ON HALLOWED ICE

by Craig Northey

A visitor from Vancouver writes about his experience in Belleville Memorial Arena, and the  importance of preserving it for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

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          Craig Northey of the alt-rock band Odds in the stands at Belleville Memorial Arena. 

Our band Odds has always loved hockey.  We’ve been making albums since 1987, and have had a great time touring the world and, more specifically, getting to experience and learn about our own country.  In our travels we take any opportunity to combine our love of music with our love of hockey. 

We’d had a relationship with our hometown Vancouver Canucks since our career began, and became the host band at Canucks games.  You may have seen us rocking with Don Cherry on the clip before “Coach's Corner”-- with Kingston native Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip also at our side.  In the end we’ve made some great friends in hockey and had a really good time. 


In 2004 I was on the road playing guitar with the Colin James Band.  Doug Elliott of Odds was also in the CJ Band, and we always take our skates on any winter run.  You just never know when a quintessentially Canadian moment will arise. 


To truly appreciate this country in the winter you should always bring your skates.  We’ve skated the Rideau and Joliette PQ Canals, played out on frozen lakes in the Rockies, skated down the Red River in Winnipeg and played drop-in hockey or shinny on outdoor community rinks and in landmark buildings that were pivotal in the history of hockey.  We’re hockey tourists and Canadian heritage opportunists.  

L to R: Doug Elliott, Craig Northey and Steve Hilliam on the ice at Memorial Arena.

L to R: Doug Elliott, Craig Northey and Steve Hilliam on the ice at Memorial Arena.

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We woke on the tour bus outside Belleville’s Empire Theatre on a bright November day.  The Empire is a wonderful place to play music, and the folks there are enthusiastic and welcoming.  It was time to put our skates and sticks over our shoulders and see whether there were any other welcoming situations in town.  Doug, Steve Hilliam (sax player) and I trotted out the door in search of a rink.  That took about three minutes.  


Bingo.  There it was.  Just down the street was a simple peaked roofed brick rink.  We looked up and quickly realized this was not just any rink.  It was a temple.  This was the storied Belleville Memorial Arena.   


As a kid I knew about the Belleville McFarlands because my neighbours growing up in Port Moody BC were the Kowalchuck family.  Russ Kowalchuk was the greatest guy to have as your friend’s dad.  He was an ex-pro hockey player.  What could be better for inspiration and cool stories? 


I tried to take in all the stories.  One of them I remember was about being on the Belleville McFarlands the year before they went to the World Championships in 1959.  He actually moved to the Kelowna Packers that year and lost the Allan Cup to the McFarlands.  It’s all in the history books, just like so many things that have happened in this arena.  


The door was unlocked.  We got excited as we entered the building.  All was quiet and the ice was sitting there perfect and pristine in the half-light.  OK … nothing is ever “pristine” in a shrine like this, but there was an aura that corrects for that.  


The first thing I noticed was the clock.  I had never seen an original score clock with an actual clock face and arms like you see in all the old hockey history books.  How could it be that this was never replaced?  I had never seen an indoor rink without glass around the entire boards.  How was it possible that this rink could have remained so unique and of its era?  

Photo by Lindi Pierce

Photo by Lindi Pierce

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It was a trip back in time like any great landmark can be.  We were transported to a long gone era, and stood silently for a moment to drink it in.  


Nobody was in sight, but we could hear some mechanical tinkering near the Zamboni, and made our way there to see if we could find anybody to bombard with questions.  The gentleman fixing the ice machine seemed to sense what we were feeling, and when we asked, “What is happening on the ice in the next hour or so?” he said, “Not much,” then smiled and said, “Why don’t you go get your skates.”  

What a privilege it was to pass the puck around that storied space and drink it all in.  Blissful.  The experience connected so many dots for me, and brought history to life.


I only hope that others can experience this special place in the way I  did, and understand that there are only a few of these barns left in the world.  This rink may be the last of its kind.  It’s a valuable tool for understanding our past and what was so great about it.

 



Photo by Lindi Pierce