A new skating and hockey arena for Truro

‘We wanted to get done what we were doing at home and get skating at the arena'

Published on February 24, 2014
Carl Purdy and his mother Kay display a special book showing William Flemming's photo, as well as a hooked Truro Bearcats replica.

By Lyle Carter
Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part column on Truro's first indoor skating and hockey arena.

On Sept. 8, 1922, William Flemming addressed Truro Town Council regarding building an enclosed arena.

History was in the making and on Dec. 15, 1922, the doors to the building, 217 feet long and 95 feet wide, opened. To be known as the Flemming Arena and situated on Queen Street, the new skating and hockey facility was modern and up to date.

The grand opening featured a Fancy Dress Carnival and a live band centred around public skating. A storm during early evening deterred many skaters from going to the big rink, but it was still a successful opening and the arena's natural ice was good, considering a period of mild weather.

The first hockey game played in the new arena was Dec. 27, 1922 between the Halifax Cresents and the Truro Bearcats.

And, so it was that Bill Flemming, an agriculture graduate of the University of Guelph, a farmer and a feed and fertilizer business operator, helped change Truro sports history.

By the 1923-24 season, the hockey enthusiast, Flemming, was managing the Bearcats, a name that would go on to become one of the most storied in Maritime sports history.

Known as the Flemming Arena, the Truro Forum and the Colchester Forum through its 40-year existence, owners would also include Charles Lewis and later Larry Hatfield and George McCharles. A spectacular fire Jan. 31, 1963 destroyed the popular sports facility.

Old newspaper articles and the Colchester Historeum were a help with this column. But in fairness, work by Kay Purdy was simply phenomenal. It was 1998 that her late father William (Bill) Flemming was inducted as a builder into the Colchester County Sports Hall of Fame.

Kay, his eldest daughter, did considerable research to put together an outstanding 45-page outline describing her father's arena dream. In the process, she also preserved some great early Truro sports history.

"My boys were playing hockey and I also felt they should know about their grandfather," Purdy, 91, of Truro, told me. "Dad had decided the people of Truro deserved a rink. He was able to build the arena. I decided to put a book together. I did quite a bit of research. I remember asking George Lewis what he remembered as his father Charles had bought the arena from my father."

Purdy shared wonderful memories.

"I knew very early in life there was a Truro Bearcats hockey team," Purdy said. "My oldest brother Bill was the team's mascot. We knew it was an exciting place, the arena. I went with my mother (Helen) to watch a hockey game. It was exciting. My mother was an avid hockey fan."

Purdy recalled the rink rats.

"They had a way to get in the arena without paying, but dad didn't give a darn. It was all part of the fun. I remember the rink rats cleaning the ice with wooden scrapers. It was natural ice in those days."

Memories of skating at the arena still stand out, she said.

"Dad always had the town band playing. There were a lot of people who enjoyed public skating. I still remember Mac Layton and his wife were great skaters. There was a canteen available upstairs where you could get hot chocolate. Of course, with natural ice we always hoped for cold weather for Christmas day. We wanted to get done what we were doing at home and get skating at the arena."

Skating with her father this day, Kay was pleasantly surprised.

"Dad let on he couldn't skate and he pretended he was going to fall down," she said. "After awhile dad took off skating and could he ever skate."

It was ironic but Kay would eventually marry another local skater, Carl (Baldy) Purdy.

"Baldy played hockey for Acadia University on a Truro line with Win Langille and Bob Ryan," Kay said. "He also played for Lower Truro in the Truro District Hockey League."

A son, Carl Purdy, moved to Truro from Riverside, near Windsor, Ont., in 2008 after retiring from the oil business.

"My main memory of the Flemming Arena is from mom's book," Carl said. "I remember my grandfather visiting us in Ontario, mainly because of a photo. I'm very proud of him because of his prominence in the community. Bill Flemming created a passion for hockey in the Truro area during the depression years that remains with us today."

TAGLINE: Lyle Carter's column appears every Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 673-2857.