Word has come down that the Orillia Community Centre, after 61 years as home to skaters and shooters and wrestlers and fall fairs, will be flattened and I don’t mind saying, I’m quite upset about this. It’s not that old, is it?
The Orillia Arena, in the heart of the city, is where I learned to skate. It’s where I belonged to teams and scored my first goal and scored more in later years when I became a smallish-yet-shifty right winger for the Orillia Byer’s Bulldozers bantam and midget teams.
I tried to pattern myself after Ralph Backstrom, and I used to get numerous breakaways, sort of like Tomas Plekanec, and my big move was to veer to the right of the goalie, then shoot it over to the left. But I digress.
It’s where I went to public skating every Sunday and tried to work up enough nerve to ask Brenda Clark or Janice Emmons to skate, which meant you got to hold hands with them, which meant it was sort of like sex in a way.
The old arena is where Ron Clarke and I trudged up to from the west ward with stick and duffel bag slung over our shoulders, and I probably mentioned to him that Brenda Clark wants me to be her boyfriend. Rocket Richard came to the arena, Bobby Orr played there, I saw Orr’s brother Ron in action there often, and retired NHL great Cal Gardner was on the Orillia senior team. It even boasted a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth at one end, like the old Winnipeg Arena did.
The grand arena was built by volunteers - men after their regular work day was through, kids joining in after school, people from all over Orillia coming together and putting the thing up at a cost of $150,000. Toronto Maple Leaf great Turk Broda showed for the opening ceremonies, which I didn’t know until recently, and as the years went by, it earned its rightful place as ground zero for a bunch of kids like me.
First it’s the family home getting sold after my dad went into an old folks home, and now the arena is getting the wrecking ball. From an emotional point of view, it’s getting harder to get back there now. My heart works overtime. I just wish I could have one last skate at the old barn. Maybe even with Brenda Clark and Janice Emmons.