Niagara Falls Thunder


Niagara Falls Thunder

Arena Name: Niagara Falls Memorial Arena
Capacity: 3,633
Built: 1950
Address: 5145 Centre Street, Niagara Falls, ON, L2G 3P3
Telephone No: (905) 358-3808
Last Game: 1996
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
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OHL
Niagara Falls Memorial Arena
Niagara Falls Memorial Arena
What was the Arena Like?
Niagara Falls Memorial Arena is hulking, empty shell now, one of the many arenas built across the province in the aftermath of the Second World War that has ultimately a date upcoming with the wrecking ball. The city council never really properly maintained the building, and by the end of its life the local junior B team was plagued by a leaking roof and structural deficiencies, as well as a parking problem that can only be caused by being located within walking distance of one of the world's largest tourist draws. Still, the OHL survived there on three separate occasions, and the Flyers even won the Memorial Cup twice. With the Niagara IceDogs now firmly ensconced in nearby St. Catharines and no suitable rink in Niagara Falls, the odds of the OHL ever returning to the city appear to be slim-to-nil, but the memories of the old barn still pervade hockey fans of a certain age in the Niagara region.

The Niagara Falls Memorial Arena was located a few blocks away from the horrendous tourist sleaze of Clifton Hill and Lundy's Lane in downtown Niagara Falls, yet the rink itself was in a quiet residential neighbourhood. The transition was quite amazing - at the corner of Clifton Hill (Centre St.) and Victoria St. a few blocks from the arena, you're surrounded by acres of neon and wax museums, yet walk west a few blocks on Centre St. and you're in an old, quiet area that could be anywhere in Ontario. The arena itself was across the street from the Kraft Foods factory and had a tiny parking lot on-site, and stood out in whitewash paint over stucco. with a high, arched roof. There was a big sign out front announcing its presence as the "Niagara Falls Memorial Arena".

Once inside, you entered a dark lobby with ticket booths and concessions directly in front of you. There was a plaque on the far wall announcing the building's opening on January 25, 1950, and another one indicating that renovations took place in 1986. There was also a portrait of the Queen. The other side of the lobby had a large display case featuring trophies and memorabilia from the Niagara Falls Canucks Junior B team as well as the old Flyers and Thunder - the OHL teams. From the lobby you went upstairs into the seating bowl. Inside, there was a small score-clock and a huge number of banners hanging from the ceiling. Seats are all blue, all plastic, and I believe they dated from the 1986 renovation. The place is well-lit and there is a large silver material covering the ceiling. Views are excellent and the atmosphere seems like it would be decent as well.

The Niagara IceDogs played one game there in March of 2009 to commemorate the old barn, a fitting and terrific farewell gesture to one of the grand old barns of Ontario. I didn't have the opportunity to get down to the game, which I regret. But while the OHL game will most likely never again return to the Cataract City, at least the ancient, tumbledown barn got one final hurrah.
Inside Niagara Falls Memorial Arena
Niagara Falls Memorial Arena

How To Get There

From the QEW:
Take QEW to Hwy-420. East on Hwy-420 (to the Falls and USA) to MacDonald Ave. (next light past Stanley Ave.). Right on MacDonald and arena is down 600 feet on the left.
What's it Used For Today?
The OHL has a long history on the Niagara Peninsula. Besides the Thunder, Niagara Falls also had a pair of teams called the Flyers, one of which is now the Sudbury Wolves and the other of which is now the Saginaw Spirit. Meanwhile, nearby St. Catharines also had OHL teams, including the Black Hawks, the Tee Pees, and the Fincups. The rivarly between St. Catharines and Niagara Falls in the 60's and 70's was intense. The OHL hasn't had a presence on the peninsula since 1996 when the Thunder left for Erie. For years, there was talk of a team returning with the idea being that one of the casinos would have an attached convention centre and arena, but when opportunity knocked in 2007, Niagara city council slammed the door in the league's face, and the IceDogs moved into Jack Gatecliff Arena in St. Catharines instead.

And so Niagara Falls missed the boat on the OHL ever returned. The primary tenant up until the arena's demoliton was the Junior "B" Niagara Falls Canucks. I don't know what plans the city has for the site of the old rink.
The Final Game at Niagara Falls Memorial Arena
Niagara Falls Memorial Arena
Photo courtesy IceDogFans.com.

Feedback

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Copyright Kevin Jordan 2002-09.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: April 12, 2009