Knight


London Knights

Arena Name: Budweiser Gardens
Capacity: 9100
Built: 2002
Address: 99 Dundas St., London, Ontario, N6A 6K1
Telephone No: (519) 681-0800
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
Franchise Date: 1965-66
OHL Championships: 2, Most Recently in 2011-12
Memorial Cup Championships: 1, in 2004-05
Colours: Green, Gold, Black & White
Official Web Site: http://www.londonknights.com/
Venue Web Site: http://www.johnlabattcentre.com/
Unofficial Sites: Unofficial London Knights, Knights History, KnightsPics, Knights Message Board
Google Satellite: Click Here
Former Arena: London Gardens
Aerial Photo: Click Here

OHL
Budweiser Gardens
Budweiser Gardens
What's the Arena Like?
In conversations with other people who run sports travel websites over the years (a group not unlike the Freemasons), the subject has often come up that the hardest thing to write about is your own hometown team. Whereas the act of going into a new city and arena, enjoying a game, and leaving with my impressions and my pictures never really changes, the Knights for me are different. I've been going to their games since the mid 1980's, first with my Dad, then with friends, and finally as a season ticket-holder. I've seen the team play, at a conservative estimate, 500 times, including my record-breaking 2004-05 season when I personally saw 66 of the 90 games they played. Yet writing about them is hard exactly because of the familiarity. Therefore, what follows below are my impressions not just of the experience of being a visiting fan, but being a hometown fan, writing about what has been a big part of my life for more than twenty years.

Since the Hunter brothers bought the team about a decade ago, the Knights have been transformed from a small-time operation into a big business, and there can be no greater symbol of the team's transformation than the sparkling, corporate Budweiser Gardens. The arena is essentially an NHL rink in miniature. The only comparable OHL arena is the Ottawa Civic Centre, but that building's "under the football stadium" character lends it an edge of being an afterthought to the football stadium upstairs, while the JLC was designed purely for Knights' hockey. There is one "lower bowl" of 20 rows holding 6000, then a level of private suites, and then the upper deck with another 3000 which is "U" shaped. At the top of the "U" is the standing-room section, which is highly recommended as it feels like you're leaning over the ice. There are also Club Seats in the lower bowl on the one side of the ice, which are little different from regular seats except for the service-in-your-seat concessions. While the food choices at the Ice House were either popcorn or hot dogs, new items at the JLC including chicken nachos and fruit smoothies spoil the fans for choice.

From the outside the building is imposing: tall, handsome, and blending well into the neighbourhood. From the sidewalks outside the building looks absolutely huge. It's all done in a postmodern style of architecture with yellow brick, except for the corner of Talbot and Dundas Streets, where there is a preserved facade of a 19th century heritage building, the Talbot Inn. The Inn was once the epicentre of London's punk scene in the 1970's when it was called the Cedar Lounge, and acts from the Damned to Elvis Costello to the hometown Demics played the club. Now, all these years later, the bricks are finally seeing concerts again - the building has brought in nearly every big-name act currently touring since its opening, from Shania Twain to R.E.M. and from David Bowie to Cher. Upon entering one of the gates of the building you find yourself in a wide concourse area filled with concessions. The spacious concourse is among the league's widest and provides ample room to handle even the largest crowds. You enter the bowl down a long tunnel which opens into the full JLC.

The first view of the JLC is stunning, and moreso if you've never been in an NHL building. The place feels massive and to gaze around at the multitude of seats and the high ceiling is to feel intimidated by the sheer size of the place. There really isn't a bad seat in the JLC, but the best seats in the building are in the front row of the upper deck, where you get a fabulous view of the ice without being too distant. The worst seats, if there are any, are near the bottom of the lower level. The angle of the seating is too shallow and it can be hard to see over the person in front of you, especially if you're a kid. Seats are new, dark, moulded plastic but surprisingly, there's not much padding on them. Banners are draped from the ceiling showing off all of the division titles and championships the Knights have won since the Hunters bought the team, but after seven years, the team still hasn't bothered to put up the championship banners from anything prior to 1999. Good luck finding any pre-Hunter team history on the walls, either; it's pretty obvious they only care about what happened with the Knights since they bought them.

Facilities are unlike any in the OHL, with all the bells and whistles you'd expect. There aren't nearly enough male washrooms but other than that there is anything a fan could reasonably want in a hockey arena, from a full-service restaurant to a separate sports bar to all the food you can eat. There is also a fully-stocked team store called "The Armoury", as well as another large souvenir kiosk upstairs on the 300-level. The scoreboard features a full video board and is one of the OHL's finest. The Knights also use two LCD boards in each end, which gave them the title of "best technical scoreboard setup" of the buildings I've been to when the JLC opened, and they're still near the top. Unfortunately, it's not run very professionally, with poor clipart graphics and amateurish presentation, although the music is played at a decent volume. As for atmosphere, the building isn't quite at London Gardens levels, but after a quiet first few seasons the JLC has acquitted itself nicely and can easily put itself in the higher range of the league for crowd noise.

The worst thing about the Budweiser Gardens is the canned, corporate atmosphere. I've grown to accept promotional time-outs and such as necessary evils that pay the bills and keep ticket prices down, but the JLC just does the promos extremely badly. Music selection doesn't change much game-to-game, the scoreboard graphics are badly dated and boring, and the promotions announcer has the double-knockout punch of a nails-on-a-chalkboard voice and no sense of timing. London fans were once the loudest in the OHL, and they're still decent, but every single stoppage at the JLC means it's time for Kathy to turn on the microphone again, which drowns out any legitimate crowd noise that might have otherwise filled the sonic gaps. Fans in all sports today have been lulled into submission by tyrannical scoreboards, loud music, and overzealous promotions, but it is a sad thought that the game-long loud chanting and singing of my youthful days at the Ice House are now a distant memory. And why? The fans are largely the same people who once sang "HOL-SINGER!" for sixty minutes straight in a 1999 playoff game against Plymouth, they now just don't do it anymore because the stoppages in play are totally filled in with wall-to-wall advertising and pop music. And then they have the audacity to order us to "make some noise", as if they don't realize that we would do just that if the loudspeakers weren't shouting us down.

I admit that I am overly hard on the JLC - I live within walking distance, so I get to experience more of it than any other CHL rink. The truth is that it's an amazing place - a beautiful, professional quality arena in miniature. Attending any junior hockey game where 9,000 people fill the place every single week is always going to be a great experience. But! If the Knights would only hire scoreboard operators who knew how to turn down the music when the crowd gets going and a promotions announcer that was willing to wait till the next whistle to tell everyone about the quality and durability of Spacely Sprockets if the crowd got going, the atmosphere would again be the envy of the OHL, as indeed it has been for occasional games during the playoffs and 2005 Memorial Cup where the promos took a back seat. But instead, for most regular season games, the amateurish scoreboard/music crew and annoying promo announcer just frustrate the real hockey fans in the audience.

The truth about the Knights and the JLC is that the Hunter brothers have spared no expense since buying the team in building the Knights into a perennial powerhouse. The flipside, though, is that with all of the profits gone into the on-ice product, the off-ice marketing and promotions are about as poorly done as any in the CHL. Apart from having too few washrooms, the JLC is one of the best buildings in junior hockey. It's too bad that the place isn't run like it.
Future Developments
The Budweiser Gardens had a new HD video board installed over the summer of 2010.
What Is It Like For Away Fans?
London's success over the previous few years has introduced a new breed of "fan" to the JLC - the bandwagoner. While the same 3500 people who used to go to games at the Ice House every week are still the same passionate diehards they always were, the new breed tends to be spoiled by success, extremely arrogant, and has no appreciation for what it was like supporting bad teams year after year, as well as several good ones that fell short of the OHL title. You might run into some idiots at the JLC, but the real Knights fans who know their Sprotts from their Corriveaus are just as annoyed about the idiot population as visitors are. The bandwagoners aren't real fans, and many of the true breed are looking forward to the day when they move on to the next trendy thing.

Sports Nut says:
For the most part, really nice, but there are always bad apples. I've been yelled at a few times, for cheering the Spits tying goal back in January (we won that one in OT). Can't say I was too intimidated when I was there, though!
Inside the Budweiser Gardens
Budweiser Gardens

How To Get There

From the 401 (Eastbound or Westbound): Take Exit 186 (Wellington Rd.) and travel north to downtown. Once you cross under the railroad tracks, continue to the third lights and turn left onto Dundas St. The arena is three blocks ahead on your left.

From the 402: Take Exit 100 (Wonderland Rd.) and follow Wonderland Rd. north about 1 kilometre until you reach Wharncliffe Rd. Turn right and take Wharncliffe northbound. Once you cross the Thames River, take the next right (Riverside Drive). Once you turn the corner the Arena should be clearly visible in the distance in front of you.

There is no public parking at the JLC. Most people park in a variety of small lots around the building, nearly all of which charge. Parking on the street is free after 6 PM, but you have to get there early to get a spot within short distance of the arena. You can park for free at the Galleria mall on weekends; it's located two blocks east of the arena along King St. There is a charge for weekday parking.
The Talbot Inn Facade
Budweiser Gardens
Franchise History
The London Knights got their start as a junior B team in 1950-51. The team went through a number of different names in the 1950's based upon the team's different sponsors, and by the early 1960's the team was called the London Nationals, named for the team's main sponsor, CN Rail. They played out of the old Ontario Arena at the Western Fairgrounds. London played in the Western Junior B league, which also included teams in Sarnia, Chatham, Windsor, and a few other cities. The Nationals won the championship in 1952 as well as two years in a row in 1964 and 1965.

In the mid 1960's, as the Metro Junior A League collapsed and the St. Michael's Majors disappeared, the Leafs wanted another junior team on which to put their prospects, and decided to promote the Nationals to the OHA. However, the league didn't approve of the change, and so for 1964-65, the Toronto Marlboros went on a tear and destroyed the entire league. For the 1965-66 season, given the invincibility of the Leafs' prospects and a new arena in London, the OHA allowed the Nationals to move up a level and become a full major junior team, playing out of the new Treasure Island Gardens. In 1968, sponsorship ended across the league, and the Nationals were sold to Howard Darwin, who changed the team's name to the Knights and the colours from Maple Leaf blue and white to green and gold.
Retired Numbers
5 Rob Ramage
8 Dino Ciccarelli
9 Darryl Sittler
19 Brendan Shanahan
22 Brad Marsh
61 Rick Nash
94 Corey Perry
Local Rivals
The London-Windsor rivalry has been epic in the past with fighting being a mainstay of the clashes. London's other chief rivals are Sarnia, Kitchener, Plymouth and Guelph.

About the City

By Londoner Kevin Jordan:
London is a white-collar city of 350,000 in the heart of Southwestern Ontario. Founded in 1793 by John Graves Simcoe, London began growing in the early 1830's when the city was made regional capital and a courthouse was built to serve southwestern Ontario. The city has the provincial atmosphere of a smaller town, and many visitors are surprised to learn that London is Ontario's fourth-largest independently-situated city, after Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton. (By "independent" I mean not an edge city or suburb; Mississauga, for example, is bigger but is part of the GTA.) London is viewed around the country as a staid, quiet, somewhat boring place - a good city to raise a family but not a tourist mecca. Living in London is learning what it is to be ignored by the national media, as all datelines in national newspapers generally read "London, Ontario" so as to avoid confusion with the city's namesake in England. Speaking of England, a good plurality of the city's population is of British stock and there are remnants of Blighty all over town, from the Thames River to Oxford Street and from Covent Garden Market to Victoria Park. The largest ethnic minorities in London are Polish, Italian, Portuguese, and Arab, along with a rapidly-growing Hispanic population.

London is a white-collar town first and foremost with banking and insurance being the main sources of employment in the city. Canada Trust and London Life are two major white-collar businesses located in London. There are blue-collar jobs - General Dynamics and Labatt Breweries are two of the largest employers - but London is not, generally, an industrial town. London also has a large educational sector, with over 30,000 students living in town during the school year, split between the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College. The city is filled with parks and its nickname "The Forest City" is an apt one. London is Canada's "test market" - the city is such a microcosm of Canada that it is often used to test new products, and if something sells in London, it will probably sell across the country. The city's downtown is currently enjoying a small renaissance and is livlier than most comparable cities in North America but there are still a few empty storefronts. City Council tends to be very development-friendly, to the point that the city loses a couple heritage buildings every year for yet another parking lot or condo project. Meanwhile, the big-box blight has affected London in the worst way as more and more retail projects on the city's outskirts continue to drain away shoppers from downtown. London has more mall square footage per capita than any other city in North America, and the city is often a destination for busloads of bargain-seeking American tourists drawn to the White Oaks Mall/Wellington Road strip near the 401. Navigating London is also difficult for visitor and resident alike, as the city is the largest in Canada with no urban expressway. During rush hour it can take a good 30-40 minutes to drive across the city. A ring-road project has been on the tables since the early 1960's, but the city's powerful NIMBY lobby has kept the highway from being constructed.

London is considered the birthplace of insulin and cable TV, and the city's most famous son is the bandleader and "King of New Year's Eve", Guy Lombardo. Other famous Londoners include modern acting heartthrobs Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, character actor Hume Cronyn (The Seventh Cross, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cocoon), trash talk-show host Jenny Jones, Oscar-winning writer and director Paul Haggis (Crash, Million-Dollar Baby), former Ontario Premiers John Robarts and David Peterson, and environmentalist David Suzuki. London is also the world's birthplace of "noise music" as the home of the Nihilist Spasm Band, who invented the genre in the mid-1960's and are cited as an influence by modern noise bands like Sonic Youth. NHLers from the London area include Eric Lindros, Craig Simpson, Craig MacTavish, Jeff Carter, Rob Ramage and Brad Marsh.

For information about London tourist attractions and accomodations, please visit Tourism London's website.
Another Look Inside the Budweiser Gardens
Budweiser Gardens

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 2002-09.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: October 17, 2009