C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse - Lakehead Thunderwolves
Photo Courtesy of Thunder Bay Tourism
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse 983 Oliver Road Thunder Bay, ON P7B 5E1
Year Opened: 1968
Co-Written with Jordan Scorgie
For fifty years the C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse has been the home to Lakehead Athletics. Located in the most remote of locations in the OUA, Thunder Bay, Ontario provides some special travel challenges for the Thunderwolves, but Lakehead has proven to be hearty, providing competitive teams routinely in both basketball and hockey.
The Thunderwolves have been playing basketball since 1964. Previously known as the Nor’Westers, Lakehead as a school was founded in 1965 and was formerly known as the Lakehead Technical Institute from 1946 to 1965. Participating in the OUA, the Ontario Conference for USports, Lakehead is a fairly small school with an enrollment of 7,800. The Thunder Bay community is not huge either, with a population of 121,000. Lakehead is really only close to Algoma, which is in Sault Ste. Marie, but is really equidistant to Winnipeg. The Thunderwolves have seen some basketball success, culminating with the 2011 Wilson Cup as conference champions.
The C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse is the main athletic facility at Lakehead. It is named after local philanthropist, Carl J. Sanders. The gym is affectionately known as the Thunderdome, Lakehead self-proclaims to have the “Best Fans in Canada.” Considering the turnout that Lakehead gets for basketball and hockey games, they may just be right!
Food & Beverage 2
The Thunderdome features a typical menu for an OUA facility. Popcorn, candy, chips and a slice of pizza is available for $3. Water or pop are available for $2.50. No alcohol is available at the game. This is different from the Thunderwolves hockey games, where the local brewing company has beer available.
Built in 1968, C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse is not a typical gymnasium to see an OUA basketball game. Due to its age, basketball games have had to adapt to its hanger-like design. This has created a unique but cramped visual experience.
Lakehead has forced as many stands and viewing areas into the gymnasium as possible. Despite more limited seating compared to other OUA gyms, this increases the fan noise level and interaction. For example, the benches are an arm’s length away from the fans and players have little room on the sidelines to escape the noise.
The most unique aspect of the venue however is the observation track around the gymnasium. This allows fans to really be on top of the action and be a major factor in the game’s outcome. It is intimidating for a visiting player to drive to the bucket and see many fans leaning over and booing directly in front of his shot.
On the down side, the seating and viewing areas in the gymnasium are cramped. Even though a game might not be at full capacity, the Fieldhouse can make a fan feel overwhelmed and frustrated to find a good seat or standing spot with enough room. With most court side seats reserved for season ticket holders, it can be a mad dash to find a seat before the game.
Located on Lakehead’s main campus, fans going to C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse have limited nearby options for food. The closest and best option is the campus pub, the Outpost, which has a typical pub menu of burgers, wings, appetizers and beer. The Outpost is a 5 minute walk from the gymnasium, located right beside the campus store. It is best to go here before the game, though, as the restaurant usually closes at 8. If fans are looking for a spot with classier food options or drink varieties, or a place to go after the game, the Caribou Restaurant and Wine Bar is a good choice. It is a 10 minute drive from the gymnasium. Its drink menu features a variety of beers, wine and cocktails, while its food menu features many options including steak, pasta, lamb and duck. The wood oven pizzas are a solid choice.
There are not a ton of other sporting options in Thunder Bay. Being a hockey town, the Thunder Bay North Stars, a Tier II Junior A team, are a bit of a draw. However, the top team in TBay is the Lakehead Thunderwolves hockey team, who play in the Fort William Gardens. Even in the winter, though, Thunder Bay is very much an outdoor city. There are plenty of winter activities to keep busy during the season including nordic and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing. It is imperative for all visitors to see the Terry Fox Monument, commemorating the historic Canadian’s ending of the inspiring Marathon of Hope, which happened just outside of Thunder Bay. The Sleeping Giant is also a local must see. For fans who need to try to make a few extra bucks, the Gateway Casinos Thunder Bay is also available.
For fans who require a spot to stay near Lakehead, the Holiday Inn Express and TownePlace Suites are good options.
Lakehead fans are some of the best in the OUA and make playing in the Thunderdome a truly home advantage. Being so close to the action, the Lakehead fans are truly a factor in the basketball game. From the moment “Thunderstruck” plays to introduce the players to the final buzzer, the Lakehead fans create an atmosphere worth seeing. They know their basketball and they cheer on their team well. One unique aspect of the fan experience is the “Lakehead clap.” After the tip off occurs, it is the Lakehead tradition that the home fans will stand and clap in unison until Lakehead scores a basket. This is a great experience, especially when it takes Lakehead a few minutes to finally get a lay up.
The C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse is located at the west end of the Lakehead campus. It is just east of Highway 17, the main artery out of town and part of the Trans-Canada Highway. Getting to Lakehead from the highway is not a problem at all. There is a large parking lot right beside the gymnasium for parking. The rate for parking is $1.25 per hour, so a few dollars does the trick to park your car and see the game. Although the parking lot is large, try to arrive 15 to 20 minutes early to get a spot, as the parking lot fills up quickly. Alternatively, the bus system and U-Ride, Thunder Bay’s version of Uber, are available to and from campus before and after the game. Fans wishing to use public transit should check out the Thunder Bay Transit website for fares, maps and schedules.
Washrooms in the Fieldhouse are limited and crowded, a drawback to most older arenas and gymnasiums. Also, being an older building, the Fieldhouse is cramped and not as accessible for handicap access as it should be. Getting down to the stands would be difficult for anyone in a wheelchair.
Return on Investment 5
An adult ticket to a Lakehead basketball game is $10. Considering the great fan atmosphere, this is a fair price for an OUA basketball game. If interested, Lakehead also offers season tickets for $165. Season ticket holders receive a guaranteed specific seat, complimentary coffee and snacks, right to first refusal on playoff tickets, 2 complimentary admissions and a chance to win the season random draw.
An extra mark for Lakehead overcoming the travel challenges of being the most remote team in the conference.
An extra mark for significant success found on the court.
An extra mark for a strong following aided by being one of the only sporting draws in town.
When in Thunder Bay, a trip to the Thunderdome to see some Lakehead Thunderwolves basketball just might be the ticket to a great evening. The opportunity to see some high calibre basketball in a community that really cares about their team is well worth the minimal investment in a ticket.