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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Columbia IceField Arena - Waterloo Warriors


Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00

Columbia IceField Arena 220 Columbia St. W Waterloo, ON N2L 0A1



Year Opened: 1983

Capacity: 680


Waterloo’s Barn


They just don’t build them like this anymore.  Taking the ice in 1963 for the first time the Waterloo Warriors represented their fledgling school with pride.  The school was established in 1959 as an outgrowth of modern day’s Wilfrid Laurier University, located up University Ave, Waterloo ballooned into a huge school with over 40,000 students and one of the strongest reputations for engineering and computer science.  Success for the Warriors on the ice has been up and down in the ultra-competitive OUA conference of USports, culminating with Queen’s Cup Championships as conference champions in 1974 and 1996 and a University Cup as National Champions in 1974.


Home for the Warriors since 1983 has been the Columbia IceField Arena.  Cheekily named after the natural phenomenon located in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and its location on Columbia Street in Waterloo, the CIF is a throwback to a lost time.  The home of the Warriors, is essentially and affectionately a barn.


Food & Beverage 1

In previous years a concession booth could be found inside the Columbia IceField, however, it seems those days are past.  The concession booth has been repurposed and a couple of vending machines are the entirety of the culinary selection.  In the recreation centre there is a Jugo Juice stand, but it is rarely to never open during hockey games. 


Atmosphere 4

The Columbia IceField Arena was originally built in 1983 and is now part of a larger recreation centre for the University of Waterloo.  From the exterior it is clear where the additions have taken place as the arena roof with its brown shingles pokes up above the rest of the rec centre.  The main entry from the cul-de-sac is on the east side and the rec centre has an attractive silver and glass exterior.  Upon entry, fans are met with the main ticket booth and then head to the arena lobby.  Welcomed by the starkness of the black colouring of the lobby walls, fans are met with the ticket table and enter the small lobby.  The lobby has a number of interesting nuggets for fans of the program to examine.  The Warriors have done a very good job documenting their history.  The lobby is filled with pictures of Warrior Alumni who have gone on to play professionally.  Of particular interest is the group of alumni coaches, including NHL coaches Geoff Ward and Karl Taylor.  An encased jersey for Tyler Norrie, who passed away too young, while still a Warrior hangs with an inscription.  A large trophy case houses information about the current Warrior hockey teams.


Upon entering the arena itself, fans are immediately struck with the sudden drop in temperature and the amazing architecture.  The eyeline is drawn to the gorgeous hardwood ceiling with arched supports that give the CIF that feeling of a throwback arena to a different time, when ice surfaces were in actual barns.  The arena is not very huge and feels more like an arena for youth hockey as one built for spectator sports.  The ice surface runs from west to east with the seating on the north side of the ice.  For video purposes, the main logo is oriented towards the south, where the media box and cameras are situated above the player benches.  The bleachers are a mere three rows giving fans a literal ice level view.  Hanging above the ice surface are the Waterloo championship banners which include the 1974 and 1996 Ontario championship banners along with the 1974 National Championship banner.  The honoured numbers of Warriors Mike Bishop, Don Langlois, John Wynne, Mike Zettel and Ron Hawkshaw also hang above the ice surface in an unusual nod to hockey history not normally found in the OUA.  Team photos of the championship teams are on the west wall, welcoming fans as they head towards the bleachers.  Hockey scoreboards hang above the southeast and northwest corners.


The gameday production at a Waterloo Warriors hockey game is simple.  The PA system is good and it is easy for fans to understand the announcements.  At some games the Warrior band will be present, sitting in the northeast corner.  The band is pretty small, but adds to the overall atmosphere and has been around for decades.



Neighbourhood 4

The Columbia IceField Arena is located at the north edge of the campus of the University of Waterloo.  The main campus is bordered by University  Ave and Columbia Street and the CIF is located just on the opposite side of Columbia.  There are a number of options for pre or post game meals in the area, but most would require a significant hike.  The University Club is located on campus, but has very limited, weekday lunch hours.  Heading east to the offerings of King Street or south to University Ave would be the best idea.  Some options include Morty's Pub, Ennio’s Pasta House, Games on Tap, Mel’s Diner and Molly Bloom’s.


There are a number of other sporting options available in Waterloo.  The Warriors field a number of other athletic teams including football and basketball.  Just up the street is Wilfrid Laurier University and the Golden Hawks also field football, basketball and hockey teams among others.  Junior B hockey is in Waterloo with the Kitchener-Waterloo Siskins.  Heading to the twin city of Kitchener, fans could take in the Kitchener Panthers of Intercounty baseball, although the schedules will not match up, or the sporting centrepiece of the area, the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.  Kitchener-Waterloo is renowned for Oktoberfest, which is the largest Bavarian festival in the world outside of Frankfurt, Germany.  Other tourist spots would include The Museum, Jazz Room or nearby St. Jacob’s Market.


For fans wishing to stay in the area, the Delta and Courtyard are short drives from campus.


Fans 2

OUA hockey is a bit of a hidden gem that unfortunately, not enough people know about.  The Waterloo Warrior fanbase is not huge.  In the 2023-2024 hockey season, the Warriors averaged 140 fans per game, which was up from the previous year.  This ranked them 15th in the conference where only one school attracts over 1,000 fans per game.  The attendance is not too underwhelming for the OUA as a number of schools attract around the same number of fans.  Waterloo’s advantage is that the CIF holds a mere 680 people so it does not require a big crowd to add to the atmosphere.  That being said, there is plenty of room for the Warriors to improve.

 

Access 3

Getting to the Columbia IceField Arena is not too difficult.  Located at the north side of the University of Waterloo campus, the IceField is easy to get to by major Waterloo streets including Columbia Street and University Avenue.  The IceField is a fair distance from highway 85 and fans will have to drive a bit through the city to get to the arena.  Parking is available for free on weekends and in the evening behind the optometry building on the other side of Hagey Blvd, opposite the arena.  There are also cash lots in the Columbia IceField Athletic Centre lot and across Columbia Street on Ring Road.

 

For fans wishing to take public transit, Grand River Transit buses stop along Columbia St and at multiple points on the University of Waterloo campus.  The light rail also stops on the University of Waterloo Campus and beyond, but there is a bit of a walk from the stop to the CIF.  Fans should check out the Grand River Transit website for fares, maps and schedules.

 

The ticketing booth is immediately inside the Columbia IceField Athletic Centre entrance from the cul-de-sac off of Hagey Blvd.  Cash and credit cards are accepted.

 

Getting around the arena can be a chore.  With such a small space, a decent crowd can jam up the works quickly.  The lobby in the arena is not huge and a logjam trying to get in can slow things up significantly.  There are two small washrooms in the entryway of the arena, one for each gender.  Even a crowd of a couple hundred fans can put a real strain on the facilities.



Return on Investment 4

Canadian university hockey is one of the last great bargains in sport.  Waterloo Warrior hockey tickets are available for $10 for adults.  Seniors and students pay only $8 and children go for $5.  University of Waterloo students have free entry.  Concessions are very limited and parking can be found for free.  Put this all together and the investment is very small.  The return for that investment is very good.  The product on the ice is solid and the building is very unique and offers a good atmosphere.  Some concession options would improve the return for sure, even the availability of coffee or hot chocolate to combat the cold temperatures would be welcome.


Extras 3

An extra mark for the Waterloo Warriors ongoing rivalry with their neighbours up the street, the Laurier Golden Hawks.  The rivalry is tracked across all sports and the Battle of Waterloo trophy is awarded each year.


An extra mark for the history on display at the Columbia IceField.


An extra mark for the uniqueness of the CIF and the throwback architecture of the building.


Final Thoughts

Taking in a Waterloo Warriors hockey game is a great way to enjoy some hockey at a very low price and in a facility that is truly unique.  The Columbia IceField Arena is definitely not oversized and offers a different experience than all of the other OUA hockey facilities.  Hopefully, the Warriors can enjoy some more success at the barn and challenge in the OUA for another Queen’s Cup soon.


Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on YouTube, Twitter, Threads and Instagram @profan9.


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