All across the world of sport, teams are a part of their cities to varying degrees. In some places, a team can be just an afterthought or an option for entertainment. In other cities, the team and the city are seemingly one and the same; tied together so that one is practically indistinguishable from the other. Oshawa, Ontario is one of those cities and the Generals are one of those teams. Every aspect of the club reflects the city around it and the team’s long history parallels the growth of Oshawa.
Located at the east end of the Greater Toronto Area, Oshawa is a traditionally working class city, and though that is now changing with a university and exploding commuter population, the town still in many ways revolves around the General Motors plant at its south end. Many Oshawans are still employed at ‘the Motors’ and the team is indeed named after General Motors itself.
The Generals are also a team with an incredible amount of history; they are the most successful junior hockey club in Canada, having won five Memorial Cups as Canadian champions, including the 2014-2015 season. The history of the club can be traced back to 1908, and since then, numerous legendary figures have come through the organisation including ‘Terrible Ted’ Lindsay, David Bauer, Harry Sinden, Alex ‘Fats’ Delvecchio, Bep Guidolin, Charlie Conacher, Eric Lindros, Red Tilson, and most of all Bobby Orr. The team has also amassed a record thirteen J. Ross Robertson Cups as Ontario champions. The Gens have certainly had an astounding track record of success, but there is one statistic that infuriates Generals supporters; the 184 graduates who have gone on to the NHL is second in Canada only to their hated rivals, the Peterborough Petes.
Throughout their history, the Gens have played in four different arenas with the dubious distinction of having had two of them burn down; Bradley Arena burnt down in 1928 and Hambly’s Arena in 1953. After Hambly’s Arena burnt down, the team looked as though it would fold, but the community raised money and built the Civic Auditorium, home to the Gens from 1964-2006. In 2006, the city built its new downtown arena and partnered with the Maple Leafs to run it. As a result, the arena was built to the highest standard and features many touches reminiscent of Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The GM Centre is a wonderful place to watch hockey today and the Generals are a superbly classy and storied organisation to do it with. They really reflect their motto, Honour and Tradition, but they continue to play for the championship year in and year out.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food and drink in Oshawa are mostly standard fare but with a couple definite highlights, mainly from the sit-down Prospects Bar and Grill.
In the concourses one can find the usual hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, pizza, sandwiches, and poutine, as well as snacks like popcorn. A hamburger will run you a reasonable $5.25 and large Coca-Cola drinks are $4.00. Beer selection is decent, with the usual big domestic brand Molson and imports Coors and Heineken, as well as more interesting Canadian beers including Rickard's, Alexander Keith's and others. These will cost you $10.75 which is a bit high for the OHL.
The most unique concession item in the concourse is the Bruce Street Deli, where you can get hand-carved meats served fresh on nice bread. For a sit-down experience, there is Prospects Bar and Grill overlooking the arena from the north side. The pub-like space has good views of the ice and opens two hours before puck drop. The food menu is extensive and has a couple standouts.
House-smoked peameal bacon is an excellent take on the Toronto classic of cured back (Canadian) bacon rolled in cornmeal and in this case served in a tasty BLT. There is also house-smoked puller pork, brisket, and house-pickled corn beef.
There is also a good drink menu at the lengthy bar, including proper 20oz pints of domestic beers for $8, which is a fairly good deal for a sporting venue. There are also a variety of whiskies, gins, and vodkas, as well as ciders and rums to enjoy.
This is a very high 4, more like a 4.5 really, as the Generals are simply unsurpassed in promoting their storied history throughout the arena, which would otherwise feel sterile. Instead of being a bland new arena, the GM Centre is a gorgeous state-of-the-art facility that has brought together all history of the team and displays it at every turn.
Approaching from the street, GM Centre presents an attractive façade at its northwest corner, where an entry plaza leads to a curved glass wall and a ceremonial tower. There is currently a large mural celebrating the Generals as 2015 Memorial Cup champions as well as some interesting public art pieces. Leading south from the plaza is a street name Red Tilson Lane, after the famous Oshawa alumnus. This leads to an attached ice pad which hosts community events and Generals practices.
Entering from the plaza, there is a spacious ticket window area and a small landing with a grand staircase leading up to the concourse. The concourse walls are covered end to end with plaques showcasing famous sporting figures from Oshawa and from the Generals. There are also large photos of players along the Ring of Excellence, highlighting past greats, and the mantra that really seems to ring true; 'once a General, always a General.'
Walking through the concourse, be sure to check out the enormous Oshawa Sport Hall of Fame. There are hundreds of artifacts like old uniforms and trophies pertaining not only to the Gens but to the sporting history of the city. There is also a special area dedicated to the local figure of worship and hockey legend, Bobby Orr, who played three fondly remembered years in Oshawa in the 1960s. Once you have finished there you can peruse the other photos and pictures throughout the concourse before taking your seat in the bowl or the upper-level club seats, restaurant, or suites.
Entering the broad seating bowl, two things are apparent. First, dozens of banners hang from the rafters commemorating the unparalleled successes of the Generals including the five Memorial Cups and thirteen Robertson Trophies. Second, and not quite as positively, the seats are inexplicably maroon - the colour of arch-rival Peterborough. While these seats are very comfortable and views are perfect, it is sacrilegious to have maroon seats in Oshawa; comparable to having seats at the Maple Leafs in the bleu, blanc, et rouge of the Montréal Canadiens.
The other reason the atmosphere doesn't receive a perfect 5 is because of the difficulty of seeing video on the centre ice board. To save money during the otherwise first-class design of the building, a 1980's scoreboard is used. While it has been updated and functions well, the screen is quite dim and it is almost impossible to really get much out of the replays or live feed.
Those two flaws aside, the arena is spacious and well-planned for traffic flow and viewing. Like at Air Canada Centre, atop the north and south sides of the bowl are written the street names that run outside, which is helpful for getting one's bearings in the largely symmetrical bowl.
When the Gens moved from the Civic Centre, they moved into their new home in the heart of downtown Oshawa. This is an area that has been very nicely revitalized in the last few years as the UOIT University joined the arena in moving into what was once a run-down area. The makeup of the area has changed from catering only to the large working-class population to more of a mix of shops and restaurants, as more students and Toronto commuters have moved in.
Riley's, The Stag's Head, or the Thirsty Monk are the pubs on the block for the pre or post-match pint. Some nearby restaurants include Avanti Trattoria for Italian and New Globe for Chinese. Also nearby is the very interesting One World Buffet, which features items from varying cuisines and is like the United Nations of dining.
Just a few blocks north of the rink is the historic Parkwood Estate, where one can enjoy afternoon tea in the expansive gardens of the estate. The Canadian Automotive Museum is also located downtown and has a large and fascinating collection. There are a handful of hotels including the La Quinta Hotel right across the street from the main entry plaza.
Attendance is good in Oshawa, averaging between 4 and 5 000 fans per game, meaning that the arena is mostly full. Like fans in many Southern Ontario cities, they are often very intently focused on the game and rather than constantly singing or chanting, the arena gets loud after good plays, fights, or goals. The fans are very knowledgeable and can respond appropriately to small details on the ice that many casual fans might not pick up. They are generally welcoming enough, and it is only against detested rivals Peterborough when the atmosphere rises to derby levels. One of these games is sure not to disappoint from the fans.
Getting to the GM Centre is no trouble however you arrive. If driving, there is plenty of paid parking available in a multistory parkade one block north of the rink as well as a couple of smaller surface lots. Bike storage is ample and located alongside the entry plaza.
If arriving by transit, there are frequent buses along King Street, one block north of the arena. Public transportation is a good way to get to the game if you are coming from Toronto. From Union Station, take the GO Train's Lakeshore East line to Oshawa, which will take about an hour and a little over $10. Upon arrival at Oshawa, board the 90 bus, which will take you downtown. Disembark at the King and Centre stop and from there the arena is a block southeast.
Within the arena, the concourses are wide enough to handle the traffic smoothly, the ticket windows are plentiful, and entering and exiting is efficient. The washrooms are a little small but not problematic.
The Gens offer more ticket price points than most teams in the OHL. Advanced tickets can be had starting at $19.00 with the most expensive seats in the house $34.00. These prices are on the higher side of the OHL but still good value considering the NHL-quality professionalism and class from the team, not to mention the hours' worth of historical browsing and the chance to see a team that continually threatens for championships. The team shop is moderately priced, and the club's classic jerseys are just over $100, which is a good deal. Popular and very attractive team scarves are $25 and an excellent souvenir.
Extra point for the extensive Hall of Fame, an unmissable addition to a night at the Gens.
A further two extra points are needed for the exhaustive history on display in every nook and cranny of the rink, bringing over a century of hockey excellence to a sparkling new facility.
An extra point for the Generals being the most successful club in Canadian junior hockey, including winning the 2015 Memorial Cup as national champions.
The Generals are the class of the nation on and off the ice. No team has won more than they have and no team can match the combination of stunning new arena and magnificent history on display. Attending a Generals game is one of those OHL experiences that feel like the NHL in miniature, but with the history and community passion that is found in cities where hockey has always been played. The club is also ingrained in the community and a big part of civic spirit. For an introduction to OHL hockey, or for any fan of the game, visiting Oshawa is a worthwhile experience and one of the best in the country.
Industry has made its way into the naming of sports franchises a few times. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers come to mind where the teams were named after the workers of the main industries of the city: meat packers and steel workers, respectively. Add to that the Oshawa Generals. Located 60 km east of Toronto, Oshawa has been the Canadian headquarters of General Motors, including their main manufacturing plant, for over 100 years. The Oshawa Generals were founded in 1937 and named after their main sponsor. In 1953, Oshawa's Hambly's Arena caught fire and left the Generals homeless and disbanded.
Fast forward to 2012, and the Oshawa Generals are alive and well. Upon arriving at the sparkling new General Motors Centre, I was told that there was a high school in Oshawa named after hockey legend Bobby Orr. I was perplexed by this idea, as Orr played his professional hockey in Boston and is from the Northern Ontario town of Parry Sound. Orr did play 3 years of junior hockey in Oshawa, but I didn't think that was a big deal.
"Bobby Orr is a god here."
When Bobby Orr was 14 years old, he was discovered and heavily recruited, and eventually signed by the Boston Bruins. In 1962, Orr was to be the centrepiece of a plan to rebuild the Oshawa Generals, as well as a new arena, which would eventually be the Oshawa Civic Auditorium. General Manager Wren Blair discovered Orr, and negotiated with the Boston Bruins the idea of the team owning a second junior team. (they already owned the team in Niagara Falls). Eventually, the Bruins would agree and Bobby Orr would play with some very successful Oshawa General teams between 1962 and 1966, after which he began his legendary career with the Boston Bruins.
The Generals have been successful over the years, and have become one of the most stable franchises in the OHL. In 2006, they left the Oshawa Civic Auditorium to the brand new, city owned, General Motors Centre, which is currently the second-newest building in the OHL. The Generals are currently owned by Rocco Tullio, star Adam Graves, and current New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer. In 2012, they celebrated 75 years of junior hockey, and look to continue their success.
The standing rails are great, allowing you to move around and see the action from a different point of view. A couple of interesting food options in the carvery and a protein stand to add to the typical options. Plenty of free street parking around. Tickets are fairly priced and the fans are great. The Hall of Fame is worth at least one intermission, and spend the other one in the restaurant watching some other sports action. One of the best junior hockey venues out there.
104 King St E
Oshawa, ON L1H 1B6
21 Celina St
Oshawa, ON L1H 1J7
270 Simcoe St. N
Oshawa, ON L1G 4T5