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Official Review by Greg Johnston, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
New ice rinks are all the rage these days. Arena designs have evolved over time with new technology and focus on the fans, players, and media experience. Attending a game at the Halifax Forum takes you back to a simpler time before colour television, padded seats, and cup holders. Following the catastrophic Halifax explosion in 1917, rebuilding efforts included the construction of the Forum for sporting and community events. The Forum opened its doors in 1927 and has since hosted numerous events including basketball games, boxing matches, and concerts.
Hockey has always been the venue's main attraction through the years, providing a home for the Nova Scotia Voyageurs of the American Hockey League starting in 1971. Voyageurs played seven seasons there until moving to the Halifax Metro Centre when it opened in 1979. The new arena meant the Forum faced an uncertain future. After years of debate, more community space was added, including another ice rink, bingo hall, and a multi-purpose room. Dalhousie Tigers have called the Forum home since 2012 after demolishing Memorial Arena located on Dalhousie's campus. Dalhousie and Saint Mary's University currently are the only tenants of the Forum.
In 2014, a proposal to tear down the Forum for a four-pad ice arena was turned down by the city. Now a new proposal is in the works, including renovating the historic building and adding mixed use opportunities plus an additional rink within the surrounding lands. Meetings, craft shows, and a weekly farmers market help keep the historic venue active year round.
Dalhousie University has competed in men's hockey since the early 1900's. Back then, Dalhousie, St. Francis Xavier University, University of New Brunswick, and Mount Allison University competed for the Hewson Trophy. In modern times, Dalhousie plays in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). The Tigers have only won the AUS once in 1979, but fell to the Alberta Golden Bears in the University Cup Final. The program may not have a strong tradition of winning, but the team remains competitive every season as it takes on traditional powerhouses.
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".
The food and beverage selection at Halifax Forum is limited and full of greasy favourites. The only concession stand is located to your left as you enter the arena.
Menu offerings include traditional stadium grub such as pizza slices, nachos, popcorn, fries, and hot dogs all for a reasonable $3.00 to $3.75. Smaller items such as chips and candy bars can be purchased at the concession stand or at vending machines located throughout the concourse for the same price. Pepsi products are offered in bottle only. For alcoholic beverages, make your way to the "Lounge" located at the top of the south end of the rink. Mixed drinks and Coors Light are the limited choices for $5.50. Both concession stands are cash only, an ATM is located near the main entrance.
The sense of arrival to the Forum has remained relatively unchanged in the arena's 90-year history. The rough texture and arched patterns of the old red brick provides a reminder of the rich history the building signifies to the city of Halifax. The arena was built to last a century, though partly due to paranoia of another explosion. Plenty of free parking is available onsite with access off Almon Street, just steps from the front doors. The only entrance is clearly distinguishable with the large "FORUM" sign over a series of steel doors. The vestibule through the first set of doors is where you will find the box office. Prior to passing through the second set of doors you experience a taste of excitement for the game as you can see a glimpse of the ice rink. An usher waits to tear your ticket as you enter the concourse.
Programs and thundersticks are free handouts for all fans. The program includes interesting facts about the university, a little hockey history at Dal, and both teams' rosters. Take time to walk around the concourse prior to the game and learn more about the arena. Displays are set up in various locations telling a story of the Forum's intriguing history.
The seating bowl offers a few seating options. The cast iron rink-side seats are hardly used, but are a treat to see for any history buff. Seating is set up in a horseshoe shape with fifteen rows of out-of-date individual folding seats and benches. Rows are narrow and steep giving a sense of being on top of the action. Due to the structural technology of the time, the rink is lined with steel columns on both sides. These columns result in obstructed views for most seating areas. For this reason, many spectators prefer the end seats with a clear view of the game. The rink is traditionally cold; bring a sweater and sit near the middle rows where heaters hang down to provide warmth.A unique feature of the fan experience happens on the concourse. Here, fans and players cross paths due to the locker room location, providing an up close look at the teams. Be vigilant inside the seating bowl, a simple four-sided scoreboard hangs from centre ice without any video board to replay the big goal. During stops in play, in-game entertainment is limited to a variety of fun musical classics played on the loudspeaker. At intermission, a simple contest attempts to keep fans entertained.
The Halifax Forum is located on the north end of the Halifax peninsula, close to where 2,000 perished in the Halifax Explosion. Visit Needham Park and the historic Hydrostone neighbourhood to learn more about the devastating event, and the rebuilding effort afterward. The forum is located at the edge of a vast commercial area and low-density residential neighbourhood. The only restaurant in the immediate area is Brooklyn's Warehouse, a highly recommended eatery whose dinner menu changes daily. Other quality restaurants are located a short five minute drive away in the Hydrostone Market. Highly rated restaurants include Himachi House, Mother's Pizza, and Salvatore's Pizza.
Prior to demolition, Memorial Arena provided an on-campus, appropriately sized venue easy for students and alumni to attend. Though only two kilometers from campus, the move to the Forum hurts student involvement and attendance at the games. A vast majority of the fans are alumni and families. Attendance figures are generally smaller compared to Saint Mary's University, averaging around 300 a game. Low attendance results in a cavernous feel inside the arena with negligible energy from the fans. Crowds are quiet but attentive to the action on the ice. With the narrow rows and small seats, patrons create personal space by spreading out around the arena. This creates a great atmosphere for those who want to watch high-level hockey without distractions from fellow ticket holders.
Halifax Forum is easily accessible from car or public transit. 500 on-site parking spots are more than enough to fit everyone. Multiple Metro Transit routes stop close to the main entrance for $2.50. Students and faculty can hop on the #1 bus route to and from the Forum. Old, classic arenas have plenty of quirks to them unlike modern facilities. Access inside the arena is straightforward, however each portal requires a maneuver around a structural column and a declining ramp with low head height prior to entering the seating bowl. Colourful signs point you to the seating sections making finding your seat easy. Handicapped seating is non-existent. Patrons in wheelchairs watch the action just inside a portal next to the cast-iron seats. Two updated restrooms are on both sides of the arena, with no lines at intermission. Few staff are available for help. Most employees are either concession workers or security staff watching for propped emergency exit doors.
The historical atmosphere at the Forum, along with an entertaining brand of university hockey is well worth the price of admission. CIS hockey players are unlikely to have the talent for an NHL roster spot. What it lacks in star talent, it gains in passionate physical team play. The forum is a classic old venue providing an experience reminiscent of watching and imagining hockey players roam the ice in past decades. This is a must-see venue as more and more old barns face the wrecking ball. Prices for individual game tickets are competitive for CIS level of competition, and more affordable than witnessing a Halifax Mooseheads game. Tickets are $10 for an adult, $8 for faculty and alumnus, $5 for seniors and young students. Dalhousie students and children under six are admitted free. Dalhousie athletics provides free admission to youth teams with their "Name Your Game" program.
An extra mention for the continued use of the Halifax Forum for high-level ice hockey competition.
Secondly, for a plethora of free on-site parking close to the main entrance.
And finally for the multiple displays telling the story of Halifax Forum's long history.
With today's standards, Halifax Forum is by no means is a great place to watch a hockey game. It is uncomfortable, out-dated, and cold. But the character and awe of the rink's history is evident when walking into the arena. The old exterior masonry and interior steel structure takes you back to the early days of hockey competition, before helmets and television broadcasts. When thinking about old-time venues, the original six NHL franchise arenas will always be first to come to mind. But all those classic buildings are gone, and the Halifax Forum is one of a few venues dating back to the 1920's still in existence. With Dalhousie hockey program's help, this arena will continue to create memories for decades to come.
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5710 Young St.
Halifax, NS B3K 5E3
1919 Upper Water St.
Halifax, NS B3J 3J5