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Community spirit makes The Barn feel like home

Arena manager Burt St. Amour has worked at rink for 38 years

There is a lot going on that makes the Carlo Cattarello Arena a special place in South Porcupine.

Like other arenas in Canada, it is a hub of community activity. But unlike other facilities, the Carlo Cattarello Arena — a.k.a. The Barn — is not municipally owned and operated. It is run by a volunteer board of directors.

Burt St. Amour is the manager of the arena.

“I’ve been here as manager and employee for 38 years,” he said. “Before that, I was a rink rat here. In those days, rink rats did a lot of the jobs here: sweep the stands, clean the dressing rooms, we used to get to go on the ice, and everything else.

“I found out the arena manager was going to retire so I applied here and the rest is history. I worked here about two years, then he retired and I got the manager’s position. The rink’s been here since 1930. I’ve been here for about half the time it’s been here.”

The building ties in with the mining history of the Porcupine Camp.

“This was built by the Dome. In the old days, the Dome used to supply the men, look after repairs and everything else,” St. Amour explained. “Then the Dome wanted to get out of the arena business.

“Just like the McIntyre Arena … it was offered it to the city. Same thing with the Dome, they offered this rink to the city. But the city didn’t want another arena.”

In addition to assuring the rink runs smoothly, the board looks to keep costs down and find additional revenue streams.

“We’re self-sufficient. We do fundraising,” he said. “This rink runs off of ice rentals, peanut machines, pop machines and everything else, like bingos and Nevada ticket sales.

“We always used to think if we can’t pay our bills at year end, we’ll close down because we can’t go in the hole.”

St. Amour said while the arena is located in South Porcupine, users come from across the city.

“In the old days, this was strictly an East End arena for the locals,” he said. “Those days are gone. We provide the biggest men’s league in town. We have 18 teams. Plus, there’s another eight teams in our old timers’ league.

“The only thing that is East End basically is that Porcupine Minor Hockey is out of this rink. Everything else, they’re from all over the city.”

Everything done at the arena is with an eye on the budget.

“This is an 80-year-old arena, a wooden structure. Every year I’ve been here the stands are painted, so there’s 38 layers of paint on those stands,” St. Amour said. “At the end of the year, we have to assess how much money we have in the bank. We can’t go overboard.”

St. Amour has fond memories of the man the arena is named after.

“Carlo Cattarello was probably the first non-paid recreational director in this town,” he said. “I always hear the stories where Carlo used to have his house in South Porcupine, his porch area had skates there, baseball bats … Kids used to just go there and grab the stuff they needed and bring it back at the end of the day. You couldn’t do that today. He ran hockey, baseball and everything else, but he did it as a volunteer.

“He was a well-respected figure in the community. I never heard a bad word or comment about Carlo.”

His favourite memories of the arena showcase the community spirit needed to keep it going.

“I always remember when I first took over, I wanted to renovate the arena,” he said. “When we did the renovations, the floor started to heave because the floor wasn’t insulated. Before I got here, they poured a cement floor here. They were building Kidd Creek back then and there was a company that was going to pour the floor, but they went on strike. They had all the cement out the back. We had to mix it all by hand. They got all the local groups in town — the Legion, the Moose, the fire department — and they poured the first floor by hand here, with wheel barrows.

“But it wasn’t an insulated floor. So, what happened, when we put the refrigeration plant in and went to put the summer ice in, the floor started to heave. Before we took that floor out, we had about 14 inches (height difference) from the middle of the ice to the boards. And we had to operate, because if we don’t operate, we don’t get paid.

“So, we brought in eight truckloads of sand to level out the floor. The only thing that saved me was the height of the boards and glass. We have high glass around the rink here.”

That same community spirit lives on today.

“Three years ago, we got a local group together and poured a floor,” St. Amour said. “That cement floor, a lot of companies again helped us out. Miller Paving and Custom Concrete, donated all the cement. We had to do all kinds of flooring stuff, we had a couple of board members, had to lay pipes down, and we did it all ourselves.

“The Barn is a fixture in the community here. A lot of people played hockey here are local guys now in a position to make decisions. When it came time to do this stuff, we had a lot of support from the local guys. A lot of companies don’t want to give actual cash, but they’ll offer product and their expertise and all that other stuff, which to me is a bigger dollar value.

“As long as we keep the expenses down in this rink, we’re able to sustain ourselves.”

There is no denying the building has a lot of character and charm. The community has made it that way.

“I always say we’re not the best in town, the youngest in town, but it’s like home,” St. Amour said. “We’re still kind of old school here. I’m the manager of the rink, I pay bills but I also clean toilets. We have to do everything ourselves and I think that helps out with the character of the rink.

“When people come in, I always laugh, parents make a right-hand turn into the coffee shop and the kids go straight in — it’s like a playground. Hide and seek, everything else like that. Some get aggravated over that stuff, but I think it’s great, because it’s that type of rink here. The character is kind of like home.

“I’ve been here for 38 years and I haven’t worked a day in my life.”

The Carlo Cattarello Arena is located at 1-B Golden Ave. in South Porcupine. For information about ice rentals, phone 705-235-4854.