The Rink That Commemorated A Ghost Town

The Zetra Olympic Hall in Sarajevo played host to one of figure skating's most iconic moments - Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's gold medal winning "Bolero" - and stunning performances by 1984 Olympic Medallists Scott Hamilton, Katarina Witt, Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev, Brian Orser, Kitty and Peter Carruthers, Rosalynn Sumners, Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, Jozef Sabovcik, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Kira Ivanova and Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov. The ultimate destruction of the rink in 1992 during the Bosnian War proved as inspiration for Witt's memorable 1994 "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" program skated at the Lillehammer Olympics. I hate to use the words 'good news' when discussing a topic such as this... but the good news was that the Zetra Rink was rebuilt in 1999 as the Olympic Hall Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Many ice rinks around the world have closed their doors or suffered destruction at the hands of war, fire or wrecking ball but very few suffered a fate like the Phoenix Ice Rink. Before we get to the rink, let's start by talking about Phoenix... because this wasn't Phoenix, Arizona baby. This Phoenix was in beautiful British Columbia. Phoenix, B.C. was a booming mining town from 1899 to 1919 northwest of Grand Forks. In fact, at the time it was one of the province's largest towns boasting a population of four thousand. It had a post office, a hospital, three schools, an opera house, tennis courts, seventeen saloons, four churches, brewery, thriving copper mine and yes... a skating rink. Garnet Basque's book "Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of the Boundary Country" explains that skating was an early favourite activity for residents and that "back in November, 1900, William Drever announced plans to construct a skating rink in Phoenix. 'The building,' noted The Pioneer, 'will be 70 X 170-feet in size and will have an ice surface of 50 X 150-feet.' A month later the newspaper announced that the rink was nearing completion and that plans were 'underway to organize a hockey team.' On December 25, the skating rink was opened to the public for the first time. Winter athletes from Phoenix thrived. Figure skaters and hockey players alike competed at the 1911 Rossland Winter Carnival and skiiers from Phoenix won the Jeldness Cup and Sullivan-Seagram Shield.

Typical of many mining ghost towns, the depths provided what they would and business quickly dried up. The decline of Phoenix was also exacerbated by two fires and a political scandal. It dissolved in 1919 and the majority of the residents moved elsewhere. The town's skating rink would however play an enduring role in commemorating the town's existence. T.W. Paterson wrote: "In a race against winter, salvage crews began to tear up railway tracks, as residents packed up what belongings they could take with them and the city council... concluded the work of wrapping up the town's affairs by selling the skating rink to a Vancouver company for $1,200. The money received was invested in the erection of a cenotaph, which despite the fact that Phoenix was no more, would continue to honor those of its citizens who had died for their country during the First World War. A portion of the $1,200 was given to the Royal Canadian Legion in Grand Forks to insure that the monument would be cared for, and a further sum was used to create a fund to pay a town watchman for a year, by which time all Phoenix residents would have moved away. This post went to an old resident, Adolph Cirque, better known as 'Forepaw' because of the crude iron hook and braces he wore after losing most of an arm. Carrying a billy club and wearing a homemade star cut from a tomato tin, Forepaw moved into the steepled city hall and proclaimed himself mayor and chief constable of Phoenix. Two others also remained: carpenter W.H. Bambury and Robert Denzler, the miner who had coined the name Phoenix for his claim and for which the town was later christened."

The buildings in Phoenix slowly either became dilapidated and crumbled or were scavenged by neighbouring communities for lumber. Within several decades, only the cemetery, old shaft houses and cenotaph remained. It's heartening to think that the only monumental reminder of a long-lost town exists in the ruins BECAUSE of its long-lost rink. Quite the story!  

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":