Niagara IceDogs

Arena Name: Jack Gatecliff Arena, Gatorade Garden City Complex
Capacity: 3,145 (2,800 seated)
Built: 1938
Last Game: 2014
Address: 8 Gale Cr., St. Catharines, ON, L2R 3G1
Ice Surface Size: 190 X 85
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Garden City Arena
Garden City Arena
What's the Arena Like?
The Niagara Region has a long and storied history with junior hockey. Niagara-based teams won the Memorial Cup in 1954, 1960, 1965 and 1968, and the area's teams produced such hockey talent as Marcel Dionne, Bobby Hull, Bernie Parent and Mike Gartner. In its day, the rivalry between the area's two major cities - St. Catharines and Niagara Falls - was one of the best in the sport. Yet that same rivalry would prove to be the region's undoing, too, since after 1977 when St. Catharines was deserted for the last time, no St. Catharines newspaper would cover a Niagara Falls team, and very few fans from the Garden City made the short trip to watch hockey in the Falls. And vice versa. This indirectly contributed to the last failure of the OHL in the region, as the Thunder refused to advertise to St. Catharines until their last, desperate season, and St. Catharines fans largely refused to attend games. But all that is in the past now. In 2007, for the first time in history, the two cities are working together under a common regional name, and the results so far look promising for the future of the OHL on the peninsula.

Garden City Arena was built in 1938 in an residential neighbourhood in St. Catharines. It is a yellow, ancient-looking building that is actually two buildings in one - attached to the main arena is a smaller ice pad, the Rex Stimers Arena. There is also a large new front on the building, as the former rear of the arena has become the new front end. The new addition is blue and features lots of glass, and reminds a history-minded first-time visitor to the place of Prince Charles's famous declaration about the addition to the National Gallery in London: "What is [built] is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend". Still, the older Garden City Arena exterior has its charms. It has a giant grey roof and if you walk over to the old main entrance on Division Street, you see the stone facade still preserved.

Walking into what is now the CHL's oldest building on gameday is an experience that first hits you in the nostrils - it has that indescribable "hockey" smell. The main lobby is new and small, and ticket takers greet you at the foot of a staircase that leads upstairs towards the main arena. Once up on the balcony, you are greeted by a new team store, washrooms, concessions and 50-50 sellers. So far, you could be anywhere in the CHL built in the last twenty years.

That all changes once you enter the main arena bowl. There is, essentially, nothing in sight to let you know that it's no longer 1938, with the exception of a worn-out digital clock overlooking centre ice, and somewhat anachronistic video screens hanging in the corners. The walls are all covered in whitewash paint with painted-on section numbers extending around the building. Frosted, Bauhaus-style factory windows appear every so often on the outer concourse walls. Floors are a painted dark grey and have been worn smooth by decades of hockey fans trodding on them. A tiny press box gondola hangs overtop of the seats on one side of the building, and giant ventilation ducts somehow fit into the scene as well. The roof is wood and supported by an arched ceiling superstructure that is covered in bright silver paint. 3,000 seats surround the ice, all of which are original, wooden two-man benches, painted red on the sides and blue and green in the ends. A portrait of HM the Queen and Memorial Cup banners from 1954 and 1960 complete the scene perfectly.

The gameday experience in Niagara is a good one overall, but with all of the hassles inherent with an older arena. Getting around is nearly impossible when the place is full (as it often is), with the one tiny concourse along the top of the rink being the only way to navigate. The seats are comfortable enough by wooden standards, but the 1938 fire code means that there are as many as forty seats between aisles; as a result, if you're near an end of an aisle you might have to stand up to let people by many times a game. The last row in particular is terrible for seating - there is barely enough leg room up there for a child. Still, the IceDogs definitely get points for making the best of their old arena - the new team store is a nice addition, and there are washrooms and concessions downstairs in the one end that are accessible to all. The sound system is about what you'd expect - old and getting older - but the gameday announcer is pretty good, with very little extemporaneous shouting or trying to make himself the centre of attention.

It has been thirty years since Garden City Arena's last days hosting the OHL. The league changed almost unrecognizably within those thirty years, and yet St. Catharines and Niagara Falls have taken to the new team well, with large, passionate, and raucous crowds. When I attended my first game there in October 2007, the team had been on the ice less than a month, and yet there were jerseys and other team gear everywhere, as well as banners, and other good signs that the team is already making its mark on the community. The atmosphere on gameday is terrific - when the OHL's smallest and most intimate arena is filled to capacity, the crowd is alive and vocal. It seems obvious to everyone involved that the IceDogs aren't going to want to stick around at Garden City any longer than the length of their five-year lease without at least having shovels in the ground for a new arena, but for now that doesn't matter. For now, the fans on the peninsula - and any traveling fan who wishes to partake in the experience - can be treated to the experience of attending a game at one of the grand old barns of the CHL, unexpectedly alive and thriving once more.
Inside Garden City Arena
Garden City Arena

How To Get There

From QEW Eastbound: Go east on QEW to Hwy-406 South. South on Hwy-406 to the Westchester/Eastchester exit. Go west (right) on Westchester Cr. to Geneva St. Go north (right) on Geneva to Rex Stimers and Jack Gatecliff Arenas. Arenas are together on the east (right) side of the road.
From QEW Westbound: Go west on QEW to Lake St. exit. South (right) on Lake to Russell St. East (left) on Russell to Geneva to Rex Stimers and Jack Gatecliff Arenas. Arenas are together on the east (left) side of the road.
From Hwy-406 Northbound: North on Hwy-406 to Geneva St. exit. North (right) on Geneva to Rex Stimers and Jack Gatecliff Arenas. Arenas are together on the east (right) side of the road.
From Hwy-406 Southbound: South on Hwy-406 to the Westchester/Eastchester exit. West (right) on Westchester Cr. to Geneva St. North (right) on Geneva to Rex Stimers and Jack Gatecliff Arenas. Arenas are together on the east (right) side of the road.

As for parking - good luck! The Arena's location on city streets in the heart of downtown means there isn't a lot of options, so your best bet is either one of the small pay lots nearby, or parking on a side street and walking.
What's It Used For Today?
Jack Gatecliff Arena and the next door Rex Stimers Arena are both still open, hosting youth hockey and the GOJHL's St. Catharines Falcons.
Another Look Inside Garden City Arena
Garden City Arena


If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at email and I'll update the guide.



Copyright Kevin Jordan 2002-15.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: January 1, 2015