March, 20, 2015 - Trenton, Ontario
The landscape in Ontario is dotted with amazing little hockey arenas that are full of character and charm, yet often go overlooked by those who may not be familiar with that particular area. One such gem of an arena is Duncan McDonald Memorial Community Gardens in Trenton. This arena which opened in 1957 sits on the banks of the Trent River and is under the flight path for the nearby Canadian Forces Air Base, hence the Golden Hawks name in reference to the military acrobatic flying team that was housed nearby around the time that the arena opened. The arena sits in a park-like area near the river and has a few adjacent parking lots nearby. This gray cinder block and blue metal building has an old school look to it, but the most prominent, and eye-catching feature of the property is the full sized, vintage military jet that sits perched out in front of the arena entrance. Despite it being late March and time for OJHL playoff action the Trent River was still frozen and fans bundled up as they approached the arena. Having undergone renovations in 2004, Duncan McDonald Memorial Community Gardens has a simple, yet modern entry lobby. A raised letter sign sits on the outside of the blue metal siding indicating the name of the building, and you know they had to use a lot of letters to spell out the rather wordy, yet very fitting, name of the arena. When you go around to the back of the arena you can get more of a sense that this is a 1950's building, as the arching roof and simple design is more evident there, and that part of the arena still has old signage and worn tan metal siding. This is the type of hockey barn you picture when you think of small town junior hockey, and the supportive fans help to build upon that image to complete the picture. There were quite a few folks onsite before the gates opened for this playoff matchup against nearby rival Cobourg. Tickets for this game were $13, and are sold from a makeshift kiosk in the lobby entrance. The complex also features a second ice pad, but all of the activity and the large crowd on this Friday evening were there for the Golden Hawks game. Even without a jet placed in front of the arena this place has a lot of appeal and a true hockey vibe to it. Add in the cool and unique aspect of the jet itself and you have an iconic place to watch a game. The jet is a true symbol of the city too, as while we took photos outside the arena we saw several planes fly overhead taking off and landing at the nearby base. We honestly had not paid much attention to Duncan McDonald Memorial Community Gardens until its location fit into travels plans to head further north in Ontario the next day, but like many arenas across Canada, it has been a gathering place for local hockey fans for decades.
Once inside the main entrance you find yourself in the lobby of the arena, which is complete with a simple food concession stand, as well as a merchandise table selling Golden Hawks gear. There are old photos of prior Trenton hockey greats and players who have gone on to play in the NHL dotting the walls, and there are windows overlooking the arena itself. It's a simple setup and nothing fancy, but the lobby serves its purpose for fans. The arena itself has the seating laid out in a horseshoe with 5 rows of plastic seats circling the the entire ice surface except on the end where the lobby is. The seats on the sides are red and blue, whereas the seats on the end of the arena are gray. Wooden roof trusses hang over the ice, and the wooden ceiling is largely covered by insulation panels but can be seen from the upper concourse on the far end of the ice. Seats are accessed via a very narrow upper concourse aisle, which also has a standing rail for fans to watch the game. With fans standing here the aisle is really not wide enough for 2 people to pass each other. Cinder block walls make up the inside of the arena, with the end wall eave being made of wood planks. Just about everything about Duncan McDonald Memorial Community Gardens screams "old school hockey", and the simple layout also features some quirks, including glass on the end of the ice which is lower than the glass on the sides and in the neutral zone. With the rafters being low, and the seating capacity being rather small (listed at 948, but that must be just seats as over 1,100 were jammed into the building with the announced attendance for this game), the place just feels small, and likely intimidating to opposing teams. A simple scoreclock sits on the end wall above each net, and, as is true in much of Ontario, the dreaded netting covers the entire spectator seating area. We are guessing that the plastic seats were added in the 2004 renovation as the arena just has the feel of a place that would have wooden seats. Nonetheless, the arena has a classic feel to it, and, although hardly fancy or state of the art, this is the kind of place that you want to be when watching playoff hockey in late March with a lot on the line for each team.
We can't say what the gameday atmosphere and presentation are like at a regular season Trenton Golden Hawks game. We were lucky enough to attend a playoff game against a Cobourg Cougars team from a half down down the 401 Highway. We do know that there was certainly a buzz in the arena from the time the doors opened until the final buzzer. The site lines are not the best here with the seats only extending up to a height even or just above the glass, and trying to get around the narrow concourse at intermission was certainly a challenge. Also with the standing room along the concourse packed folks were trying to get a good vantage point to watch the game wherever they could, including from the community meeting room and beer garden which overlooks the ice from above the lobby. We are never a fan of having netting in front of the seats, but that is so common anymore that it hardly detracts much from the overall experience. Despite these shortcomings, Duncan McDonald Memorial Community Gardens has a ton going for it when it comes to the fan's enjoyment. The fans themselves are supportive, with folks having signs made up and wearing their Hawks gear. There were quite a few noisemakers and air horns in the building, and the excitement in the crowd began as soon as the players took to the ice for warmups, with one fan sporting a hockey helmet and banging a drum ( a loud drum) to get the fans pumped up to support their team. Adding to the fun was the fact that with the visiting team from a short distance away quite a few Cobourg fans were in the building as well. The game presentation was professional, with decent player introductions, and contests at intermission including a chuck-a-puck for kids and a fan shootout on the ice. The PA system is muffled and hard to hear, and honestly the building is not the most comfortable place to watch a game, but the character of the building and the atmosphere of the fans make those minor inconveniences disappear. This is a great place to watch hockey, and although the Trenton fans went away unhappy with a 4-2 loss, they would agree that they have a special place in their hometown that they can enjoy the game, a place with a Golden Hawks jet out in front of the arena, and planes flying overhead, as well as a hardworking team of Golden Hawks players who take the ice inside their classic arena.
A box score of the game can be found Here
Other information about the Trenton Golden Hawks can be found at: Golden Hawks Home
Other information about Duncan McDonald Memorial Gardens can be found at: Arena Info Page
More photos of Duncan McDonald Memorial Community Gardens can be found Here