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Monday, March 20, 2023

Carmacks, Yukon, celebrates grand opening of long-awaited arena

For George Skookum, it’s all about the “love of the game of hockey.”

Skookum waited a long time for this weekend, and the grand opening of something new in his town of Carmacks, Yukon — an arena. It’s something he helped push for over the years. 

“It’s a dream that’s come true,” Skookum told CBC News. “Not only for me, but for the older generation before me. I’m getting emotional … hockey was my life. I only wished that people enjoyed the sport with me. And, you know, having the arena is definitely a huge undertaking that we can enjoy now.”

Hundreds of Carmacks residents sat in the new arena stadium on Saturday as they watched Skookum proudly stand on the ice along with politicians and friends as they participated in a ceremonial puck drop for the recreation centre grand opening. 

The new Carmacks recreation centre is seen here with some cars parked on Saturday. Ottawa and the Yukon Government both contributed financially to the new 2,500-square-metre facility. (Maria Tobin / CBC News)

The new centre has been a long time coming. It was originally announced in 2018 and was expected to be done in 2020, before it became mired in delays. The Yukon government fired the original contractor in 2020 and then re-tendered the project in 2021. 

I won a million bucks when I saw the skating rink. That’s how happy I was.– Sandra Combs, Carmacks resident

The federal government committed $10.5 million for the project, and the Yukon government chipped in an additional $6 million. The building includes a full-size ice rink, a fitness room with cardio and weight training equipment, a gymnasium with a rock climbing wall and other multi-purpose rooms including a commercial kitchen. 

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai celebrated the grand opening on Saturday, saying this goes to show how a community can come together.

“Sports is a vital component to any community,” Pillai told the crowd at the recreation centre. “It creates a place … to develop leadership skills … to build friendships and connection.”

“There has been challenging times in some of our communities. And this is the example of how we ensure that our youth have the right supports, and are going down the right path.”

Keeping the kids out of trouble

Several Carmacks residents told CBC that the village has seen an increase in substance abuse and addiction in recent years — in part because health measures at the peak of the pandemic kept people isolated. 

All spoke of their hope that the recreation centre will offer a space for youth to keep busy.

“It’s going to be really good for the youth … to keep them occupied, away from alcohol and drugs,” Sandra Combs, who lives in Carmacks, said. 

“I do have three grandchildren and I’m going to make sure they get a pair of skates for their birthdays or for Christmas.”

Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation Chief Nicole Tom echoed Combs’ comments in her remarks during the opening ceremony.

Tom said the arena will help the overall health and wellbeing of community members. 

“We have been given a chance to enhance their future … our children and youth who will carry forward our wellness tradition and language and governance,” Tom said. 

Several people are seen standing on the ice of an arena, each of them throwing a hockey puck and smiling.
Dignitaries, including Premier Ranj Pillai and Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation Chief Nicole Tom, participated in a ceremonial puck drop at the recreation centre. (Virginie Ann / CBC News)

For Skookum and many other Carmacks residents, the new arena also means they’ll no longer have to drive two hours to Whitehorse in order to lace up their skates for a hockey game — something Skookum does regularly through the winter. 

He says Carmacks is in a great place to welcome people from all over: it’s right in the middle of the territory, with Whitehorse, Dawson City, Mayo, Faro and Ross River all just a few hours away.

“We are the hub of the Yukon and we want to make sure we include as much people to come and play and have fun with us,” Skookum said, adding he’s looking forward to some events already planned in the upcoming months, including an old-timers tournament. 

Skookum took a deep breath as he was asked what hockey brought to his life. 

“A lot of friends,” he said with tears in his eyes. 

A man looks directly at the camera, with two thumbs up and a smile.
George Skookum proudly wears a t-shirt with his old hockey team logo for the grand opening of the new recreation centre. (Virginie Ann / CBC News)

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