One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Vic Johnston Community Centre - Preseason Home of the Mississauga Steelheads
September 11, 2016 - Streetsville, Ontario
Known by most as Streetsville Arena, Vic Johnston Community Centre sits on the banks of the Credit River in this residential part of Mississauga, and was home of the Streetsville Derbys Junior A team for many seasons until 2011. Now mainly used as a community arena, big time hockey returned in the form of a preseason OHL matchup pitting the Mississauga Steelheads against the Guelph Storm. This simple arena opened in 1961, and is named after Vic Johnston, a local resident who was instrumental in getting the arena constructed for locals to enjoy. The arena sits in a park-like setting with playgrounds nearby, and has a rounded arching roof. The side of the arena near the street is somewhat squared off as there are locker rooms and a newer lobby and entrance area which was part of a 2008 renovation which ended up with this old school arena looking rather sharp from the exterior. On the tan brick walls is a modern looking raised letter sign designating the building as "Streetsville Arena" and listing the address. A modern awning covers the sidewalk approaching the main entrance, which sits at the corner of the building. When standing close to the building you may not take notice of the arching roof, but standing back a bit you realize that is the most prominent feature. The building looks a bit small from the outside, and is clearly not suited for the size crowds an OHL game attracts, but having an opportunity to see an older venue spring back to life and host a high level of hockey is always a treat. The Derbys were a well known team which competed since the 1960's and were a source of city pride, with their dog logo being well known in hockey circles. Mississauga is a crowded hockey market, and much of the demographic here does not pay attention to junior hockey, but folks, many of whom were Steelheads fans, seemed happy to see a game at this tiny little barn to get a taste of action in the preseason. Vic Johnston Community Centre is likely to remain a community facility, although it could easily accommodate a team at the Junior A level again.
Once inside the modern entrance there was a Steelheads ticket table set up for this preseason game, and tickets were a bargain at only $5. There is not a lot of space in this building, and aside from a small sitting area the lobby essentially features a few tables, a snack bar, a trophy case, and a couple benches that overlook the end of the rink. Interestingly, there are some photos on the lobby walls of the arena taken before the 2008 renovations, which show the building in a simpler state without the addition of the lobby. There is also a display plaque commemorating Vic Johnston and the role he played in getting the arena approved, funded, and built. The arena itself can be accessed via a pair of doors, one leading to the seating on each side of the ice. This is a simple place, with 3 rows of seats on each side of the ice. The seats on the side with the benches are red plastic chairs and there is a press box above the narrow walkway which runs above the seating and also serves as a standing area. There is no seating behind the benches as the benches themselves are notched into the seating area. On the other side of the rink is a similar setup, with 3 rows of blue plastic seats. The renovations included a 200 foot long photo mural behind the seats on this side of the arena, which paints the picture of the history of Streetsville, including photos of the Derbys in their heyday, photos of NHLers who have hailed from this town, and scenes of general life in the town including parades and prominent local figures. The mural is rather kitschy, but is interesting to look at and adds a nice local flavor to the arena. The most noticeable feature of this old school barn is the low ceiling beams and the glorious wooden ceiling and rafters. A single scoreboard sits on the end wall above the goal opposite the lobby end of the building. There is protective netting covering the entire seating area, and seats are very close to the ice. While standing above the third row of seats you get the impression that you could almost touch the players on the ice. With such low-rise seating sight lines are not that great, but this is a place to soak in the nostalgia of a hockey experience that is much unchanged since the 1960's.
The gameday experience and presentation for this Steelheads exhibition game was professional yet laid back. The Steelheads presence was made known in the arena from the simple ticket table just inside the main entry door, to the merchandise table in the lobby, to the mascot on hand to greet young fans. A decent, although not full, crowd was on hand for this Sunday afternoon contest, and fans were there to have fun. It is always fun to enjoy a level of hockey in a place that is does not belong, and you got the feeling that the OHL level of play is not something you see in a building like this, so that added to the intrigue of the game. The presentation was kept simple, with no activities during intermission. Most folks headed to the lobby to warm up as the ice was resurfaced. Music was played during stoppages, and announcements were made over a muffled PA system. To access the ice from the dressing room players cross directy through the spectator area. It was an interesting mix of fans on hand for the game, with quite a few folks wearing their Steelheads gear. At the same time we overheard a couple conversation in the lobby where attendees asked where the Steelheads normally play, so this was a good way to get the team exposure to fans who may not be aware of the team. Make no mistake about it, Vic Johnston Community Centre is little more than a building with cinder block walls and an arching roof that hasn't been state of the art for 5 decades. It is a place filled with character and history, much of which is preserved on site via the giant mural and other displays in the lobby. The game itself was an entertaining one, with the Steelheads racking up over 50 shots on their way to a 5-4 win over Guelph. It was neat seeing the scouts and coaches from other OHL teams all crowded onto a corner stairway overlooking the ice to get a look at the action. This game was an opportunity for the modern, big time world of the OHL to connect with the roots of hockey in Ontario, and the local communities which many of the league's players call home. For $5 having the opportunity to see a game like this in a building that is off the radar a bit is a great experience. When Vic Johnston envisioned the need for an arena in Streetsville in the early 1960's he likely pictured a place for local minor hockey players to enjoy. After that, as the home of the Junior A Derbys the place had a bit more prominence, and this game was an opportunity to experience a bit of that flavor again.
A box score of the game can be found Here Other information about the Mississauga Steelheads can be found at: Steelheads Home Other information about Vic Johnston Community Centre can be found at: Arena Home More photos of Vic Johnston Community Centre can be foundHere
A hockey fan's guide to college, pro, and junior hockey arena reviews. All photos and text copyright Andy Ritter 2007-2017