In 1953 Saskatoon City Commissioner H.W. Balfour proposed an innovative idea for a sport and cultural complex in Saskatoon’s southwest. Calling it a recreation centre, Balfour saw parks, picnic grounds, playgrounds, rinks, ball and football fields, a golf course, and an expansive new Western Development Museum on 120 hectares (297 acres) of land south of 11th Street West to the river, west of Avenue P. Balfour dreamed of a recreation area so diverse and powerful that it would draw visitors from around the city and beyond.

Finally, in 1960, Saskatoon City Council gave the Riverside Holiday Centre Committee the green light to proceed with park development. The Committee recommended a new name, Holiday Park. That year, the Holiday Park Football Bowl opened and construction of the Kinsmen Arena got underway. In 1961, a new concrete grandstand was completed, and both the campground and Kinsmen Arena opened. The Holiday Park Golf Course opened in 1962. In 1963, the Holiday Park Ball Field (later Cairns Field) opened. In 1965 the Holiday Park Fastball Field (Bob Van Impe Field) was built south of the grandstand. Other ball fields included Leakos Field and a group of six softball diamonds called Glen Reeve.

On July 22, 1966 Holiday Park was renamed Gordon Howe Park in honour of hockey hero Gordie Howe who went to school at nearby King George School.

In 1971, the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval opened, built as part of Saskatoon’s hosting of the 1971 Canada Winter Games. In 1972, the Western Development Museum moved to the east side.

More recently, in September 2014, the name of the Gordie Howe Bowl was changed to the Saskatoon Minor Football Field at Gordon Howe Park. A new clubhouse was opened in 2015.

Now interested citizens and the City have embarked on the Gordie Howe Revitalization. The revitalization plan includes an international standard track and field complex at the speed skating oval, a multi-sport training centre with a turf field, and upgrades to the speed skating oval and Cairns and Leakos ball fields, as well as cross-country ski trails.

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Some people have concerns that the plan proposes felling about 216 mature trees and planting 290 new saplings, which would change the look and feel of the area. The plan also proposes expanding the parking lot at Kinsmen Arena; people cautioned that drainage was important to keep in mind.

MPCA members asked if the new upgrade was going to include at least two points for entrance and exit. The reply was no, that “Within the new complex there is only going to be enough room for one entrance into the new facility. The City has been working with Transportation and they have completed a traffic study of the area and will project out the new usage patterns. We (the City) will work with them to implement any changes to signage and traffic patterns that are suggested through the Traffic Study.”

Anyone who has left after a busy Hilltop game knows that having only one way in and out of the area is a frustration and a disappointment. A second route through the industrial area seems preferable to the current sole route through residential neighbourhoods.

In many ways, today’s reimagined Gordie Howe Sports Complex reflects the same enthusiasm and dreams of City Commissioner Balfour 65 years ago. The grassroots initiative behind the Revitalization Plan shows passion and backing from people who believe that Saskatoon is long overdue for improvements in the City’s sporting infrastructure.