The single pad arena in Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba is typical of many small town arenas found in Canada. Opened in 1967, it was built with “Centennial Money” — federal funds spread to communities all across the country to help commemorate the first century of Canada as a nation. Not all of these arenas will see their 50th birthday next year: many have been boarded up or dismantled long ago, with capital and operational costs too high to bear.
Some of the surviving centennial arenas are able to live on, relying on the imagination and hard work of their residents to keep the arena doors open. That’s how it is in Lac du Bonnet, where a determined arena board and one particular woman’s grant-seeking skills are helping to not just keep the arena doors open, but the community alive. Meet Tracy Neurenberg.
Tracy Neurenberg is busy. She and her husband Alan farm 5,000 acres of land. Last week they were able to get the wheat — one of their two major crops — harvested. That leaves just the soybean crop now, and that should be ready by the end of next week. In between, she’s pulling the produce in from her massive garden and canning.
“I’ve done 78 jars of tomatoes so far,” she tells me. “With three growing boys, food doesn’t stay around here very long.”
Those three boys, all products of the local minor hockey club, the Lac du Bonnet Lightning, are the motivation behind Tracy’s involvement with the town’s arena and the club, which she’s been a part of since her oldest started skating 15 years ago. An hour and a half from Winnipeg, the town of 2,000 is a tourist destination in the summer with an abundance of water sport activities. Wintertime, however, is another story.
“In the summer, it’s full but in January, you’ll be lucky to see 10 people in the restaurant,” she tells me. “If we don’t keep the rink alive, it will be another nail in the coffin for our community. We’ll lose our wintertime social interaction and without that, our town will start to die.”
All Hands On Board
Tracy has been part of the volunteer board running Lac du Bonnet’s arena for nearly seven years. She is quick to deflect the attention away from herself, pointing out that the success the arena has had has really been an all-hands-on-board, group effort. But a search of her name on Google points out some of the success she’s been able to bring to the table, winning federal grants and corporate awards that have been used to modernize their arena and keep the doors open. And with those open doors comes that wintertime social interaction that she mentioned earlier, where the arena becomes a hub of the community.
If we don’t keep the rink alive, it will be another nail in the coffin for our community. We’ll lose our wintertime social interaction and without that, our town will start to die.
Grants and Awards
The awards Tracy has been able to wrangle include a Kid’s Sport grant in 2011 which went towards used skates and helmets. The following year, the arena board was able to snag a $30,000 prize clipping UPC codes from Delissio pizza boxes in a minor hockey competition run by the Brandon Wheat Kings. Tracy was able to get the Delissio money, which went for a new dehumidifier, supplemented by a successful grant application to the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund. That put another $49,500 towards a lighting retrofit, swapping metal halide lights for T5 fluorescents, a low-emissivity ceiling and wheelchair access.
Other monies includes a $2,500 gift from agri-business leader Monsanto in 2015 in the Canada Farmers Grow Communities Program (“after all, we ARE farmers,” Tracy underscores). And, with another milestone birthday on the horizon next year – Canada’s 150th — the federal government is, once again, making funds available to commemorate and celebrate. Tracy is hopeful that she’ll hear, before this month is over, if her application to the Canada 150 Fund is successful . Her, and the entire community’s, fingers are crossed it will be, as a new roof is badly in need, with pails and garbage cans used to collect rain and snow water. The new roof will have something else that’s sadly lacking: insulation. And although they’ve cut out many costs – like overhead heaters above the bleachers, an insulated roof will make a big difference to their electricity bills.
“Our budget is tight, tight, tight,” she says, “so we’re always looking at any way to reduce our costs to keep the doors open.”
In my next blog post, I’ll be writing about Tracy’s Top Tips for Fundraising and Grant Applications. Stay tuned.