shortly after he was elected.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 4, McCallum had spoken in favour of the draft budget and defended putting the Cloverdale facility on hold, saying that enrolment was dropping in minor hockey, and the creation of a new ice arena in Bridgeview would alleviate the strain on other Surrey rinks.
But many people at the rally didn’t seem to agree with McCallum’s reasons for postponing the Cloverdale facility.
About 900 kids are enrolled in the Cloverdale hockey association, Jones said, and he had noticed that enrolment had been dropping in recent years. But dropping enrolment meant Cloverdale needed new ice sheets even more, he argued.
Jones said that the association only has about half the amount of ice it needs in Surrey, and has been spent upwards of $2-million in ice fees outside of Surrey.
“If we don’t get this ice, our membership will suffer because the cost will have to be skyrocketing,” Jones said.
Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Marvin Hunt also came out in support of the rally Monday night. Although he agreed with McCallum that unstable soil on the project site made the arena more expensive and difficult, he didn’t feel that was a good enough reason to let it fall behind.
“It’s Cloverdale’s time,” Hunt said, prompting a cheer from the crowd. “Cloverdale needs this.”
Other community members had other reasons for attending the rally and opposing the draft budget. Hockey dad and Cloverdale Community Association president Mike Bola said that a new rink was needed so kids and parents wouldn’t have to practice at unearthly hours of the morning and night.
“Parents just don’t want to have to get up at four in the morning to go to practices,” Bola said. “I had that problem last year, and I’m glad I was away from it, but now I have midnight practices for my oldest son.
“It’s not fun. It takes a toll,” he continued. “Sleep is important too.”
Erica Nerling has two boys who play with the Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association. Connor, 9, practices in Cloverdale but plays in Fleetwood. Austin, 5, both practices and plays in Langley.
| Protesters at the Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association rally Monday (Dec. 10).
Grace Kennedy photo
“I’m worried that if the rinks aren’t built, that there won’t be enough time or places for kids his age to even start hockey,” she said about her youngest son Austin. “I feel like for future generations, they got to get something going so the little ones have a chance to start.”
Lone Surrey First council member Linda Annis also came out the rally Monday. She said that she would vote in support of the Cloverdale ice complex when the draft budget came back to council.
But for some who came out in their Cloverdale Colts jerseys and chanted “save our rinks” under the flickering light of the aging Cloverdale Arena sign, it wasn’t all about the money.
“This city of Cloverdale and the area we’re in has been impacted on a negative level by things that are not within our control,” Paul Kovach, hockey parent and coach, said. “Harm to families, things that have been detrimental to families. And those families were part of the hockey community.”
Kovach was referring to the recent death of Paul Bennett, a Cloverdale hockey coach who was shot in a case of mistaken identity, and the 2015 death of Colin Hill, who was shot during a home invasion. Hill’s daughter had been involved in the Cloverdale hockey association, Kovach said.
“We played against her and on teams with her,” Kovach said, “and Paul Bennett was another coach as well.”
“I think it would be of great value for the mayor do to something on a positive level, to inject something positive into the hockey community,” he said. “It’s not going to make things absolutely better, but it will be beneficial.”
-with files from Amy Reid