At the end of the Second World War, Pembroke had a decision to make. Its aging privately owned hockey rink, the McKay Street Arena, was no longer viable having opened in 1905. The “old barn” was crumbling and with its natural ice, it had too many limitations. Many communities were building new arenas that had artificial ice. These buildings offered more opportunity to generate revenue as they could be utilized all year long for things like trade shows, concerts and circuses.
The town also wanted to honour the soldiers who had given their lives during the war. So in 1947, a committee was struck to begin a fundraising campaign for a new arena that would be called the Pembroke Memorial Centre, a lasting tribute to the citizens of Pembroke who had lost their lives in World War l and ll.
Raising the funds needed for a new arena was an ambitious project,but the first fundraising campaign went well, bringing in about $95,000. It was enough for Pembroke Mayor Charlie Campbell to stick a shovel in the ground in 1949 allowing the building construction to begin. As the building started to rise out of the swamp land that had been selected for its location, a second fundraising effort started. It sputtered, and so a third campaign was launched, this one much more aggressive than the previous two efforts, because by this point there was great fear the building would become a “white elephant.”
Under the slogan, “THIS IS IT-Donate to Commemorate,” the final fundraising push in 1950 brought in more donations but by the fall of that year, there was still a large gap to ensure there was enough funding to complete the project. With the shell of the building standing, town council made a gutsy decision to hold a referendum, asking residents to vote on whether they would agree to the town borrowing $125,000 to finish the project. A full page ad in the Pembroke Standard Observer, said “It would not be taking a progressive attitude to vote against this by-law and thus hold the project at a stand-still.”
The pressure worked! When the vote was held on October 2, 1950 it cleared by a count of 892 to 502. The Chair of the General Fundraising Committee, Claire M. Brunton told the Ottawa Journal, “The outcome was most gratifying and it proved in no undecided manner that Pembroke wanted the Memorial Centre.” The referendum win brought with it the money needed to install the ice making plant, the seats and to finish the dressing rooms.
The Memorial Centre was fittingly officially opened on November 11, 1951. According to the Pembroke Standard Observer, the Remembrance Day ceremony and dedication service drew a crowd of more than 5,000 people. On hand for the special ceremony, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, Ray Lawson, stated after the unveiling, “This magnificent building will be a continuing tribute and lasting memorial to those whose loyalty to country gave them eternal life. They will live on in our memory as long as these bricks and mortar withstand the test of time.”
68 years after the Governor General spoke those words, the Pembroke Memorial Centre continues to pay tribute to the brave men and women who served Canada, honouring those from the Pembroke area who gave their lives. Lest We Forget.