by Stephen Dafoe
Hockey is not just a pastime for a Sturgeon County family; it’s a way of life. Norm Meunier and his son Ray spend a lot of their time working on the full-sized hockey rink they built on their farm between Morinville and Legal. Ice, boards, scoreboard, and a working Zamboni are all part of the package.
It’s not the first arena the family has helped build. Norm Meunier’s father Gustave moved a lot of the dirt that was under where the Ray McDonald Sports Center was to go.
“Dad used to have the Sturgeon Road Construction. When they decided to build the arena in Morinville, he got the contract to move the dirt out of where the existing arena is right now,” Meunier recalled.
Gustave Meunier lowered the soil by about eight feet and was asked to transport it three blocks away to raise the level of some vacant lots that existed at that time. “Dad only did the dirt work but he said it was quite a project going up.”
But Gustave’s labour was not his only time around a hockey rink. Meunier’s father player for the Morinville team back in the 1930s. He excelled at the sport to such a degree the Edmonton Eskimos (a city hockey team that carried the name before football players did) drafted him to play.
Sadly, time and circumstances did not allow him to answer the call. “He couldn’t go. Grandpa didn’t have a car,” Meunier said. “Transportation wasn’t available and there were no roads going to the city yet to speak of. If it rained, you didn’t get out.”
Meunier’s own time playing hockey in Morinville started when he was about 14, a time prior to his father helping to build the present day facility.
“When we started playing a little bit of hockey, we played it in the outdoor rink,” Meunier said. “There was no Zamboni – [just] a good old shovel.”
Meunier said the town’s outdoor rink was where the Morinville Liquor Store is now. Some ice, boards and an old shack with a heater are what served Meunier and his fellow skaters.
“There were sometimes I didn’t go because my feet would get too cold,” he said, adding he enjoyed playing defence but switched positions in part to warm his feet. “I put an extra pair of socks and a big pair of skates so I didn’t have to skate. I went in goal. Then my feet kept warm, but boy did I get peppered.” Meunier liked goaltending so much he would stay between the pipes for the remainder of his hockey career.
He looks back fondly on his time playing hockey in Morinville, even when the temperatures dipped to -25 or more. “It was a good experience outside, but that minus 25 with wind wasn’t a very pleasant thing to do,” he said, adding the cold didn’t seem to reduce the fans. “People would stand on the side boards in the snowbank and just cheer us on. It was fun.”
It is a joy and love of hockey that Meunier has passed on to his son Ray and Ray to his children. Ray Meunier first laced up skates to learn figure skating but picked up a stick around the age of six. He played his hockey largely in Morinville and started FunTeam hockey in the community some years back, a program that has grown and is still present in the community.
Because of Ray’s work schedule it became difficult to bring his children into town to play. That’s when the idea to build their full-size rink came into play.
Norm Meunier said when his son first presented the idea he tried to use his garden hose on the alfalfa field, but the unevenness of the land and the lack of rink boards proved a challenge. That’s when the family went another route.
“Raymond decided to get a tractor and a buggy and start hauling dirt into this place,” Meunier recalled. “They hauled dirt and dirt and dirt, and then he said ‘We’ve got to get boards.’ By the time we finished, we had 8,000 screws in that rink.”
But the family did not stop at ice and boards. When the Town replaced its Zamboni some years back, the Meuniers bid to buy it and soon hauled it home to the outdoor rink. They’ve subsequently added a working scoreboard and built a good sized shack for players using the rink.
The family uses 20,000 gallons of water to flood the rink each year and lots of time working to keep it useable.
It is a time and effort the family believes worthwhile.
Ray Meunier said he found skating on the rink to be a great stress reliever. “It takes everything away from me,” he said, adding it has been great for his children and some of their friends. “I wanted the kids to experience the outdoor experience of hockey, the minus 25 like Dad said. It’s bonding time. It’s family time. It’s what we know. The Canadian game. Our hockey.”