Support for a rural New Brunswick community continues to grow as it hopes to win a national arena campaign.
The Tom Donovan Arena in Renous is a finalist to win $250,000 from the Kraft Hockeyville contest for upgrades to the rink and a chance to host an NHL game, but the community story means so much more than the contest.
The local campaign bid was announced in honour of Thomas Dunn, a 14-year-old from outside of Blackville, N.B., who tragically passed away following a dirt bike accident in June.
“He was just a good kid all-around,” says Dawn Dunn, the teenager’s mother. “He was that kid on the playground that if someone was being bullied, he stepped in.”
Signage and posters hang across the community in Renous and surrounding areas, including the Blackville School, where Thomas attended elementary and junior high.
Many displays for the national contest feature “T6,” standing for Thomas and his hockey jersey number.
“If he knew his ‘T6’ was on a pair of skates in the NHL, he’d be amazed,” Dunn says.
Despite having life taken from him too soon, the athletic teen made his impact felt in the community.
“Thomas was a very mannerly young fella. (There) was never a problem with him anytime I was around the arena,” says Raymond Singleton, the rink manager.
The community has been hit with a number of tragic deaths in the past couple years, but continues to move forward.
“We’ve dealt with it every way we could and I think this is part of our way of dealing with it,” says Blackville Mayor Christopher Hennessy, “and showing that we’re still here, and we’re going to make it through it, and we’re fighting to win this.”
The Tom Donovan Arena is in need of an estimated $400,000, according to Singleton. Repairs include fixing the refrigeration unit, replacing emergency exits, fixing up the main entryway, and establishing an actual dressing room for girls. Sometimes their only option is to change in a storage closet, converted into a makeshift dressing room.
“If it’s not chosen, I don’t think we can do it,” Singleton says.
While signage and displays hang throughout the region, it’s a story of people banding together to support an important initiative.
The support is growing, even garnering attention from the legislature.
“People from all over Canada… The schools are abuzz, the community is abuzz,” said Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin MLA Jake Stewart.
“We need this win for New Brunswick.”
Paying tribute to Tom Donovan and remembering Thomas Dunn as part of an initiative that will hopefully have a lasting impact in the community for years to come.
“It’s just unbelievable… He would be so proud,” Dunn says.
Voting opens Friday and the winner of the contest will be announced Saturday.