End of an era

Ian Murdoch
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Countdown is on for Olympia's last days - Part 1 of 2

"The place is falling down around us," says Brandon Reardon as he winds his way down the creaky, 48-year-old staircase from the rafters of Olympia stadium in St. Anthony.

The banners hanging from Olympia stadium, such as the

"The place is falling down around us," says Brandon Reardon as he winds his way down the creaky, 48-year-old staircase from the rafters of Olympia stadium in St. Anthony.

As an athlete with 21 years of experience at the arena and the Director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of St. Anthony over the past five years, Mr. Reardon has a lot of great memories of the stadium.

Pretty soon memories will be all there is left as the ice is set to come out for the last time on April 16 and construction is underway to finish the Polar Centre by the end of the summer.

 "There are a lot of good memories here for sure," said Mr. Reardon.

Although the original slogan was ‘Open the door in ‘64', the arena first opened in the early months of 1965, and it has been a cornerstone of sports and recreation in the area ever since.

Wayne Noel was there in 1965 when it opened.

His greatest memories of Olympia are playing in the first senior league as a 17-year-old from Goose Cove.

He was in high school at the time and as a hockey player he was excited to get into the new rink after spending his winters playing on the town's outdoor ice.

 "I came to St. Anthony to go to high school and got into playing hockey there.

"That was a thrill for me. I was only 17 at the time and here I was playing with the big leagues so to speak."

He played in the four-team senior league in St. Anthony, which included two teams on each side of the harbour before the addition of the Griquet Braves to the league later on.

The Saints and Polars consisted of players from the west side and the Aces and Ramblers were from the east side.

There was a team from Goose in later years, as well as a brief stint by a team from Cook's Harbour.

Mr. Noel originally played for the Saints for his first year but moved to the other side of the harbour and joined the Aces, although he admitted that his first team was probably the most dominant early on.

"The Saints were probably the better team for a number of years."

Bill Simms, one of the Saints' better players, reigned in the early days of the league.

Mr. Simms was the centerpiece to the "Kissing Cousin" lineup that consisted of himself and his two brothers.

"They were a force to be reckoned with. They scored a lot of goals," said Mr. Noel.

Aside from playing on the first hockey teams of Olympia, Mr. Noel also played an instrumental role in the early 1970s when the future of the arena was in question.

The Athletic Club was managing the stadium operations at the time and they had run into debt, forcing the group to discontinue their management operations.

Mr. Noel, along with other hockey players in the area, advocated for the town to take over the management of the facility.

The town followed their advice and he was elected to town council, subsequently sitting as the chair of the recreation committee for six years.

 "That was an interesting period because we had to start from scratch. At that time the stadium floor was not in good condition and we had to seek funds to make repairs there.

Perhaps more importantly, he said, in the years from 1973 until 1979 there was a rebuilding session and the town got its very fist swimming pool.

The mobile swimming pool was purchased for one dollar from the city of Corner Brook, although they had to spend around $800 for a new liner.

The pool was set up on the stadium floor for two summers in the 1970s.

"You can imagine how cold that was in the stadium," chuckled Mr. Noel.

"But there was a lot of interest and enough interest that we decided that we needed to have a new swimming pool. "

A Local Initiative Program was established and locals headed into the woods to cut logs for materials.

They were also able to secure some materials from the nearby military base that had recently closed.

A new swimming pool was built as an addition to the stadium and it has remained in operation since.

"In the early days it was just sprayed with a hose and in between periods it was done with an oil drum that you would tow around." Wayne Noel

Mr. Reardon has also been part of many of Olympia's historical events.

The biggest event at Olympia that Mr. Reardon can remember in his time was when Rex Goudie, a runner up in Canadian Idol, played to a sold out crowd after he finished his time on the TV show.

Mr. Reardon has also played on three provincial ice hockey championship teams and provincial broomball championship teams in both junior and senior divisions.

He said one of his greatest memories is when he played in a provincial championship hockey game in the Atom division against Saint Pierre and Miquelon at Olympia when he was younger.

"I'd say there were 600 people there for sure. We were eight or nine (years old) and the place was packed.

"We ended up winning it and everyone just went wild. That was the first championship that I won."

He said he is somewhat sad to see the stadium's days come to an end but at the same time excited to get into the new Polar Centre up the road.

Almost everything will be considered an upgrade in the new arena.

"The equipment in the new building is state of the art."

It generally takes around five to six minutes for the lights to turn on at Olympia, whereas in the new arena they will turn on and off almost automatically.

As well, the public announcement system at the Polar Centre will be wireless, as oppose to the system at Olympia that consists of wiring strung throughout the building.

The scoreboard and time clock are the only two pieces of equipment that will be moved to the new digs, although one of the rink's most prized possessions will also be brought along.

Mr. Reardon said the ice at Olympia is one of the best sheets on the island because it has a harder surface than other rinks, with cold air coming in due to the low amount of insulation.

Some of that hard ice will be packed into a jar during the closing ceremonies and transported to the Polar Centre to be poured out onto the new ice when it's ready.

In the new rink, operators will be able to control the ice temperature to whatever conditions they want.

The ice hasn't always been so easily maintained.

"In the early days it was just sprayed with a hose and in between periods it was done with an oil drum that you would tow around," said Mr. Noel.

"That was only in the very infancy though; we've had a zamboni for a long time."

Other than the ice, Mr. Noel said there haven't been any major changes to the stadium since it opened.

"I think it's almost identical.

"There have been some minor alterations to the dressing rooms and there's a common room built upstairs that has changed over the years and renovated but the stadium is pretty much the way it was when it was built."

For groups looking to get in one last memory on the ice, rentals are available first-come first-served from April 12 to April 16 at a cost of $35 per hour.

For the closing ceremonies, a family skate will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on April 15 with an adult skate that evening from 7 to 9 p.m.

The next day, on April 16, the very last public skate in the arena will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and include finger foods and hotdogs.

Although Mr. Noel also said he will be sad to see the end of Olympia's era, he is also anxious to get into the new rink.

"There's a lot of nostalgia about it but everyone, me included, is excited to see a new stadium," said Mr. Noel.

"We've often said amongst ourselves that we hope we're still well enough to play in a new stadium."

Mr. Noel still plays hockey in the commercial league and hopes to play on the new ice next year.

"But there are obviously a lot of good memories once it goes."

See next week's edition for Part 2.

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