Leon's Centre - Kingston Frontenacs
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
1 Tragically Hip Way
Kingston, ON K7K 0B4
Year Opened: 2008
Hip at the Fort
The Kingston Frontenacs were in serious trouble. The writing was on the wall. If the City of Kingston would not partner with the Frontenacs for a new arena to get them away from the aging Kingston Memorial Centre, then the Ontario Hockey League franchise would be forced to find greener pastures. Fortunately, the City of Kingston stepped up and in 2008, the K-Rock Centre opened to the public. With much fanfare, the arena opened on the site of the original Fort Frontenac, a 17th century trading post, right in beautiful downtown Kingston. Hockey personality and Kingston native, Don Cherry would drop the first puck for the Frontenacs and the next chapter in Kingston hockey was born. In 2018, the city would sign a naming rights deal with Leon’s Furniture Ltd. for five years.
Although many would point to Cherry or team president and former Toronto Maple Leaf legend Doug Gilmour, as the first sons of Kingston, what is currently known as the Leon’s Centre would open to a set of even bigger Kingston legends. The first performance at the arena would be a concert by the iconic Canadian band, The Tragically Hip. So iconic and revered in the community are The Hip, that the address of the Leon’s Centre has since been changed to 1 Tragically Hip Way. Perhaps the most significant date in the young lifespan of Leon’s Centre was August 20, 2016. Before succumbing to brain cancer, Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip would perform in a nationally televised concert, the final one for the band.
Junior hockey in Kingston dates back to the forties with the Kingston Victorias, who were eventually renamed the Frontenacs, after Louis de Buade de Frontenac, Governor General of New France in the 1600s. The current franchise would join the OHA as the Kingston Canadians. They would be renamed the Kingston Raiders for one season before being sold. After the sale of the team, the return of the Frontenacs would usher in a new era for the team. Current owner Doug Springer would purchase the team in 1998. Although the Fronts have not enjoyed a ton of success on the ice, with only two East Division Championships to show for their efforts, the Frontenacs experience has improved significantly and remains a great option for sports fans.
Food & Beverage 4
The concession options at Leon’s Centre will not leave fans hungry. The nine concession stands that are on the 100 and 300 levels offer a wide variety of culinary treats. All of the expected items can be found including popcorn, hot dogs, burgers and chicken fingers. Smoke’s Poutinerie has a presence at Leon’s Centre to treat fans with a variety of poutines, fries, hot dogs and burgers. The Craft Brew & BBQ stand offers fresh BBQ options like pulled pork and the Pizza Pizza stand offers slices. Coca-Cola products are the soft drink of choice at Leon’s Centre and bottled water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and slushies can also be found. A pregame spot to stop for a drink inside the Leon’s Centre would be the Molson Brew House which offers a full bar as well as wine, beer and ciders. Prices are not out of line for an OHL venue.
Leon’s Centre offers an atmosphere for Frontenacs hockey that is among the best in the OHL. Outside of the arena, in the northwest corner sits actual ruins from the original Fort Frontenac. Across Ontario Street is the current Fort Frontenac, which is a Canadian Military venue. The exterior of Leon’s Centre is attractive with light coloured brick. The south side of Leon’s Centre is Tragically Hip Way, a portion of Barrack Street that Kingston City Council renamed in honour of the famous Kingston band.
Inside the concourses of Leon’s Centre fans will have the opportunity to check out some of the local flavour. The pillars in the concourses are all wrapped with photos of big shows in Leon’s Centre history. Bryan Adams, Russell Peters and Gord Downie all have a presence here, just to name a few. A number of local displays and tables are found throughout the concourse, but the Kingston & District Sports Hall of Fame will require a few minutes look. Don Cherry, Doug Gilmour and Kirk Muller all have a presence and more can be found. The exterior of the team store, Frontenacs Originals, features classic jerseys from the original Frontenacs, Canadians and Raiders on display. Team photos for all of the modern era teams can also be explored.
Inside the seating bowl, fans will notice the single seating bowl circled by an upper level concourse. The ice surface runs from west to east with the best view of the centre ice logo coming from the south side. A banner on the east side of the building memorializes the final Tragically Hip show in Kingston. On the west side the honoured numbers of Mike O’Connell, Tony McKegney, Brad Rhiness, Ken Linseman, David Ling, Mike Zigomanis and Keli Corpse hang proudly. When the Toronto Maple Leafs replaced their honoured numbers banners the old ones were distributed across the country. It is no surprise that the number 93 of Doug Gilmour from the Air Canada Centre hangs on the west side. The Frontenacs have started a new program where on Remembrance Day, they honour a local veteran. They are memorialized with a banner on the west side entitled the Honourary Captains. Having such a significant military presence as Kingston does, it is another excellent way for the Frontenacs to connect with the community.
The game day experience at Leon’s Centre has improved significantly. Much research and work has gone into an improved experience which begins with the pregame rituals. The video presentation is solid and captures a local flavour unlike any other OHL venue. It is clear that the Frontenacs have forged a relationship with Fort Henry as the historic, military motif is felt throughout the presentation. Some of the clips are even filmed at the fort. Live mascot Cap’n Frank pontificates the importance of the city and the game on the ice before The Battery, the local drumline, welcomes the Frontenacs on the ice as they enter through an inflatable fortress. The Trevor Walsh Group plays during intermissions and before games and Barrack, the Frontenacs mascot, can be found interacting with fans around the arena. The Frontenacs should complete the local feel with a goal song which is original and local, probably one by The Hip.
You can’t find a neighbourhood in junior hockey better than the surrounding area in downtown Kingston In just the immediate area alone there are a ton of food options. All are easily within walking distance of the Leon’s Centre. Head to Princess Street and you will find what you are looking for. In recent years the Kingston downtown has been hit with the major restaurant chains and those are easy to find right nearby. Jack Astor’s, The Keg, Milestones and Lone Star Texas Grill are all right there and all safe, well-known bets. If you are looking for something a little different, and something uniquely Kingston you will not have to venture far. Some options to consider include The Toucan, Chez Piggy, The Merchant Tap House, Wooden Heads, Grizzly Grill, and The Public House. This is just a small sampling of what is available to you. Make sure that you save time either before or after the Fronts game to do some investigating and check out the food options downtown.
Kingston is a bit more of a summer tourist city, but there are plenty of things to do here. The Leon’s Centre is right across the street from the waterfront. The ferry to Wolf Island Provincial Park is right there as are the meeting spots for the Kingston Trolley Tours and Kingston 1000 Island Cruise tours. Confederation Park is also right downtown and is a terrific meeting spot when waiting for friends. Across the water you can see the campus of the Royal Military College of Canada and just beyond that is Old Fort Henry. The college influence is not lost on Kingston and there are a ton of spots to catch some live music on Princess Street.
If you are looking for other sporting options in Kingston, there are a few. Other cultural endeavours you may wish to consider include the Pump House Steam Museum and the Kingston Penitentiary Museum. The RMC Paladins play hockey at Constantine Arena, which is just across the bridge from Leon’s Centre. The other main options would be found with the athletic teams from Queen’s University. The Queen’s Gaels football team plays at Richardson Memorial Stadium, which was recently renovated. The Gaels basketball team plays on campus in the Athletics and Recreation Centre and the hockey team plays in the former home of the Frontenacs, the Kingston Memorial Centre.
There are also a ton of places to stay downtown. Three you may wish to consider include the Delta, Holiday Inn and Confederation Place. All are mere steps from the Leon’s Centre and the heart of downtown Kingston. Although there remains a lot to do in Kingston throughout the year, the best time to catch a game and enjoy the city would definitely be during the opening month.
The Frontenacs have felt the sting of not having a great amount of success on the ice. Kingston has welcomed between 3,000 and 4,000 fans on average since 2016. The 2018-2019 season has been a rebuilding one for the team after making a strong run the previous year. As a result, the attendance has fallen significantly and the game that was reviewed was scarcely attended. It is unfortunate as the Frontenacs are working diligently to put together the best possible game day experience. Hopefully some more success on the ice will translate into steadier crowds and a stronger following.
The Leon’s Centre is located at the St. Lawrence River in downtown Kingston. Getting to this point can prove challenging from those coming from out of town. Downtown is a significant distance from Highway 401, the major highway connecting Southern Ontario. It is near Highway 2, but it is not a really significant highway. Therefore, travellers will have to travel a significant distance through the city of Kingston to get downtown. Be prepared for a plethora of traffic lights.
There are Kingston Transit buses that travel along Princess, Brock and Ontario Streets. For those who are interested in public transit, check out the Kingston Transit website for maps, schedules and fares.
The Leon’s Centre does not have any parking of its own. Fans who drive to the game will be required to find parking in one of the surface lots near the arena. There is a decent sized parking lot across from the arena, on the other side of The Tragically Hip Way, however it is pretty much a dirt lot and is extremely messy during mild temperatures. Surfaced lots will probably run around $5 for the event, which is not terrible.
There are a few entry gates around the arena. They are not huge but do the trick. Ticketing windows operate outside for the most part. If you are needing to wait a bit before the gates open, then waiting in the gate on the northeast side of the arena is probably best. There is early entry for season ticket holders.
The concourses are not huge in the Leon’s Centre, however considering the crowd size is normally well below capacity, there is ample space to move around. The lower concourses do not travel 360 degrees and at either end of the arena you will have to turn around. The washroom facilities in the Leon’s Centre are also adequate for the experience.
Return on Investment 4
As with other OHL experiences, Kingston Frontenacs hockey offers terrific value for the sporting dollar. Tickets for the Fronts will go for between $19 and $22.25. Concession prices are not too troublesome and parking isn’t awful either. Junior hockey offers a terrific product on the ice. Although the Frontenacs aren’t terrific on the ice in 2019, the cyclical nature of Junior Hockey ensures that the Fronts will be back challenging for the post season soon enough.
An extra mark for the best neighbourhood in all of Junior Hockey. There is not really a better spot to be than downtown Kingston. A great tourist spot with a terrific nightlife and a grand history.
An extra mark for the Leon’s Centre being built on the site of the original Fort Frontenac and incorporating the ruins as part of the site and maintaining the heritage.
An extra mark for the work the Fronts have done in their pregame show. Definitely unique in Junior Hockey, the Frontenacs are pushing the entertainment envelope in the OHL.
Kingston is one of the truly great places to visit in Ontario. The Kingston Frontenacs can be a part of a stop in Kingston and the Leon’s Centre is a solid facility. The Fronts are pushing the envelope in what fans can expect for a game day experience and the product on the ice can only get better. Hockey fans should definitely take a trip to Eastern Ontario to the historic, vibrant city of Kingston and make plans to catch the Fronts in action. There will be no regrets.
Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.