Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14
Brantford & District Civic Centre
79 Market St. S.
Brantford, ON N3S 2E4
Year Opened: 1967
The (Temporary?) Dog House
New to the 2023-2024 Ontario Hockey League landscape is the Brantford Bulldogs. The franchise was established in 1981 as the Belleville Bulls. With his AHL Hamilton Bulldogs facing losing their affiliation agreement with the Montreal Canadiens, owner Michael Andlauer purchased the Bulls in a shocking transaction.
The Bulls were rebranded as the Hamilton Bulldogs and played out of the FirstOntario Centre in the OHL from 2015 to 2023. After numerous battles over an appropriately sized arena for the Bulldogs, Andlauer found out that his team would be homeless for at least two seasons as massive renovations to the FirstOntario Centre would commence in 2023. Andlauer found a landing spot in Brantford, Ontario, famously the childhood home of Wayne Gretzky, and signed a lease with the city for at least three years.
The new doghouse is the Brantford and District Civic Centre. Commonly referred to as the Brantford Civic Centre, the city-owned arena was built in 1967 and is the former home of the Brantford Alexanders of the OHL. The Alexanders would move from Brantford in 1984 and are currently the Erie Otters franchise. With the move of the Bulldogs, the Brantford Civic Centre received $9 million in renovations split between the Bulldogs and the city. Speculation is running rampant in the OHL that the move to Brantford may be permanent for the Bulldogs.
Food & Beverage 3
The concession options at the Brantford Civic Centre are fairly pedestrian. Hot dogs, chips, and chocolate bars can be found at some of the concession stands underneath the grandstands at the ice level. Pizza Pizza slices are also available. Pepsi beverages are the soft drink of choice at the Brantford Civic Centre and a small selection of beer includes Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois, and Michelob Ultra. Two concession stands can be found on ice level at the front of the building while four smaller concession stands are found in the corners of the concourse level.
Approaching the Brantford Civic Centre, fans will not be blown away by an elaborate exterior. The main entrance is at the east side and does feature a tree-lined path from the road. The exterior is dominated by black siding with yellow trim and the city’s coat of arms on the north and south corners. Immediately there is a feeling that this is the home of the Bulldogs with the colour scheme and front sign.
Upon entering at the south end, fans enter at ice level and are greeted by a new mural featuring important Bulldog moments. Fans won’t be able to stay in this area very long as it is very crowded, a theme throughout the arena. Fans then ascend to the concourse level, which empties out to the seating area.
The main concourse wraps a full circle behind the seating bowl, with small, elevated concession stands in the corners. The ice is oriented from east to west and for fans who want that perfect center ice picture, it can be taken from the south side of the arena. On the far east wall, the 2018 and 2022 J. Ross Robertson Cup banners hang, both won while the team played in Hamilton.
Making its way from Hamilton to Brantford is the large, three-dimensional “Bulldogs” sign with faux flames, which is found on the west wall. The single tier of red and blue arena seats is enough for nearly 3,000 fans. There are also a number of designated and reserved standing spots along high railings behind the seating bowl. Sightlines are excellent in the Civic Centre.
Above the centre ice logo is a brand new, small but clear, four-sided video board. A traditional hockey scoreboard splits the championship banners on the east wall. It seems that upgrades at the Brantford Civic Centre include new LED lights and a new sound system.
The gameday production is on par with other OHL experiences. The Bulldogs make good use of their new sound system, coloured projection lights, and video board. The Bulldogs’ mascot, Bruiser, can be found moving around the arena, interacting with fans, and posing for pictures. The Bulldogs feature a large Canadian flag which is passed along by the fans in the stands, in a practice that is not unique, but not overly common either.
The Brantford Civic Centre is located in the north corner of the Eagle Place neighbourhood in Brantford, just south of downtown. Several places are closed for a pre or post-game meal. There are a number of fast food and chain restaurants on Icomm Drive, including Boston Pizza, Sunset Grill and Tim Hortons. Fans who are looking for something a little more unique can head north into downtown. The Rose & Thistle, Hudson Public, and The Works are all good options. The best option might be Uncle Sam’s BBQ Smoke House.
For fans looking for other sporting options, there are a few in Brantford. There are other junior hockey options in town with the Brantford 99ers of the OJHL and Brantford Bandits of the GOJHL, both of whom play in the Wayne Gretzky Sportsplex. The summer finds the Brantford Red Sox of the Intercounty League taking up residence at Cockshutt Park.
Other tourist options in Brantford include Elements Casino Brantford, directly across the parking lot from the Civic Centre, and Earl Haig Family Fun Park. For fans wanting to stay in Brantford, they will have to head to Highway 403 where they will find a Comfort Inn and Best Western.
For the inaugural campaign, the Brantford fans have turned out to support the Bulldogs. For the 2023-2024 season, the Bulldogs have averaged over 3,000 fans per game as of this writing. This puts them in 16th place in the 20-team OHL for attendance, however, the meager capacity of the Brantford Civic Centre shows that the Bulldogs are averaging over capacity. The fans in Brantford are loud and right into the game. The only factor that keeps this from being a perfect score is the lack of longevity in Brantford. A few more years of this and the mark will improve.
Getting to the Brantford Civic Centre is not difficult at all. The Brantford Civic Centre is located in the north corner of the Eagle Place neighbourhood, just south of downtown. It is surrounded by Icomm Drive and Market Street, with the Grand River just to the west. It is located significantly south of Highway 403 and fans will have to traverse the city a bit to get to the arena.
However, the drive through Brantford is not difficult and traffic moves smoothly. There is plenty of parking in the immediate area, which is free. For fans wishing to take public transit, there are bus stops near the arena. Fans should consult the Brantford Transit website for schedules, fares and maps. Inside the Brantford Civic Centre is a bit of a different story. Getting around the arena can be difficult and it is very crowded. Fans will be required to traverse stairs to get up to the concourse level. The washroom facilities are at ice level, forcing fans to traverse more stairs.
Return on Investment 4
The return on investment for OHL hockey is excellent and Brantford falls right into place along its brethren in the league. Tickets for the Bulldogs are $28 each and $23 for standing room. This is a bit on the expensive side for the OHL, but not over the top. Parking is free and concession prices are what one would expect. The product on the ice is top notch and the fans help create a great hockey environment that new fans will love.
An extra mark for the history of the Brantford Civic Centre. In the eighties, the Brantford Civic Centre was the regular venue for WWF tapings and the home of the “Maple Leaf Wrestling” program which aired each weekend. An extra mark for Brantford as the hometown of Wayne Gretzky.
The Brantford Bulldogs are enjoying a strong initial outing at the turnstile as of this writing and the fans in Brantford have embraced the team as their own. Time will tell if the Bulldogs return to Hamilton once the renovations there are complete, or if they find a new, permanent doghouse in Brantford.