October 11, 2015 - Chatham, Ontario
The term "barn" is thrown around with regularity when referring to a hockey team's home. This phrase often has little to do with the construction of the building and is almost interchangeable with the word "arena" in many circles. When it comes to a true hockey barn, Chatham Memorial Arena is the quintessential example of what the term can truly mean. Having opened in 1949 this classic arena has the look and shape of a barn, similar to what you would see on a farm in the nearby Southwestern Ontario countryside. The cinder block building features weathered dark green and tan metal siding and a shingled roof. The shape of the building is completely that of a barn, and with only a tiny sign near the main entrance passersby would hardly know that hockey has been a mainstay in this building for over half a century. The arena sits in a park-like setting on land that was once owned by the Canadian Military. There is a small parking lot adjacent, and Sunday night is known as hockey night in Chatham as the Maroons host a GOJHL opponent almost every Sunday. The arena has seen its share of tenants, including the senior hockey version of the Maroons, and the Chatham Wheels of the old Colonial Hockey League. The arena has seen plenty of use over the years, and remains largely unchanged since its opening. Chatham had a strong campaign recently to see the arena receive a grant under the Kraft Hockeyville program, but lost out to other finalists. Even checking out the arena from the parking lot you get the sense that you have stepped back in time. They just don't build places like this anymore, and you can feel the character that is contained within the green walls of the arena even from the street in front of the building.
Once inside the small entry door on the corner of the building you immediately notice the signage and banners for the Maroons which adorn the walls and hallways. A ticket for this matchup against the St. Mary's Lincolns cost $9 and was purchased from the small box office window just inside the main entry. Once past the box office you find yourself on the lower concourse of the arena, which runs underneath the grandstand in a U-shape. There are trophy cases on the concourse paying tribute to past team success, and former Chatham residents, including NHLer Dave Gagner. The concourse features a concrete floor and cinder block walls, with steel support beams jutting up from the floor. An old fashioned food concession stand sits at the end of the concourse, and the menu board features block letters that have likely been on the menu signs since the 1950's. Once inside the arena bowl you find a throwback setup which features 7 rows of white wooden benches on concrete risers. The ceiling keeps the barn slope and shape and has large metal girders which are exposed. The ceiling itself is made of wooden planks, but much of it is obscured by insulation panels. Despite the arena's small size, with a capacity of 2412 seated plus standees which would allow for around 3100 fans total, the arena feels big. Above the seating area is an upper concourse aisle, which runs all the way around the rink. This aisle is rather narrow, but also has trophy cases and memorabilia displays further paying tribute to past teams in Chatham. Banners hang from the ceiling including the 1950 Turner Cup banner, which was claimed by the original Maroons team. An older, but functional, scoreclock sits above center ice, and a pair of pressboxes hang from the rafters, one on each side. Unfortunately, as is all too common in Ontario, there is protective netting covering the entire seating area. In addition to all of the other banners and trophy cases the end wall of the upper concourse features the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame, with displays honoring local sports stars. There is a simple merchandise booth on one corner of the upper concourse, and for this game it was only open during the first intermission, and was then closed again. Although the netting does detract from the view, all of the seating is very close to the ice, making for a fun atmosphere, and an intimidating setting for the Maroons opponents. Fans seem to fill in the end seats behind the visitors goal first, possible to heckle the goalie, and possibly because that section is closest to the concession stand and entrance. Chatham Memorial Arena exudes history and character, and is a place that you can really feel the sense of tradition at without anything even going on on the ice. As soon as warmups started and you experience the players getting ready for the game you immediately get excited about being in such a pure hockey environment.
The gameday presentation at Chatham Memorial Arena for a Maroons game is traditional yet with enough entertainment added to allow even casual fans to enjoy the game. This Sunday evening before Thanksgiving matchup saw the stands about half full. The PA is loud and clear for the fans to hear, and the goal horn, which blew 7 times as the Maroons routed the Lincolns 7-0 was also very loud. The fans are very enthusiastic, and many come to the games wearing their Maroons jersey or gear. The crowd gets behind their team, and are very loud at times, making for a raucous atmosphere in a rather rustic environment. The place is well kept, and you can tell the pride that the city takes in not only the arena but the team as well. There are fan giveaways and contests, including a fan shootout contest at intermission, but the focus is on the game, and the knowledgeable fan base certainly has an appreciation for not only the current team on the ice, but the history that the building holds. Being an older facility the arena is not without its quirks, as one noticeable feature of Chatham Memorial Arena is the placement of the team benches. The benches are on the same side, but are spread out so that they are not really in the neutral zone at all. This certainly makes the long change in the second period a very challenging problem to face here. Although the arena was not packed there were enough fans in the building, with the announced crowd of just over 800, to provide some energy and a loud setting for the game to take place in. The game itself was a blowout for the Maroons, but a couple of toe-t- toe scraps kept the fans entertained until the end. In today's day and age of cookie cutter arenas, modern amenities, and uniform game presentations the fact that a place like Chatham Memorial Arena is still around to experience is very refreshing. This is how hockey is meant to be, and aside from the netting in front of the seats, the building, and the hockey viewing experience contained within, are just as they would have been in the 1950's or 1970's. With the added factor of the shape and look of the exterior of the building, combined with the old-school layout inside the Chatham Memorial Arena is about as "barn as a hockey barn could get". That is certainly a good thing. We don't know how soon a new arena will be built in the Chatham-Kent area as talks of an OHL ready venue have been ongoing, but we do hope that this old, proud arena will continue to get lots of use, and that fans can enjoy this classic barn for years to come.
A box score of the game can be found Here
Other information about the Chatham Maroons can be found at: Maroons Home
Other information about Chatham Memorial Arena can be found at: Arena Info Page
More photos of Chatham Memorial Arena can be found Here