The push to add another ice rink in Greater Victoria has been renewed and the two likeliest options are being pursued in Saanich.
The first is a group of stakeholders who are banding together this month to form a committee with a goal to build an ice pad, athletic facility and artificial soccer turf at Spectrum Community School.
The other option is to consider adding a third ice pad to George Pearkes Recreation Centre.
Spectrum’s hockey academy is one of the many user groups with regular ice time at Pearkes and would stand to benefit from both options (the school also took over the South Island Royals major midget team, overseeing the team’s academic schedule and ice times at Pearkes). This is just the beginning, said Darren Smith, Spectrum hockey academy program head, as the new group will create a legitimate committee to set about fundraising and navigating the process of zoning and other logistics.
“Spectrum would love to add a training facility with [artificial soccer] turf,” Smith said. “It’s been a wonderful dream for years.”
The turf would accommodate community soccer as well as Spectrum’s soccer and football teams. The committee will likely include representatives from the Lower Island Soccer Association, Saanich Minor Hockey Association and hopefully two more soccer associations as users.
Adding a rink in Greater Victoria is an ongoing discussion that goes back to the opening of the arena at George Pearkes in 1968. Saanich later added the second rink to Pearkes but most interestingly, there were plans for a third ice pad that’s never happened, noted new Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes.
Pearkes’ original Gold rink is actually 10 years beyond its estimated life of 40 years and is pegged for a $2- to $4-million rebuild within five years. Pearkes is also being studied in Saanich’s current market analysis of its recreation centres and if needed, Haynes said he will support the addition of a third ice rink, which was in the original plans.
“We’re hearing from groups that they can’t get the ice times, getting up at 4 a.m., surely we need to rethink what we’re doing,” Haynes said. “If the business plan numbers lead us to a new ice rink, let’s go and get one.”
Saanich reported Pearkes’ annual building maintenance as $1,415,800 for 2016. Programming revenues were at $977,200, which is $95,500 less than its programming expenditures of $1,072,700. Keep in mind that all rec centres run an annual deficit, Haynes said, and Pearkes is no different.
The biggest demand for ice at Pearkes is in the afternoons and evening, between 4 and 9 p.m. Saanich Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) is a main user for both the Pearkes ice pads, booking most of the before-school and after-school ice times during the week and then throughout the days on the weekend.
On a given Tuesday or Wednesday morning at 5:30 a.m. there are SMHA teams practising on four different ice pads in town, two at Pearkes, as well as Archie Browning in Esquimalt, Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre or Oak Bay. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as SMHA president David Horricks shared a statistic that the combined populations of Victoria (85,000) and Saanich (114,000) rely on four ice pads.
It feeds the Canadian stereotype of sleepy-eyed parents sipping double-doubles while wrapped in a blanket at 5:30 a.m.
“We need more ice times at peak times right now,” said David Horricks, president of SMHA. “We are actually in competition with Saanich programming for things like power skating. Current allocation for this program are as much as all other municipalities combined.”
Horricks and the SMHA executive believe there is justification for up to three more rinks given the age of the Gold rink and the fact that the ice at UVic’s Ian Stewart Complex is functionally not available and is also booked.
It’s also believed there is a latent demand from users who are otherwise quiet.
One of those is the 76-team Hockey 101 adult rec league. Almost every night you can find a Hockey 101 game on either ice pad at Pearkes. The league buys up the later ice times around Greater Victoria based on availability and also to take advantage of the discount that rinks offer after 9 p.m. (approximately). However, league commissioner and co-founder Eric Yue said that there is a big demand among Hockey 101 teams to play earlier as many games start at 10:30 and 10:45 p.m., the latest ice slots in town.
“There’s always a demand for ice time but ‘demand’ needs to be defined as ‘prime time’ ice, which varies from arena to arena,” Yue said. “If we are talking prime time ice, then absolutely, there is a huge demand. People in Victoria just aren’t prepared to start playing later than 11 p.m. [like they do in Vancouver] and minor hockey occupies every slot before 10 p.m. every weeknight at almost every single arena.”
The 2011 opening of Westhills Arena – the last ice rink added to Greater Victoria – benefited Hockey 101 by offering 9 p.m. slots that other arenas simply don’t have available, Yue said. However, while Westhills benefited West Shore users it did little to relieve pressure for the rest of Saanich and Victoria.
The same thing happened in 1999 when Pearkes added the Green rink. It was immediately booked, Horricks said.
Realistically, a Pearkes addition is likelier to happen, and sooner, than a Spectrum rink. However, the Spectrum group will push on, Smith said.
“If you’re a user and you haven’t reached out to Saanich about the market analysis, please do so now,” Haynes said.