SYDNEY, NS — A multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion of the Canada Games Complex on the Cape Breton University campus in Sydney is well underway.
The university held an official ground-breaking event to acknowledge the construction on Tuesday afternoon, which drew an estimated crowd of 200 people in the back parking lot of the facility.
The renovated and expanded Canada Games Complex will include space for new health and counseling services for students through the Nancy Dingwall Health and Counseling Centre, as well as a new fitness facility and walking track for students and the community and the modernization of the complex.
Work will be part of the university’s largest fundraising effort, known as the Forever CBU campaign. The $50 million campaign is part of the $250 million overall investment into the campus. In total, $34 million out of the $50 million goal will go towards the Canada Games Complex.
Sara Burke, vice president of development for the university, said the university will work with corporate partners, foundations, alumni and the Cape Breton Blizzard program when it comes to raising the necessary funds.
“There’s multiple people who look at supporting the university as well as supporting the island, so our group is constantly looking at who wants to connect, especially on the sports side there is interest in supporting,” she said.
“It’s a big project, but it’s an important project for the community members who are here. It leaves a legacy for the next 50 years and is a really important part.”
Fundraising efforts are ongoing.
The Canada Games Complex was first constructed in 1986 for the Jeux Canada Winter Games but has not seen any major renovations since its opening.
Along with sporting events, the facility will also be used for convocation and convention space to host conferences, dinners and concerts.
A true home
Renovations for the arena will include a new ice surface that will see the current international-size surface resized to a regulated NHL-size surface. The modernization of the venue will also include fully accessible dressing rooms and a raised surface to accommodate sledge hockey.
When completed, the venue will become the first arena dedicated to female and para hockey in the country and will be home to the Cape Breton Blizzard Female Hockey Association, Cape Breton Capers women’s hockey team, and the Cape Breton Sledgehammers sledge hockey club.
Christina Lamey, president of the Cape Breton Blizzard Association, said the project has been a long time coming, but is an exciting time for female hockey in the community.
“It’s definitely a big renovation to a space that’s much needed in the community,” she said. “Our program is eager to step into that space and take advantage of all the wonderful things we can have and experience being in the university setting.”
The Cape Breton Blizzard program was formed in 2018 and became an independent Hockey Nova Scotia female association in early 2020. It has doubled in size since then to become one of the largest female programs in Atlantic Canada.
Because of its size, the association has had issues finding ice times in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to meet its demand.
“We’re as big or bigger than most minor hockey associations and we’re always fitting into little holes and spaces where we can find them for ice time,” said Lamey, noting the association had 400 players registered in 2022-23.
“Anybody who has ever run a minor hockey association would know of the benefits of having an arena where you can manage your schedule. If you have to move something, that’s OK and you can move on because it’s within your space – we’ve never experienced that.”
In 2022, CBU and the Blizzard program launched a winning national campaign to have Sydney named Kraft Hockeyville.
The Canada Games Complex project will be showcased during Kraft Hockeyville activities, which includes an NHL practice and preseason game between the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers at Center 200 in Sydney on Oct. 1.
As part of the winning campaign, the $250,000 prize was used to purchase a new energy-efficient ice plant, while an electric Zamboni will be purchased in the near future.
Meanwhile, in March, the Canada Games Complex received $8.15 million from the provincial government as part of a funding announcement that saw 14 community rinks across the province receive investments.
Kurtis Deveaux is the captain of the Sledgehammers program, which currently uses Center 200 as its home facility for sledge hockey on the island. He said having an accessible facility will only help the program grow in the future.
“It’s hard to put into words what this means,” said Deveaux. “We’ve played out of Center 200, and the staff has been fantastic and does anything for you, but the arena is just not quite there for us.
“It works and it’s fine, but to have something that’s completely ready for us is going to be amazing, so it’s a huge day for the sport in Cape Breton.”
Each year, the Sledgehammers host an annual tournament. Deveaux believes having an accessible facility will only increase the opportunity for the sport to draw bigger events to the area.
“There are tournaments at the national and international levels for para-hockey that we thought were only dreams and that would never happen here,” said Deveaux.
“We’re now going to have the facility, and honestly, that facility is what was holding us back. We don’t know what will happen, but hopefully, we’ll bring in some national and international types of events now that the facility will be accessible.”
Annette Verschuren, co-chair of the Forever CBU campaign and the university’s chancellor, said having an accessible facility was a priority in the renovation and expansion project.
“Accessibility is important everywhere and this facility is going to be made so that everyone has access, and that to me and Sara (Burke) is the most important,” he said.
“We want everybody to participate and use this facility and we can’t exclude people, so accessibility is an important part of that project and a big foundational piece of the project.”
Construction and timelines
Construction has already started both inside the Canada Games Complex and outside.
Work is expected to be completed by December 2024. However, it’s unknown at this time if ice will be available at the facility for the second half of the 2024-25 hockey season.
Cape Breton University president David Dingwall was not in attendance for the ground-breaking event.
– Jeremy Fraser is the sports reporter for the Cape Breton Post. Follow him on Twitter @CBPost_Jeremy.