Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Centre Air Creebec
810 Avenue 6E
Val-d’Or, Québec J9P 1B4
Year Opened: 1949
Le pot d’or au nord du Québec
With a population of 31,000, the City of Val-d’Or is one of the smallest centres in the entire Canadian Hockey League. However, the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL are a throwback experience and almost bring hockey back to a pure state. It took 16 long years for Junior Hockey at the highest level to be brought to the “Valley of Gold.” However, it was in 1993 when local builder Jean-Claude Babin secured a QMJHL franchise that would be owned by local shareholders, including G4 Drilling CEO Daniel Gamache. Earning President’s Cups as QMJHL Champions in 1998, 2001 and 2014, the Foreurs have had a fair amount of success. There have also been a number of NHL players who have worn the green and gold, including Anthony Martha, Antoine Bibeau, Kris Letang, Brad Marchand, J.P. Dumont, Steve Begin and Roberto Luongo.
Home for the Foreurs is the city owned Centre Air Creebec. Formerly the Palais des Sports, Centre Air Creebec has been around since 1949 and boasts the smallest capacity in the Q with a mere 2,140. However, what is lost in modern amenities and a large capacity is made up for with what is definitely a small town, old school hockey barn which just oozes charisma.
Food & Beverage 4
After first entering Centre Air Creebec, fans will get a certain impression of the venue. Upon venturing into one of the concession areas just off of the concourse fans will be pleasantly surprised by the concession options. Immediately looking at the menu, with a little translation from French, it is clear that Centre Air Creebec is a busy arena and used by more than just the Foreurs. All of the expected arena items can be found including popcorn ($3.25), nachos, hot dogs ($3), pizza ($4.75), and fries. There is also a full breakfast menu which is clearly for those early morning minor hockey practices. Easily the most popular food item on the menu is the Québécois staple, poutine.
Beverages available include a wide variety of juices, water, coffee, tea and cappuccino. Soda options are Pepsi products ($2.75). Practically a full bar is also available including rum, wine, vodka and other mixes. Beer options include Budweiser, Molson Export and Molson Canadian ($7.50). Overall a very surprising array of concessions are available.
For fans looking for a modern hockey experience, Centre Air Creebec is not that. It is most definitely a small town, throwback hockey barn. Built in 1949, at one time Centre Air Creebec was slightly modernized with a few additions. The main building is the typical rectangular building with the peaked roof. The front of the building, which is on the south side, has a more modern addition with glass. The addition houses some of the expanded seating at the south side as well as giving the arena a clear and attractive entrance. It is probably the only part of the building not covered with what seems to be the Northern Quebec staple building material, aluminum siding.
After entering and heading up the stairs to the main entry to the arena, fans are immediately struck with sensory overload. Centre Air Creebec is an old school throwback, which with a paltry capacity of 2,140, probably should not be used for Major Junior hockey. The long, barn-like structure complete with the peaked ceiling is obvious. The ceiling is covered with the old school, silver insulation found in local hockey arenas all over the place. The main concourses are behind the seating area and offer a 360 degree path around the arena in full view of the ice. The concourse features Foreurs team photos from each year back to their inception in 1993 as well as some trivia pages to keep fans interested. A huge mural for the 2014 Foreurs who lost in the Memorial Cup Semi-Final in triple overtime to the eventual champion Edmonton Oil Kings is a spot to see and features Anthony Mantha and Antoine Bibeau. Above the ice level there are a number of banners. The retired numbers of former Foreurs Stephane Roy, Steve Begin, J.P. Dumont, Simon Gamache and Roberto Luongo are joined by the number 93 representing builder Jean-Claude Babin. Also, seven banners hang together commemorating three Coupe du Président as well as Conference and Division championships. Minor hockey banners also hang from the rafters helping with the real community feel of Centre Air Creebec.
Capacity is made up of six rows of plastic arena seats. The south end of the arena has more rows, no doubt to raise capacity. The video board has seen better days. The six sided board has three decent, yet outdated video boards and three traditional scoreboards. A horseshoe of hanging corporate boxes dot the perimeter of the arena yet still feature aluminum siding.
The game day experience in Val-d’Or is fairly simple. The traditional video packages and music drive the production. However, there are no modern pyrotechnics, lighting, lasers or projections on the ice. Truthfully, any of these things would just not fit as part of Centre Air Creebec. The Foreurs mascot, Dynamit, travels through the arena interacting with fans.
Not being a huge city, the neighbourhood surrounding Centre Air Creebec is a little suspect. However, Val-d’Or does offer a cute downtown which is a few blocks from the arena and although there are not an overwhelming number of food and entertainment options, there are enough to keep fans satisfied. Centre Air Creebec is located south of the main highways 117 and 397 on Avenue 6e (6th Ave). Pre and post game fare is best found on Avenue 3e. Pacini, Habaneros Grill Mexicain and Tim Hortons are all close. Mikes and Valentine are solid options. Valentine specializes in Québécois staples like Montreal Smoked Meat and Poutine.
There are not a ton of other entertainment options in Val-d’Or due to its small size. However, it offers a ton of winter outdoor activity options. Snowmobiling and ice fishing are very popular in the area. Being the mining town that Val-d’Or is, a trip to La Cite de l’Or for the mine tour may be something to do.
For fans looking to stay over in Val-d’Or, the Hotel Continental and Quality Inn and Suites are solid options that are close to Centre Air Creebec.
It is difficult to assess fans of the Foreurs. The sheer numbers don’t flatter the locals. Attendance has been shrinking. The Foreurs averaged over 2,000 fans for the 2016 season but then fell to 1,700 in 2017 and 1,600 in 2018. The Foreurs were ranked 16th in 2016 and last (18th) in 2017 and 2018. Capacity at Centre Air Creebec is small, but the locals are not filling the place and are a little more fair weather than expected. The fans in attendance, however, are solidly into the action that is on the ice. Foreurs fans are more than happy to get on the referee’s case when a call is missed and are loud when the Foreurs put one in the net. However, when the visitors score, it is nearly silent.
Getting to Centre Air Creebec is not difficult at all. Located south of the main highways, 397 and the Trans-Canada Highway, highway 117, Centre Air Creebec is situated north of downtown Val-d’Or. There are free municipal parking lots around the arena. For fans who want public transit, there are buses available that stop near Centre Air Creebec. Check out the Taxibus website for fares, maps and schedules.
The main ticketing windows are in the main entry on the south side of the arena on the right. The entry is not huge and can easily get congested.
As to be expected with an arena built in 1949, there is not a ton of space and getting around can be a bit of a challenge. Washroom facilities are also on the cramped side.
Return on Investment 5
QMJHL hockey is an absolutely fantastic value. Most spots are more economical than even their sister league in Ontario, the OHL. Foreurs tickets are $19.75 for adults and there are significant discounts for students, children and seniors. Parking is free and concession prices are good also. The product on the ice is top notch as well. The Q tends to feature smaller players than the OHL which tends to lead to a faster, more high scoring game. Combine the on ice product with a throwback, classic barn experience and it can’t get much better than the Valley of Gold
An extra mark for the early birds who can catch the players doing their dry land warm ups in the concourse before the game.
An extra mark for fan appreciation day with balloons, prizes, games, celebrations and the best attended game of the year. Great time to review the Foreurs.
An extra mark for that community feel with minor hockey banners all over Centre Air Creebec.
An extra mark for the heated rivalry between the Foreurs and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Those games are the ones to see if possible.
When travelling to Northern Québec, fans should want to get the true feel of the Québécois culture in the north. A trip to see Les Foreurs de Val-d’Or is an absolute must. An old school hockey experience in a gem of a building, the Foreurs will provide a great evening’s entertainment at a cost that will shock fans with how affordable it is. It is truly the pot of gold in Northern Québec!