The Old Barn Going Down

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 Clarke or Janis 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.



23 thoughts on “The Old Barn Going Down”

  1. Dennis, what are they putting up in it’s place? Please don’t tell me condos or a Costco or strip mall. Please.

  2. Dennis, would you, your father or the Orillia archives have any film of that move. I hear Plekanec is looking for a new simple yet reliable move. His current one of shooting the puck softly into goalie’s belly isn’t working very well.

    Maybe they’re building a modern arena. Heated seating area, luxury boxes, a second beer tap, stage for cheer leaders.

  3. Hi Marjo.I don’t know if it’s been decided what to put there. It’s prime real estate, a great spot. The newer arena is way out of town. Everyone used to walk to the old one, but they can’t to the new. So the magic is gone forever.

  4. Chris, I doubt if there’s any film of the Big Move but I wish there was. Yes indeed, if only Plekanec could see it. Hey! I could be the shootout coach!

  5. Dennis, this kind of stuff makes me sad.

    There will never be another place like that old arena which brought so many fond memories to so many people.

    It’s such a shame a place with such history and tradition can be demolished like that for the sake of the almighty dollar.

    They call it progress…

  6. It makes me sad, Danno. Maybe it’s true you can’t go home again. And look what they did to the Montreal Forum.

  7. The Montreal Forum should have been either the Habs Hall Of Fame or The Hockey Hall Of Fame’s main headquarters. It’s sad to see the place now. Stores everywhere, a movie theater, restaurants, etc. It’s just not the same.

    I hate to see this building go down (and movie theaters as well). It just makes me think of the idea that it’s the death of dreams. Not to sound maudlin but I always felt that way about things like this. I can see so many kids there – like some guy who runs a blog whose name I can’t remember at the moment – skating on that ice and thinking they’d be the next great thing.


    Don’t feel bad Dennis – you showed more skill and drive than the “professional” Scott Gomez. So not only do you have to buy the team, you have to coach the shootout. You’ll be one busy boss.

    So people – do we actually win tonight? Wouldn’t that make a nice change?

  8. Darth, I’ll be owner and stick boy and shootout coach, but how am I ever going to find the time to make sure the wives are comfortable? I’m worried about this.

  9. Darth, we win tonight and it’s the start of the miracle comeback where we win 13 of our last 18 games. Sprague Cleghorn told me.

  10. Dennis, I’d still love to make the playoffs. It just doesn’t seem right to miss them.

    As for the ladies, well, you’ll have to learn how to multitask and then some!

    You better practice your cardio now because you’re gonna need it.

  11. DK, it had to come down, there was never anyone as shifty as you to pull the fans from their seats!!* Darth* I have visited Montreal numerous times & your city seems to get it ,refurbish your historic buildings but keep the original building in tack. It’s a shame what they have done to the Forum but it’s far worse here in T.O they have turned the Gardens into a freaking grocery store, not that I give a shit about the Laff’s but it’s our history. In T.O they may leave the facade of the original & then put up a glass tower. I know of what I write because of my day’s in construction in the elevator trade.
    I posted a few day’s back, but have a great sandwich at Reubens or Dunns for me before two enept teams try to out do themselves with total screw up’s,I can almost smell & taste them right now, it just may be the high light of your night! By the way your art work on our computor is amazing, keep them coming!!!
    Cheers & les Canadiens sont la!!!!

  12. Dennis,

    What’s most impressive is that it was built by the community. I think it’s that more than anything that is affecting about this story. (Other than it is your old place of course).

  13. Dennis this is truly sad news.I worked on the old girls refurbishing in 1987-88 can”t say I volunteered my time (Although the company might say otherwise) But what stands out in my mind aside from trying to not fall out of the rafters,was the unbelievable interest the members of the Orillia community took in the revamping of the old barn Clayt French came, in a lot former players from the different teams. Yes the Byers Bulldozers the Allen Cup winning Orillia terriers the cup winning Orillia Travelways, Hockey hall of fame broadcaster and a native Orillian Ken “Jiggs” MCdonald, former Orillians and nhl”ers Rick Ley and Clair Alexander, another former Orillian I saw there was Gordon Lightfoot all comming in to see if the the old girl was going to breath more life, and she did for fo 24 more years she gave others memories to cherish.All of those people mentioned above all came and said the same thing “Gosh the memories I have of this place”. Think I”ll ask the Hobo if he wants to go up and take one last look………….PS I can get Janis to skate one last time with you’ she married a friend of ours

  14. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the compliments. I do have more artwork coming but it’s a very slow process. I have 4 different Habs pictures I’m working on and hopefully I’ll manage to finish one someday.

    I will try to get Reuben’s. I haven’t been there in ages (and I love smoked meat sandwhiches). If I do, I’ll be thinking of you. I just pray we win again and I hope to see a great game.

  15. Hey Dennis

    It is always sad to see an old arena demolished.Have you seen the latest Sportsnet Magazine(March 12 2012)?There is an article on the now demolished Si Miller Arena in Cornwall.I spent a few months in Cornwall in the 1970s and went to a number Cornwall Royals(QMJHL) games in that barn.I remember a good game between Sorel(coached by Orval Tessier) and Cornwall.The old barns have more character and,of course, history.

    And remember Chicago Stadium.Maybe the only sporting venue I entered and actually said ‘Wow!’.I got to see games at all the Original 6(Forum,Maple Leaf Gardens,Boston Garden,Olympia Stadium,Madison Square Garden and Chicago Stadium) rinks.And the great pizza at Chicago Stadium!


  16. Mike, Darth’s artwork is great, but what about my excellent portrait of George in the Don Head piece?

  17. Blue Bayou, it is very impressive that volunteers built this. I’m not sure but my dad may have even lent a hand on occasion. Orillia built a newere one outside of town and I don’t understand why they couldn’t just fix up the old one for the same money it took to build the new one. Maybe my slapshots dented things so badly it was just impossible! Yeah, that’s it!

  18. Rugger, so great to hear from you. If I was back there I’d meet you and have one last look. When I was in Orillia a year ago Mel St. Onge took me up but the doors were locked. Too bad. I would’ve loved to walk around and go down by the players bench.
    How’s everything, Rugger? I saw a picture of you on Facebook and I thought you lookked fantastic. Janice and Brenda Clark would skate with you for sure.
    Yes, grab Hobo and go up to Orillia. Is there even a pool hall there now?

  19. Doug, I remember the smells of the Orillia barn. Tobacco and sweat and popcorn, and old sweaters in the rooms. Coffee brewing at the old stand. And there were the small dressing rooms and the manager who doubled as ticket-taker. Most of all, I remeber walking to and from on winter mornings and nights, about two miles from my house, and I did it so many times. Some nights Ron Clarke and I would stop and watch NHL games through people’s windows when we were coming home from the old barn. I guess time marches on and in the case of old arenas, I wish it wouldn’t.

  20. Dennis,

    I just stumbled across your web site today and you are taking me back.
    I played in an oldtimers tournament in the old barn a few years ago and while sitting on the bench i mentioned I had statreted my hockey career in that very building 50 years ago boy I did I feel old. LOL

    There was a mini shrine upstairs to John French (whom I also played with), Rick Ley & Bill Watters, as least the old horse troughs in the men’s washrooms had been removed. i also remember “Jiggs” doing the baseball games on CFOR , wow.

    I have a picture similar to yours with John in it (’61 or ’62) i could dig out if you’re interested in it. You know we may have even played together one of those years.

    Anyways thanks for the memories.

  21. Thanks Michael. I played with John French also, and when I first started out in atom, Rick Ley was a goalie and he’s just lay across the the goal to stop pucks because none of us could raise it. You and I were in the same circles and although I don’t remember your name, there seems to be strong chancce we crossed paths. I’m going to rack my brain about this. Thanks for reading and talking about this. I very much appreciate it. And yes, I remember the horse troughs!

  22. Dennis, we had to have crossed paths as guys like Rick Watters & Mel St. Onge were in my class at Mount Slaven & I also went to PSCI.

    Must do some more checking……

  23. Michael, I must know you. I played ball with Rick Watters, and Mel and I still keep in touch. You must have known Wayne and Warren Howes too.

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