Ceiling ice above, Niagara residents share memories of Garden City Arena

Bill Park had a unique bird’s eye view of Jack Gatecliff Arena around 40 years ago, which wasn’t for the faint of heart.

One of the first members of the Niagara Regional Police Emergency Response Unit, he recalled rappelling from the ceiling of the arena to the ice below to impress a crowd of spectators.

At that time, the service had a bagpipe group that would hold a tattoo at the Garden City Arena with music, marches, and chants. The new unit decided it would be a great idea to demonstrate what they do for a living by jumping off panels from the false ceiling and surprising the audience.

“We climbed the ladder to the press box, and from the press box we climbed onto the beams and swung through the beams, desperately trying not to fall, until we were getting to the middle, ”Park recalled on Saturday at the arena.

“We had already removed a few panels and we had already attached the ropes. We sat there watching the show until the appointed time we were presented. Our specialist trucks came roaring, then we climbed out of the ceiling, fell to the ground and voila! Here we are.”

Another year, he said they borrowed a huge Canadian flag from a Husky station and rigged it so that when the band sang The Maple Leaf Forever, the flag fell from the ceiling.

“He almost hit the ground, it was so big.”

Park were a dozen visitors to Garden City Arena on Saturday who brought posters, photos, scrapbooks and hockey sticks to share their memories of the building ahead of its final closure next year.

The arena complex, containing the 83-year-old Jack Gatecliff Arena and the 56-year-old Rex Stimers arena, will be decommissioned once the new twin Canada Games Park arena opens. doors in early 2022.

History students at Brock University were documenting articles and oral histories for a project in partnership with the St. Catharines Museum that will preserve community arena memories and make a digital collection available to the public for future generations.

“It was wonderful. There has been a constant, constant flow of people and amazing stories have been shared and fantastic memories, ”said Elizabeth Vlossak, associate professor of history at Brock.

She said the first contributor showed up 15 minutes before the event started and shared a great arena skating story each week with her family before heading to the local toy store across the street. Another couple brought three albums of local hockey articles they had cut up in the 1950s.

“Some really amazing things are coming out of the woods. I’m really happy with the way people reacted to this project and how we really see proof of how important this arena has been and continues to be to so many people.

One item that caught the attention of many was a hockey stick signed by 16 members of the 1970-71 St. Catharines Black Hawks, including Marcel Dionne, brought by Marko Bukovec.

Bukovec said his father, Ray, received the baton as a gift to sponsor the team, a relationship that formed because of the television hits.

At the time, Ray Bukovec had a television and stereo store on Saint-Paul Street and was called in by hotels to repair televisions with tubes.

“They would always blow. My dad serviced all the hotels whenever a TV was on all night or anytime, and through that he got to know all the hockey players because the Black Hawks in the 60s were residing at the Queensway hotel, ”said Bukovec.

“Because of his links with hotels, he became a sponsor. He always kept it.

Former St. Catharines resident Don Snider, who now lives in Fonthill, has come full circle with the arena.

His early games were played in peewee, bantam and midget hockey in the building and later with the St. Catharines Black Hawks. After his hockey career took him to Nashville, where he won the EHL Championship in the 1965-66 season, he returned to Ontario and coached youth teams at the same arena where he learned his own. skills.

“It’s been a great life and I love the arena,” he said. “I still come to some of the Junior-B games.”

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