The thing I find striking about the spot where the Vernon Civic Arena used to be mere months ago is how underwhelming it is now.
I do understand that when you take an iconic building that served this community so well for nearly a century and demolish it, you’re going to feel a bit of a loss. And that’s part of it for sure, but it’s also that it physically loomed so large on the landscape and now it’s just dirt and maybe a couple of rocks.
You’d never know an arena was once there or could even fit in that spot, which that looks like it could house maybe a Tim Hortons or 7-Eleven tops. I’m always amazed when a building comes down how small the actual footprint was.
Sure, the world’s worst parking lot is still there to bring back memories (potholes that could swallow sub-compact cars) and North America’s hardest-to-find visitors centre is still standing complete with a sani-station, apparently a bonus for all the RVs that finally find the visitors centre. So that helps mark the spot.
But there’s something missing, and I’m not here to rail against the politicians who ultimately decided to kill the Civic, although the fact Penticton, Kelowna and Kamloops still have their original, functioning arenas means someone dropped the puck along the way sometime.
It would be too easy to say it was wrong to flatten the place, not to mention more than moot at this point, as I personally know the challenges and costs of keeping it going (try being the timekeeper in a close playoff game and the power to the box suddenly goes out and you have to remember how much time is left in the game).
But that doesn’t mean I can’t salute the place and share some memories that attempt to explain the fondness for the ol’ girl (is that sexist or no?).
It’s funny, I’m sure I wrote an obituary for the Civic some 10 years or so ago in this very space but her time on death row was much longer than anticipated as the governor couldn’t quite pull the trigger—until now.
I’m not quite as old as the Civic but I remember many, many highlights with great fondness: the Vernon Essos/Vikings/Canadians/Lakers and players like Tom Serviss, Wayne Dye, Don Murdoch and so many others; the playoff runs that went through places like Weyburn (Red Wings), Saskatchewan; the seats ringing the rink; the concession under the stands where you fought through the smokers to get a hot chocolate; the Boy Scouts jamborees with the ‘chuckwagon’ races; Tebo’s Toddlers; public skating to Revolution by The Beatles on a Saturday afternoon and the green Martian outfit we passed down to wear to the masquerade skate every year.
Then there was watching John Manjak skillfully manoeuvre the Zamboni into the spot under the announcer’s booth after clearing the ice; Rienie Holland dutifully and happily manning the scorekeeping/timers box for literally thousands of games over the years; watching my kids learning and enjoying how to play hockey so much better than me three decades earlier; 6 a.m. practices; trying to find the heater that works; April Wine’s Stand Back tour; Lakers owner Mel Lis in his corner box for games; overflowing raffle tables for tournaments; parent meetings during practice and Carnival Pee Wee Tournaments.
And don’t forget the Midget rep dressing room so we didn’t have to transport gear any more; grads; figure skating shows like It’s A Small World featuring Murray Mitchell; lacrosse, including a couple of national championships; a Centennial Cup on home ice; 50/50 raffle ice cream buckets; the smell of sweat, wood, ice, spit, popcorn, coffee and pee that combines to spell arena and even he time my dad tested my eyesight by asking me what I could see across the rink that led to me getting glasses (okay it’s not all good)….
Anyway, you get the idea, because with all these events and memories—and you all have your own too—go the people you shared them with. A sense of community indeed.
I’m not sure what the city fathers and mothers have planned for this site, in fact I don’t think they know yet either. But maybe it would be appropriate to have a plaque—small is fine—saying: “Vernon Civic Arena, 1938-2018, She Did Good.”