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  • Robbie Raskin

Peterborough Memorial Centre - Peterborough Petes

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Peterborough Memorial Centre 151 Lansdowne St E Peterborough, ON K9J 7P7

Year Opened: 1956

Capacity: 4,329

Good Years Ahead for this Historic Barn

Over the past two decades, the Ontario Hockey League has undertaken a massive shift from community-scale to the big time. What was once a league of neighbourhood arenas has matured into a circuit of showpiece ‘NHL in miniature’ venues. Across the province, teams have abandoned their well-worn old homes for plush new ones and only a couple have bucked the trend. It’s at these clubs where hockey and community history continue to unfold, inextricably linked to each other through the long Canadian winters. In Peterborough, this is perhaps more true than anywhere in the league, for the home of the Petes has witnessed more of both than almost anywhere else.

The small city of Peterborough sits at the southern entrance to Ontario’s vast ‘Cottage Country’ where farmland gives way to countless lakes and forests. Since 1956, it has been home to the maroon-and-white Petes, and the hockey club has been deeply tied to the city’s sense of identity ever since. The Petes’ alumni roll is a laundry list of great players and managers over the decades, including seven Hall of Famers. They’re the oldest continuously-operating team in the OHL and have won the league nine times and the national Memorial Cup championship once. Frustrating to their fans is that the only team with greater success are their hated rivals, the Oshawa Generals.

The Petes are run as a non-profit community organisation, like the Kitchener Rangers. And like Kitchener, the Petes have an historic arena dedicated to soldiers killed in the World Wars that they’ve expanded and upgraded, rather than replaced. With about 4500 seats and new hospitality areas, the many quirks of the arena are well-known throughout the league and a refreshing antidote to the formulaic nature of modern rinks.

Until recently, there had been plans to construct a new arena in the city, but those have now been placed on the backburner and the PMC should host hockey for another decade at least. That should come as happy news to hockey fans, as this old barn more than makes up for its shortcomings with character and history on display at every turn. It’s all too likely that Peterborough will eventually have a sparkling new arena for their beloved club, and that’s probably the right choice economically. But the decision to remain at the Memorial Centre, with continued gradual upgrades, is the right one for the soul of the city.

Food & Beverage 2

Concessions are one area where the age of the facility shows itself unfavourably to its modern peers. The PMC dates to a time when hockey fans didn’t expect gourmet options, and the options remain simple in the concourses, with pizza, sausages, nachos, ice cream, and snacks. Pizza slices are $5.50 but for a dollar more, the smoked sausage is a tasty option. Beer and Strongbow cider begin at $9, as do Caesars and other cocktails. There are a handful of small bars located throughout the arena, and lineups are never very bad. For interesting drink options, visit The Corner Bar, off the entry concourse, for local craft beer cans. Along the southwest corner and south end, the Gibson’s Club Lounge features a comfortable, carpeted atmosphere with a whisky bar pouring Gibson’s Finest rye.

For a proper meal, choose seats in the south end. This section is the PMC Pub & Grill, where a full menu of pub fare is available at tables or at your seat, at ice level. Note that you must reserve a table in advance or purchase seats in this section to access the restaurant.

Atmosphere 4

When objectively compared to modern OHL arenas, the unique, perhaps bizarre, design of the Memorial Centre falls short in many respects – though the gap has been narrowed with recent renovations. Subjectively, however, this classic barn is paradise for the hockey fan. The building has a long, irregular profile from the street, with the front entrance capped by four flags (Canada, the Union Jack, Ontario, and Peterborough). Inside the front doors, through which almost most fans will enter, the glorious history of the Petes begins to throw itself at you.

Banners of the four legendary Petes coaches are first; Scotty Bowman, Colin Campbell, Bob Gainey, and local hero Roger Neilson. Along one wall, the ‘Memorial’ aspect of the arena is reflected in a large military display of regimental plaques, tartans, and other regalia from the World Wars and beyond. To the right is the extensive team shop and to the left, the even more extensive Peterborough and District Sports Hall of Fame, open free to fans during the game. An extensive display fronting the concourse shows off the silverware of the wildly successful Lakers Lacrosse Club, who also call the PMC home.

The concourses, as such, don’t extend fully around the rink, but are utterly crammed with history, including plaques for inductees to the Hall of Fame and the many team photos of the maroon-and-white. On either side of the atrium, narrow stairways provide access up to a second level atop the seating bowl, and under each are bar counters. The first floor concourses end abruptly on either side at the changing rooms for each team. Pass-throughs to ice level grant access upward to some seats, whilst others are more easily accessed top-down via the stairways. The second level is suites on one side, with the Gibson’s Club along the other, which is accessible to all fans. The pub area is accessible through a separate entrance at the south end, with suites above.

It’s within the seating bowl where the PMC’s quirkiness really unveils itself. Firstly, it becomes clear the usual arena seating arrangement doesn’t apply here. The sides are quite short, only twelve rows, but the north end rises in a terrace more reminiscent of Anfield than a hockey arena. And on the south end, another classic feature; the Queen’s portrait gazes over the rink in a tradition that is sadly disappearing as old venues close. What used to be a Canadian staple is rarely found at new rinks – the only modern OHL arena to preserve this bit of Canadiana is Mississauga’s Paramount Centre. For a modern touch, a new HD video scoreboard hangs above centre ice and is used very professionally. Matchday production is classy, focused on the hockey throughout, and with a low key, friendly feel.

Above the short sides, vertical walls rise to support the roof and display the dozens of banners for the Petes as well as the lacrosse championships of the Lakers. These vertical walls also serve to amplify the ice-level sounds so that every hit and bounce echoes through the arena.

Speaking of bounces, the ice itself is perhaps the most famous quirk of this old barn. Most rinks today feature standardised ice surfaces, indistinguishable from any other arena in the league, with standard dimensions and identically-curved corners. Here, the corners (in)famously lack the usual curve, with a remarkably rectangular surface providing a true home-ice advantage. The Petes use their knowledge of the angles here to great advantage over their opponents. Fans will immediately notice the sharpness of the corners that have miraculously survived to this day, and can expect occasional miscues from the visitors as a result. In an era of increasing standardisation and rationalisation, the peculiar nature and abundant history are endearing features to cherish.

Neighbourhood 3

The Memorial Centre is located in a mostly residential area not far south of Peterborough’s downtown core. There are a couple food and drink options nearby, though the city’s charming central business district is a five minute drive up George Street (which is known as Roger Neilson Way in front of the arena). On a nice day, it’s a 25-minute walk along the scenic riverfront, or a ten-minute bus ride. Downtown, there are lots of good spots for a pre- or post-game meal or drink. The Black Horse pub is a welcoming spot for a winter night and a walk up George Street or the neighbouring blocks will yield plenty of choices. One particularly good winter option is The Whistle Stop Café, famous for its enormous selection of poutine.

East across the Otonabee River is trendy Ashburnham, home to the Ashburnham Ale House, and a short walk to the iconic Peterborough Lift Lock. This national historic site, where boats climb a steep hill, is featured on the Petes’ shoulder patches. Nearer to the PMC is the Canadian Canoe Museum, providing a stunning look an icon as dear to Canadian hearts as hockey. The museum is in the process of relocating to a bespoke new home along the river, but even in its temporary digs, it will be a pleasantly surprise even to those with no prior interest in canoes or local history. In warm weather, you can try out a canoe yourself along Peterborough’s extensive riverfront parkland, a couple blocks east of the arena. Along here, there are galleries and museums, historic locks and mills, and the Holiday Inn within walking distance of centre ice. And finally, even closer to the arena, the Peterborough Farmers’ Market is right next door, open every Saturday morning.

Fans 4

The PMC is a smaller arena in a smaller city than most other OHL venues, but the Petes have been deeply woven into the Peterborough fabric for decades, and remain so even as the city has started to rapidly grow. Fans have come back in strong numbers as pandemic restrictions end, coinciding with a young and promising roster on the ice. Peterborough’s fans are known to be welcoming and friendly to visitors, with the notable exception of their detested rivals an hour down the road in Oshawa.

The rivalry with Oshawa is one of hockey’s great old derbies. During our latest review of the PMC, fans cheered loudly when it was announced the Generals were currently losing their respective match out-of-town. For bucket list travelers, seeing the Petes host the Oshawa Generals should be near the top.

Access 3

Getting to the PMC is easy from anywhere in this small city, as the rink is located along Lansdowne Street, a major artery. Ample parking is located to the west of the arena, and will cost $5 for the evening. There is also a bus loop in front of the arena, and service is frequent. Coming from out of town, Peterborough is about ninety minutes Northeast of Toronto in good traffic, and there are frequent express buses linking downtown to downtown.

Within the arena, the discombobulated concourses are not intuitive, but the circulation is good once you get the hang of it. There are ample washrooms and lineups are not an issue. Friendly staff will proactively reach out to help fans navigate, and the relatively small capacity mitigates any potential crowding issues. In short, circulation in the arena doesn’t make much sense, but it works.

Return on Investment 5

As a non-profit organisation, the Petes make every effort to keep ticket prices to a minimum and seats here are among the most affordable in the league. Indeed, tickets can be had for as little as $13. Chuck in $5 for parking and affordable, albeit limited, concessions, a night out in Peterborough can be tremendous value. If you come early and enjoy the Sports Hall of Fame and many historical markers throughout the arena, the value increases even before seeing the resurgent Petes take the ice.

Extras 5

This is where the intangible qualities of such a unique, historic old barn come into play. Whilst it would be impossible to award full points for the atmosphere, there are few arenas more atmospheric than this one. Further, the community ownership and non-profit nature of the hockey club lend a truly welcoming feel to a Petes game, and the chance for Peterborough locals to be directly involved in their beloved team.

Final Thoughts

Peterborough is a charming little city and the Petes provide an equally charming, low key experience. The maroon-and-white have been the soul of this community for decades with the Memorial Centre as the heart. The arena is almost certainly in the twilight of its OHL life, but it’s great to know the Petes will call the PMC home for another decade at least. An evening at this old barn is sure to leave smiles on many faces as long as they do.

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