Kerrisdale Arena project documents rink’s history

Lisa Nielsen and Rene Cherrie have brought scrapbooking into the digital age.

The Vancouver duo are behind the Kerrisdale Arena Rock project, a multi-month trip down memory lane that fuses sound, video, photos and other media that speaks to the venerable barn’s 65-plus years of history.

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The project kicked off in January and the pair are in the midst of collecting stories from residents and archival materials that will feed into their mixed-media project encompassing their seven-month stay at the ice rink.

“I really want to put it out there that this building is still standing and that there’s a real sense of history here,” Cherrie said. “There have been some amazing occurrences here that don’t happen anymore. We want to show people how valuable this place has been over the decades and how important it is to people.”  

Since setting up shop, the pair have been canvassing the neighbourhood twice weekly in search of nuggets from yesteryear. They’ve been to seniors’ centres and other community hubs, along with approaching complete strangers in the rink’s lobby. The stories recorded to date typically revolve around skating, hockey and a sense of the community’s place in Vancouver’s history.

By month’s end, a “creative lounge” will be set up in the lobby to illustrate the work they’ve done and their path moving forward.  

“Trying to explain what we’re doing is near impossible, so that’s why they want to have some visual representation up,” Nielsen said. “Once people get it, they loop others into the project and get other people involved and talking about what we’re doing.”

Cherrie and Nielsen’s collaborative history goes back to the 1990s, when the two bounced around various bands together. Nielsen maintains multiple gigs in the arts sector and has done community engagement work for the Vancouver Park Board; that previous experience led the pair to apply to the park board for their artist-in-residency position last summer.

Cherrie, on the other hand, is an audio engineer. To that end, he’s in charge of charge of the mics, laptop and recording, while Nielsen is at the helm of all things visual.

“I’ve talked to at least 100 people since we started and it’s been so interesting,” Cherrie said. “Everyone has their own history, and we are trying to dive into that.”  

One particular piece of history the pair is trying to suss out is the rink’s otherworldly inhabitants — rumour has it that the Vancouver Thunderbirds aren’t the only ones who call the rink home.

“I always believe that old buildings have ghosts and I have heard there is a ghost in here,” Nielsen said. “I didn’t get the sense that it is malevolent.”  

The ghosts of punk, metal and reggae also reside in Kerrisdale Arena. Opened in 1949, the arena once hosted the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets, the Clash, Peter Tosh, Motorhead, Devo and Frank Zappa until the early ’80s. For a band that would go on to release an album called Everything Louder Than Everything Else, it’s fitting that Motorhead’s May 1982 concert in Kerrisdale would be the arena’s last due to noise concerns.

That musical lineage will be a central focus as part of the end deliverable the pair will produce in August. “We don’t exactly know what the finished piece will be, but it will be immersive,” Nielsen said. “We want it to be loud and we want it to represent what the arena really was in the past. The concerts that were once here, they’re gone. But that aspect really resonates with people when they see something transformative like a giant rock show.”

Cherrie and Nielsen are inviting area residents to share their stories with them in person at the rink or online via kerrisdalearenarock.blogspot.ca.

@JohnKurucz

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