Knight


London Knights

Arena Name: London Gardens/London Ice House
Capacity: 5,075
Built: 1961-64
Last Game: 2002
Current Use: Cycling Velodrome
Address: 4380 Wellington Road South, London, ON, N6E 3A2
Ice Surface Size: 190' X 85'
Velodrome Web Site: http://www.forestcityvelodrome.ca/
Virtual Tour: London Tourism
Google Satellite: Click Here

OHL
London Gardens
London Gardens
What was the Arena Like?
The last game ever played at the London Gardens was in September of 2002. It's been well over five years now, but I miss the place more than I can tell you. The Gardens was the place that got me into arenas in the first place, with my first ever hockey game being there with my Dad as a precocious five year-old on Nov. 20, 1987 against the Guelph Platers. It ended in a 3-3 tie. The Gardens had a concrete box exterior and a hideous paint scheme on the inside. It smelled of ammonia and sweat and stale popcorn. And it had fans who had been sitting in the same seats for forty years and knew each other intimately, terrific hecklers, an 80-year-old man making announcements over the garbled sound system, and among the best hockey atmospheres in Canada. It was old-time hockey personified, and I feel grateful that I got to watch hockey there for fifteen years while growing up.

I saw over 250 games at the London Gardens and I felt like I knew the place as well as my own home. It was raucous, loud, and had the atmosphere of a madhouse. The paint was peeling, the toilets were few and far between, the seats were uncomfortable and the lighting was terrible, but it was a fantastic place to watch a game, with an atmosphere that new buildings could never duplicate. You sat right on top of the action and the players could practically hear whispers coming from the crowd.

The building had a "U" shaped concourse area under the seats where the washrooms and concessions were located, while the seating area was designed with the "4-corners" scheme popular in the 1960's. The entry to the seats was from the top. The Gardens was painted in gaudy colours - back in the 1980's everything was in the tasteful team colours of bright green and yellow, while after the colour changes some things were changed to purple and teal. However in many areas the green and yellow weren't covered up, so you had a building with fluorescent yellow walls, blue, yellow and white seats, and purple and teal accents everywhere. The seating area had newer plastic seats on the sides and older two-man benches in the ends. There were about 15 rows of seats, and the angle was steep. Longtime Knights' trainer Don Brankley made his home in the Gardens under the seats in a small apartment next to the Knights' dressing room. For years as well, the Knights had a retro Zamboni - they owned one model from the 1950's and another from the early 1970's, both of which had the old chain sweeping system. As a child, I thought they were the coolest things I had ever seen.

The building was designed to resemble the old Boston Garden, and it succeeded in both the atmosphere and the craziness. Fans in London were among the best in the league, and the team drew an average of well over 3000 fans a game even in 1995-96, when the Knights went 3-60-3 for the worst record in CHL history. Knights' fans were also adept hecklers, and were merciless on players that weren't liked.

The building's two proudest moments came in 1977 and 1999. In 1977, Dan Eastman scored in overtime against the St. Catharines Fincups to send the Knights into their first Robertson Cup final against the Ottawa 67's. They lost in 6 games. The second was in 1999 when the Knights beat Belleville in the sixth game of the Robertson Cup broadcast coast-to-coast on Sportsnet. Unfortunately, destiny was not on the Knights' side as they lost 9-2 in the seventh game in Belleville.

The Knights were never able to deliver a championship to the old Gardens, which is the building's one regret. It would take a new building downtown and new ownership to finally erase 40 years of frustration and disappointment and deliver London's first OHL championship and Memorial Cup.

The Gardens has been a velodrome for a couple of years now, and a large part of me is very glad that the old building is being used productively as the rest of the former Superstore Mall declines into irrelevance around it. The arena's future seems secure and it's in no danger of being demolished any time soon. But again, I miss the ritual of going to games there. I grew up in South London and could drive to the rink in five minutes on game nights, and I miss seeing the same faces in the parking lot, in the cramped concourse, and in the seats. I miss the days when the team was unfashionable and had 3,500 diehards attending every game because they loved hockey, not because it was the trendy thing to do. Most of all, I miss the atmosphere. I travel now to experience what it's like watching junior hockey from a terrific seat hanging over the ice while thousands of fans scream and cheer and sing, because in my hometown, that's become a thing of the past. No Londoner would ever begrudge the building of the JLC downtown - the revitalization of the area is a direct result of the arena's construction, and we get major concerts now - but it came at a price, and that price was the ability to watch hockey the way it was meant to be watched.

Every once in a while, I still stop in at the Velodrome and have a seat in the stands, and remember the way things used to be. Progress for the Forest City is a good thing, but I still miss what was lost in the process.

Inside the London Gardens

London Gardens
Arena History
The Treasure Island Mall opened on the industrial southern fringes of London in 1961. The developers decided to include a 5000 seat hockey arena in the plans, and were in the process of building one when the project went bankrupt and the half-finished arena, just a mass of girders, sat empty for four years.

In 1964 the project was finally finished and the Treasure Island Gardens opened with an NHL exhibition game between Boston and Toronto. The arena was designed to be a one-level copy of the Boston Garden. There was also a second ice pad connected to the building at the time, but it was eventually closed and the space today is part of the United Furniture store next door (you can tell the building's arena past by the arched roof trusses and the lack of interior support columns). For its first year the arena was only home to the junior B London Nationals due to the dispute between the OHA and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the wake of the Metro League fiasco; the Leafs wanted a second sponsored junior team in London to replace the folded St. Michael's Majors, while the OHA wouldn't allow it at first. It took a year's lobbying before the OHA relented, and the Nats finally were promoted into Junior A in 1965. The team itself had a history dating back to the early 1950's, playing out of the old Ontario Arena at the Western Fairgrounds and winning the local junior B championships a couple times in the 50's and 60's.

In 1968 the team was sold to Howard Darwin, who renamed the team "London Knights" and changed the colours to green and gold. The arena was also renamed the London Gardens after four years of pirate jokes had started to wear thin.

The arena was home to a lot of the city's history over the years. The Rolling Stones played the building on their first North American tour in 1964, and the cops shut down the concert after 15 minutes. Alice Cooper, Randy Travis, AC/DC, WWF and Bill Cosby are just some of the names who played the venue over the years. The Gardens' most famous concert moment, though, came in February 1968 when Johnny Cash proposed onstage to June Carter, who would remain his wife right up to her death in May 2003.

One unfortunate characteristic of the Gardens, though, was that the building was never really maintained over the years. The dirt started to pile up and the building was allowed to deteriorate rapidly. Near the end, most visitors had a hard time believing that the building was only 40 years old, as it felt at least 60. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, the fans who filled the rink week after week were raucous and loud, and crazy. The senile old building was a perfect match for the Knights' fans and their consistent frustrations at being the fourth oldest club in the league yet never having won an OHL championship.

In 1994 the Knights were bought by real estate mogul Doug Tarry Sr., who died shortly after. His hockey-ignorant son Doug Jr. took over the team and it was he who changed the Knights' colours to awful eggplant and teal, the logo to "Spiderknight" and renamed the building "The London Ice House." Tarry was going for a total image change, but the changes were silly at best, and true London fans still bled green and gold. Now that the building is closed, I've reverted to calling it the Gardens again. It was a better name.

In 2000 the Brothers Hunter, ex-NHLers Mark and Dale, bought the Knights along with minority partner Basil McRae. In Feb. 2002 the colours were finally changed back to green and gold. The eggplant and teal period today seems like a bad dream, and no matter what the Hunters do to the team, they will always be remembered as the men who brought back the green and gold.

In 2002 the building finally closed as the Knights moved to new digs in downtown London. One of the team's last acts with the old building was to sell the 1994-era plastic seats to the Windsor Arena, where they still can be found. The building was purchased from the Knights and turned into the "London Motoplex", which was North America's only permanent indoor motocross facility with stadium seating. Several hundred tons of dirt were dumped on the arena floor and dirt bikes jumped where the Knights once skated. The arena was completely unchanged with the exception of a few rows of seating in section 17, which were removed to allow the dump trucks full of dirt easier access. (Including my old season ticket seat, the bastards.) However, the dire predictions came true a mere six months later as the Motoplex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The building was then bought by a local businessman called Gurmit Grewal, owner of London Carrier, Inc., who intended to convert the old rink into a garage for his fleet of trucks. However, the arena has now been converted again, and is now one of North America's only indoor cycling velodromes.

So far, it seems that only a little bit of the old schizophrenic character has moved into the John Labatt Centre with the Knights, although the JLC atmosphere is improving as fans get used to the building. Most Knights fans will tell you that the Gardens desperately needed replacing, but it was still a shame to lose her. She was a fantastic place to watch hockey and will not be forgotten as long as Tony the Fan still screams from behind the net, or the fans chant Robert Holsinger's name. And as long as the ghosts of Sittler, Maruk, Stajduhar, Allison, Ciccarelli, Bradley, Taylor, Green, Riggin, Nash, Erskine, Eastman, Chiarello, Ing, Shanahan, Marsh, Ramage, Fata, Kostopolous, Brathwaite or DeBrusk still roam along Wellington Road, the Gardens will always be a part of the fabric of the city of London.

How To Get There

The building is incredibly easy to find as it is visible from the 401. Simply exit at Exit 186 (Wellington Rd.) and go south over the overpass. Turn left at the first light which has a left-turn available (Roxburgh Rd.); the building is on the right, set back from the road, with a large triangular spire on the front. It's in the same plaza as the McDonalds.

What's It Used for Today?

Following its closure in the fall of 2002, the Ice House was converted into a Motoplex, which lasted mere months before collapsing into bankruptcy. A new owner took over in 2003 and sold off memorabilia, seats and everything else at a sale in December 2003, with the proceeds going to the Children's Hospital of London. In the Spring of 2005 another promoter opened a cycling velodrome in the old building, which is still going strong. The Forest City Velodrome is still open years later, and the building is open during normal business hours to curiosity-seekers. Have a look if you're in the area.

The 4-hectare parking lot behind the Gardens - prime industrial land - sold to a separate, anonymous bidder for $520,000.

I got one of the old seats from the Gardens as well as some other memorabilia. The old Knight logo neon sign was sold to a friend of mine and looks great in his rec room.

Forest City Velodrome

London Ice House

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 2002-08.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: December 7, 2008