One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Highbury Canco Arena - Home of the Leamington Flyers
March 28, 2019 - Leamington, Ontario
Leamington is known as one of the agricultural centers of Ontario, as it's surrounding region occupies the southernmost point in Canada. In addition to growing tomatoes and other food products the new cannabis and hemp industry has taken hold here, with large farms and greenhouses dedicated to the growing of these products. The town is also home of a large cannery for tomato sauce and tomato juice, and fans making their way to the arena, which sits near the center of town, catch the smell of tomato juice in the air. Leamington Kinsmen Recreation Complex opened for the community in 1985 as a pool and fitness complex, but a pair of ice pads, including the larger arena now known as Highbury Canco Arena, were added to the complex in 2000, and have been home of the GOJHL's Leamington Flyers ever since. The sprawling complex has a bit of a warehouse look top it, and a digital marquee sign sits near the road announcing upcoming games and events. As this was playoff time there was a bit of a buzz in the town about this playoff series against the London Nationals. The building's exterior features a square shape and flat roof with gray metal siding and gray and tan blocks around the base and trim. A large parking lot sits at the rear of the building, and most folks access the arena through what is the main entrance on that side of the complex, which has a modern looking blue metal awning and a small glass facade. As the complex serves as both a hockey facility and a recreational facility and community centre,, it is a busy place with lots of activity and is utilized heavily by members of the community. Located not far from the north shore of Lake Erie, and only a few miles east of Windsor, Leamington is a bustling blue collar town which loves its hockey, and supports the Flyers well, as they are often near the top of the GOJHL attendance charts. Although the Flyers have not claimed an overall championship they have achieved several divisional titles and have made the Sutherland Cup Tournament on a couple of occasions.
Fans entering Leamington Kinsmen Recreation Complex on game night will enter through the main entrance and see a large and impressive Wall of Fame, which is a satellite location for the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame which also has a location in Windsor. Paintings and pictures of the inductees go from the bottom of the wall above a set of windows that overlook the smaller community rink to the ceiling, which is high and expansive, and honor local heroes in all sports, including Stanley Cup winning coach and former NHL'er Joel Quenneville. The entrance to Highbury Canco Arena is up a set of stairs, where a ticket table for Flyers games is set up on the landing on the second level outside the arena doors. Tickets for this playoff game were $13. The entrance opens up to the corner of the upper concourse, and you find a large looking arena with maroon plastic seats circling the entire ice surface, which is noticeably wide and is indeed an Olympic-sized ice sheet, something we are not a fan of. The concourse is open and runs above the seating bowl, which contains 2500 seats as well as standing at the rail all the way round the ice. The seats are steeply pitched and sight lines are good here, and the place has more of a feel of a minor league arena than one in the GOJHL. The ceiling is relatively high and flat and has open metal rafters as well as a simple, older style scoreclock hanging above center ice. The Dominos Pizza logo is displayed in several places on the walls, and the block walls are painted a mint green, which seems like an odd combination with the maroon seats, and makes the place look older than the less than 2 decades it has been open. The concourse walls are sparsely decorated and rather plain looking. A Flyers merchandise stand is located on the concourse just inside the main entry doors and is well stocked, and a snack bar with table seating known as the Kinsmen Kanteen is located just off the main concourse as well. Highbury Canco Arena has an open look to it and, with seats circling the ice, has the look and feel of a big time arena. The Leamington Flyers are well supported by the community and this arena is a welcoming home, and the Olympic ice pad gives them a bit of a home ice advantage as well.
The game day presentation at Highbury Canco Arena for a Leamington Flyers game is focused on the game itself, and is one that is not dissimilar from other Ontario junior hockey venues. The on ice action is the focus, but there are interactive moments with fans including the chuck-a-puck contest at intermission. The ice features a large number of company logos and ads, but the announcements and advertisements on the PA are kept to a minimum. Good sight lines add to the enjoyment level of watching a game here, and a crowd of over 1000 fan were on hand, including quite a few travelers who were on hand from London to support the Nationals. This arena is larger than most of the GOJHL barns, but the crowd filled in the seating nicely. Flyers fans are into their team, and lots of team gear could be seen in the crowd, and air horns were plentiful and often used here. The goal horn is also very loud, although the home fans only got to hear it once as London took a 4-1 win. The game was entertaining however and the level of intensity was high as the playoffs always step up the urgency for both teams. The arena, although a bit bland looking and architecturally unappealing, really feels like home for the Flyers, and the venue's Wall of Fame adds a lot of character and history to the building. The Flyers have given the city of Leamington a team to cheer for and a place to take their minds off of the daily grind of commercial farming and food processing jobs, and with a decent level of on ice success each season, and a strong fan following, attending a Leamington Flyers game at Highbury Canco Arena often feels like an event rather than just a simple game.