Pat Burns was on hand for the official sod-turning ceremony for the arena that will bear his name on Wednesday afternoon.
Several former players from the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs were in Stanstead, Que., including Guy Carbonneau, Doug Gilmour and Felix Potvin.
The federal and provincial governments have invested $5.4 million in this project, but $2 million more is needed to complete the work.
It will serve the city, surrounding municipalities as well as students of Stanstead College.
The 58-year-old Montreal native has been fighting a battle with terminal lung cancer for a number of years.
Burns was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004 and liver cancer in 2005, the latter forcing him to retire from coaching.
The three-time winner of the Jack Adams award as coach of the year made his last public appearance in March when the town announced it would build the arena.
Burns coached the Montreal Canadiens from 1988-92. He also coached the Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils. In 2003, he guided the Devils to a Stanley Cup win.