“Wherever this arena hockey heritage centre goes, we want to be involved,” board member Stan Kochanoff told West Hants council April 25.
The new Hockey Heritage Centre has been the centre of attention in recent months as councillors have questioned everything from the proposed location of the facility to its size, layout and governance structure. Some were concerned that the project appeared to focus more on the new arena rather than the heritage component.
“Considering it's going to be called a hockey heritage centre, we certainly want to have input into that design,” said Kochanoff, noting that they have an expert in museum design they'd like to get involved.
Prior to Kochanoff's remarks, what role, if any, the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society would like to play in the development of the facility was up in the air.
Location, location, location
“One thing we wanted to make clear is that we're not taking sides on the current controversy about the location,” said Kochanoff, referring to the two current proposals.
The original proposal was to see the Hockey Heritage Centre built near Long Pond, where the sport is said to have originated. It carries a price tag of more than $12 million. The second proposal, which was introduced into the mix earlier in April, would see the centre built on the Windsor Agricultural Society's exhibition grounds – near where the current rink is located. It would cost about $9 million and be in a more central location, close to amenities and existing services.
Prior to the council meeting, King's-Edgehill School, which had committed $1 million to funding the project and being involved with its development, pulled its support. The headmaster cited the division in the community as one of the main reasons for withdrawing.
Paul Beazley, Windsor's former mayor and the current vice-president of the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society, was not present when Kochanoff spoke. However, in an interview earlier in the evening, he said the public needs to realize that this project is about more than just the physical building.
“When we have the Long Pond Heritage Classics – and we've had them for five years now – and everybody that's participated understands that it's the pond that brings them here. It's the location. It's the story we tell. It's got nothing to do with bricks and mortar and it's got nothing to do with whose project is best. It's got to do with how do you tell the story? How do you tell the heritage?” said Beazley.
“When people come to Windsor as the Birthplace of Hockey, they're going to come for the pond and they're going to want to walk around the pond and they're going to want to know the story and that story includes things such as Haliburton House, King's-Edgehill School and Long Pond.”
Beazley said the Long Pond site makes sense in terms of marketing it to the outside world.
“As far as hockey heritage is concerned, we want to make sure the story is told in the way that it can best be told for all of Nova Scotia and to show the world that this is indeed a destination to come to.”
While many the questions surrounding the project remain, West Hants council committed to moving forward with the project.
They agreed to enter into a municipal agreement to create a corporation – a partnership with the Town of Windsor that will work on furthering the project.
Councillors spent about 30 minutes discussing the governance model, formation of the corporation and their concerns prior to unanimously agreeing to form the corporation.
Coun. David Keith, who represents Brooklyn, said he had been speaking to Kings Hants MP Scott Brison and wanted to share with council that the federal government will not fund the arena project until a feasibility study is completed.
“They want the public involved. They want public meetings, with an 's'. Public meetings. It's their tax dollars. Canadian tax dollars. Provincial tax dollars. And our municipality tax dollars,” said Keith. “They want a first-class museum in this facility.”
Coun. Robbie Zwicker, of Hantsport, said he would prefer to see the federal government's stance in writing. He also wanted to see council move forward on approving the governance model.
“I think the people out there are looking at us and saying 'this is just as bad as the previous council. These guys can't make a decision.' I'm really capable of making a decision tonight,” said Zwicker. “I think this has got to be a go. This is a great thing for the area. It'll work itself out.”
CAO Cathie Osborne advised council that if they didn't approve the corporation, the project would basically come to a halt.
“I think it's important that if you want to know which particular project is more feasible, that you enter into the agreement and let that process work through,” said Osborne.
“If at the end of the day Long Pond is not feasible, well obviously, both councils, federal government, and the province will have decisions to make. But you'll have your information,” she continued. “If you don't enter it, then you will not have your information because we cannot conduct feasibility studies on projects that don't exist.”
Other voices around the table
Coun. Jennifer Daniels said she still wanted the project to move forward – and that they shouldn't exclude the private school from the documents they were about to sign.
“I was very disappointed when I heard that King's-Edgehill pulled. I thought it was disgraceful and I'm embarrassed. That's my personal opinion,” said Daniels, who later clarified with the paper that she was upset with the community division that caused KES to withdraw support.
“I think the wording should remain to include King's-Edgehill. They're an integral part. They're a partnership. This is community collaboration,” she said.
The agreement West Hants eventually signed shows King's-Edgehill School as a voting member of the board. The Windsor Hockey Heritage Society has yet to be added as a member.
Several councillors expressed their concerns with wording in the document, including Debbie Francis and Tanya Leopold. Both asked several questions to make sure amendments can be made if council gives its approval for the corporation. The CAO, and fellow councillors, assured them they could make amendments as long as the Town of Windsor also agreed.
“There's a thousand steps to this project and we're on No. 3 and we can't get past No. 3,” said Coun. Randy Hussey, who encouraged fellow councillors to approve the corporation. “If we don't sign this agreement, the project is dead. If we do sign the agreement, we can change things later. We can make amendments later.”