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Official Review by Greg Johnston, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Halifax Forum was built in 1927 to replace the Provincial Exhibition Building, which was destroyed by the disastrous Halifax explosion ten years earlier. The Forum was built for sport and community gatherings, and boasts as having the first artificial ice surface east of Montreal. In 1971, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs became the first professional hockey team in Halifax. Playing in the American Hockey League, the Forum was home ice for the Voyageurs for seven seasons before moving into the brand new Halifax Metro Centre (now Scotiabank Centre). Losing the Voyageurs as the main tenant devastated the Forum financially. In the 1980s, it seemed inevitable that the Forum’s days were numbered. Instead, the building was expanded to create more adaptable events, including an additional ice hockey rink, meeting rooms, a multipurpose room, and a bingo hall. The arena’s fate was once again in question in 2014. A proposal to tear down the Forum and construct a modern four-pad hockey rink, was shot down by city councillors. Instead, a new proposal is in the works which includes renovating the historic building and surrounding lands, building an additional rink and other mixed use opportunities. Today, two university teams, the Saint Mary’s Huskies and Dalhousie Tigers, are the major tenants.
Saint Mary’s University (SMU) has a history of success with their men’s hockey program. The Huskies reached the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) University Cup Finals four straight seasons in the early 1970s, losing each one to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. A return to the finals alluded SMU until 2010, when they beat Alberta Golden Bears in overtime for their first championship. The Huskies fell short of their second championship in 2013, losing in CIS University Cup finals to the University of New Brunswick.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The "Canteen," located at the southwest corner of the building, is the only concession stand in the arena serving food and sodas. The Forum menu includes basic items such as pizza, nachos, popcorn, fries, and hot dogs all for a reasonable $3.00 to $3.75. Chips and candy bars are your remaining food options; these can be purchased at the Canteen or the multiple vending machines throughout the concourse for the same price. Pepsi products are offered in bottle only. For an alcoholic drink, make your way to the "Lounge" located near the nosebleed seats on the south end of the rink. The only beer pouring out of the tap is Coors Light for a surprisingly low price (at least in Canada) of $5.50. Both stands only take cash, however an ATM is located near the main entrance..
When you think of "old-time hockey," you think of the hardnosed action on the ice, the helmetless players and goalies, and the intimate stadiums they played in. The Halifax Forum will remind you of those classic rinks of yesteryear that are nearly extinct. Think of the original six NHL franchises and the arenas they played in back in mid 1900s. Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, Detroit Olympia, and the original Madison Square Garden in New York were all demolished. The Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto were adaptively reused as public spaces. The renovations inside Maple Leaf Gardens included the Mattamy Athletic Centre on an upper storey from the old floor. Thus hockey is still played there, but the original ice surface is now the frozen food section of a grocery store.
Outside of the additional facilities around the building, the Halifax Forum has seen only minor renovations since the original construction was completed. The exterior brick facade and main entry signage is the same as it looks in old black and white photos. The building aligns with Windsor Street near Almon Street. The decorative masonry with glass block elements is clearly distinguishable from the street.
As your ticket is torn, the rink catches your eye through a large portal, creating an anticipation of the event. The concourse in front of the main entry is narrow and crowded, made more so by the fund raisers who set up tables in that area. Like many old arenas, portals into seating areas are full of small ramps and the occasional odd placement for steps. The home and away benches are across the rink from each other, with both penalty boxes next to the home bench, providing some home ice advantage. The press box is an obvious addition to the building; it is odd, and out of place as it almost hangs over the rink. The four-sided scoreboard hanging from centre ice is a classic with its individually lit light bulbs like you see in old sports movies. Be sure to watch the action on the ice, no video board is available for replays. Listen closely to the public address announcer to know who scored the last goal; the acoustics in the arena is poor and difficult to make out what is said.
The seating is set up in a horseshoe style. There are two rows of rink-side seats, in front of fifteen rows of seats having access from stairs. In most places, unpadded metal seats have replaced the old bench style seating in the stands. However, the seats are not very wide, and leave little space for leg room. The old steel supporting columns are close to the ice and may obstruct your view, but it's also part of the facility's charm. The only unobstructed view is behind the net, this appears to be where most patrons prefer to sit. Though the Forum's website claims to be wheelchair accessible, the arena has not updated its seating plan for the handicapped. At the reviewed event, a wheelchair bound patron watched the action from an aisle leading to a portal. Avoid the upper rows of seats at centre ice; the hanging press box eliminates your view of any scoreboard in the building. If the weather outside is cold, prepare for it to be shivering inside as well, as the heating system only reaches a few rows in the middle of the seating sections. Most patrons leave their coats on the entire contest.
The Halifax Forum is located on the north end of the Halifax peninsula. In 1917, this area was devastated by the Halifax explosion, killing 2,000 people and wounding thousands more.The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is a great place to learn more about this tragic event that remains etched in Haligonians hearts today.
The Forum acts as a transition from a low density residential area to the east, and a post office distribution centre and commercial areas to the west. A choice of restaurants is hard to find in the immediate area. However Brooklyn's Warehouse is across the street with a great Rueben sandwich. For lunch, try The Coastal or Tarek's Cafe, both located along Robie Street close to Almon. For great pizza try Mother's Pizza, just a few blocks further north. If you have time to explore, walk over to the Hydrostone Market. Local stores and coffee shops highlight a famous olde English style neighbourhood.
In general, student attendance seems to suffer whenever home games are located off campus. Such could be the case with SMU where the arena is roughly 4 km away from the university. A vast majority of the fans are not students, but rather alumni and families. Crowds are quiet and respectful, enjoying the action on the ice. On the concourse at the start and end of each period, the Huskies players cross paths with fans to get to the dressing room. This is an excellent opportunity for kids to fist bump the players they admire, wishing them good luck. Attendance at the Forum will likely be far under capacity, and that's not a bad thing. With small seats and rows, a sold out event at the Forum would be an uncomfortably tight squeeze with fellow fans. Tickets are general admission so you have the opportunity to find the best seat in the house.
Getting to the Halifax Forum is simple from car or public transit. Free parking is offered for 500 cars on site. On street parking is another free option available along side streets. Several Metro Transit routes drop you off close to the main entry for $2.50. The #18 bus route connects Saint Mary's University and the Forum.
The only entrance into the arena is clearly recognizable with the bright concourse lights shining through the multiple doorways and a shingled canopy above the entrance with the word "FORUM" in large block letters.
Once doors open, access around the arena is straightforward. The concourse spans 180 degrees around one end of the rink. Finding your seat should not be difficult as plenty of colourful signs point you to the sections. A curtain separates public access, and the player locker rooms. Male and female restrooms are on both sides of the arena, with minimal lines at intermission. Each portal requires a maneuver around a structural column and down a ramp before entering the seating area, a unique feature that adds to the classic arena experience. Unfortunately, ushers are nowhere to be found if you do need help. A few security personnel are located by the emergency exits.
The experience at the Forum is well worth the price of admission. New arenas have moved toward comfort and luxury, but have lost the character and uniqueness that make each of the old venues great. This is a "bucket list" arena for those who find the allure of exploring old sporting arenas.
Prices for individual game tickets are reasonable for CIS level of competition, and almost half the price of Halifax's junior hockey team. Tickets are $10 for an adult, $8 for a senior or alumnus, $5 for young students and children, and SMU students get in free. The athletic department offers a season ticket package that includes every SMU athletic event for $200, and a "Huskies Fan 15 Pack" for any sporting event for $100.
One point for the city of Halifax for keeping and using this classic old barn as it was originally intended all these years, and for years to come.
One point for the displays throughout the concourse telling the history of the Halifax Forum by decade. The displays include both the good times, with famous performances and players, while also explaining the dark years and the threat of closure.
One point for free parking on site.
The old arenas of the NHL's original six may be history, but other traditional arenas still exist around the country. Halifax Forum is an arena that has survived hard times and threats of demolition. It has now found new life with the latest proposal, and a secure future. The Forum is not the perfect place to watch a game, but it has an aura about it that makes for a great hockey venue for spectators. Walking into the Forum visually takes you back in time, to an era of old-time hockey.
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1875 Barrington St.
Halifax, NS B3J 3L6