LAC LA BICHE - He's got a jar of sand, red shale... and memories.
Lac La Biche's Lloyd Fleming, a retired businessman and construction expert who owned Fleming Cats for several decades could only watch last week as construction equipment stripped away two baseball diamonds that have been — like him — a part of community history.
Making way for a more leisure-based park, the two remaining baseball diamonds in the Lac La Biche Recreation Grounds were cleared to bare ground last week. The new McArthur Park plan — a $7.3 million renovation to the 100 year-old recreation area in the centre of the Lac La Biche hamlet — will replace the diamonds with walking paths, green spaces, a skatepark and bike park, cultural gardens and a common area for general gatherings.
Fleming's wife Lavon said he and many other community members considered the ball diamonds a gathering places for years, watching and supporting local baseball teams including the Lac La Biche Dodgers. A version of the senior men's team has been part of the community's sporting landscape since 1914. Fleming and several other business owners were big sponsors of the team over the last 50 years, helping to bring Triple-A level baseball to the community from the 1970s to the early 2000s.
Calling her husband "the last survivor of the original Triple A Dodger sponsors," Lavon went to the baseball diamonds recently — as crews were dismantling fences, tearing down dugouts and removing stands — and scooped up several jars and cups of the Main One infield shale. She gave one to her husband, and took others to local businesses and community members with links to the diamonds.
She said there should have been some kind of formal recognition by local leaders for such an iconic and memorable part of the community's long history. But there wasn't.
"Our diamonds were torn down in a cowardly way, with no proper retirement of that hallowed ground," Lavon said in a recent social media comment. She said the ball diamonds have so many memories for players, coaches, managers, sponsors, game announcers and fans, and a lot of those memories came back to many who received the little containers of sand and shale.
"I had the pleasure of taking shale from Diamond One and delivering it to different people in town. And it was amazing how many local businessmen appreciated it," she told the Lac La Biche POST newsroom in a message.
Helicopter drying and other stories
Her own husband is part of many stories about the diamonds — including a classic where he used a helicopter contracted to his company to hover over the diamond on a wet and dreary game-day, drying the soaked infield with the down-draft of the rotor blades. There's other stories about diesel fuel being ignited on the infield to help dry the ground as well.
They are all stories and memories held now by Fleming and several other community members in jars of red sand.
Going to Goodfish
Part of the demolition plan for the baseball diamonds included an agreement with the Goodfish Lake First Nation to re-purpose the fencing and infield shale for its own community recreation grounds. Crews from Goodfish have been busy over the last few weeks taking apart the diamonds, to give them a new home in a new community.
Lac La Biche County officials say three diamonds at the Bold Center Sports fields — part of the now completed $18 million project that includes an artificial turf football field, a 400-metre running track, soccer fields and a campground — will replace the old diamonds. Two more ball diamonds at the Aurora Middle School playing fields are expected to be upgraded to keep up with demands.
The new McArthur Park plan will take shape over the next three years. The plan will include upgrades and additions to the beachfront area near the McArthur Place municipal administrative offices, parking provisions and areas for food-trucks. The park area, made up of half a dozen land parcels, includes the main block of proposed parkland between 100 Street and 99 Street, and also stretches of greenspace leading along the shoreline towards the private property known as Squirrely's Point.
All of the land is currently zoned for park and recreation uses. A development permit was approved for the new project at a Municipal Planning Commission meeting in March. The same approval included a variance to reduce parking requirements outlined in the community's current Land Use Bylaw.