Nearly 250 supporters, athletes and community members turned up for the official groundbreaking ceremony to recognize the project’s many contributors and swift progress on the Home Ice Campaign.
Elder Fred Sasakamoose opened the program with a traditional Cree blessing to honour the land where the facility will be built, just south of the Saskatoon Field House. Sasakamoose was the first Indigenous person to play in the NHL when he joined the Chicago Blackhawks in 1954. He reminisced about learning to skate on a Saskatchewan pond when he was young and said he was pleased that four of his grandchildren will soon have the opportunity to play in the new arena.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark echoed Sasakamoose’s sentiments.
“This is a reminder of the role that sport can play to build a community,” said Clark, who represented the City of Saskatoon’s $4-million contribution to the project. “That’s why we create these youth facilities—so youth from all walks of life can come together and play each other and challenge each other.”
The fundraising campaign began only one year ago, with a team of more than 35 volunteers Cana- da-wide. Tim Hodgson, chair of the Saskatoon campaign committee and a former Huskie hockey player, said that by the end of April the team had raised $28.4 million of its $29-million goal for the $42.9-million project.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Hodgson said of the outpouring of assistance, ranging from grassroots initiatives like minor hockey league bottle drives and raffle sales, to high-profile contributions from university alumni and local businesses. “The community has really supported this project because it will benefit so many.”
In addition to the two ice pads to support Huskie hockey and Saskatoon minor hockey, the facility will house two NBA-length practice gymnasiums for Huskie basketball and community basketball development, courtesy of a $4-million gift from donors Ron and Jane Graham. However, all Huskie sports teams, campus recreation and Saskatoon minor sports programs will benefit from the new multi-sport arena.
Wright Construction aims to complete work on the new state-of- the-art complex by October 2018, for the start of a new hockey season. The facility will have seating for close to 3,500, thanks to the latest enhancements to the architectural plans that will increase spectator access to the arena.
Merlis Belsher, the U of S alumnus and philanthropist who donated $12.25 million and has been a strong advocate for the campaign, felt emotional and excited about reaching the groundbreaking so quickly.
“I knew there was an urgent need for a new ice facility, not only for the University of Saskatchewan, but also for Saskatoon minor hockey,” he said. “So it is gratifying to see that there will be ice in the fall of 2018.”
U of S President Peter Stoicheff thanked Belsher and spoke of his “limitless energy” throughout the campaign to garner city and community support for the project.
“Developing strong partner- ships has never been more important to us than it is today,” he said. “Merlis Belsher Place is an example of what we can achieve when we work together.”
Jessica Elfar is a development communications specialist in University Relations.