IceDog

Niagara IceDogs

Arena Name: Jack Gatecliff Arena, Gatorade Garden City Complex
Capacity: 3,145 (2,800 seated)
Built: 1938
Address: 8 Gale Cr., St. Catharines, ON, L2R 3G1
Telephone No: (905) 687-3641
Franchise Date: 2007-08
OHL Championships: None
Memorial Cup Championships: None
Colours: Red, Black & White
Official Web Site: niagaraicedogs.net
Unofficial Sites: Local Sports Report, IceDog Fans, IceDogs Message Board
Ice Surface Size: 190 X 85
Google Satellite: Click Here

OHL
Garden City Arena
Garden City Arena
What's the Arena Like?
The Niagara Region has a long and storied history with junior hockey. Niagara-based teams won the Memorial Cup in 1954, 1960, 1965 and 1968, and the area's teams produced such hockey talent as Marcel Dionne, Bobby Hull, Bernie Parent and Mike Gartner. In its day, the rivalry between the area's two major cities - St. Catharines and Niagara Falls - was one of the best in the sport. Yet that same rivalry would prove to be the region's undoing, too, since after 1977 when St. Catharines was deserted for the last time, no St. Catharines newspaper would cover a Niagara Falls team, and very few fans from the Garden City made the short trip to watch hockey in the Falls. And vice versa. This indirectly contributed to the last failure of the OHL in the region, as the Thunder refused to advertise to St. Catharines until their last, desperate season, and St. Catharines fans largely refused to attend games. But all that is in the past now. In 2007, for the first time in history, the two cities are working together under a common regional name, and the results so far look promising for the future of the OHL on the peninsula.

Garden City Arena was built in 1938 in an residential neighbourhood in St. Catharines. It is a yellow, ancient-looking building that is actually two buildings in one - attached to the main arena is a smaller ice pad, the Rex Stimers Arena. There is also a large new front on the building, as the former rear of the arena has become the new front end. The new addition is blue and features lots of glass, and reminds a history-minded first-time visitor to the place of Prince Charles's famous declaration about the addition to the National Gallery in London: "What is [built] is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend". Still, the older Garden City Arena exterior has its charms. It has a giant grey roof and if you walk over to the old main entrance on Division Street, you see the stone facade still preserved.

Walking into what is now the CHL's oldest building on gameday is an experience that first hits you in the nostrils - it has that indescribable "hockey" smell. The main lobby is new and small, and ticket takers greet you at the foot of a staircase that leads upstairs towards the main arena. Once up on the balcony, you are greeted by a new team store, washrooms, concessions and 50-50 sellers. So far, you could be anywhere in the CHL built in the last twenty years.

That all changes once you enter the main arena bowl. There is, essentially, nothing in sight to let you know that it's no longer 1938, with the exception of a worn-out digital clock overlooking centre ice, and somewhat anachronistic video screens hanging in the corners. The walls are all covered in whitewash paint with painted-on section numbers extending around the building. Frosted, Bauhaus-style factory windows appear every so often on the outer concourse walls. Floors are a painted dark grey and have been worn smooth by decades of hockey fans trodding on them. A tiny press box gondola hangs overtop of the seats on one side of the building, and giant ventilation ducts somehow fit into the scene as well. The roof is wood and supported by an arched ceiling superstructure that is covered in bright silver paint. 3,000 seats surround the ice, all of which are original, wooden two-man benches, painted red on the sides and blue and green in the ends. A portrait of HM the Queen and Memorial Cup banners from 1954 and 1960 complete the scene perfectly.

The gameday experience in Niagara is a good one overall, but with all of the hassles inherent with an older arena. Getting around is nearly impossible when the place is full (as it often is), with the one tiny concourse along the top of the rink being the only way to navigate. The seats are comfortable enough by wooden standards, but the 1938 fire code means that there are as many as forty seats between aisles; as a result, if you're near an end of an aisle you might have to stand up to let people by many times a game. The last row in particular is terrible for seating - there is barely enough leg room up there for a child. Still, the IceDogs definitely get points for making the best of their old arena - the new team store is a nice addition, and there are washrooms and concessions downstairs in the one end that are accessible to all. The sound system is about what you'd expect - old and getting older - but the gameday announcer is pretty good, with very little extemporaneous shouting or trying to make himself the centre of attention.

It has been thirty years since Garden City Arena's last days hosting the OHL. The league changed almost unrecognizably within those thirty years, and yet St. Catharines and Niagara Falls have taken to the new team well, with large, passionate, and raucous crowds. When I attended my first game there in October 2007, the team had been on the ice less than a month, and yet there were jerseys and other team gear everywhere, as well as banners, and other good signs that the team is already making its mark on the community. The atmosphere on gameday is terrific - when the OHL's smallest and most intimate arena is filled to capacity, the crowd is alive and vocal. It seems obvious to everyone involved that the IceDogs aren't going to want to stick around at Garden City any longer than the length of their five-year lease without at least having shovels in the ground for a new arena, but for now that doesn't matter. For now, the fans on the peninsula - and any traveling fan who wishes to partake in the experience - can be treated to the experience of attending a game at one of the grand old barns of the CHL, unexpectedly alive and thriving once more.

Future Developments

St Catharines city council approved a new downtown arena project in December of 2011. No shovels are in the ground as of yet and no architectural drawings have been released, but the long-term future of the IceDogs in Niagara Region is thankfully secure. The site of the new arena is going to be just down the road from the old one, on the site of a current parking lot at Westchester and McGuire, just off the 406.

The arena complex was renamed in September 2007 to the Gatorade Garden City Complex, but the main arena where the Dogs play is still called Jack Gatecliff Arena.
What Is It Like For Away Fans?
In spite of the fact that fans in St. Catharines have been without junior hockey for thirty years, they were surprisingly hardcore. They're not old Windsor-grade or anything, but there was enough of an edge on the crowd to count for something.
Inside Garden City Arena
Garden City Arena

How To Get There

From QEW Eastbound: Go east on QEW to Hwy-406 South. South on Hwy-406 to the Westchester/Eastchester exit. Go west (right) on Westchester Cr. to Geneva St. Go north (right) on Geneva to Rex Stimers and Jack Gatecliff Arenas. Arenas are together on the east (right) side of the road.
From QEW Westbound: Go west on QEW to Lake St. exit. South (right) on Lake to Russell St. East (left) on Russell to Geneva to Rex Stimers and Jack Gatecliff Arenas. Arenas are together on the east (left) side of the road.
From Hwy-406 Northbound: North on Hwy-406 to Geneva St. exit. North (right) on Geneva to Rex Stimers and Jack Gatecliff Arenas. Arenas are together on the east (right) side of the road.
From Hwy-406 Southbound: South on Hwy-406 to the Westchester/Eastchester exit. West (right) on Westchester Cr. to Geneva St. North (right) on Geneva to Rex Stimers and Jack Gatecliff Arenas. Arenas are together on the east (right) side of the road.

As for parking - good luck! The Arena's location on city streets in the heart of downtown means there isn't a lot of options, so your best bet is either one of the small pay lots nearby, or parking on a side street and walking.
Franchise History
The IceDogs were originally founded in 1998-99 as an expansion team under the ownership of Don Cherry. They had a mostly terrible decade in Mississauga, with a conference championship in 2003-04 being the only bright spot during a decade of losing. In 2006-07, St. Michael's Majors owner Eugene Melnyk bought the Dogs so that he could take over their lease at the Hershey Centre; the IceDogs were moved out of town the following year to St. Catharines.
Retired Numbers
None
Local Rivals
None as of yet of course, but it would seem natural that the IceDogs and Majors won't like each other for a while into the future. Erie has also been tapped as a potential rival, and the two teams will play six times a year in spite of being in different conferences.
Another Look Inside Garden City Arena
Garden City Arena
About the City
By St. Catharinian Adam Pike:
St. Catharines is an average-sized city of just over 130,000 sitting on the South Shore of Lake Ontario, halfway between Toronto and Buffalo. Settled in the late 1700's, it was mainly used as a stopover for travellers on their way to larger towns in Upper Canada.

It is home to the Lake Ontario entrance/exit of the Welland Canal part of the St. Lawrence Seaway system, and the building of the canal made St. Catharines the commerce hub of the Niagara Region. St. Catharines was also the terminus of the Underground Railroad and because of this some older buildings have secret rooms and there are tunnels underneath the downtown core as well.

Currently, St. Catharines is taking on the task many cities its size are attempting: revitalizing downtown. City Council has made it a priority to redevelop downtown, returning all streets to two way traffic in a bid to have the "Niagara Wine Route" run through the main downtown street (St. Paul St.) A new campus for Brock University's arts program will be moving downtown as well, occuping a former maunfacturing building on the bed of the original Welland Canal, and a new Arts Centre will be built on St. Paul St.. containing 4 venues, with one 900 seat performance hall and 3 other 200-300 seat halls, and a boutique hotel is set to open up i nthe site of the former Leonard Hotel.

A push for a new OHL standard arena has been going for many years, to replace the aging Jack Gatecliff Arena, with little success. Now that the OHL has taken up residence in St. Catharines once again, talk has increased and the City is currently completing a feasability study (paid for by local Ice Dogs boosters) with bids to come in 2010 about a new $40 million dollar 5-6,000 seat arena to sit on a parking lot downtown, next to the new Brock U. Campus, which will also house a Niagara Sports Hall of Fame.

For tourist info, visit St. Catharines Tourism and Tourism Niagara.

Feedback

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 2002-07.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: October 23, 2007