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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Galt Arena Gardens - Cambridge RedHawks


Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14


Galt Arena Gardens

98 Shade Street

Cambridge, ON



Year Opened: 1922

Capacity: 1,100


Classic …


What is in a name?  What is in a label?  When it comes to labeling something as the “oldest” there is always a bit of debate


In 1973, the City of Galt, and the Towns of Preston and Hespeler were amalgamated to form the city of Cambridge.  Long before this, the Galt Arena Gardens opened its doors for the first time in 1922.  Debate remains as to if it is the oldest hockey arena in North America or not.  Matthews Arena in Boston makes a claim.  However, officially, Galt Arena Gardens is considered the “Oldest Operating Arena in the World” meaning, it has continuously operated as a hockey arena for over 100 years.  Owned and operated by the City of Cambridge, Galt Arena Gardens is undeniably a gem and in one word, classic.


Galt Arena Gardens is the current home of the Cambridge RedHawks of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.  Playing at the Junior B level, the RedHawks began their existence as the Hespeler Shamrocks in 1960.  Later renamed the Cambridge Shamrocks at the time of amalgamation, the Shamrocks would eventually head east and settle in Guelph to become the Guelph Platers, among other monikers.  Upon the departure of the Shamrocks in 1982, Cambridge would welcome the expansion Cambridge Winter Hawks that would play south in Galt.  The Winter Hawks would remain until 2017 when their owner made a push to move up to the Junior A level and eventually withdraw from the Ontario Hockey Association.  The Winter Hawks would fold and Scott Hunter would purchase the Guelph Hurricanes, formerly the Shamrocks, and move them to the Galt Arena Gardens in an act that would bring the franchise full circle.  Many who would take the ice at the Gardens would go on to play in the NHL, however, none has put a stamp on the hockey world more significant than Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe.  The 1944-45 season for the Galt Red Wings saw a young Mr. Hockey entertain hockey fans from Galt just prior to him heading to Detroit.


Food & Beverage 3

The concession experience at Galt Arena Gardens is not unique for the GOJHL.  There are two main stands on the two separate levels.  Whether they are both open depends on the size of the crowd.  The menu includes what one would expect at this level including hot dogs, chicken strips, poutine, fries, onion rings, nachos, candy, chocolate bars and chips.  Pepsi products are the soda of choice at Galt Arena Gardens and coffee, tea and water are all available.  In the upper east end of the Gardens fans will find Alumni Hall.  This enclosed area is licensed and alcoholic beverages can be purchased, but must be consumed within.


Atmosphere 5

Galt Arena Gardens remains truly unique in the hockey landscape.  Built in 1921, it enjoys Heritage Status.  The City of Cambridge, however, has gone beyond to provide upgrades and renovations to retain both the classic feel of the building and modernize it to ensure its functionality for years to come.  The journey back in time begins with the exterior.  Galt Arena features a gorgeous brick exterior with multiple shades of brown.  The design almost gives it a remparts look to it.  The wrot iron marquee awning welcomes fans to the main entrance.  An added bonus is the stone pillars that are to the north and mark the entrance to Soper Park.


After entering the main gate, fans are welcomed into a modestly sized lobby.  The history begins there and fans are welcome to discover the artifacts in numerous trophy cases.  The prevalence of former Red Wings Kirk Maltby and Gordie Howe are immediately felt in the trophy cases.  There are a few articles on Mr. Hockey and his time in Galt that have been plaque mounted as well as a portrait of Howe standing outside the arena.  Jerseys and other artifacts from Kirk Maltby are predominant in the cases as well.  Fans can traverse the stairs to reach the upper level, where a full 360 degree loop is possible on the upper concourse.  The interior of the ice surface is striking.  The peaked hardwood ceiling with iron supports gives that barn-like feel to the arena, however rather than the expected triangle peak, the summit of the ceiling is recessed and has small windows at the top to allow natural light in.  The ice surface runs from east to west with five rows of elevated seating around three sides.  The east end has rows of plastic benches and the remainder of the seats are updated, plastic arena seats.  Getting the centre ice logo picture is from the south side.  Fans should consider choosing their seat so that they are situated under one of the gas heaters above the seating bowl as the arena is quite cold.  History continues to flow through the arena.  There are murals at the west end and two large portraits of Kirk Maltby and Gordie Howe.  The portrait of the Queen is at the opposite end above Alumni Hall.  Old pictures can be found throughout the arena, mostly on the west side.  Fascinating artifacts from a time gone by are found in the northwest and southwest corners behind the seats including old zambonis, doors, ticket booths, signs and even a phone booth.  Even the concession stand on the top level has old soft drink signs.  Hanging throughout the arena, above the ice, are various championship banners, mostly from the Cambridge Winterhawks and the Senior A Cambridge Hornets.  The lone Cambridge RedHawks banner for the 2022 Conference Championship hangs on its own and the retired number 91 of Ryan Clarke from the Winterhawks also remains.


The gameday atmosphere is fairly simple at a RedHawks game, not dissimilar to any other GOJHL experience.  The PA system is decent and the announcer does a good job, however his excitement often results in buzzing through the speakers, making it a little more difficult to understand the announcements.  The RedHawks do have projectors that are used during pregame to project images on the ice.  The mascot, Rowdy the Redhawk, can also be found traversing the crowd and interacting with fans through the game.



Neighbourhood 4

The Galt Arena Gardens is located in the East Galt neighbourhood of Cambridge.  There are a number of places for pre or post game food and drink within a very short drive.  Some options include Q BBQ, Alberts Doughnuts, EVO Kitchen, Thirteen, The Black Badger, Voodoo Wingz and Capri Pizza.  Fans can head to downtown Galt, a short drive from the arena, to take in the Gaslight District, Hamilton Family Theatre and Cambridge Community Theatre.  For other sporting options, fans can head north to the Hespeler area and catch some Junior C, Hespeler Shamrocks hockey.  For fans wishing to stay in the area, The Laundry Rooms are a close option.


Fans 4

The Cambridge RedHawks have a solid fanbase.  Typically, Saturday Night is RedHawks night and the biggest crowds are drawn then.  In the 2023-24 season, the RedHawks have averaged over 540 fans per game, an improvement of nearly 100 fans per game from the previous season.  This has Cambridge ranking fifth in the GOJHL in attendance and third in their conference.  Although the average doesn’t seem like a lot, the capacity of the Galt Arena Gardens is only 1,100 and there is a significant difference in attendance from a midweek game versus a Saturday.

 

Access 4

Galt Arena Gardens is located in the East Galt neighbourhood of Cambridge.  It is east of Highway 24 and significantly south of Highway 401.  Getting to Galt from the 401 can be a bit of a challenge and the lasting effects of the city amalgamation can still be felt when driving from one end of Cambridge to another. Highway 24, Hespeler Road, can be very slow going at times.  There are large parking lots on the north and south sides of the arena that offer free parking, which should be sufficient for fans who get there with enough time to spare.  Fans wishing to take public transit to the game can find bus stops on nearby Beverly and Dundas Streets.  Fans interested in public transit should consult the Grand River Transit website for fares, schedules and maps.


The lobby of the Galt Arena can get a bit congested, but getting around isn’t too difficult.  The washroom facilities are adequate for the arena.



Return on Investment 5

Junior B hockey offers tremendous value for the sporting dollar.  Cambridge RedHawks tickets are sold for $12 for adults, with students and seniors going for $10 and children for $6.  Parking is free and concession prices are about what one would expect.  The product on the ice is solid and worth the price.  However, the opportunity to take in all that is the Galt Arena Gardens itself is worth the price of admission alone.


Extras 4

An extra mark for the extra attention paid to the 1944-45 season that saw Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, call the Galt Arena Gardens home as he played one season of Junior Hockey with the Galt Red Wings.


An extra mark for Galt Arena Gardens as the longest running, continued use hockey arena in the world.


An extra mark for the excellent job the City of Cambridge did modernizing Galt Arena Gardens.  They have kept all the charm and history of the arena while making it functional and modern.


An extra mark for the full circle journey of the Cambridge RedHawks having been founded as the Hespeler, and later Cambridge, Shamrocks.


Final Thoughts

A trip to see the Cambridge RedHawks is a must for all true hockey fans.  Taking in the majesty and history and sheer force of the Galt Arena Gardens is where fans will truly be awed.  Not the most high profile of cities or leagues, a trip to Cambridge to the Galt Arena Gardens is worth every cent.  It is just Classic.


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

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