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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Before the lustre of dollars earned by corporate naming rights, sports facilities were often named in honour of those who fought and gave their lives in various military conflicts. Soldier Field, the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium and the War Memorial at OnCenter come to mind. One of those classic facilities remains alive in Kingston, Ontario, home to the Queen's Gaels hockey team. It just seems right for a team with the depth of Canadian University hockey that Queen's has to play in an arena that also has significant history. On the frozen Kingston Harbour, in 1886, Queen's University and the Royal Military College of Canada played the first ever Canadian interuniversity hockey game.
Queen's and RMC remain active in what is now known as U-Sports and have entrenched their history even further. The Queen's Cup, presented annually to the OUA, or Ontario conference champion was presented to the conference by Queen's University. Queen's and RMC together presented U-Sports with the University Cup, the Canadian National Champion. Queen's and RMC continue their rivalry to date with the world's oldest hockey rivalry, playing for the Carr-Harris Cup annually.
The Kingston Memorial Centre was built in 1951 and was the home for a number of Kingston hockey teams. Most notably, the Memorial Centre was the home for the Kingston OHL entrant including the Canadians, Raiders and currently the Frontenacs. When the Rogers K-Rock Centre opened in 2008 and the Frontenacs moved, the future of the Memorial Centre was in doubt. Built as a living memorial for Kingstonians who gave their lives in the World Wars and Korean War, the Memorial Centre's 3,300 capacity was inappropriate for Major Junior Hockey. Queen's University would decide to demolish the longtime home of the Gaels, Jock Harty Arena in favour of the new Athletics and Recreation Centre. In 2008, the Gaels would move off-campus and make the Kingston Memorial Centre their permanent home.
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".
Not much is available in the way of culinary experience at the Kingston Memorial Centre. In fact, the Memorial Centre provides one of the smallest concession selections anywhere. Upon entrance, there is a student selling fresh popcorn. Past that, fans are totally relying on vending machines located around the arena. There are not a ton and fans should keep their change handy if a beverage is desired. One item of interest are the old school candy vending machines, which were once staples throughout arenas across Ontario. A quarter is all that's needed, however there is no telling how old the candy in the machines really is.
The atmosphere at the Kingston Memorial Centre is akin to its age. The Memorial Centre has a quaint, historic feel to it, but there is still room for improvement. The first thing fans will notice about the Kingston Memorial Centre is the lack of corporate naming. The state and future of the Memorial Centre has been debated numerous times at the Kingston City Council. One of the saving factors for the Memorial Centre has been its status as a living memorial to veterans of armed conflicts. Outside the arena are a few items that give credence to its memorial status including a memorial wall that lists names of Kingstonians who died in the service of Canada. The exterior of the Kingston Memorial Centre looks decent from a distance, with its tan brick and main entrance. Upon closer inspection, the wear and tear of the decades can be seen.
Inside the arena, the east-west ice orientation leads fans into travelling around the arena above the seating bowl. Entry from the seating bowl is either from the ground level, or up the stairs behind the seating. Elements of the Memorial Centre's age and history are immediately obvious. The beautiful triangular, vaulted, hardwood ceiling is a lost feature among more modern arenas. All of the seats in the Memorial Centre are the original 1951 wooden seats. In some sections, double "love" seats can be found also. The west end of the arena features the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, which was once a staple found in arenas all over the country.
Along with the historic features of the arena come those that have not aged well. In many places the glass either needs significant cleaning or replacement. Behind the nets is particularly bad, and difficult to see through. The scoreboard at centre ice is very simple and does not offer shots on goal as a reported statistic. The sound system is in dire need of replacement as announcements are not very audible. Queen's also has very little in the way of atmosphere presence in the arena. Sitting on the north side of the ice will offer a good picture of the centre ice logo, one of the few markings for Queen's inside. Banners for the women's hockey team hang on the north side also. Curious that there are no banners for the men's team, especially considering their role in playing the first game on the Kingston Harbour. There is a banner with hockey championships to be found, however it is where Queen's plays basketball at the Athletics and Recreation Centre.
The Kingston Memorial Centre is located in the Williamsville neighbourhood of Kingston, north of the Queen's University campus and just west of downtown. Head towards the river and Princess Street to find just about everything you could want. A number of national restaurant chains can be found all along Princess, Queen and Brock Streets, but there are also a ton of independent spots that will peak your interest. Woodenheads Gourmet Pizza, Sir John's Public House, The Merchant Tap House, Chez Piggy, The Toucan and Grizzly Grill are all worth checking out.
Kingston is a fantastic spot to be, especially in the summer. The Haunted Walk is interesting and Confederation Park is along the Rideau Trail right by the waterfront. The ferry to Wolfe Island is right there also. Across the river, at the top of the hill is Old Fort Henry, which has a number of activities during the summer and fall. Bellevue House was the home of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
Fans looking for other sporting options within the city will not have to look far. Queen's fields a full slate of athletic programs including their legendary football program that plays at Richardson Memorial Stadium. The Queen's basketball team plays a few blocks away at the Athletics and Recreation Centre, which is on the main campus. The cross-town rivals for the Gaels, the RMC Paladins play just across the water at Constantine Arena. Also, the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL play right downtown at the Rogers K-Rock Centre.
There are a number of places to stay if you are staying in Kingston. By the waterfront you can find the Confederation Place Hotel, Holiday Inn Kingston Waterfront and Delta Waterfront Hotel. All are good spots to stay.
The attendance at OUA hockey games isn't huge and at times the attendance is not reported. Queen's definitely is in the lower echelon when it comes to hockey attendance. The 2016-2017 season has drawn approximately 100 fans per game, which is not terrific. However, at the time of this writing, the Carr-Harris Cup has yet to be played and that game, annually played at the Rogers K-Rock Centre, will draw over 3,000 fans and skew the results. The arena being located off campus is an issue for sure, but Queen's needs to do more to bring the students out to support their hockey team. Those in attendance are pretty much regulars and the atmosphere the fans bring is pretty laid back.
Getting to the Kingston Memorial Centre is not too difficult. The Memorial Centre is located north of the Queen's campus and west of downtown Kingston. It is a pretty significant distance from the main highway into Kingston, Highway 401. Getting to the Kingston Memorial Centre from out of town will require a pretty significant travel through the city of Kingston.
Fans interested in public transportation to the Kingston Memorial Centre will be pleased as there are bus stops along Concession and Princess Streets which both offer a very short walk to the arena. Check out the Kingston Transit website for schedules, fares and maps.
Considering the lack of attendance, there is plenty of parking on the west side of the building. Parking on site is free and street parking is available on the off chance that the lot is full.
The main entry to the arena is off of York Street. The main entrance does have a small ticket window with credit cards accepted for ticket purchase. Lines are not an issue due to the small attendance.
Getting around the arena is not too much of an issue. Stairs may be of some concern, but wisely choosing a seat, considering the seats are all general admission, should alleviate stairs as a major issue. Considering the age of the Kingston Memorial Centre, the washroom facilities are a pleasant surprise. Clearly having been recently updated, the facilities are modern and comfortable, but not overly spacious.
At just $10 per ticket, Queen's Gaels hockey is definitely a bargain. Not too many sporting options out there are in the same class as OUA hockey. With very little investment for tickets and free parking, fans are not putting too much money into their evening's entertainment. Admittedly, concessions are an issue, however the proximity to a fantastic neighbourhood for unique food and beverage options should push the fan to avoid concessions in the first place. Also, OUA hockey offers an exciting product and high level hockey, without the fighting that you would find in professional or junior hockey.
An extra mark for the unique, historical murals that are found on the staircases of the Kingston Memorial Centre.
An extra mark for the place in hockey history that is occupied by Queen's and RMC. It is fantastic that they continue their rivalry through the Carr-Harris Challenge Cup.
Queen's Gaels hockey has a significant, historical place in the hockey world. They play in an arena that was once the centre of hockey in the city of Kingston and offers a unique, historical experience for hockey fans. It is unfortunate that more fans are not familiar with this experience. It would also be great to see more of that hockey history on display at the Kingston Memorial Centre for the fans to see and experience. Most importantly, hats off to the city of Kingston and Queen's for maintaining a memorial for those brave souls who helped defend Canada.
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