Claude-André Bois has become a regular presence at borough council meetings in Plateau-Mont-Royal, first online during the pandemic and now in person as he continues to push elected officials on an issue that is dear to his heart.
It's also dear to the hearts of hundreds of others in the Montreal neighbourhood of Mile End who are tired of waiting for their local indoor ice rink to reopen.
"The Aréna Saint-Louis has been closed since the start of the pandemic in March 2020," he said. "At that time, all the sports stopped."
Then when sports restarted, the arena didn't open. The city's blue-collar employees were using it as a workspace that allowed for physical distancing, and even after they were moved out, the arena remained closed as the borough looked to update the facility with an environmentally friendlier ammonia refrigeration system.
Montreal has been updating refrigeration systems across the city for years, but there's no budget left and the borough is now looking to scrape up the needed funds. Right now, officials say they are aiming to reopen it before 2025 at the latest.
But Bois, a hockey coach and father of four, says a five-year closure is a long, long time for kids.
Petition launched calling for arena's reopening
Already, ice time is increasingly hard to find in Montreal.
Many young hockey and ringette players in Mile End are now forced to wake up before the sun rises to get to an arena in a different neighbourhood for practice, Bois said. And then there are those who may never learn the sports at all, he added.
"Before they become hockey players, it's good that they skate and learn to skate," he said. "Young kids used to learn to skate by going to the rink and trying it for an hour a week."
An online petition has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures, calling on the city to reopen the arena without delay.
"It's a big neighbourhood. There's a lot of people, a lot of kids," he said, but there are already limited sports facilities in the area and now people are taking their bus or cars in order to skate rather than strolling down to the neighbourhood arena.
The arena was supposed to be renovated in 2018, but the project was put off and now, he said, officials aren't able to give a clear answer on when it will reopen.
"That's why we are trying to put pressure on them because they are OK with those kind of answers," Bois said.
Councillor says borough is looking for funds
Coun. Marie Plourde, who represents the Mile End district, said the borough's administration is well aware of the arena's importance to the neighbourhood and the rest of Plateau-Mont-Royal.
"We are struggling right now with the explosion of the costs of the work that has to be done, so we are trying to find the funds to make it happen because we are committed to reopen it for all the citizens," said Plourde.
"We need to make a financial arrangement, and make it feasible, at a reasonable cost for the borough."
Renovation costs have tripled and the borough's administration is asking the city to help. She said she has a good feeling about this project, and it will probably get completed before 2025. Until then, she said, the borough is looking to repurpose the arena for indoor community activities that don't require ice.
"We are frustrated because we want this facility to open, but we cannot do it at any cost," Plourde said.
Hockey Montréal president Yves Pauzé said it's odd the money was once there to do the renovations, but now it's not.
Across Montreal, the lack of available ice time is a problem, he said. There just aren't enough arenas to meet the demand, while other Quebec cities are well equipped, he said.
Keeping an arena closed is sad for all ice sports, and Aréna Saint-Louis is particularly useful because it has parking.
"Even if it's not perfectly situated, it is an arena that was used 100 per cent," Pauzé said.