"Rinks don't need to be money pits" – Colleen O'Shea

Energy Efficiency, Hockey, Rink Management

Nova Scotia, Membertou and Energy Efficient Ice Arenas


Photo courtesy of

Hockey and Canada’s second smallest province have some pretty deep roots. Nova Scotia is said to be where hockey was born — in 1800 — on Long Pond just outside of Windsor. It’s produced wooden pucks and hockey sticks –as well as some of the best professional players the game has ever seen — like Pittsburgh Penguins captain, Sidney Crosby and Boston Bruins left-winger, Brad Marchand.

Port Hawksbury Civic Centre

Port Hawksbury Civic Centre – Photo by Paula Davis

What you probably didn’t know about Nova Scotia is it has built, and is building, some extremely energy efficient indoor ice arenas. Twelve years ago, the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre opened its doors using Kube geothermal technology from Kube Solutions. The single pad facility was named by Business Week in 2006 as one of the top-10 World Class Sports Stadiums.

BMO Centre Halifax

The BMO Centre Halifax is Nova Scotia’s only quad-pad complex

In 2010, the BMO Centre Halifax, a 4-pad facility in the province’s capital opened, using Cimco’s Eco Chill technology for its ice plant. It stole the efficiency crown from Port Hawksbury, and was said to be “the most energy efficient arena in Canada” at the time.

By the end of the 2011, Efficiency Nova Scotia, the independent, non-profit association set up to help Nova Scotians use energy better, had lent a hand with incentives so that 63 of the 84 arenas on the island had benefitted from retrofits. Those retrofits included upgraded lighting (good bye, metal halide), installing low-emissivity ceilings and reclaim heat in several.

Energy-efficient arenas were becoming a pattern in Nova Scotia, for new builds and retrofits alike, and engineers like David Stewart, the consulting energy engineer on most of the Nova Scotia-based Kube projects, became more and more fascinated with the large amount of reclaim heat that arenas could produce, how to store it and what to do with it once you had it. The green envelope was aggressively being encouraged, with significant incentives from Efficiency Nova Scotia to reduce electricity use in all buildings.

More Energy Efficient

That’s why it’s no surprise that when Nova Scotia’s next new arena opens this September, this twin pad promises to be even more energy efficient than any Nova Scotian arena before it. The $19 million dollar Membertou Sports & Wellness Centre, which will include a walking circuit and exercise room in addition to two NHL-sized rinks, will include the fifth generation of Ice3s (pronounced “Ice Cubes”). The Ice3s will be delivering an abundance of reclaim heat from the refrigeration system, geothermal heating and cooling — and storage of both– an advanced monitoring system —  as well as ice that skaters will love.



The launch customer is the Membertou, a corporation and one of several Mi’kmaq communities dotted throughout Nova Scotia, located just three kilometres from downtown Sydney on Cape Breton Island. I had heard of the Mi’kmaq people before, but not specifically of the Membertou, a name first dropped to me by George Simonds of Emerald Environmental Technologies – the New Hampshire-based manufacturer of the Ice3s – in a conversation I had with him about another arena I’d been researching in Keene, NH which was also using Ice3 technology. Simonds told me that Membertou would be Emerald’s most advanced, energy efficient installation ever.  Already impressed with what they’d done at other arenas, I had to learn more.

Hockey Sticks

I remembered reading in Bruce Dowbiggin‘s book The Stick — chronicling the history of the hockey stick — that hockey sticks were first carved from hornbeam tree roots by Mi’kmaq carvers, in Nova Scotia. Their handiwork can be seen next to sticks used by hockey legends like Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr — the list goes on — in the basement vault at The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.  How fitting, I felt, that people who had such a big impact on the game could be also having such an environmental impact on the arenas it’s now being played in.

Chief Terry Paul

Chief Terry Paul’s office overlooks the Membertou Sports & Wellness Centre – Photo courtesy of

Membertou is headed by Chief Terry Paul, who was just re-elected last month for his 17th term as Chief. Paul, who learned about finance and management in the USA while working for the Boston Indian Council, is a very forward-thinking leader and the transition he and his team has made for his people is one of tough-love and discipline. Paul took a community that was on the brink of despair and rebuilt it by reaching out to band members who had fanned out across the world and pulled them back to get them to work for their community. Together, they developed a plan to build a strong community, one that could someday be self-sufficient.

With the right people in place — his people in place — their rebuild work began and slowly the building blocks were laid down to ensure the strong, independent future that Paul envisioned. Membertou became the first Indigenous community/government to be ISO-certified, a process Paul is willing to share with any other First Nation — for free. They have recently repurchased coastal reservation land overlooking the Sydney harbour, another interesting story in itself. That was land they’d been made to live on by the Canadian Government. Then, in 1926, they were moved from it to where Membertou now is because “they were too visible to the settlers”.

Today, Membertou’s list of accomplishments and strengths are as long as the first day of summer and some people point to the Membertou as the ones keeping Sydney’s economy alive. In 2014, Membertou had gross annual revenues of $124-million ($95-million of which is from band owned-and-operated businesses) and employed 550 people.

Kubes, Cubes or Ice3

The story about Kubes or Ice3 is a bit convoluted. The technology was first invented in Winnipeg as an industrial geothermal solution which was eventually adapted for indoor ice arenas. The first Kubes, installed 18 years ago, were efficient, but since geothermal is supposed to maintain constant temperatures at all times, getting the ice plant to remove the heat from the ice as the water from the ice resurfacer hit it was slower than ice makers wanted it. The Kubes were installed in different arenas, but the idea didn’t really catch on and the company went into bankruptcy. Nova Scotia-based DORA Construction bought the assets and set up Kube Solutions to deliver HVAC solutions. Kube Solutions stopped producing Kubes a couple of years back.

Meanwhile, South of the Border…

South of the Canadian border, however, there was an American company that still had the right to manufacture Kubes — Emerald Environmental Technologies. When the Canadian company went into bankruptcy, Emerald and their biggest client, an HVAC specialist called Preferred Mechanical Services, took a time out and huddled together to find a way to build a better mousetrap. They started sharing knowledge of their experiences, what worked well and what didn’t — as well as their customers’ pain points — to see if they could make the Kubes the best possible product on the market.

Ice3s at Membertou

Ice3s ready and waiting at Membertou Sports & Wellness Centre

What emerged was a modular system rebranded as Ice3 that could fit through a 36″ door and was so quiet that anyone could have a conversation in that room without needing to shout. They made the components standard, off-the-shelf, so if replacement parts were needed, they were maintenance-friendly and could be sourced from the local plumbing and heating store. And knowing that so many moving parts, and their proper functioning, are necessary to make, maintain and keep the ice, they developed controls so their technicians, and an arenas’ operation staff, can monitor and make adjustments remotely, knowing what’s happening with their plant every minute of the day. Emerald became masters of redistributing reclaim heat, used for heating the floors in locker rooms, conference rooms, sidewalks leading into the building — and with Gen 5, as they call it — the mastery continues, with reclaim cold as well.

Emerald achieved what they set out to do and patented their new and improved product. At installations as varied as Boston College’s Conte Forum (an NCAA venue, retrofitted after an ammonia leak) to Keene ICE, a single pad and new build, the accolades for Emerald and Preferred — and their employees — are loud and proud.


Meanwhile, back at Membertou, planning began for an arena that could serve their people well and potentially bring in additional revenues to the Membertou. The First Nation had seen the difference that Kube technology could make after six Kube heat pumps were installed at Maupeltuewey Kina’matno’kuom (Membertou Elementary School), a 40,000 ft2 building. The school operates at a fraction of the cost of other properties this size and Bill Bonnar, Membertou’s Executive Business Development Officer, wanted that same kind of efficiency for the new arena and set out to make that happen, with Kubes.

Since Kube Solutions was no longer in the manufacturing business, and Emerald had now moved the Kube technology far beyond what it had been when the school installation was done, it took patience and determination for Bonnar to get what was now a handful of players aligned. Finally a deal was brokered by Donald MacDonald of DORA Construction which made Kube Solutions an Ice3 reseller and knowledge center for Atlantic Canada; of course, the Ice3s themselves would be manufactured by Emerald Environmental Technologies, and the contractors for the project, The Lynk Group, would do the installation, with advice from Preferred Mechanical Services, as needed.


One of Membertou's twin pads

One of the twin pads at Membertou

With both pads now poured and the ICE3s in place too, it won’t be long until the boards and glass are installed first ice will be put in. Everyone is excited with how this project will turn out. George Simonds of Emerald Environmental Technologies is particularly eager for the doors to open and says everyone is committed to make sure this installation is perfect.

“We all want this to be a zero flaw project and a great success,” he tells me. “That way, so many outspoken opponents will need to cease maligning the technology.”

Dave Stewart is still putting his energy-saving calculations for Efficiency Nova Scotia — waiting on final details from manufacturers to include in his report. As to the project, Stewart is also excited.

“Membertou will be superb because we have the next generation of the Kubes there,” he tells me. “It will be great.”

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the great share! I also like the idea of Energy Efficiency. The best part I like is this: The reliability and availability of modern energy sources cause people to tend to assume that it will always be accessible. And as for the case of non-renewable energy sources, most people do not know or maybe even refuse to accept that it will eventually run out.

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