Tag Archives: Orillia Community Centre

The Kitchen Table In Orillia

To everyone who has sent kind thoughts regarding my dad, I thank you all very much. I’m very touched, as is Luci and my brother and his wife Kelly, who have read these comments on this site and also on Twitter, Facebook and emails. Everyone has been so great, and I’m tremendously appreciative. It must be true – Habs fan are nicer people than other fans. And if you say you aren’t a Habs fan, you probably are and just don’t realize it.

I’m sitting at my brother’s kitchen table in Orillia, after a flight from Vancouver where I sat beside two toddlers and had one behind me kicking my seat.

My family seems to have issues. Two sisters aren’t going to the funeral – one has found God and says she doesn’t need to be near the physical dad and that she’ll be talking to his spirit, and the other who doesn’t want to go because she got into a tiff with my brother. But whatever. Aren’t most families screwed up? Or is it just mine and a couple of others?

Tomorrow I’m going for a walk to see the old arena, which is about to be torn down. Yes indeed, the Orillia Community Centre, where a smallish-yet-shifty right winger scored often, even with a mediocre shot. Imagine what he could have done if he had a decent shot? And was a tad bigger. And maybe a bit smarter on the ice. And probably a little stronger and faster. But aside from these few things, can you imagine?

I love my hometown. Good old Orillia. I couldn’t wait to get out when I was younger, and now I can’t wait to come back and visit. Just not for funerals, that’s all.

The funeral director was an old teammate of mine when I was a kid. He took over the family funeral business when his dad retired, and I haven’t seen him since high school. I guess I’ll be seeing him in a few days. His dad used to help with the driving when we would play out of town. Everybody wanted to ride in Jack Mundell’s car because he liked to go about 90 mph. My dad was the opposite, a slow driver, and it was embarrassing.

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.