Chatham Memorial Arena

80 Tweedsmuir Ave, Chatham, Ontario (Map)

Winter 2015-16


After last year's mother-son trip to Plymouth, we went to a different city that's about the same distance away, just without a border crossing.

There was some blowing snow around Prairie Siding, but I find it hilarious that now my parents don't even bat an eye at me driving in wintry conditions since I live in Newfoundland. Therefore we were in Chatham before we knew it.

My Mom was looking forward to a Portuguese place over by the black bridge, but strangely it was closed on Sunday. Instead we dined at a nice Italian place right downtown in that area near the mall. As I live in a place without Italian restaurants, I was more than happy with eating at Mamma Maria's.

Following dinner, tonight's hockey game was at the Chatham Memorial Arena, a great old barn built in 1949. This was going to be a little different than watching hockey at Plymouth's arena built in 1996.

This area of south Chatham was home to training grounds for the military, but the end of World War II reduced the need for such a large area. With new land open for other uses, Chatham decided to construct a new hockey rink here in the late 40s, replacing their original rink from the 1920s. The new arena opened on October 3rd, 1949 with an exhibition game against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Detroit Red Wings visiting for the grand opening speaks to the impressiveness of this arena when first constructed. In the same opening day flyer, the Chatham Memorial Arena is described as "the best of its size in the country" - note that that's country, not county. The flyer then goes on to brag about having unobstructed views of the ice as well, because around this time, cities were replacing many of the first era rinks that had to have roof pillars in the way of the spectators.

Away from that opening day flyer, I can't find much more history about Chatham Memorial. About the only other thing is that Rush played here on June 15th 1976 and the local Chatham Maroons won the Sutherland Cup for all of Jr. B hockey in 1999 (I think the championship game was in Stratford though).

There's also an aerial photo online that shows Chatham Memorial Arena in 1967. Standing next door is the Kinsmen Auditorium, which was an old drill hall that was torn down only a couple of years ago.

It's a bit of a stretch to say this arena reminded me of older arenas from my youth, because it's actually closer to the Quebec league games I've attended in even older buildings. (It also really reminded me of the old St. Catherine's rink.)

Chatham's front door was a simple old steel door like you'd find on an elementary school, which opened into a narrow concourse under the stands with a small concession area and homemade signs pointing towards the dressing rooms. Going up the stairs towards our seats, I was suddenly surprised that Chatham still had wooden bleacher seating. How awesome was this!

After accidentally sitting on one of the spraypainted M's and having a friendly man explain that they mark season ticket holder's spots, we scooted down a little bit and settled into warmups between the Maroons and the visiting St. Thomas Stars.

If you love old arenas like I do, you owe it to yourself to stop here. It was a bit chilly & my Mom didn't care for the coffee, but that's all fine. I sat there in amazement because I clearly didn't realize rinks like this still exist in Southwestern Ontario.

In fact it was so good that I would think someone road tripping to hockey games could stop here. I would certainly stop at a similar rink in Quebec or Nova Scotia while on a road trip, even without any ties to said hypothetical city.

A rink of this age doesn't still exist without fortuitous conditions and dodged bullets. The Hunter brothers of NHL fame were the first to threaten it, but after the City of Chatham wouldn't build them a new rink, they went and bought the London Knights. More recently it was used as a pawn by Peter Karmanos in trying to get more money from the Flint Michigan group who wanted to buy his Plymouth Whalers. This fake by Karmanos seems to have fired up the mayor though, as he has said if Chatham had an OHL-sized arena, that the OHL would be knocking down Chatham's door.

The latest (2017) news is the mayor simply asking for a new arena without mention of the OHL. He explains that Chatham "deserves" a new, provincially/federally-funded arena because it produces wind power, has lots of bridges and drains, and is one of the largest municipalities by area (this counts Bothwell, Ridgetown, Morpeth, etc.). He hopes that the province and the feds will contribute about 2/3rds of a desired $86-million towards a "multi-use arena complex that could have two or three ice pads."

Unfortunately for the hopeful mayor, he goes on to say that the feds told him they don't build buildings for private businesses and that "the Ontario Hockey League is a private business". Maybe this is a way of getting around that.

Of course my bias and love for old arenas is showing here.

It's also going to show in how excited I was that Chatham won runner-up for Kraft Hockeyville 2016 - which means a $100,000 grant towards improving Chatham's Memorial Arena. This money has already been allotted for a new free-standing digital sign out front, accessible eastern entrances, and heaters for the south and west side where there aren't any heaters currently. I stand very impressed with these decisions as they attack a couple of the main complaints you get from people about old rinks.

(Aside: If only they could have beat North Saanich for the Kraft Hockeyville title, there would have been a preseason game at the Chatham Memorial Arena!)

So it looks like there are no current plans to build a new Chatham arena, but this ("getting Chatham a modern rink!!") is one of those things that politicians and citizens will focus on and try to ride into elected positions. Therefore, who knows how long old time hockey will linger here. I will definitely return if the opportunity arises.


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1 - 1999 Sutherland Cup - Ice Hockey Wiki
2 - Chatham Music History Tidbits - Chatham Music Archive
3 - Chatham-Kent loses out on another OHL franchise - Chatham Daily News
4 - C-K won $100K as runner-up - Chatham Daily News
5 - 1949 Jaycee Fair program highlights Memorial Arena’s attributes nearly 70 years later - Chatham Daily News
6 - Kinsmen Auditorium comes down - Chatham Daily News, March 13, 2002

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