The name Jim McCormack may not necessarily be spoken in the same breath as Martin Luther King Jr. or President John F. Kennedy. However, a similarity may evolve with regard to historical importance. Martin Luther King, coined the phrase "I have a vision" and John F. Kennedy spoke the immortal words "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". Jim McCormack had a vision in 1946 when he decided that an association of arena operators could be formed to work together for their mutual benefit.

Why it all started - Most arenas in this province in the early 1940s were operated as a sideline for companies producing block ice for supply to neighbourhood ice boxes. It was a natural evolution to attach an arena next to these companies so that indoor ice for skating and hockey could be made by taking advantage of the refrigeration plants already in place to make block ice. These arenas were, in most cases, privately owned, controlling the presentation of hockey, ice shows, circuses and other forms of entertainment.

At that time, an organization to service the needs of arenas was already established and was known as the International Arenas Association. This association included mostly arenas from the United States as well as Maple Leaf Gardens and the Montreal Forum.

Following World War II, many municipalities sought out tangible memorials to acknowledge the sacrifice made by the men and women who served this country in the armed services. Arenas and auditoriums were constructed in many communities as memorials to the sacrifices made during the war.

How it all started - Jim McCormack felt that these new arenas needed to form an organization to give them some "buying power". Percy Thompson, owner of the Hamilton Arena and Ice Company and George Patterson of the Artic Arena and Ice Company were contacted to come aboard. A meeting was set up in Hamilton in 1946. Ironically Percy Thompson made the arrangements but did not attend. However, George Patterson, Jim McCormack, Claude Tice, Jack Dent and T.S. Clarke did attend and as a result, became the founding members.

George Patterson became President and Jim McCormack the secretary-treasurer.

A natural affiliation with dealers in arena supplies became a vital part of this fledgling organization and representatives of these companies attended monthly meetings of the organization.

They continue to do so today and comprise a valuable component of our membership. Some of the early affiliates included: N.O. Hippel Construction Company, Linde Refrigeration, Super Puft, Coca Cola and Nestles.

Monthly meetings during these early days were held on Sunday at various locations in southern Ontario while the June meetings were held across the province. The June meetings were highlighted by train and boat travel.

Historical Events:

  • The Ontario Arenas Association was incorporated on September 8, 1951.
  • Jada Dahmer took over as Secretary-Treasurer in 1955, a position he held for 35 years.
  • In 1956 the first annual "in service" training program was established, with the first sessions taking place at the University of Western Ontario, 65 practitioners attended.
  • In 1957 this program was moved to the University of Guelph.
  • On July 4, 1962, the Secretary-Treasurer was given the Power of Attorney on behalf of the Ontario Arenas Association Inc.
  • In 1965 the elected office of the Secretary-Treasurer was disbanded and replaced with the office of Secretary-Manager, who would be appointed and not elected.
  • In June 1990, the name of the Ontario Arenas Association Inc. was changed to the ONTARIO RECREATION FACILITIES ASSOCIATION INC.

Organizational Review and Strategic Plan

In the 1980s it became apparent that many arena managers and recreation directors were becoming more and more responsible for the operation of multi-purpose facilities rather than just arenas. In order to remain current with the changing times, the Ontario Arenas Association Inc. undertook a major organizational review in 1987 to examine the roles of our members in the delivery of recreational services in their communities and to determine if the association was meeting the needs of the membership as their responsibilities changed. The firm of Donald Getz and Associates was contracted to examine every facet of the existing operation as well as obtain feedback from members and other recreation professionals throughout Ontario and in other parts of the country.

The result of the organizational review was the formation of a Strategic Plan that would, based on information received, provide a course for future direction for the association. On January 9, 1990 the Executive of the O.A.A. unanimously approved and accepted the Strategic Plan.

The Strategic Plan was intended to provide the Association with a framework for change over the next five years. Revisions to the mandate, goals and objectives, name, logo, membership categories and membership services were made to meet the challenges facing the association. The association took an important step in ensuring that all members had access to personalized presentations dealing with the Strategic Plan. These presentations, which were carried out in every zone in the province, gave the membership access to first hand information and provided the opportunity to ask questions so that a full understanding of the Strategic Plan could be received.

As well, all qualifying members had the opportunity to vote by mail-in ballot of acceptance or rejection of the Strategic Plan. The plan was accepted by the membership and provided direction into the future.

The Strategic Plan was based on a detailed and comprehensive organizational review, evaluation of the options and assessment of the implications of recommended changes.

Significant Changes


  • John Milton was hired as the first full-time Executive Director in September, 1989.
  • A full-time office would be located at the Ontario Sport and Recreation Centre, 1185 Eglinton Avenue East, North York, Ontario.
  • The new mandate for this Association is to provide services to all recreation facility personnel.

We have grown from the humble beginnings as the O.A.A., an association that has played a significant role in the provision of recreation facility services in this province since the late 1940s. Our members have earned the respect of municipal, provincial and federal governments as well as that of their colleagues in the recreation field.

The ONTARIO RECREATION FACILITIES ASSOCIATION INC. will continue with the proud heritage established in the past and will continue to make a significant impact in the recreation facilities field as we enter the new millennium. The vision and commitment are not lost.

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