Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Members of the Alexander First Nation in Alberta will soon see some improvements to their local outdoor rink.
That’s because Alberta Blue Cross recently awarded the First Nation a $50,000 grant for an upgrade.
Alexander First Nation was one of the five 2023 recipients of the Alberta Blue Cross Built Together program. For the past decade the program has been awarding grants for healthy living infrastructure projects throughout the province.
Grant applications are submitted annually via five categories. There is one recipient each year from Edmonton, Calgary, a secondary city, a rural community, and an Indigenous community.
The infrastructure projects built must be available to the public and free to access.
Alberta Blue Cross has provided $2.4 million in funding since the program’s inception 10 years ago. Grant money comes from the Alberta Blue Cross community foundation.
There were more than 100 applications submitted to the 2023 Built Together program.
Gary Burnstick, the recreation supervisor for Alexander First Nation, was thrilled his community was the Indigenous recipient.
“It was good news when my boss told me,” he said.
Burnstick said his First Nation has had an outdoor rink for perhaps as many as 10 years.
“We’ve been trying to get it fixed up for a few years now,” he said. “The boards are damaged and have graffiti.”
Officials from the First Nation have also been trying to decide where to permanently place the facility.
The rink is currently beside the local school. Before that it was located beside the band office.
Burnstick said local officials are contemplating whether to pour some concrete and have the rink placed on top of that.
Burnstick said the rink is heavily used during the winter months by both children and adults. He said the rink frequently has users playing shinny or 3-on-3 games. Those learning to skate or are pleasure skating also are regulars.
The rink is open seven days a week when the ice is safe enough to skate on. The facility usually remains open until 10 p.m. each day thanks to some portable light towers.
Burnstick said the plan is to put grant money to use as soon as possible.
“We’re hoping to repair the boards and maybe get some new netting,” he said, adding the rink does have some netting now but a more stable system is being considered.
Brian Geislinger, the senior vice-president of corporate relations and community engagement at Alberta Blue Cross, said Alexander First Nation was one of about 10 Indigenous grant applicants.
“It’s important to promote active living during the winter months,” he said, partly explaining why the First Nation was selected as a grant recipient.
Geislinger said the grant program has supported outdoor rinks in the past. But for the first time, money was awarded to an Indigenous community for its outdoor rink.
“This rink will promote physical activity and provide opportunities for social connection for all their community members,” Geislinger said.
Alexander First Nation has about 2,300 members.
Geislinger said the $50,000 that Alberta Blue Cross awarded would not necessarily pay for all of the costs for a new rink, if that is what the Alexander First Nation wanted.
“For many of our projects it helps them reach a level to qualify for additional grants and supports,” he said.
Geislinger also said many infrastructure projects face challenges trying to get funding in place, so grant money that Alberta Blue Cross provides is always welcome.
“It takes a lot of bottle drives and a lot of hot dog sales to get there,” he said.
The other recent recipients of the Built Together program are Edmonton’s Kensington School (inclusive playground), Calgary’s St. Stephen School (accessible playground), Good Shepherd School in Peace River (playground) and Aurora Middle School located in the hamlet of Lac La Biche (basketball court).