Construction crew poses in the middle of the Vernon Civic Arena construction site in 1937. The arena was the first of its kind in the Okanagan, opening in 1938 and closing exactly 80 years later in 2018 before falling victim to the wrecking ball. (Greater Vernon Museum and Archives photo #17158)

Construction crew poses in the middle of the Vernon Civic Arena construction site in 1937. The arena was the first of its kind in the Okanagan, opening in 1938 and closing exactly 80 years later in 2018 before falling victim to the wrecking ball. (Greater Vernon Museum and Archives photo #17158)

Vernon history in pictures

The making of Vernon history in 1937

It was the first of its kind in the Okanagan. It underwent a couple of facelifts. A big party was thrown on its 80th birthday.

Then came the wrecking ball for Vernon’s venerable Civic Arena.

Construction on the first indoor arena for the Okanagan began in 1937 and the facility would officially open Jan. 6, 1938. On that day, the Civic Arena – “the only structure of its kind between Vancouver and the Kootenays that is equipped with artificial ice,” reads information from the arena’s grand opening program – played host to an exhibition between the Vancouver Lions, “the fastest team in the Pacific Coast Hockey League,” and the “heavier” Spokane Clippers, “at least 10 pounds heavier per man than the Lions, if not more.”

After that exhibition, the Civic Arena played host to a variety of events and sports.

Three local teams won Canadian championships in the Civic Arena. The Vernon Canadians won the 1956 Allan Cup national senior hockey title in front of an overflow crowd; ditto the 1978 Vernon Tigers, who won a third consecutive national Senior B lacrosse title; and ditto the 1990 Vernon Lakers, hosts for that year’s Centennial Cup Canadian Junior A Hockey Championship tournament.

With the title game televised on TSN, the Lakers rallied from 5-2 down to beat B.C. Junior Hockey League rivals New Westminster Royals 6-5 on an overtime breakaway goal from Cam Sylven. The Royals had defeated the Lakers in the 1990 BCJHL championship series, and in the Centennial Cup round-robin. The Lakers and Tigers each won provincial titles on the Civic’s home ice/floor.

Legendary basketball team the Harlem Globetrotters played a game in the Civic. Legendary Canadian rockers April Wine played a concert in the Civic. Legendary figure skaters Barbara Ann Scott, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov put on spectacular exhibitions at the Civic.

The arena played host to many high school graduations. The circus was once a yearly fixture. Hundreds of Vernon residents learned to skate at the Civic through the Tebo’s Toddlers program. Vernon Minor Hockey and Vernon Minor Lacrosse used the Civic as its home base for tournaments.

On Jan. 6, 2018 – exactly 80 years to the day it opened – the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL returned from Kal Tire Place six blocks north to play one final league game at the Civic. Unfortunately, the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings spoiled the party in front of a capacity crowd with a 3-2 win over the Vipers.

Later that year, the demolition of the Civic began, and eight decades of memories went with it. Today, the vacant spot on 37th Avenue is being considered by the city as park space.

READ MORE: Vernon says goodbye to historic building

READ MORE: Spruce Kings clip Vipers on historic night



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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