The Arena to the Interior

Buchans, Long Island, Windsor, Beachside, Little Bay, NL (Map)

Winter 2013-14


It was time again for that late March trip, which acts as a good annual reprieve from those lingering winter days that plague Corner Brook. With Port-Aux-Basques experiencing one of the worse winters in recent memory - Corner Brook actually sent them snow-clearing equipment to help out - the central part of the island held greater appeal for a weekend getaway. I had something I wanted to do in Buchans as well, so everything was coming together.

Buchans being that mining company town to the interior of Newfoundland that I've covered before, an outlier here amongst all of the fishing, and to a far lesser extent, railroad villages.

It's likely that as long as Buchans never becomes Kraft Hockeyville or commits all of their budget to building a new sparkling arena complex, that they'll continue have an old, interesting barn.

In a province where I've rented ice at a reasonable rate, there's a short list of rinks that I find intriguing enough to also look into winter travel and rental rates. Buchans was at the top of that list.

Buchans started growing from a site into a town in 1925, when the American Smelting and Refining Corp successfully concentrated and extracted their first minerals from the ore bodies nearby. By 1928, full-fledged mining operations had started and the company town was growing.

This growth and the long winters amongst hockey-loving people led to the construction of a hockey rink in 1929. That being said, they didn't construct a hockey rink, as much as they converted an ore storage shed to a hockey rink every winter. Over the next six years, whenever the temperature was cold enough to create and maintain ice, the ore storage shed was converted to its ice hockey configuration, with the normal length of an ice surface, but considerably narrower widths (59 feet wide instead of the typical 85 ft). When spring would finally come, the rink was converted back to an ore storage shed with the removal of the boards and fencing.

1935 would bring a year round arena to Buchans in the converted ore storage shed, with the now permanent boards getting gates, openings and fencing added to the top, in addition to a 2nd dressing room, player benches & extra lighting. Goals were quaintly indicated by someone with a flashlight (instead of the typical red light we have today).

There was no road connection to Buchans until 1956, meaning that incoming provincial hockey teams playing in various leagues and always for the Herder Cup (Newfoundland provincial hockey's top crown), would come by rail over the barren expanse of uninhabited land between Badger & Buchans.

This T.A. Soper Memorial Stadium was constructed in 1961, finally providing the local Buchans Miners with an artificial ice surface and the ability to practice & train when they wanted, instead of waiting on natural ice with the help of the outside air temperature. Prior to the arena's construction, the locals had practiced on a pond outside Rothemere Mine, as it would freeze over before the interior of the ore storage shed.

In the above picture you might noticed the string of Herder Cup banners from 1949-50 to 1953-54. This run was the direct result of the local mine manager growing tired of losing to St. Bonaventure's (St. John's), as teams were typically evenly matched with local talent, but St. Bon's still managed to have Buchans' number almost always. The mine manager decided to call up their sister mine in Kirkland Lake Ontario and have some miners transferred over to Buchans, ones who possessed hockey skills far greater than many of the locals.

So with these ringers flying into Newfoundland, then taking the train to Buchans, the Miners started to beat teams like Corner Brook by scores of 27-3 and 28-3, while disposing of St. Bon's with scores like 9-3 and 8-2. The Miners would win 4 of the next 5 Herder Cups; until Grand Falls took a page out of their book and started using imported players as well (winning the next 5 straight Herder Cups).

The Miners would win the Herder again in 1963, but after a few more visits to the finals in the mid-to-late 1960s, the mining company withdrew their financial support and the Miners could no longer play in the provincial league. There was an attempt to play on their own in 1976, but they would only last for one year.

As for the rink itself and the money spent to play here, I couldn't have been more happy. Where a lot of Newfoundland arenas are cookie-cut with the same outer shell put atop an old outdoor rink, Buchans was a lot like that time in La Scie, where the arena was unique & seemingly hadn't changed in decades.

The analog period clock and linear scoreboard of lights indicate that maybe some of the old electronics even made it over from the ore storage shed. I forgot to ask the friendly rink manager if they still worked or were used.

There was also a small section of chain link fence over where a gate was installed, allowing me to check off the desire to fire pucks at the mesh and watch them come back in wildly varying bounces.

I've always wanted to shoot pucks (and more so body check) into fence cage for forever now, after seeing it in my beloved Youngblood and in all of those great old time pictures with fence cage instead of glass around the rink.

The ice at Buchans was also a bit rough, which I feel awkward in criticizing since I loved visiting so much, but the building and zamboni must have limitations even as the manager does the best he can. As someone who grew up unable to understand what people were talking about with the bad ice at Riverside Arena, it was interesting to finally feel ice rough and choppy enough to notice with my mediocre skating skills.

If Buchans was closer, I'd still play here a 100 times before playing at the modern Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook.

Not only was the rink a beautiful relic of another time, but the grandstands and the entrance hallway (above) were also classic. I was glad that the rink manager left us to do our own thing, as I set up my tripod and took pictures of these areas for far too long.

Speaking of that rink manager, I have to send out a thanks. I love that one can rent out old barns like this to themselves for a reasonable sum, something that he happily did without a myriad of skeptical questions. It was great.

The weekend didn't start out in Buchans, but since that was the most memorable and noteworthy stop of the 2 days, I presented it first.

Leaving Corner Brook during the early hours of Saturday morning, we made it to Pilleys Island and the ferry turnoff in time to catch the 10 o'clock across the narrow channel to Long Island. As we waited for the boat to come back from Long Island upon arriving, I craned my neck to better hear the sound being presented, which as the ferry ramp came down from the boat, revealed the snowmobile that I was hearing.

Brap, brap! Off of Long Island, onto the government run ferry, off towards Pilleys Island. I kicked myself for not having my camera ready. Brap, brap! He sped by the car and forward to whatever trails there are on Pilleys Island.

Where I was a bit concerned with whether the ferry would even go in this ice, it moved forward with no problem, showcasing why you rarely read stories about this ferry getting stuck (as you often do for Fogo Island or the Straits).

Where I've made some of these Newfoundland ferry crossings with a bit of ice along the route, this was much more extreme.

I'd already been to Long Island before, but one thing I was hoping to get was a better picture of this awesome old house in the town of Beaumont.

Of course there was a great depth of snow in the yard I would have to cut through; the yard of people enjoying their Saturday breakfast.

I wasn't about to be the yahoo swimming in waist deep snow while someone comes out and asks what I'm at. I guess it'll have to wait for the next time I'm on Long Island.

Lushes Bight, Long Island.

Killing time taking pictures here and there, it's easy enough to quickly see the 3 towns of Long Island and make the 5 minute crossing back to the road network of Newfoundland.

Driving up this way towards the Long Island ferry, I also wanted to stop in Roberts Arm to snowshoe their local copper mine trail - but with 3 feet of snow on the ground, I questioned my decision making when I saw the results.

At least I saw a hare...

...and even snowshoed on the frozen Crescent Lake for a bit!

Needing to go to Buchans on Sunday afternoon, the night was spent on the Windsor side of Grand Falls-Windsor at the trusty Trailway Inn.

This allowed me to get up early & go for a walk with great morning light - especially on a day that would turn out to be otherwise overcast - which was great amongst all of the old buildings on this rougher side of Grand Falls-Windsor.

I even happened to take a picture of the Riff's before they would end up moving out in a couple of months.

The city of GFW was going to move some of their offices in here, but apparently there's maintenance issues that would cost too much to fix.

Continuing to walk around, it was a good thing I didn't bring my bike, since it was that time of year where there's some cleared sidewalks and islands, but the salt and dirt corrodes bike parts to a costly extent.

I usually can't help myself in said situations though.



Speaking of snow, after stopping at the aforementioned TA Soper Arena in Buchans, there was one last stop along the NL-392 leading to Beachside. For how much the white devil had left Grand Falls, I couldn't believe the levels up here in Little Bay.

Whereas just one year ago on this same weekend, I had remarked on coming to this area for a snow break (first picture), that thought was now laughable (second picture). Of course the above picture is made more dramatic by the roadside snow bank, but the depth of snow in people's yards was still in the range of 2 to 3 feet.

The weekend would end in Beachside, staring out over their northern cove and the beach down below. My thoughts wandering to stealth camping and warm waters that were eventually supposed to come, eventually.


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1 - Buchans Arena History - NLHHS
2 - Herder Memorial Trophy: A History of Senior Hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador By Bill Abbott

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