Belleville, Ontario (Map)
That last schoolhouse visit came as we drove northeast to Montreal. As I knew the three of us would be leaving Windsor midday and unable to cover the 9 hour drive to get there at any reasonable hour, I had ulterior motives in suggesting that we split the drive up with a night in Belleville, just over halfway to Le belle province.
Not only does Belleville have appeal as a place where I haven't spend much time - I haven't spent much time at all in the Ottawa-Toronto corridor to be honest - but it is also home to the bygone arena of the Belleville Bulls.
Unlike the Quebec League where they haven't replaced every old junior hockey barn to appease modern-day, thirsting for comfort, #1stworldproblem people; the Ontario Hockey League is home to a bunch of mini-NHL rinks. The gigantic WFCU Centre has replaced the intimate Windsor Arena, Sault Ste. Marie has replaced their Sault Memorial Gardens, Kingston has their K-Rock Centre replacement of the Kingston Memorial Gardens, Niagara has their replacement of the Jack Gatecliff Arena by the Meridian Centre, and the list goes on and on.
This was the reason I wanted to see Yardmen Arena as much as any other arena in the Ontario Hockey League. It was only opened in 1978, but with unique seating areas in the OHL's smallest arena, a strange ice surface size (Olympic) and next-to-nothing to be confused with Nationwide in Columbus or whatever other cookie-cut arena, that's more than enough.
Of course I'd take responsibility for picking up our tickets, where I made sure to get the unique balcony seats that they have in Belleville. Whereas there's two conventional embankments of seating rows on each side of the ice, there are also two balconies hanging over these lower bowls. It's not the same as your normal OHL or NHL rink though, as it's much closer to the ice than normal. Steve even remarked on how great the seats were, in that you're sitting on top of the action, sticking out further than you would normally on any other second deck.
I didn't wander around as much as I normally do when by myself, but while on a beer run, I dawdled a little more than necessary, finding interest in the gates and doors that bar non-ticket holders from reaching the balconies.
Although, I don't remember anyone checking my ticket here, so maybe it's only for games with better attendance.
After the Yardmen Arena (then named the Quinte Sports Centre) was built in 1978, the Belleville Bulls played in Junior Tier II for three years, until being granted a franchise by the Ontario Hockey League in 1981. During their 33 years in the league, they've won the OHL championship once (1998-99) and participated in the Memorial Cup twice (in 2008, Kitchener was the host team so they were automatically in, and Belleville would participate as the OHL runner-up representative).
Even through having P.K. Subban during that 2008 run, they've never won the Memorial Cup. (The Memorial Cup is a tournament for all of junior hockey, with the OHL vs. Quebec vs. the Western Hockey League.)
Plastered to one end of the rink, the Belleville Bull head is a great touch. It took us way too long to notice it, as maybe we were scouting P.K.'s little brother Jordan too heavily. We surely weren't that intrigued by a game where Oshawa smoked Belleville out of their own building by a score of 5-0.
As for the future, I think you can see where this is going with the Yardmen Arena. Plenty of people blame Belleville's attendance problem on the old building, so there are calls to build Belleville's own mini-NHL arena like everywhere else. There is a small amount of hope though, as there are some calls to simply add a curving bank of seating around the Yardmen Arena's one end - along with some other renovations - to improve the Yardmen enough to grow the game in Belleville. With only 50000 people in Belleville, it's questioned whether they can afford or need a $71 million dollar rink like Windsor, for example.
What an idea: renovating and keeping the quirks of the older building! With municipal elections in the near future, we shall see which option is actually embarked upon though.
I find it funny that on the trip where I discovered my love for Quebec Major Junior Hockey - with visits to Drummondville & Victoriaville - that I then finished up that weekend with a trip to Kingston's sterile arena. If I had simply went an hour down the road to Belleville, I would have thought good ole' barns were simply a junior hockey thing. Belleville's Yardmen Arena is definitely not like the Essar Centre in the Sault or what I imagine Windsor's WFCU Centre to be, as it is closer to the Quebec arenas.
It is with that resemblance, where I love the arenas of the QMJHL, that Belleville ranks pretty high on my limited list of rinks in the OHL. I prefer the 1938 Jack Gatecliff Arena in St. Catharines and Windsor Arena obviously, but I would take it over Kingston's K-Rock Centre and the Sault's Essar Centre. That's not a very extensive list - and the two arenas I like are now vacated by the OHL - but I do know that once I go to Guelph, London, Mississauga, etc.; that they'll all slot below Belleville.
The three of us walked back from the Yardmen Arena, over the Moira River, past a riverfront park and away from big box sprawl, onto the motel and greasy spoon feeder road where we were staying.
We'd have some drinks in the motel room and watch the World Juniors, until I finally decided to take my other friend's advice about this place to go out in Belleville. My friend had been here about 10 years ago, so I was unsure if it'd hold true, but "some cowboy bar" ended up being pretty good, with I think every Bellevillian there on this night.
And even some tall toques from Windsor.
And well, bars that serve cheap brown bottles will get you where you want to go.
The Avalon Motel is not where you want to go? Are you criticizing my choice in accommodations, where the bedroom door doesn't sit flush in the door frame and the A/C unit had yellow streaks running down it?
Whatever then. You go spend the extra $50 for the Best Western Belleville.
I liked our Avalon Motel with the abandoned Cadillac.
I'd convince the group to go into Belleville's heart to have breakfast, so I could see more of the city besides only going to their old school Beer Store on the fringes of downtown (neither the Avalon Motel, Yardmen Arena or Little Texas are downtown.)
The downtown would have hints of Kingston's great history and stone architecture, situated alongside curving rivers and intact street blocks. This all came together to grow some Belleville interest in me, although I don't know how much more there would be to discover due to its limited size.
We'd merge onto the 401 afterwards and Steve lost his expensive breakfast within about 10 minutes. Whereas I only have memories of foggily driving this stretch of 401 back from school in Nova Scotia, now I have a special pool noodle memory outside of Belleville.
Go Back to the Main Page of this Website
1 - Buzzing The Net - With Belleville Bulls’ arena problem, bigger and new might not equal better
2 - The Windsor Star - Arena Kickoff Ends 30 Years of Waiting
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