- Greg Johnston
Scotiabank Centre - Halifax Thunderbirds
Photos by Greg Johnston, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info Fanfare Score: 3.57
1800 Argyle St
Halifax, NS B3J 2V9
Year Opened: 1978
You’ve Been Thunderstruck
Halifax, Nova Scotia has quickly become an enticing city for attracting professional sports franchises. Following the lead of the Halifax Hurricanes (National Basketball League of Canada) and HFX Wanderers (Canadian Premier League), along with rumors of the Atlantic Schooners (Canadian Football League) kicking off play in a few years, Curt Styres pursued an opportunity to relocate his National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) franchise. The Halifax Thunderbirds commenced play at Scotiabank Centre in 2019 after twenty-five seasons competing in Rochester, New York.
Formally known as the Knighthawks, the team celebrated much success on the field winning five championships (1997, 2007, 2012, 2013 & 2014) and ten division titles. In an unusual turn of events, the Knighthawks are still in existence, but now as an expansion team with new owners, players and logo. The records and championships belong to the Thunderbird franchise.
What is a thunderbird? In Indigious cultures, a thunderbird is a mythical creature, and a symbol for strength and power. A fitting name for a team playing an indigious game on native lands.
Originally opened as the Halifax Metro Centre in 1978, Scotiabank Centre has undergone multiple renovations to keep the venue up-to-date and attract major events. The most significant renovations came in 2015, inconsequentially, when the Scotiabank took over the naming rights. With the addition of the Thunderbirds, the arena is now home to three major tenants, including the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) and the Halifax Hurricanes. With a capacity of 10,500, Scotiabank Centre is amongst the smallest in the NLL.
Food & Beverage 4
Scotiabank Centre offers an expansive variety of unique food options that rival venues with higher capacities. Canadian and Maritime classics such as Poutine (Cavendish fries, beef gravy and cheese curds) and Donairs (spiced beef shaved from a spit and served on a gyro with tomatoes, onions and donair sauce) are available a-la-cart or in a combo with chips and a Pepsi product. Other unique offerings include: mac & cheese (with or without fried chicken), footlong hot dogs, $5 sandwiches, a butter chicken bowl and burrito bowls. Look for most of these concessions in the wide plaza area behind section nine. Traditional stadium food choices include: individual pizzas, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, nachos, popcorn and candy.
Alcoholic beverages are $7.25 for a 14-ounce domestic draft (Bud, Bud Light & Alexander Keith’s), and $2 more for 20 ounces. Alexander Keith’s also has their own kiosk offering craft brews, including the Lunenburg Coffee Stout and Highland Pilsner starting at $8.25. Cocktails can be “shaken or stirred” at the bar located outside section eight.
Vendors rarely walk the seating area, so you’ll likely need to visit a concession stand for a desired item. Outside food and beverages are not allowed in the arena. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up at one of the multiple water fountains available around the concourse. Overall, the concessions are well maintained and clean, with enough food and drink options to satisfy your cravings.
Largely due to its downtown location, with plenty of bars and restaurants nearby, the game day atmosphere outside Scotiabank Centre can prepare you for the thrilling action on the field. With the brick and glass bottom, concrete paneled top, and hints of the concrete seating area viewed from underneath, the arena is clearly distinguishable from Citadel Hill and Brunswick Street. Topography slopes down quickly around the sides of the building where the architecture is not as pronounced. However, large illuminated “Scotiabank Centre” signs were added to the blank facade, which can clearly be seen from Rogers Square, located a few blocks away down Grafton Street.
Once inside Scotiabank Centre there is a “big-event” feel to the atmosphere. Walking around the concourse provides a variety of visual experiences. The side concourses are closed off from viewing the game; however, walk to the ends of the arena and suddenly you’re one with the crowd and have a full view of game action. The lower seating bowl offers great viewing angles to catch all the plays, without fans in front of you obstructing your view. The playing field is surrounded by 16 to 22 rows of seats; however, legroom is an issue no matter where you sit. If you consider yourself of average height or taller, avoid rows 19 thru 22. These rows were not part of the original arena design, but instead were squeezed in as part of a renovation years ago. This renovation closed off a walkway inside the seating bowl, resulting in more congestion on the concourse. Also, be aware of some obstructed view seats in sections 13 thru 17 (rows Q through S) due to metal posts supporting the skyboxes.
An upper level is located on both sides of the playing field, consisting of 21 rows with decent viewing angles in the lower rows. Avoid seats next to the aisle in rows A thru G since the railing located at the bottom of the aisle may be right at your eye level. Also, stay clear of the top 16 rows (rows H thru W); hanging skyboxes diminish the game atmosphere and the scoreboard/video board over centre ice is not visible. A scoreboard and video board is projected on the backside of the skyboxes, but the acoustics are awkward and you feel distant from the action. Over forty skyboxes are located in a horseshoe style around the field of play. Handicap seating is available nearly all the way around the seating bowl at the concourse level. New seats were added as part of the 2015 renovations. They are larger, padded, comfortable, and are equipped with cup holders. The four-sided scoreboard hanging from the rafters is new as of 2019. This crisp, clear jumbotron is a welcome improvement and accentuates the atmosphere as exciting graphics are displayed after a big play.
Scoreboard at Scotiabank Centre, Photo by Greg Johnston, Stadium Journey
The Thunderbirds have done a fantastic job celebrating the roots and culture of the Maritime region, not just through their name and logo, but also during the pre-game ceremony. Prior to the Thunderbirds taking the field, a high-tech video production introduces the players and creates a sense of what’s to come. Afterwards, bagpipers play and march from the concourse to the field where traditional Scottish dancers represent and help celebrate the Scottish roots of Nova Scotia.
In-game promotions and entertainment keep you involved during breaks in the action. Free programs with information regarding both teams’ players and records are available on the concourse. The Thunderbirds’ dance team performs a few times prior to the game and during game breaks.The Thunderbird mascot, Bolt, roams the arena stopping for selfies and other fan interactions along the way. Arena acoustics are fairly good, unless you are seated in the back rows of the upper level. Upbeat music is played seemingly non-stop during play which is an NLL staple. The music helps keep the crowd’s energy up. The fans especially seem to respond well with loud rhythmic clapping whenever a classic Maritime song like “Barrett’s Privateers” (by Stan Rogers) plays over the loudspeaker.
Halifax has a rich history to learn and explore. As stated by the public address announcer prior to a game, Halifax lies on Indigenous lands belonging to the Mi’kmaq before the British settlers arrived and developed the area. For a few hundred years, Halifax was an important British army and navy base to help protect against potential French invaders. Halifax Harbour is naturally protected from the ocean, and is the second largest natural harbour in the world. Thousands of immigrants came to Halifax to find work in the fishing, shipping, and trading industry created by the protected harbour.
In 1912, Halifax played an important role in rescue efforts following the sinking of the Titanic. In 1917, the city suffered a tragic event itself, when two ships collided in the harbour. One of those ships was full of ammunition, causing an enormous explosion that killed 2,000 people and destroyed a large part of the city. Check out the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to learn about these fascinating events. Downtown Halifax is located on a steep hill, which slopes from the Halifax Harbour to Citadel Hill. The arena is integrated into the hill, which makes the arena look smaller from the outside than it actually is.
Downtown Halifax is evolving into a popular destination again after years of dormant construction throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s. If you want to grab a drink and a bite before or after the game, Argyle Street is a great area full of options with Antojo, Pint Public House & Gahan Restaurant all excellent choices. For a relaxed atmosphere during your stay, take a walk on the boardwalk along the Halifax Harbour; see some historic architecture, high-end restaurants, and the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. All of these destinations are within a 5-15 minute walk from the arena, making it a great location for the season ticket holder or a tourist.
The Hampton Inn by Hilton and the Prince George Hotel are both located less than a block away from the arena. Plenty of other hotel options are scattered around the city depending on your desired price range and location.
The Thunderbirds first game in Halifax came less than a year after the relocation announcement in early 2019. So naturally the franchise needed to work hard to attract and develop a loyal local fan base. In such a short time, it’s obvious the marketing folks have done a great job promoting the sport and franchise to a wide range of demographics. Every home game has a promotional theme including First Nations Night, University Student Night, a Salute to Veterans Night, among others.
Through the first few home games, Thunderbirds attendance has averaged 6,500 spectators. Though some markets draw over 10,000 patrons per game, Halifax attendance ranks a respectable 8th out of the 13 franchises. Thunderbirds attract fans of all ages, from young families, young adults on a date, and long-time friends. Fans tend to be pretty quiet and respectful outside of a home goal or a big hit. The crowd (with help from the public address announcer) could easily create some unique traditions or chants during the game, and there’s little doubt the scores have potential to improve as the loyal fan base continues to develop.
Direct flights to Halifax are available from most major Canadian cities, and a few American cities in the Eastern Time Zone. Though Halifax looks close to the United States on maps, a drive from Portland, Maine would take around ten hours due to a lack of a direct route. However, the drive is beautiful no matter where you are coming from. When you arrive downtown, you are only minutes from the arena. It is easy to get there by foot or car. Two parking garages are within a block of Scotiabank Centre for $8, and metered parking is free on weekends and after six pm on weekdays. Metro Transit is another great way to get to the game. Several routes from all over the municipality converge into downtown for $2.75. Halifax is known for wet and icy winter weather conditions.
Fortunately pedestrians can stay dry and not risk slipping on ice by using the “Halifax Link” indoor path system. See Halifax Link’s map here.
Though there is not a dedicated main entrance, the most popular entrance is on the low (east) side of the arena. Stairs or ramps take you into an atrium where the Box Office, Will Call, and entrance to the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame are located. However, prepare for a stair-hike if you enter the arena from this atrium. The entrances along Brunswick Street may be easier and less congested if you already have your ticket. The easiest wheelchair accessible entrance is from the Brunswick and Duke Street corner where the doors are level with the concourse. Once doors open, access around the arena is simple and straightforward. The concourse is a continuous 360 degrees around the field on an even level. Finding your seat should not be difficult, as plenty of helpful signs point you to the sections. The east side of the arena is open, wide and grand. Part of it was an alleyway that used to separate the arena and the former convention centre. This additional concourse space has a relaxed feel with tables to stand at and enjoy your drink and/or meal. Restrooms are clean and fairly large due to a 2015 renovation. Some restrooms are located on another level of the arena, so watch for signs.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets can be purchased at the box office inside Scotiabank Centre or online through the team website. Ticket prices are more expensive than Halifax residents are used to for other local sports teams, and the “best seats” appear to be slightly higher than other NLL franchises in similar markets. An adult seat ranges from $28-$81 depending on your seat location preference. University student tickets range from $17.25-$23. Children 12 and under are a flat rate $23. And accessible seating is a flat $11.50 per ticket.
Tickets for an applicable promotional night can save you around 50% on tickets. Purchasing group tickets saves money and includes incentives like field admission prior to the game. Other ticket buying options include discounts for fundraiser nights, senior citizens discount games, two-game rivalry pacts, season tickets, and “family section” tickets, which is a family season ticket in a dedicated area close to washrooms.
An extra point for the incredible job the franchise does recognizing and celebrating the many historical and cultural aspects the Halifax region represents.
Another for the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame. The entrance is through the atrium, and admission is free with a game ticket. The Sidney Crosby exhibit is a must see.”
Indoor lacrosse is one of the most high intensity and thrilling sports you can watch. The game has a long history, as it was first introduced by the First Nations and now is the official summer sport of Canada. For fans who have yet to witness an NLL game live, it’s well worth spending an evening with loved ones or great friends to take in the excitement. Hopefully the Thunderbird franchise will continue to develop fan experience to maintain and build the local fan base.