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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Alumni Field at York Stadium - York Lions

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71

Alumni Field at York Stadium

Ian MacDonald Blvd.

Toronto, ON M3J 1P3

Year Opened: 1994

Capacity: 3,500

Is there Hope for the York Lions?

There are not many that would argue that the York Lions have been one of the worst football programs in the entire CIS.  There has been very little success on the field.  In the last 8 years, the Lions have won just 6 games.  The Lions have not made the playoffs in 10 years.  How is it possible that York can even put a team on the field?  Believe it or not there is some hope for the York Lions on the horizon.

York University is the second largest university in Ontario and the third largest in all of Canada.  With a student population of over 55,000 students York has a ton of alumni to draw on and a student body large enough to support a strong program, the potential is there at York for great things.  The main campus, or Keele Campus, at York is located at the north end of Toronto in the former municipality of North York and boasts a large campus with some national level athletic facilities including the Aviva National Tennis Centre and Toronto Track and Field Centre.  York was also a host site for the 2015 Pan-Am games in Athletics.  Part of the focus in creating new facilities for the Pan-Am games was the legacy of such facilities.  The CIBC Pan-Am / Parapan-Am Athletics Stadium was built on the campus of York University and hosted all manner of track and field events.  What will now be named York Lions Stadium has a future at the university that has yet to be determined, but many believe that the future of the York Lions football program will be at the new stadium.

York currently plays at York Stadium which is a block from the new stadium site.  The stadium was built in 1994 and is nothing to write home about.  The York program began in 1969, ten years after the founding of the school.  They began as the York Yeomen but changed their mascot name to the Lions in 2003 to become gender neutral.  One of the surprising developments for the 2015 season was that head coach Warren Craney shocked the CIS football world and landed some of the most sought out recruits from Alberta, which has a very strong football tradition at the University of Calgary.  Combine this hot recruiting class along with the possibility of playing in a brand new stadium and there may be hope for the York Lions after all.

Food & Beverage 2

Food selections for a York Lions football game are extremely limited.

Keeping in mind that the date of this review was in late August, weeks before the student body is on campus at York, the full-fledged food experience was less than stellar.  The south end of the stadium features a Beer Garden which sells light refreshments.  At the time the only food sold were bags of potato chips.  The permanent structure behind the grandstands does have windows that appear to be for selling concessions however these were not open for the review date.  It is possible that once the students get on campus the culinary experience will change slightly. 

To their credit, York did bring in a major league food truck for this specific event. The Beaver Tails truck was parked in the south courtyard and provided fans with the opportunity to purchase fries, poutine and various flavours of the distinctly Canadian Beaver Tail.

In the licensed beer garden cans of Molson Canadian and Coors Light are available for purchase ($7.50).  Alcoholic cider is also available.  Cans of Coca-Cola products and water are available for soft-drinks.  The supply is definitely limited and the beer garden actually ran out of bottled water.  The beer garden area is licensed and patrons are required to remain in that area and not bring their alcoholic beverage into the stands, however a number of fans did return to their seats, beverages in hand.

There is not much to recommend food-wise at a Lions game.  However, if you have the opportunity, Beaver Tails are definitely something worth trying.  The flat, fried dough (similar to a funnel cake) can be covered with a variety of sweet treats including various forms of candy bar.  The presence of Beaver Tails alone bumps the food score up a notch.

Atmosphere 2

York Stadium screams cheap to all those in attendance.

There really is not much to the physical stadium itself at York.  A grandstand on the west side of the field stands with a permanent washroom / locker room building just in the rear.  The grandstand is a simple bleacher featuring 5 sections of 15 rows.  The benches and floor platforms are wooden.  On the south side of the locker room building you will find the three national championship banners … for soccer.  On the east side of the stadium there is berm seating which many students choose.  At the top of the west grandstand is the pressbox.  From your seat you can easily see the new York Lions Stadium, which will hopefully be home to the football team in the future.  The playing surface is field turf, which is pretty much the standard in the OUA (the Ontario conference of the CIS).

Upon entering the game, fans are able to collect free programs, yearbooks and thundersticks.  There is a small merchandise tent present so the diehards can get their hands on some new red and white Lions garb.  The in game promotions are typical for the league; simple and infrequent.  Like other teams in the league, Lions games are student-run, from the A/V and technical aspects, to the security and ticket takers.  The Lions enter from their tunnel through a plume of smoke and to an original song, complete with Lion roars.

Seating at York Stadium is General Admission.  Patrons can choose their own seating and in so doing, may want to consider where others are sitting.  Since York is fairly accessible for other teams in the league, many fans of other teams travel to York to see their home team play.  If you wish to stay away from the opposition fans, have a good look at the crowd before selecting your seat.

Neighbourhood 3

Since York Stadium is located at the very north end of Toronto, the surrounding neighbourhood is decent and the immediate driving area also has some interesting places to go.

There are a few decent places to eat that are within walking distance of York Stadium. On the campus of York University you will find a Shopsy’s Sports Grill. Just on the other side of Keele St. there is a Hoops Sports Bar. Also, just up the street on Steeles you will find Angelo’s Homestyle Restaurant. Any of these options are good for a pre or post game meal. There are also a number of fast food chains in the immediate vicinity and many other options if you hop in the car and head north into the city of Vaughan.

The York Lions also field competitive basketball and hockey teams along with other varsity sports.  The basketball teams play in the nearby Tait McKenzie Centre and the hockey teams play at nearby Canlan Ice Sports York.  Both places are on the campus of York.  The campus is a pretty significant distance from downtown Toronto, but not totally out of the realm of possibility for a side trip.  Much closer, however, is the city of Vaughan, which basically begins on the other side of Steeles Ave.  There are a few interesting things just a few short kilometers away.  If you are interested in shopping, then Vaughan Mills might be the stop for you.  This huge shopping centre also features a Bass Pro Shop.  A little further north on highway 400 you will find Canada’s Wonderland, which is a Canadian equivalent to a Six Flags amusement park.  Woodbine Racetrack is just 15 kilometres away and features thoroughbred horse racing and is home to the Queen’s Plate.  Also, the Aviva Centre annually hosts the Rogers Cup, formerly the Canadian Open tennis tournament.

There are quite a few places to stay near the north end of campus, both in Toronto and Vaughan.  A great place to stay that is an extremely short drive away from York Stadium is the Best Western Plus, Toronto-North York.

Fans 2

Regular fans that attend York Lions football games redefine die-hard.  It has been very difficult to be a York Lions fan.

It is often difficult to assess the attendance at CIS football games.  There are often extenuating circumstances that account for significant attendance variances.  For example, homecoming games often draw in a significantly higher attendance than normal.  Also, an early season game before the students have begun classes often produces a significantly lower attendance.  With four home games per season, the York Lions typically draw around 1,500 fans, many of them travelling to see the visiting team.  If there is a game on campus during orientation week there is often a significant spike in attendance.

With the program having as poor showing as they have had, it is a minor miracle that York has any that would claim to be fans.  The fans in attendance are often equaled or outnumbered by visiting fans and the noise level is usually pretty even regardless of what happens during the game.  That being said, like most other OUA programs, more needs to be done to entice the students to make football a part of their university experience.

Access 4

Getting to York Stadium is not that difficult and getting around is also pretty easy.

York Stadium is located at the north end of the Keele Campus of York University. It is located southeast of the major highway crossings of highways 400 and 407. The campus is surrounded by major Toronto streets Jane, Finch, Keele and Steeles. When driving to campus, be careful as the 407 is a toll highway and many of these streets have some significant traffic.

There are quite a few different public transit options to get to York.  The GO Transit station is just east of campus.  There are also numerous TTC buses that travel in or past campus.  The TTC is also working on a significant subway station on campus.  Check the TTC or GO Transit websites for schedules and maps.

There are a number of parking lots around campus.  The York website has a variety of campus maps to aid in your search for parking.  Keep in mind that the subway connection and preparation of York Lions Stadium have left the north end of campus with some significant construction that has closed some parking lots.  Parking costs are usually $5 on the weekend at pay and display machines.

There is only one entrance to York Stadium, but that is not an issue at all.  Entry is through the surrounding fence at the south end of the stadium.  There is a portable ticket office for those of you who need to purchase tickets on gameday.

The grandstand is so open that getting around is no issue at all.  The permanent locker room / washroom structure in the rear houses some small washroom facilities.  It doesn’t take long for lines to form so be wise when choosing a washroom time.

Return on Investment 4

Attending a York Lions football game is very affordable and can be a good family event.

Ticket prices for York football are $10.50 for adults with discounts for students, seniors and alumni.  Although concessions will not blow you away, they are not overly expensive and parking is fairly inexpensive as well.  If you are planning on seeing a game at York be weary of a mismatch.  Watching the Lions play a team that is closer to them in the standings offers a much better game experience as York is prone to a few blowout games each season.

Extras 2

An extra mark for the annual Red and Blue Bowl.  The Lions play the cross-town rival Toronto Varsity Blues for city bragging rights.  This is often the best game of the season for the Lions and the game has been a highlight for the team since 1968.

An extra mark for the City of Toronto Fill up and Go Station which offered fans free tap water and promotes the benefits of tap water as compared to bottled water.

Final Thoughts

The York faithful are eagerly awaiting an announcement that will put to rest the questions as to what the brand new York Lions Stadium will be used for.  Until that time York Stadium remains the home of the Lions.  Hopefully a new stadium and building on the strong recruiting class will breath new life into this program and help the Lions break their playoff drought.

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