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Even on a quiet weeknight, the parking lot at MacDonald Island is humming, cars searching for an open spot close to the entrance of the Suncor Community Leisure Centre. When it's this cold, getting a parking spot in proximity to the doors is more revered than normal.
Coming down the back stairs after the Northern Classic committee meeting, I open the double doors to see a mighty mites hockey game underway (or, whatever they call the youngest level of hockey nowadays). Walking a few paces down the hall spectators are fixated on multiple games of curling underway, probably men's league night as there isn't a lady in sight.
Turning the corner, streams of families are coming out of the Leisure Pond area while men's hockey is underway on the one NHL size ice surface on the Island. In the indoor playground a mother is chasing her young daughter around the room, a huge beaming smile on her face.
In the Syncrude Aquatic Centre it's a combination of swimming lessons, lane swims and scattered kids and parents exploring the leisure pool, lazy river and water slides. In the field houses badminton matches are in full swing with players of all ages and cultural backgrounds. Through the halls, couples walk by, sweat pouring off their brows from workout sessions in the fitness centre.
This incredible facility has been described as being as busy as a mall. And even on a slower Monday night it completely feels like a confluence, where people come together to enjoy life and each other in a safe, comfortable environment. It's minus 22 outside tonight, but in the Centre it just doesn't matter.
Going out the main doors, the venue for the Northern Classic hockey game glimmers off in the distance. The semi-trailer ccontaining the main stage for the music entertainment has just arrived as the ice crews continue to work their magic on what has been described as some of the best ice in town. The stands with room for 5,000 fans sit cold and empty tonight, but in just a few short days they will be significantly warmer as people sit side by side to witness a piece of hockey history.
To all those municipal leaders who had the vision of a world-class recreational facility and community gather place, from C.A. Knight to Guy Boutilier, from Jim Carberry to Sheldon Germain, from Sharon Clarkson to Melissa Blake: THANK YOU! You dreamed the dream and made it real.