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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Welland Main Arena and Jack Ballantyne Memorial Arena make up the Welland Arenas located on 501 King Street in Welland, Ontario. The arena debuted in time for the 1948-1949 season and can be described as a quintessential old hockey barn. The 2,100 seat arena features a horseshoe shaped concourse with alternating modern blue and red seats, exposed metal rafters, and a lower wraparound corridor that runs underneath the seating area.
The arena houses one of the great finds in any hockey arena in Canada, an original and one of a kind clock that was donated by the Toronto Star when the arena opened. Under the Ontario Heritage Act, the clock cannot be demolished, altered, or removed due to its cultural heritage value.
The facility has recently gone through over $3 million in renovations and upgrades. The first was in 2011 under the Building Canada Fund that had city, federal, and provincial government pay $1 million each towards a second floor lounge overlooking the ice, office space, and a community room. Three years later the city approved $172,000 in upgrades to the dressing rooms, washrooms, new player benches, ventilation system, and the installation of video surveillance cameras.
The building’s main tenant are the Welland Jr. Canadians who have played under various names since debuting in the Golden Horseshoe Jr. Hockey League in 1979. In 2007, the league merged with three other Jr. “B” leagues in Ontario to form the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. The merger also created a 26-team league that competes solely for the Sutherland Cup which is awarded to the provincial Jr. “B” championship in Ontario.
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".
There is one concession stand in the main lobby right outside of the sliding doors to the ice. The crew of three staff do a great job of taking orders and handing out food to hungry patrons between intermissions. Here you will find common staples including fresh popped popcorn, hot dogs, candy, chicken fingers, and nachos. The prices range from $2 pizza slices to $5.25 for poutine.
The stand also serves an array of hot drinks that include Tim Horton's coffee, hot chocolate, hot tea, cappuccino, and mocha priced between $1.75-$2. If you are looking for something colder, grab a can or bottle pop or a slushie for $1.50-$2.25. A surprise is that gum and Halls are available for purchase at the arena.
The second floor houses the Penalty Box Lounge and Bar that overlooks the end of the rink. Inside is a modern feel with stools, flat screen TVs, and a full service bar that offers a wonderful view of the entire arena ice. The bar only accepts cash and visitors cannot take alcohol back to their seats. However, this is a very comfortable place to view the game. Prices are very reasonable with domestic beers ($4.25), import beers ($5.25), wine ($4.75) and cocktails ($4.75-$7.50) all available. There is a special on certain beers that are only $3.50.
There is quite a feeling about watching hockey in an old-fashioned building. The smell of stale beer, hot dogs, and mold add a touch of ambiance that is surely welcomed. The atmosphere starts when you enter the arena to purchase a ticket. The walls are decorated with NHL stars who are from the area, old newspaper clippings neatly displayed behind glass, and accolades placed in trophy cases. A man sells 50/50 drawing tickets and will update how much the pot costs every 10 minutes, while fans talk over the latest news while checking their watches for gametime.
During the game, the entertainment remains on the ice. There are no gimmicks, screaming public announcers, promotions, or chuck-a-puck contests. The presentation and focus on the game itself harkens back to when customers went to a hockey game for that specific reason. The arena features various collections of banners hanging from the rafters from the numerous teams who have captured championships since 1948 and a somewhat modern score clock in the middle of the ice. The entire view of the ice is accessible from the top row where many spectators lean over the stands to get the best view of the game.
The only drawback, and this is common in many "B" hockey arenas, is that the entire ice is covered by netting. In fact, so is the score clock and the historic Toronto Star clock. Most in attendance when asked about the netting admit that they have become used to it, but it does make grabbing a puck during warm-ups a thing of the past.
Speaking of the clock, it is not hard to notice it hanging on the building's wall near the entrance. The protected piece of history still works as the hands crank up and down the dial of clock. The yellow paint is slightly faded, but it definitely adds to the old-time charm of the place.
The city of Welland is a nice destination to visit and is only minutes from the popular tourist attraction of Niagara Falls. The arena is not within walking distance to many of the restaurants, bars, and hotels in the city.
Hotel choices include the Best Western Plus, Welland Inn, Comfort Inn, as well as Anderson's and Martha's Bed and Breakfast.
The city also features a few great restaurants including Italian staples Don Marco's and Matteo's, Greek favorites at The Fireside, pub food at Cheers and M.T. Bellies, and breakfast at Benedict's.
A recommendation during the day is the Welland Historical Museum that offers an expansive recounting of the city's canal history. It is also recommended to enjoy a leisurely stroll among the canal towpath.
The fans add a lot of the charm inside the arena. There are great conversations you can have with many patrons in the lobby or at your seat. It seems that many of the spectators have played hockey to some extent and they have no problem telling you about how close they were to making it the NHL. Other fans are characters having fun while cheering on the home team. Welland usually finishes above the league average in attendance figures and attracts around 550 people a game per season.
Arriving to the game is quite easy by using your GPS, and once inside the arena the small crowds make getting to your seat and washroom very simple. The top level circumnavigates the entire arena and there are two main entrances to the lobby for food and drink purchases.
The price of admission is $10 for adults and $9 for children and seniors. The price is on par with the rest of the teams in the division and the league. Parking is free of charge and there are two lots that surround the arena's building.
One extra point for the old-fashion working analog clock that adorns the wall inside the arena. It is a one of kind treasure that adds a lot of charm to the old building.
The Welland Main Arena is a nice little treat for a stadium traveler. The old hockey barn has a lot of the characteristics one would expect, but enough modern touches to make it an affordable and enjoyable visit. In an area that is littered with fabulous small arenas, a visit to Welland is a good idea for a night out with friends and family.
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Welland, ON L3B 1B5
125 E Main St
Welland, ON L3B 3W5