Colosseum more than hockey rink

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial has been corrected in listing Calumet’s Albert Joseph Smith and Oscar Johnson of Foster City as the only two Upper Peninsula natives who received the Medal of Honor.

That Calumet is Hockeyville is not exactly breaking news in the Copper Country, but it is news that the village is finally recognized in its rightful place as the top hockey town in the country.

It is definitely the right call. If there is another place outside the Copper Country where hockey is so ingrained with the past, so integral to its identity, so big a part of a community’s life and values like Calumet, we would sure like to hear about it.

As a structure built in 1913, the Calumet Colosseum is regarded as the oldest continually used rink in North America, as declared in USA Hockey magazine. Its metal walls and domed roof holds a literal and figurative history that not only tells the story of local hockey but also a tribute to those who served their country in wars throughout American history.

So while hockey is a big part of this museum, the Colosseum tells an even bigger story, a step back in time to honor those from this mining community all those who fought, including those gave their last full measure of devotion that this nation might live.

The Colosseum was sold to the state of Michigan in 1942 following a fire at the local National Guard Armory and became known as the Armory until the summer of 2005, when Calumet Township traded 12 acres of property, on which a new National Guard Armory would be built, in exchange for ownership of the rink, and promptly switched the name back to the Colosseum.

The photographs and war memorabilia are still on display, including an homage to Calumet’s Albert Joseph Smith, who along with Oscar Johnson of Foster City are the only Upper Peninsula natives to receive the Medal of Honor.

When artificial ice was added in 1968, it was almost entirely done by volunteer labor from the community. During a copper miner strike, the miners picketed in the mornings, and eventually many of them — promised no more than lunch and coffee — walked across the street and worked all day to install the Colosseum’s new artificial ice.

This hockey mecca and museum also is home to the International Frisbee Hall of Fame.

In a larger sense, this is an honor for the entire Copper Country, which is dotted with Hockeyvilles across the counties of Houghton, Keweenaw and Baraga. Relative to population, high school hockey here has as intense a following as anywhere, including Minnesota and Massachusetts. Thousands of fans from across the region consistently fill MacInnes Arena for Michigan Tech games and will rival the home crowd at Northern Michigan University when the Huskies play there.

There is simply no other community ice arena like the Colosseum. While it is soaked in history, it is also revered by local residents, as proven by the incredibly moving and heartfelt testimonials they submitted during the contest period.

Longtime natives glowingly described how this venue of the hockey-crazed community is a place where children were raised, developed lifelong friendships and learned important life values.

“It’s the center of a community where hockey is everything, and only thing everybody supports,” one testimonial said.

But Calumet has had to deal with a decline in the local economy since the end of copper mining four decades ago. Along with that, the Colosseum’s age and use have resulted in maintenance issues the concerned community cannot afford to address.

That is why the Hockeyville designation, with a prize of $150,000 to pay for improvements and upgrades is such great timing for Calumet Township. While this designation is overdue, it could not have come at a better time in terms of maintaining the facility.

With the grant, the Colosseum can continue to be a venue to provide hockey opportunities for local kids, instilling them with values of teamwork, how to be a member of community and provide them with social activity as an alternative to social media screen time.

It is almost like all the past, present and future citizens are getting rewarded for their love of the game and the venerable place where it is played.

A Daily Mining Gazette editorial