G.I. Joe

North Bay Battalion

Arena Name: North Bay Memorial Gardens
Capacity: 4,246
Built: 1955
Franchise Date: 2013-14
OHL Championships: None
Memorial Cup Championships: None
Colours: Olive, Yellow, Black & White
Official Web Site: http://www.battalionhockey.com/
Address: 100 Chippewa Street West, North Bay, Ontario, P1B 6G2
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
Google Satellite: Click Here

North Bay Memorial Gardens
North Bay Memorial Gardens
What's the Arena Like?
I first set foot in the North Bay Memorial Gardens early in 2004, only two years after the Centennials had departed. At the time, it really seemed as though the locals expected the Cents back any minute, with their banners still hanging at one end of the ice and pictures of former Cents to make the NHL dotting the walls of the concourse. And the arena, particularly by the standards of the OHL of 2004, wasn't in bad shape - it had been well-built in 1955 and was properly maintained since, albeit small and without luxury suites or any of the amenities that the slowly corporatizing OHL was starting to demand. Yet in spite of the arena's good condition, I didn't really believe that a team would ever return - North Bay was too small, too northern, and too short on corporate dollars in a government and military town.

I've rarely been so happy to have been proven wrong! The OHL's return to North Bay in 2013 paralleled the NHL's return to Winnipeg. In both cases, a small, northern market with a passionate love for the game was abandoned because of high costs and low attendance. In both cases, the old team was passionately missed by the local diehards, but most neutral observers accepted the economic necessity of the team leaving under the circumstances that it did. And in both cases, changing circumstances meant that it made sense to return to the old market in triumph, and in such a way that warmed the hearts of even the most cynical of observers.

Oh, and in both cases, the return was an enormous success. The Battalion franchise left indifference and purple seats in the suburbs of Ontario's capital for a passionate fanbase that was crying out for high-level hockey again. Media indifference was traded for a media spotlight. The marketing department's flinging its head against the wall was exchanged for season ticket holder lineups the day the franchise's move was announced. And the team met with success in its first few years on the ice, making it to the OHL final in their first year on the ice and finishing well over .500 in the subsequent two years.

It took me four years, but I finally completed a bucket list goal that I never thought would happen, and went to an OHL game in North Bay in the fall of 2016. The North Bay Memorial Gardens, built in 1955, is located on a quiet residential street just outside downtown North Bay, and is also minutes away from Highway 11/17. It's in the middle of a community sportsplex which also has several baseball diamonds and soccer fields. The Gardens used to have gold bricks, gold aluminum siding, and a green tile front entrance that betrayed its 1950's origin, but the renovations have grafted a new glass and steel facade onto the building. I was quite pleased, however, to see that the futura sign on the front of the building has been kept.

Once inside, the ticket office and lobby are mostly unchanged from 1955, with yellow tiled walls, high ceilings, and concessions. Moving around isn't easy when the house is full. The arena was designed with a dual concourse system, with one under the seats and one running in front of them, with a "moat" separating the first row of seating from the ice. Originally, being seated in row A meant you were easily 10 feet back from the boards and eight feet in the air, which wouldn't have done much for the old arena's intimacy! The Battalion have installed two rows of rail seating right up against the glass, however, which is great for capacity but bad for traffic flow.

The first time I went to North Bay, the entire arena only had eight sections of seats - four massive blocks per side running the entire length of the ice, with a brick wall in one end and a large pink curtain hanging in the other. I couldn't resist Wizard of Oz-ing my way past the curtain, and was surprised to find that it only concealed the Zamboni garage, with a ton of wasted vertical space. Obviously, someone else had the same idea, because temporary seating has been installed in the former curtain end. The rest of the old wooden seats have been replaced with modern plastic ones, and the old press gondola, while still there, has been replaced with a new one in the glass addition to the building, taking up space formerly occupied by standing room at the back of one side of the ice. Luxury suites fill the rest of the old standing room area on the arena's west side, though there still is a big SRO section at the top of the east grandstand.

Game presentation is completely unchanged from the way things were in Brampton. Edwin Starr, Sarge, the "one minute to cease-fire" announcement, it's all still there. Teams often try to change their identity and make a fresh start in a new market, but Scott Abbott, owner of the Battalion since day 1, obviously designed his team the way he wanted and didn't want to change anything just because they were moving. It must be disconcerting for former Brampton fans to make their way north, sort of like seeing an old girlfriend happily cavorting with a new beau.

Once the game started, some other things became apparent. Moving around the building when it was even halfway full was a challenge, as part of the back concourse is closed off during games as an expansion of the visiting team's dressing room. I found it hard maneuvering around the building in the intermission even though the game wasn't close to sold out. Part of the arena expansion meant that there is now a new concourse behind the "brick wall" end of the arena, so at least that former bottleneck is eliminated, but it's still not easy. The expansion also means there is now a proper team store and a local sports Hall of Fame, and many more washrooms than before. I didn't see any lineups and the facilities were perfectly adequate.

The arena's ceiling is still low. While a new video board was installed in 2013, the structural steel of the rafters means that it's pretty much invisible to anyone sitting more than halfway up the grandstand. The team has provided televisions mounted on the overhang, but it still feels sort of like a waste. That said, the low ceilings mean that the crowd noise is intense, and reflected back onto the ice easily. In a league where the rinks are feeling more and more like cookie-cutters, inconveniently different is better, for me, than cloned ease of use.

The only real disappointment was that the old Centennials banners were nowhere in sight. I can understand why the Battalion may have wanted to have made a fresh start, but it would have been nice to see them hung in the North Bay Sports Hall of Fame, if nothing else.

Finally the Queen still gazes down on the ice surface just as she always used to, lending the place an old-school feel. The North Bay Memorial Gardens is not a run-down wreck like the old rinks in Kingston or the Sault were, nor is it updated and modern like most of the rest of the league. It feels, instead, like a Peterborough - an arena with character and charm but still built to take on the modern corporate OHL. In a league where old barns are quickly becoming a thing of the past, North Bay's re-addition to the league is a big positive. One hopes that the Battalion will continue to find the success, profit, and passion in the Nipissing region that eluded them for fifteen years in Peel.

Steve McLean says:
After 11 long years the old arena on the quiet residential street near downtown North Bay is once again the centre of attention for the northern city that has longed for major junior hockey ever since the Centennials packed up and left for Saginaw, Michigan. But this time, the Battalion call the North Bay Memorial Gardens their home, and with a massive $12 million renovation nearing completion and a 15 year lease signed by Battalion owner Scott Abbott it appears the Ontario Hockey League is back in North Bay to stay, a city it should have never left in the first place.

It's not just the inside of the Memorial Gardens that has had drastic changes. Once seeing the front the old arena you immediatly notice the brand new front facade which is now all glass which replaced the old gold siding. The glass facade houses the hallways for the upstairs levels of the west side of the building which is the side the new press box and suites are for the rink. Several new enterances on the west (main) side of the building have been constructed which are all glass doors which brings alot of sunlight into the northwest corner of the concourse inside. There is also a massive new expansion on the south east corner of the building which houses the Battalion's new dressing room, lounge and coaching offices.

Just to the right of the main enterance is the building's box office which has its own entrance into the rink. After going through one of these entrances you are in the main concourse which is at ice level. There are two main concession stands on the west side of the rink under the stands with Battalion logos all over them. One concession stand which hadn't opened yet was advertising "Chef Sargeo's Battaliano Pizzeria" which made me cringe as Sarge's hat from the logo is replaced with a chef's hat.

The northwest corner of the rink holds the elevator which takes you up to the suite level, however as of the home opener this was not yet complete. Pretty much the entire north concourse of the building wasn't complete yet as it was a bare concrete hallway with windows which at least let in some light. On the right side of this wide hallway was a ramp leading up to the north end suites which are located under the portrait of the Queen in the rink. The team store is also located at the northwest corner, though barely complete. The store had no signage yet but was easily to spot as two sides were all glass windows that you could peer into the store. Nothing was really set up at the time of this review, but there was a fair amount of North Bay Battalion merchandise on tables set up around the room. The store isn't huge, but it's a good size by OHL standards.

The East side concourse is a much narrower hallway that you can only walk about halfway down before a curtain closes you off from the dressing room areas. All the entrances to the main seating bowl are on ice level, though there are stairs located at these entrances that take you to up to the first row of seating for the main bowl. When entering the bowl you notice many changes that have taken place since the spring of 2013. First of all, the massive 4 sided HD video board that now hangs from centre ice. The video board however shows no scoring or penalty info. Instead there are several scoreboards located throughout the rink, one of which hangs just above the north end suites. One hangs in the rafters on each side of the arena that faces the crowd for those up high, and one that faces the ice surface for those sitting in the lower seats. During the renovation the rink was actually narrowed to fit regulation size, which made the area between the ice and main seating wider, so along the west side of the rink two rows of grey seats were added to be right on the glass.

There remains a small pathway between these seats and the main seating. There are stairs on this side as well that lead up to the main seats much like in Peterborough. These grey seats have also been added to the north end corners and the east side, however there is no seating directly behind the benches or penalty boxes. While the arena used to have the two team benches on opposide sides they are now both located on the east side of the rink while the penalty boxes are on the west side along with the new press box and 10 brand new suites which run along the top of the bowl. The old press box which literally hangs over on the east side of the rink remains. Standing room spots run down the entire length of the top of the east side seating. The south end of the rink previously had zero seating, just a large pink curtain which housed the Zamboni area. However now a huge new section of seating occupies this spot. Unlike the concrete on the sides of the rink, these blue plastic seats sit on metal supports. The Zamboni area is under this seating and an entrance in the middle allows the Zambonis access to the ice surface. There is room to walk between this seating area and the ice surface as these end seats run right to the back wall of the rink. The seating bowl is arranged now in a way that really reminds me of Peterborough if the end was smaller and the sides larger. All the seats in the rink are now new and plastic singles that follow the old colour scheme of red near centre ice and blue closer to the ends. The new rink side seats are grey. Seating is a little cramped by new standards. All seats have cupholders but they are pretty much on the floor which can make navigating a row full of people an adventure.

Several of the Battalion traditions that began in Brampton have followed to North Bay. The Troops still enter the ice from under the large inflatable tank located at the southeast corner. Bomb and helicopter sounds still ring through the PA in the minutes leading up to their return which in Brampton was always our signal to get back to our seats. Also the goal song War by Edwin Starr is also the celebration of choice for the Troops.

Concession stands seemed to have all the regular rink food, while alcohol is sold right across from the food. Apparently the rink does not yet have a licence for patrons to drink alcohol in the seating area, so for now if you would like a beer you have to drink it in the concourse - Kitchener fans can relate to this problem. Opening night had a sold out crowd of over 4,200 people which made for a very cramped concourse especially near the concession and alcohol stands. I found it quicker to get around the rink through the pathway between the ice level seats and the main bowl. The positive to this is it cant get any worse than what I saw at the opener but to me it wouldnt be worth it to leave the seat to get food or drink, though I am the type of person who fills up pre game.

There doesnt seem to be much on display from the Centennial days other than several photos of NHLers however the Battalion were sporting North Bay Centennial shoulder patches which are to be worn during all home games in the 2013-14 season.

Thanks to the renovation, parking at the arena is currently in bad shape however the city has set up a free bus shuttle from the near by North Gate Square just a few blocks from the arena. Shuttles start an hour before puck drop and begin again at 9PM. Also all bus routes in the city are free to people who show a Battalion ticket stub to that nights game.

While there have been several great upgrades to the arena overall, it is still a cramped barn by 21st century OHL standards. However the people of North Bay I am sure couldn't care less about the cramped spaces, as they are just thrilled to have the OHL back in the Bay. While the building is nearing its 60th year of existence, the recent upgrades which are scheduled to wrap up in December should keep the building open and hosting OHL hockey for years to come.
Future Developments
The Memorial Gardens underwent a $12 million renovation in the summer of 2013 in anticipation of the Battalion's arrival. The ice surface was lengthened by ten feet to the standard 200' X 85', 10 private boxes and a new 2-level team dressing room were added, and the former "curtain" end had permanent seats built in what used to be empty space, increasing the capacity by 250.
Inside the North Bay Memorial Gardens
North Bay Memorial Gardens

How To Get There

From the South (Hwy. 11):
Turn left at the second set of lights (Fisher Street). As you proceed along Fisher Street, turn right at the first set of lights (Chippewa St). Memorial Gardens is between 500 and 700 meters down the road on the right.

From the West (Hwy. 17):
Turn right at the fifth set of lights (Fisher Street - the Northgate mall is on the left as you approach Fisher Street). As you proceed along Fisher Street, turn right at the first set of lights (Chippewa St). Memorial Gardens is between 500 and 700 meters down the road on the right.
Another Look Inside North Bay Memorial Gardens
North Bay Memorial Gardens
Franchise History
Brampton was added to the OHL in 1998-99 as an expansion team, owned by Scott Abbott of Trivial Pursuit fame. Abbott banged his head trying to convince Bramptonians to go to games for fifteen years, but finally gave up and moved his team north in 2013. The Battalion's uniforms, history, and traditions all moved north with the team.
Retired Numbers
Local Rivals
Brampton's main rival was always Mississauga, but with the Battalion now in North Bay, the other two northern teams are now their main rivals, just as it was in the days of the Centennials. The Sault is definitely a rival, but the former clashes between the Sudbury Wolves and North Bay Centennials were always epic, and the new Wolves-Battalion rivalry has picked up where the old one left off.


If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at email and I'll update the guide.

Copyright © Kevin Jordan 2002-16.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: October 17, 2016