Shell Lake celebrates sod-turning on new curling rink

A sign sits on the site of the new Shell Lake Curling Rink. The community celebrated the official sod-turning on Saturday, Sept. 2 -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

After nearly two years of planning and fundraising, the community of Shell Lake has taken the first visible step to rebuilding a beloved community meeting place.

Roughly 300 people gathered in the community on Saturday morning for the official sod-turning of the new Shell Lake Curling Rink. The old building was destroyed by fire on Aug. 14, 2021, and local town councillor Al Sulmymka said it’s exciting to finally break ground on a new one.

“There’s been a lot of speculation for two years,” Sulmymka said during a short interview.

“Today was basically a ceremony for actually showing people that we’re actually going ahead. A lot of people (are saying), ‘well, are you building or aren’t you building? Today, they’re still onsite right now as we speak working right now. For a town of Shell Lake, and the size of our town, this is huge.”

Sulmymka serves as chair of the Shell Lake curling board in addition to his duties as town councillor. Since the curling rink burned down he’s joined 14 other curlers in making the two-day-a-week trip to Spiritwood to keep playing.

A construction worker lays rebar for the foundation of the new Shell Lake Curling Rink on Saturday, Sept. 2. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

While he’s grateful for the chance to get on the curling ice in Spiritwood, Sulmymka said there’s nothing like have your own rink in your own community. The fire robbed them of a much-loved community recreation space.

“For a small town, it’s devastating for everybody,” he said. “That’s the meeting place for seniors. Young people, as we all know if you grew up in a small town, that’s where you met in the winter time.”

Sulmymka said they’re hoping to have the frame of the building constructed before winter. If that happens, work crews should be able to complete the interior by next spring, meaning the new rink will be ready for curlers by Fall 2024.

The new facility will contain two ice sheets just like the previous one. The cost to rebuild is around $2.3 million, with roughly $1.6 million coming in provincial and federal grant funding. The rest will come from fundraising projects and private donors.

Sulmymka said the federal and provincial grants were a big reason the town decided to rebuild.

Flames pour out of the old Shell Lake Curling Rink, which caught fire on the afternoon of Aug. 14, 2021. — Photo from the Shell Lake Curling Club GoFundMe page.

“We could have said, ‘it’s not worth it,’ but we said, ‘let’s try,’” he explained. “We had two good ladies—Deb Hogg and Wendy Penner—who did a lot of the work and managed to get these grants so we could proceed. Without the grants, we don’t build. Simple. We cannot raise $2.3 million in a small town, so they did a lot of the work. They deserve a lot of the credit.”

The original Shell Lake Curling Rink caught fire in the afternoon of Aug. 14, 2021. Volunteers from the Shell Lake Regional Fire Department and nearby Spiritwood Fire and Rescue were able to contain the blaze by evening with the help of some local farmers, but could not save the building.

The RCMP announced days later that the fire was considered suspicious and the cause was under investigation.

“It was horrible,” Sulmymka said. “I saw the smoke. I live in town, and I came down here. The rink, you could tell it was gone. The flames were so hot. The local fire department volunteers came out to fight the fire, but it was too late. We lost everything. There was nothing left. The rocks were gone. Even they burst.”

Premier Scott Moe was among the guests who attended the official sod-turning ceremony before construction crews began laying the foundation. The new facility will have concrete flooring, and Sulmymka said that will allow them to use the facility for summer events like pickleball, farmers’ markets, and movie nights.