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Official Review by Greg Johnston, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Competing in the Atlantic University Sport Conference (AUS) of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), St. Francis Xavier University has a storied football history. The X-men made several appearances in the Atlantic Bowl throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, prior to the arrival of the Vanier Cup in 1965. Their most successful season came in 1966 when they won the Vanier Cup, lead by Hall-of-Fame Fullback Paul Brule. Brule suited up for the 1964 through 1967 seasons and holds eight rushing records, which are still intact today. The X-Men came up short in their only other Vanier Cup appearance in 1996, losing to the Saskatchewan Huskies. Oland Stadium is home to StFX football, along with track & field, a rugby, soccer, and lacrosse team. The field first hosted football games in 1967 and underwent major upgrades in 2009, including a new field and stadium lighting.
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".
Normally the food selection at smaller sporting venues is very basic. Cheap processed food dominates the menu with less than desirable tastes. However, the food selection at Oland Stadium celebrates local businesses in Antigonish with two popular food trucks offering unique, high quality options.
For the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the Waffle Bus Stop has been serving up their sweet and savory waffle sandwiches for $5.50-$8.50. This food truck is owned by a friendly local couple that also have a popular restaurant just off Main Street. Wood Fired Pizza is the other food truck parked next to the Waffle Bus Stop just beyond the north end zone. The plain white trailer with black lettering does not look like much from the outside, but step inside to see pizzas cooking over flames inside a grand oven. In front of you is a table full of fresh appetizing toppings and a menu of four traditional options, along with a "create your own adventure." A freshly baked personal size pizza costs $10, while a family size pizza costs $20. As with any food truck, you will have to wait for your food; however, the location creates no barriers and allows a fan to take in every play of the game.
Unfortunately, if the food truck option is too pricey, your options are limited. Kenny's Pizza serves large slices of greasy pizza for $4.50. A number of fans also step inside Oland Centre to grab chips and candy from a vending machine. Alcohol is available underneath a large tent at a sectioned off area just north of the grandstand, near the food trucks. The beer selection includes: Bud, Bud Light, Alexander Keith's, Labatt Blue, and Angry Orchard Cider, for a reasonable $4.50. Wine is also available by the glass for $5. You cannot return to your seats with alcohol, but you get a great view of game action from the beer garden. Softdrinks, bottled juices and water are offered for $1.75. Be sure to bring cash, as most of the vendors do not accept credit cards.
It is refreshing to go to a sporting event with alternative options other than the traditional hot dog and fries. Plus, purchasing items from the food truck gives the travelling fan a taste of Antigonish and an opportunity to support local business. Kudos!
The field at Oland Stadium may be modern, but the old grandstand provides a unique experience. Twenty-six rows of mostly old wooden bleachers line one side of the field, leaving the other sides open to views of the campus and landscaping. Unfortunately, some sections of the wooden bleachers were replaced with aluminum, losing the appeal of the old-fashioned stadium. The metal replacements make you think about why the wood planks were replaced; did they break? This thought leaves one with an uneasy feeling about safety as you step on the old boards. Also, you must watch your step as you climb the bleachers, as the width of the steps are uneven and would not pass today's building codes.
Tickets are general admission, with the most popular seats located in front of the media boxes. These seats have great sightlines and are the only shaded areas to escape from the mid afternoon sun. If you get too hot, cool off inside the Oland Centre and discover the Hall-of-Fame sketches of all the famous former St.FX athletes, and old artifacts celebrating the school's athletic past.
The pregame events at Oland Stadium are a unique game day experience. Players storm the field through blue smoke with the Clay Thompson Pipe Band playing Scottish music and 'Captain X' pumping up the crowd. The pipe band re-enters the field to play after each quarter.
Be sure not to miss a big play as the stadium lacks a video screen for replays. The public address announcer is heard throughout campus as he cleverly describes how a defense "gobbled up" the offensive player. Just outside the stadium on the northeast side of the field is "Cheapskate Hill," where students gather on the grass to watch the game for free. A popular photo opportunity is located below Cheapskate Hill where the popular "Smile You're at X" sign is located. After a touchdown by the home team, an alumnus rings the "Paul Brule Scoring Bell" located at the bottom of the grandstand.
Oland Stadium is located near the south end of St.FX's beautiful campus. Walking around campus takes you back in time with strong Italian and Colonial architectural influences. St. Ninian Cathedral is a must see for any architectural history buff. Downtown Antigonish is a five-minute walk from campus along Main Street. A number of good local cafes and restaurants reside here with an old small town feel. The Tall and Small Cafe offers fresh sandwiches and coffee with work from local artist/photographers lining the walls. A good dinner option is the Townhouse, a community supported restaurant offering local craft beers and unique food items.
Oland Stadium has an ideal location that allows the 4,700 enrolled students to come out in fairly large numbers. Students start "Go X Go" chants at varies times of the game. They cheer loudly and are decked out in blue and white. Football games create reunions for alumni and citizens of Antigonish who make up the rest of the typical crowd. Attendance figures are commonly atop the AUS ranging from 2,000 to 3,500 the last few years. The large, near-sellout crowds add to the exciting atmosphere at the games.
Prepare for a scenic road trip to Antigonish, as the nearest major airport is a two hour drive away in Halifax. However, fall colours will be vibrant if you go in late September or early October. Getting to the stadium is straightforward. Highway 104 skims the south end of Antigonish and the St.FX campus. Exit at Highway 7 (Exit 32) and after a few blocks turn right on Convocation Boulevard. Oland Centre will be straight ahead, with Oland Stadium right behind it. Parking is free but somewhat limited.
Antigonish Community Transit is a viable option for fans coming from Antigonish County. Prices range from $6-$10 depending on where you board the bus. For more information, visit Antigonish Community Transit.
Tickets can be purchased at the Keating Centre prior to game day, and at the north gate on game days. Entrance into Oland Stadium is possible from both north and south sides of Oland Centre, although the north side is known as the grand entrance. As you enter, get your hand stamped for re-entry and receive your free program. Merchandise stands are located just past the entrance. Staff hand out free bottles of water with the aim to curb the perception that alcohol is essential to enjoy a game.
Access to the seating area is narrow but easily navigable. The sidewalk leads you underneath the bleachers to a series of portals, from which you can enter the seating area on one side, and the Oland Centre on the other. As a first time visitor, a feeling of uncertainty comes across as it's unclear whether you are allowed in the building where the locker rooms are located. However, this is also where the washrooms are situated which are outdated and fairly small, although lineups are minimal. The grandstands are not a good option if you are in a wheelchair, as a railing disrupts your view. Alternatively, you may sit just to the side of the grandstand. See one of the many approachable usher/security staff for assistance.
Come out and enjoy a beautiful setting for football with friends and family. Tickets run $8 for an adult prior to game day, $12 on game day, or $30 for season tickets. Discounts are available for seniors, students, and youth 12 & under. St.FX athletics offers a 6 or 10 game pass for any sport to get a variety of athletic entertainment. For a devoted fan, an "all sport" pass is available for $195. St.FX has an exciting and competitive football program. Overall, witnessing a game is a worthwhile investment for your entertainment dollar.
+1 for contracting local food trucks for games
+1 for passing out free water as you enter the stadium
+1 for the tradition of the Brule Bell, honouring a famous alumnus
+1 for the hall-of-fame, including individually framed headshots sketched by hand and the historic trophies, photos, and jerseys encased in glass
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