Lac Seul celebrates grand opening of events centre
In Lac Seul, the community’s vision for a healthy future can be seen in its newest and largest building.
Community members celebrated the grand opening of the Lac Seul Events Centre on Friday, Aug. 23. Located in Frenchman’s Head beside the school and across the main road from the band office, it’s also where they hope future dreams of their youth will take shape.
The massive building houses a 1,300 seat arena with an NHL-size ice surface, along with a conference centre, restaurant and convenience store.
More than 200 people attended its grand opening ceremony, ribbon cutting and feast.
Chief Clifford Bull credited band staff, councillors and community members for their vision for the $8.5 million facility. “Now we see the vision coming to fruition. It’s here and we’re all excited,” he said.
“I’m very proud today of what we achieved for our First Nation, our community, especially for the young people,” Bull told those gathered for song, prayer and remarks in the main conference room. “It’s for them; it’s our future.”
Ahmoo Angeconeb, a local artist, played a hand drum and sang before four large drawings he created on black paper were unveiled on the main wall of the room. The drawings represent the sacred medicinal plants of tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, and cedar.
Angeconeb recalled his humble start as an artist – a young boy in the Lac Seul community of Whitefish Bay drawing on the walls of the family house with a lead bullet.
At Pelican Lake residential school he told his teacher he wanted to be an artist. “If you really want to do that, you can do that,” she replied. Angeconeb did become an accomplished artist who exhibited his work internationally, including at an art show in Paris, fulfilling a long held dream.
“As a young person, your dream too can come true,” he said.
Today’s Lac Seul youth showcased their hockey, figure skating and broomball skills on the arena’s artificial ice earlier in the afternoon. Afterward, some helped cut the ceremonial ribbon in front of the main entrance.
Joining them in that duty was special guest Reggie Leach, a Stanley Cup winning right-winger with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975. The Flyers lost the Cup final to the Montreal Canadiens the following year but Leach scored an NHL playoff record 19 goals, after sniping an amazing 61 goals during the regular season.
An Ojibwe from the Berens River First Nation in Manitoba, he also spoke of a modest start to his exceptional career. “I didn’t start skating until I was 10, didn’t own my first pair of skates until I was 14,” he said. Yet at 19 years old he was playing in the NHL. “I got to live my dream.”
To youth in the audience, he said: “You’re the future NHLers. It takes a lot of hard work. It doesn’t matter if it’s hockey, school … if you don’t work at it, you’re not going to go too far. And if you don’t listen, you don’t learn.”
These days Leach, now 63, travels to First Nations across Canada to provide hockey instruction and talk to kids about life choices. From that experience, he advised parents in Lac Seul, “Don’t drop your kids off at the (arena) door; come inside and watch them. All kids … want is a little bit of attention. Get involved, get in there and help them out. Parents have to be proud of their kids and what they’re doing.”
Later, during the feast, parent Chris Lawson announced an organizing meeting for the startup of Lac Seul minor hockey association that will need adult volunteers. He plans to coach.
Lawson’s daughter, 11-year-old Natasha, was one of those who snipped the ribbon out front. She wore a jersey from Hockey Camp of Hope, which the arena hosted earlier in the week. With organized hockey to be played in Lac Seul this winter, she’ll return to the game after several years away from it, she said.
Although the grand opening took place this month, the Lac Seul Events Centre has actually hosted activities since mid April.
Yellowbird Consulting and its president, Lac Seul band member Jonathan Gregg, served as project manager for construction that began in 2011. The general contractor, Finn Way, donated a skate-sharpening machine for the arena at the grand opening.
In congratulating the community on its “magnificent facility,” MP Greg Rickford noted that the First Nation paid for the building itself, without funds from the federal government.
“The youth are a big concern for the community and that’s why with this facility they were willing to spend what they did on it,” explained Barry King, the centre’s manager. “They want to make sure the kids live a vibrant life. And sports is a big part of that.”
“Different parents really step up and they’re making sure there are activities available for the children,” King said. “And when we have a big event like this tonight, once it’s done there will be community members stay behind to make sure this building is all cleaned up.”
King wants the place to get busier.
The Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority will hold its upcoming annual general meeting here and a fashion show has been discussed for December. King also talked of the arena’s potential for everything from concerts to car shows to army training exercises. And at 2,600 square feet, the main conference room is suitable for gatherings such as chiefs assemblies and weddings, added Chief Bull.
“All kinds of great things can happen in this facility,” he said.
On this night, the main event was a hockey game involving a handful of pro hockey old-timers and local players – teens and middle-agers, police chief Rick Angeconeb and Roy Carpenter, the First Nation’s grey-haired former chief. Leach had invited everyone to watch him score a hat trick in the game, but with two minutes left he fired a hard shot over the net and fell one goal short. No one seemed to mind.
King offered souvenir “grand opening” pucks to smiling community members before they stepped outside, where fireworks decorated the sky.
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