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Springhiller recognized for evacuating arena before roof collapsed

Harry ‘Bob’ Arsenault holds a framed certificate recently presented to him by Mark Furey (right), the Nova Scotia Minister of Justice, on behalf of Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. Also on hand for the presentation was (from left), Mark Joseph, who nominated Arsenault for the award; Tory Rushton, MLA for Cumberland South, who helped Joseph secure the award, and Bob’s wife June.
Harry ‘Bob’ Arsenault holds a framed certificate recently presented to him by Mark Furey (right), the Nova Scotia Minister of Justice, on behalf of Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. Also on hand for the presentation was (from left), Mark Joseph, who nominated Arsenault for the award; Tory Rushton, MLA for Cumberland South, who helped Joseph secure the award, and Bob’s wife June. - Dave Mathieson

Harry (Bob) Arsenault helped avert tragedy Feb. 1, 2001

SPRINGHILL, N.S. – It’s close to the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the old Springhill arena.

Thanks to the quick thinking of Bob Arsenault that anniversary won’t be a tragic one.

“Without your prompt action and calm direction to those in the arena that day this story could have had a very different ending,” Mark Furey, the Nova Scotia Minister of Justice, said during a visit to Arsenault’s home in Springhill.

A peewee hockey game was being played in the arena on Feb. 1, 2001, and close to 150 people narrowly escaped the arena before it collapsed under the weight of the snow.

“Your observations and timely response to this roof collapse was instrumental in preventing injury and death,” added Furey.

Furey, along with Tory Rushton and Mark Joseph, recently visited Arsenault to present him with a certificate recognizing the lives he saved that day.

The certificate was drawn up after Joseph, who grew up skating and playing hockey in Springhill, approached Rushton, the MLA for Cumberland South, about nominating Arsenault for the award. Word of Joseph’s wish made its way to the premier’s office, via Furey, and Stephen McNeil quickly signed off on the idea.

“Tory and Mark felt there was an opportunity to recognize you for what you did that day and how meaningful it was for your community,” Furey said to Arsenault upon the presentation of the certificate.

On that day almost 19 years ago, Arsenault saw the beams on the roof begin to buckle under the weight of the snow, and he acted fast.

“I called Jon (referee Tannahill) over and I said, ‘Jon, get these kids off the ice,’ and within not even a minute, as they were coming off, the roof came down,” Arsenault said.

Before leaving the arena, Arsenault made sure the bathrooms were clear of people.

“I went into the bathroom and the walls started coming down and I said, ‘I better get out of here.’”

He got out in the nick of time. As he exited the arena, wind from the collapsing roof pushed him out of the building.

Rushton, who lives in Oxford, was supposed to be in the arena at the time.

“I was supposed to referee that game but I was called to work that morning.”

Arsenault worked at the Springhill arena, both the old one and the new one, over a span of 23 years and retired seven years ago.

“Years ago we used to get 300 people skating in the run of a day. If you get 50 now, you’re lucky,” Arsenault said. “It’s all about computers now.”

Joseph said the arena was the heartbeat of the community when he was growing up.

“If any parent wanted to know where you were they just phoned the rink. You could hear the phone ring,” Joseph said. “It was skating Friday nights, house league on Saturday, skating Saturday night, and then Junior B hockey on Sunday.”

Arsenault was a longtime volunteer with the Springhill Fire Department, and his wife June a longtime volunteer with the SFD’s ladies auxiliary.

Furey thanked them both for their commitment to Springhill.

“June, we all know as volunteers that you’re the support mechanism behind Bob. It was you and your family who allow him the time to go about the work he does on behalf of his community,” said Furey. “He may be the recipient in name today but, really, it is a recognition of your family for the contributions you made to your community.”

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