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Community urges Halifax to save historic forum

"It's more than a rink"

by Stephanie Taylor

The Halifax Forum was home to first artificial ice surface east of Montreal, and home ice to Nova Scotia's first professional hockey team. City staff have recommended closing and tearing down the complex, to be replaced by a 4-pad ice arena at Windsor Park.
The Halifax Forum was home to first artificial ice surface east of Montreal, and home ice to Nova Scotia's first professional hockey team. City staff have recommended closing and tearing down the complex, to be replaced by a 4-pad ice arena at Windsor Park.
Sonny Wicks still hears the roar of the crowd every time he enters the Halifax forum.  
 
“As a youngster I always dreamed of fighting at the Halifax forum,’” the 52-year-old retired boxer says.“The crowds here were great. Community was great. It was the place to be if you wanted to be a fighter.” 
 
The former lightweight champion fought twelve matches at the forum in the ‘80s. His memories date back even further to when his father would bring him to watch roller derby and wrestling matches at the arena growing up. 
 
Now, the Dartmouth resident visits to cheer on the Saint Mary’s Huskies and take in junior league hockey—but he can't forget the thrill of the fight. 
 
“I can still picture myself in the ring.” 
 
Wicks was one of nearly 500 people who attended a community meeting to discuss the fate of the 87-year-old building and its adjoined complex Wednesday night.
 
Last month, Halifax Regional Council tabled a recommendation based on a staff report that the Canadian Forces Base Halifax construct a four-pad ice rink in Windsor Park, and the forum— including its civic centre, multi-purpose centre and meeting hall— be closed and torn down. 
 
“They just can’t do that,” Wicks says. “There’s a lot of history in this building.” 
 
The forum, built by Halifax architect Andrew Cobb, first opened its doors in 1927 and remains the oldest arena in Canada. It was home to the first indoor ice surface east of Montreal, and was the place where Montreal Canadiens hero Guy Lafleur scored his first professional goal. 
 
Legendary boxer Mohammed Ali also once fought in the forum. 
 
George Findlay, chairman of the Halifax Forum Community Association, believes the loss of the multi-purpose space would be as equally devastating to the community as would be the loss of heritage. 
 
“You’re gonna lose bingo, you’re gonna lose dances. You’re gonna lose everything,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “The four-pad will simply be that. Four pads of ice and four walls.”
 
Besides sports, the forum is home to numerous concerts, trade shows, competitions, and major community events, such as Citadel High School graduation and the annual Christmas at the Forum craft expo. 
 
Many residents at the meeting voiced concerns about the need for more community space that is available to host a variety of activities other than hockey.  
 
“Our biggest issue is practice space. Finding accessible, affordable community space,” Heather Chamberlain member of Anchor City Rollers—the city’s flat-track all female roller derby league, said at the event.
 
With the recent closure of the Bloomfield Centre teams are left scrambling to find practice spaces, and are often stuck paying high prices for gyms that are too small, Chamberlain says. 
 
The city report, presented as a part of Halifax’s Long Term Arena Strategy plan, was selected over another redevelopment plan put forth by the forum’s community association. 
 
The association’s Paul Card said the forum is designed to be more than a rink, and cites the original addition of the multi-purpose centre, meeting hall and civic centre was to make the site accessible to all the needs of the community. 
 
Card said he wants to see the forum continue to be a gathering place in the city for years to come. 
 
He explained the $39 million redevelopment plan involves building a third NHL regulation size ice rink, a new atrium, making renovations to existing facilities and the construction of a new community gymnasium. 
 
“There’s all kind of things that people do that a rink facility won’t accomplish. But a multi-purpose designed facility for the community will,” he told the crowd. 
 
More than half of the forum’s annual revenue is earned by non-sporting events, he said.
 
“The forum is not just an ice rental service,” said Mike Young, president of CUPE Local 108. Besides the loss of 50 full and part time jobs, he is concerned about what the economic impact of the forum’s closure will mean for the neighbourhood. 
 
With close to 15 trade shows a month plus ice rentals, the forum brings thousands of dollars of income to surrounding north end business every year, Young said. 
 
“If it goes, it’s gone for good. We can’t bring it back," he said. 
 
The decision to close the forum will be put to a vote at Halifax Regional Council meeting July 29. 
 
For Wicks, and hundreds of other community members like him, the choice is simple: "Keep the doors open." 

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