North Bay Memorial Gardens - Nipissing Lakers
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey.
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
North Bay Memorial Gardens Sports Arena
100 Chippewa St W
North Bay, ON P1B 6G2
Year Opened: 1955
The year 2002 was a dark one for the Gateway to the North. The city of North Bay, Ontario had enjoyed twenty years of North Bay Centennials hockey. However, in 2002 due to rising costs, falling attendance, an aging facility and bad ownership the OHL team was sold and moved to Saginaw, Michigan to become the Saginaw Spirit. The Memorial Gardens was dark for a while. Enter Nipissing University. The small, but growing university was ready to take their athletic program to the next level and hockey was the key. In 2009 the Nipissing Lakers iced a team and entered play in the OUA, the Ontario conference in Canadian university athletics or USports as it is officially known. The void was filled and North Bay had hockey once again. The Lakers got out of the gate quickly and the community supported this team the way no other university team had been supported in the province.
North Bay is a community of 52,000 and Nipissing University boasts approximately 5,000 students. It is a relatively young school receiving their charter in 1992. The school is known for their Faculty of Education, producing teachers for decades, previously as North Bay Teachers College. The home for the Lakers is the North Bay Memorial Gardens Sports Arena. Built in 1955, the Gardens had been home for the Centennials before the Lakers. With the Lakers hitting the ice, the community really got behind the team and came out in droves. This directly led to $16.5 million in upgrades to the arena and the return of OHL hockey to North Bay with the Brampton Battalion moving north. It is clear that the Lake Effect has brought more than just OUA sports to the city on Lake Nipissing.
Food & Beverage 4
Playing in an OHL venue, the Nipissing Lakers benefit from better than average concession options. Popcorn, chocolate bars, candy, chips, pretzels, nachos, fries, poutine, onion rings, chicken fingers, and pizza are all available. Combos are available to help with the cost a bit. Quality is better than the typical snack bar fare. A few different types of hot dogs from Nathan’s are also available to promote variety. One of the interesting items on the menu that might be worth consideration would be the Dessert Funnel Cake Poutine available in either strawberry or chocolate.
Pepsi products are the soft drink of choice at the Memorial Gardens. Nestle coffee products are also available. Molson Canadian, Coors Banquet and Coors Light are available in the concourses. There are also a variety of coolers and cider available for those not interested in beer. The Hall of Fame lounge also features a full fridge for beverage purchase.
With the arrival of the OHL’s North Bay Battalion came with it some renovations to the North Bay Memorial Gardens. Built in 1955, the Gardens looked out of date when the Lakers first arrived. Yellow siding and brown brick were the extent of the exterior décor. The result of the renovations to the exterior is the addition of offices and luxury boxes which affected the front entrance. Now above the main entrance are two stories of green glass which attempt to bring the façade to a more modern time. The original Memorial Gardens signage remains on the front, but the addition of a large, digital sign gives the Gardens the opportunity to advertise all sorts of events.
Upon entry, fans are thrust into the main concourse and that fifties feel returns. The concourses are lined with light brown brick and little details all around the concourse gives it character. Team photos for all Centennials, Battalion and Laker teams are displayed smartly on wooden backing. The North Bay Sports Hall of Fame is full of classic pictures and local history. Those with keen eyes will spot Hall of Fame members Craig Rivet of the Montreal Canadiens, CFL star Mike O’Shea and Lakers head coach Mike McParland. However, the highlight of the concourse is definitely the “Lest We Forget” display listing every North Bay veteran from both World War I and World War II. This is a reminder for hockey fans that the Memorial Gardens remains a living memorial of those who served.
Inside the arena fans will see the main seating area as three main sections. The ice surface runs from north to south and the east and west grandstands support the majority of fans. At the north end of the arena is the Hall of Fame Lounge and at the south end is another section of seating, which is new with the renovation. A large video board hangs over centre ice, but is not used for every game. The game that was reviewed did not use the video board. Above the Hall of Fame lounge at the north end of the arena are the flags which centre the portrait of Queen Elizabeth. At one time, all Canadian arenas featured a portrait of the monarch, so this is a real throwback for the Memorial Gardens.
The game day production at Laker games is fairly simple. Classic and hard rock music is played between plays and the promotions are fairly simple. Fans will have the opportunity to focus on the game itself, which in some situations seems to be a lost luxury.
North Bay is a wonderful city in Northern Ontario. Known mainly for outdoor activities such as snowmobiling and ice fishing in the winter and cottaging and fishing in the summer months, there are plenty of opportunities for fans to find other adventures that could include a Lakers game. The North Bay Memorial Gardens is located west of the Trans Canada Highway, east of Lake Nipissing on Chippewa Street. The immediate area surrounding the arena is fairly residential with the local YMCA right next door. Access to the highway is easy so it is not difficult to head downtown or other spots to find interesting North Bay highlights. Nipissing University is a fair distance from the arena, located at the top of the hill at the north end of the city.
In addition to the many outdoor activities that can be found in North Bay, fans may also want to check out the North Bay Museum. As far as other sporting options go, Nipissing also fields a basketball team on campus at the Robert J. Surtees Student Athletic Center. The OHL has made a return to North Bay as the North Bay Battalion also share the Memorial Gardens.
There are a number of options for pre and post game fare in North Bay. Fans will definitely need to hop in the car to get there though. Cecil’s Brewhouse, Moose’s Cookhouse, Burger World and Arugula are all good options.
For fans staying in the city, the Holiday Inn and Hampton Inn are good options that are pretty close to the arena.
OUA hockey does not draw massive crowds in any market. However, the Nipissing Lakers shattered attendance figures in their first season. They led the conference in attendance attracting over 33,000 fans to the Gardens, averaging over 2,300 fans per game. Since the return of the OHL to North Bay, a big chunk of the Nipissing fans have switched over to the Battalion. However, the Lakers still regularly draw around 300 fans per game. It may not be what it once was, but it remains a very respectable figure for OUA hockey. Being so far off campus does prove to be challenging for Nipissing, which makes their attendance figures even more respectable.
The North Bay Memorial Gardens is located west of the Trans Canada Highway on Chippewa Street. The highway runs north, right through the city, essentially splitting it. Being very close to the highway and highways 11 and 17, the Gardens is very easy to get to by car. There are 1000 parking spots at the Memorial Gardens and there is no charge for parking. For fans who wish to utilize public transit, there is a bus stop on Chippewa Street directly in front of the arena. Fans can check out the North Bay Transit website for maps, fares and schedules.
The box office is located on the west side of the building and lineups are not usually an issue. With the relatively small crowd as compared to the arena capacity, getting around the arena is pretty smooth. The washroom facilities are also more than adequate to support the Nipissing crowd. A bonus of the renovations at the Gardens was the removal of the old, wooden, two-for-one “love” seats. The experience is more comfortable now with regular arena seats.
Return on Investment 5
OUA hockey is a great way to get sports entertainment while paying a low price. Nipissing hockey is among the best value in the entire conference. Adult tickets for Lakers hockey are only $10 each and alumni, students and seniors can get in for $5. Nipissing students and kids under 12 are free. Parking is free at the Gardens and the concession prices are decent. The product on the ice is solid and the game day production will not blow fans away with a whole lot of distracting extras. The end result is a solid product for a minimal investment.
An extra mark for the budding rivalry with Sudbury’s Laurentian Voyageurs. Both schools play off for the 705 Challenge Cup.
Two extra marks for the Nipissing Lakers influencing hockey culture in a city in a way that no other school in Ontario has. Without the success of the Lakers, it is unlikely that the OHL would have returned to North Bay.
It is amazing how far North Bay has come since the departure of the Centennials. It was the community of North Bay rallying around the Nipissing Lakers that brought the city to where it is today. Nipissing Lakers hockey remains a great experience for OUA hockey and fans heading to the Gateway of the North should check out the Lake Effect.