As the last of structure finally came down, the community said a final goodbye to a huge part of Vernon’s history.
The Civic Arena opened in 1938 and, having turned 80 in January, was the oldest facility of its kind in the Okanagan. It played host to many historic events including the 1956 Allan Cup Canadian Senior Hockey Championship, the 1978 Canadian Senior B Lacrosse Championships which were won by the hometown Vernon Tigers, the 1990 Centennial Cup Canadian Junior A Hockey Championship (won 6-5 in overtime by the hometown Vernon Lakers over the New Westminster Royals). It also hosted rock concerts, boy scout ice jamborees, the legendary basketball team the Harlem Globetrotters, and has been the permanent home of the Vernon Coca-Cola Classic Pee Wee Invitational Hockey Tournament during the Vernon Winter Carnival since the tournament’s inception in the 1970s.
The demolition began in October. Driving past 37th Avenue today, rubble is all that is left of the historic building.
The Morning Star tracked down locals who took part in some of the Arena’s most historic events.
Reporter and native Vernonite Roger Knox said that he was really sad to see it go — a sentiment seemly mirrored throughout the community, specifically to those who grew up in town.
“One of the first memories I have of the Civic Arena was learning to skate here as a kid. It was the only arena at the time so most of us learned how to skate there. I never played hockey but I went to lots of games at the arena and in my former career as a radio broadcaster, I was fortunate to be the Laker’s play-by-play guy. I also saw the Tigers win the 1978 Senior Lacrosse Championship in this building and I even graduated high school at the Civic because it was the only building that was big enough to hold 500 grads,” said Knox.
“As a native Vernonite, I have a hard time with it because this building means a lot to me and a lot of residents here. I understand why they’re doing it but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. There’s so many positive memories I have with this building and I’m sad to see it come down.”
Rich Zecchel and Marty Stein were both members of the Vernon Tigers who won the Canadian Senior B Lacrosse Championship in 1978 at the Civic Arena. Both smiled as they reflected on the day.
“It was a pleasure to play for my hometown team and to win on home soil at our home arena was just incredible,” said Stein, who was 22 at the time. “Seeing the Civic Arena go the way it did was tough. I wish we could have done something to save it but you’ve got the proper people in place, I’m assuming, and they know what they needed to do and there was a lot of work that had to be done. So was it worth saving? We never know.”
“I hated to see it go originally but the town has grown and we need more seats and surfaces for people to play now,” said Zecchel, in agreement. “I think its time has come; we need better facilities.”
Heather Stranks was the Vernon Figure Skating Club coach and spent thousands of hours in the arena coaching kids. Today, she owns City Dance Studio in Vernon.
“I skated in the Civic my whole life and I began coaching in the Civic so it’s tough to see it go,” she said. “I drove by the first day they started taking it down and had my little cry but I think it is a natural progression and there were issues with it. It either needed to be super renovated or it needed to come down but it’s still really hard to see it go.”
Keith Chase was the assistant coach with 1990 Vernon Lakers who won the Centennial Cup at the arena. Having grown up locally, he believes Vernon failed.
“It’s like when you buy an old car. You need to spend a couple bucks here and there each year and you just can’t leave it because pretty soon the car will break down and you won’t be able to drive it anymore. We should have been putting more money into it 30 years ago,” he said. “Looking at all the events that took place there and all names that have played in that arena, both in hockey and lacrosse, it’s just phenomenal but it’s sad to see a piece of history go.”
In November 2017, after reviewing numerous options, the city decided to pursue demolition of the Civic Arena.
Reports indicated that bringing the building into compliance with the Building Code to a basic shell building would be an estimated $11-12 million. New construction for the same basic shell facility would be $8-9 million. The estimates did not include any interior finishing or upgrades related to a future use. The city decided to rebuild.
The city has not yet decided what the plot of land will become after the demolition is completed.
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