Category Archives: Orillia

The Orillia Stroll (Before Niagara)

photo

Wow, it was busy on the notorious Highway 401 in Toronto and then the QEW that took us to Niagara Falls.

Busy, busy, busy.

It’s a good thing I’m from Orillia, where men drive cars well and women crazy.

It’s so busy it reminds me of Joyce Ave. in Powell River on a Friday night.

It’ll be a fine day and evening here in Niagara. Warm, with a clear blue sky. I thought I could hear the roar of the falls from our hotel room but it’s possible it’s just my stomach.

**********************************

I can’t stop thinking about Orillia.

I walked the main drag past the pool hall, which unfortunately burned down years ago, and past the Shangri-La, which is no longer the Shangri-La.

I rounded the corner and looked at the Geneva Theatre, where I saw The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, and which is now a bingo hall, just across from the Top Hat pool hall, which was condemned decades ago.

I headed up to the arena, which was locked and is about to be torn down, and across the way, the Oval ballpark, where my peewee team shone, and is now a school.

Up the hill to my high school, which is closed and will be torn down this summer. The lady in the office let us walk around, and I wondered where my locker, where I kept all my cheat sheets, used to be.

Over to the church, which was locked, but which brought back fond memories of when I was an altar boy and set the back of my clothes on fire while lighting candles.

Down at the park, another ballpark where I probably almost hit several triples, has vanished, replaced by nothing. And I couldn’t bear to see the empty lot that was once the Club Pavalon dance hall.

The dock where I fished must have sunk. The change room where I stood on my bike and saw my first set of boobs is now a big fancy deal that you can’t see in, even on a bicycle.

Down I walked to the West Ward, where I grew up, and I gazed at the ballpark where one of future Maple Leaf Rick Ley’s fastballs knocked my front tooth out, and I wondered why home plate is now in the outfield and vice versa. And the outdoor rink with the wood stove in the old shack is now an old field with too many weeds.

Onward to the Moose Lodge, which is now an old folk’s home. Over to my house, which was bought by someone who decided to leave my dad’s artwork on the garage door, which isn’t far from the Dominion store where I played ball hockey and is now a medical centre.

Up to the hospital where I was born, and it’s still there. I didn’t recognize it, but it’s where my hospital was so it must be it. Across the street, West Ward school, where I went from grades one to three, is now  the hospital parking lot. My catholic school was torn down and replaced by another, although they kept the same name.

Down West St. to Otaco, the factory I worked in, and it’s now a field, and back up to P&M, another factory where I assembled toilet doors and Gulf signs, and I see it’s now a building full of offices.

I’ve missed Orillia. And other than a few things, it’s still the same old place.

 

The Old Orillia Arena Is Coming To An End

 It was announced a few days back that my old hometown arena in Orillia is on its last legs, and that its doors are now locked due to structural damage.

It’s a sad thought for me, the idea that the old arena could be no more. But it’s 60 years old, built by volunteers after the war, and I suppose its time has come.

There are so many memories.

Rocket Richard came there in 1962. I was there and watched as he skated around, waved to the crowd, dropped the puck for some brief little kids’ games, and made a small speech.

I learned to skate and play hockey at this old barn, and I became good enough to join all-star teams that took on all comers from central and southern Ontario.

My dad, because he was a sign painter, was one of the guys who sometimes painted the lines on the ice at the arena.

Lester Pearson held a political rally there, and the Prime Minister signed my ticket stub, “PM.”

Every Sunday afternoon was public skating, and it was a time when I’d work up enough nerve to ask a pretty girl to hold my hand and skate with me for a few minutes. It was nerve wracking. And of course, midway through public skating, everything would stop, and many of us would grab shovels and clean the ice as those pretty young girls watched with admiration at how talented we were with a shovel.

The Los Angeles Kings played an exhibition game there before they’d even played their first game ever in the NHL.

The Oshawa Generals and Niagara Falls Flyers came to town. The Orillia newspaper beforehand ran a photo of Flyers defenceman Don Awrey, and even though I hadn’t heard of him, when the Flyers walked through the lobby, I called out if Don Awrey was there. Ron Schock grabbed my toque and pulled it over my eyes.

That same night, the Generals and Flyers got into a massive bench-clearing brawl started, I believe, by Bill Goldsworthy.

Don Messer’s Jubilee played here, and I said hello to singer Tommy Hunter.

I practically lived at the Orillia arena, and I can still smell the smells, feel the old wool hockey sweaters on my skin, taste the hot dogs and hot chocolate, picture the dressing rooms and recall some of the shenanigans that went on in there, and of course, the adrenaline rush as we stood up from our benches, walked the short way to the ice, and skated out to the cheers of a several dozen family and friends.

It looks like, I guess, the old arena will soon be no more. It’s going to be sad, because it was my youth. I spent more time there than anywhere else. It was where my friends were, where those pretty girls were, where my hockey was.

It was where I tried so hard to get better so I could become a Montreal Canadien some day.