Council approves funding for Al MacInnis Sports Centre upgrades

PORT HOOD: The Al MacInnis Sports Centre took a significant step toward achieving $150,000 worth of upgrades to its ice plant operation last Thursday due to Inverness County earmarking $48,000 in funding for the Port Hood rink.

“We need to replace two of the plant compressors, a new electrical panel, a plate heat exchanger, and some pressure leak valves that have to be replaced,” said Lloyd MacDonald, president of the Port Hood and District Recreation Association (PHDRA). “What it’ll do is modernize plant operation. We have aging equipment that absolutely needs to be replaced.

“It’s a big project. The way we structured the request was one-third from the province, a third from the municipality, and a third from ourselves,” MacDonald said. “The province came back to us and said unless the municipality commits the money, they’re not in.

“Getting the approval today goes a long way to getting what we need.”

The PHRDA oversees management of the Al MacInnis Sports Centre and the Sunset Sands RV Park, as well as the Chestico Days Summer Festival. In 2012, one full-time job was created to manage the three organizations; MacDonald is the man in charge.

Appearing with him before council were Brian MacInnis, president of the Cape Breton West Major Midget Islanders; Damian MacInnis, a PHDRA board member; and Angie MacEachern and Brenda VanZutphen, members of the Cape Breton West Minor Hockey Association.

MacInnis noted that while the rink is located in Port Hood, its impact reaches across the municipality, as elite-level players have gone on to success in the Quebec Major Junior league and play professionally. With that, a team like the Cape Breton West Islanders draws players from throughout the county. The same can be said of minor hockey teams.

Just a few years ago, he noted, the Major Midget Islanders drew the attention of hockey fans from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

“Winning the Telus Cup in 2017 put the Cape Breton West area on the national stage,” he said. “It might be one of the greatest stories in Nova Scotia sports history, where a team of young men from the small rural towns from the Cape Breton West coverage area captured a national title at the highest level of competition.”

In addition to the Islanders, the rink is home to the Dalbrae Dragons high school hockey team and over 500 minor hockey players.

Last spring, the Al MacInnis Sports Centre made a similar funding request to council, but it was turned down. Deputy Warden Alfred Poirier spoke against the funding at that time but, last Thursday, he offered a different opinion.

“There might have been rumours that the previous grant had been cancelled by me, but those who know me, know I’m fair,” he said. “I look at this as a business, and when the application came in last time, we were denied funding for the Cheticamp arena before that.

“My decision back then was made in fairness; I wasn’t against Port Hood, but I decided what I did because I’d been refused before.”

Poirier seemed impressed with MacDonald’s review of finances and MacInnis’ comments on the county-wide impact of the centre.

“If the request came through again the same way, I would refuse it,” Poirier said. “But today, I will vote for it.”

Councillor John Dowling was also on board.

“I see the importance to the community as a whole,” he said, who explained he was on the fence about voting in favour of the funding, but the presentation swayed him.