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.