DO YOU REMEMBER – 23

(Below is an article written by Joe O’Connor in The Post which is informative but I never ever heard of the forum being referred to as an arena. As youngsters we knew it was coming and would soon be the home of the Northside Victorias. The Forum was not yet ready and the Vics were practicing out on Pottles Lake. As kids we hitched a ride out there and watched them practise. They were hockey players and acted like hockey players hacking and spitting at every turn. To this day when I watch them in Hockey Night In Canada spitting on the ice I think of them on Pottles Lake where if I am correct North Sydney gets their drinking water. This rink has a great history. We played there, we coached there and we watched Barbara Ann Scott there. When the Junior Canadiens played an exhibition game there we saw many stars of the future like Henri Richard, Jacques Lemaire, Claude Provost, Bob Gainey and many others. I was put up on someone’s shoulders to peer into the dressing room where Barbara Ann was putting on her costume. I didnt see much she was built like a little boy. We watched some idiots climb up the rafters and watched and applauded when overweight North Sydney cops were too fat or too scared to go up after them. That was a lark. There used to be a “Bull Pen” at one end (visitors) where you got in for twenty-five cents. This allowed us to ‘fire’ pennies and other debris down on the likes of Nick Pedzodney or Jackie Gibson the Millionaires goalies and Legs Fraser the goalie for the Glace Bay Miners. The memories are great. CAPER)

Northside Vics – Go Ahead Name Them 

 

Forum’s final days: North Sydney arena closing after 64 years

 

Joe O’Connor  February 18, 2011 – 6:01 am

Hey do you remember the North Sydney Forum? The smell of the place sticks to you, it lingers, gets right inside your bones, like an old friend or a cherished memory might. People go away for 20 years, but when they come back and walk through the “In” door at the North Sydney Community Forum in Cape Breton they say the same thing: it smells like home.  Like the old hockey barn where their old man taught them how to skate; where they scored their first goal, stole their first kiss at a dance, played bingo with their great aunt or sang along to Johnny Cash.  It is the smell that sticks, that conjures all the old ghosts, and it’s what Richard Matthews is going to carry with him when he turns out the Forum lights for the last time in a few weeks.

Ready for the Wrasslers

“You come in those doors and she just has that smell to her,” says the man who has spent over half his 63 years looking after the arena. “She just smells like the old rink — the wood and the cold and the dampness — and that’s what I am going to miss about her most.” Mr. Matthews loves her. It is what she is — a “her” — not an “it,” but the hub and the heartbeat of a hardworking community for 64 years. The Forum already had a past when she opened for business in North Sydney in 1947.

Ice Surface

Originally built as an aircraft hangar at the Cornwallis Naval Base, the Second World War veteran was broken into pieces and hauled by freight train to Cape Breton to be reassembled and reborn as a hockey rink.  The first game featured the North Sydney Victorias and the Glace Bay Miners. Gordie Drillon, the old Toronto Maple Leafs great, was the player-coach. Close to 3,000 fans turned out to watch the local boys trounce their rivals. It is the Forum that is beaten now, battered and bruised by the passage of time, and nearing its end. The Northside Civic Centre is North Sydney’s sparkling new rink. It cost $11-million to build. It opens mid-March.

Another Fight Night

(I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Gordie Drillon a few times. I watched him play and coach the Vics. I then played softball against him (he was a good softball pitcher) when stationed at HMCS Coverdale in Moncton, NB. When I was General Manager of Jeux Games in Saint John, NB one of the directors knew him and came to me one day and said he wanted to meet me. I had been the Technical Director for Hockey Coaching in Ontario so he wanted to talk hockey. I remember him saying at the time,  [this was at the height of Gretzky’s career] that Gretzky was great and would have been great in his era but would never have been allowed to go behind the net and develop plays. Gordie said we had guys like Bill “Wild Bill” Ezinicki and others who would have gone in and got him and made him pay. CAPER)

“It is going to break my heart when the Forum closes,” says Sharon Matthews, Richard’s wife of 45 years. “My kids were practically born in the place.” The Forum was the family enterprise. Richard did everything; sharpened skates, swept the stands, cleaned the dressing rooms, booked ice time, answered the phone, faxed the contracts and drove the Zamboni. And Sharon did everything else. Running the canteen (hot chocolate for $1.25), selling tickets at the door and pouring beers on those hot summer nights when the arena hosted dances. “I even drove the Zamboni twice,” she says. “But not in front of any spectators. You work in a place long enough you want to try everything.”

Location of the Bull Pen

She is 63 now, but she remembers being 10 and getting her picture taken with her hero, Whipper Billy Watson, the wrestling legend. Wrestling used to be a big draw. Legends, like Randy [Macho Man] Savage, got their start soaring off the turnbuckles in a former airplane hangar. Charley Pride, the country giant, packed the joint for two nights. Johnny Cash passed through town. And some say Jimi Hendrix did, too, before he made it big. It’s a good story, though Sharon Matthews isn’t so sure that it is true.

The new building boasts an NHL-size ice surface, six dressing rooms, heated stands, an elevated walking track, an electric Zamboni and a skateboard park out front. It has everything. And it smells brand new. Richard Matthews is moving to the Northside Civic Centre for the grand opening.

I can still see the players getting off the bus with their wide brimmed hats, galoshes and long overcoats  – Gone but not Forgotten

“I am never going to forget the old place — no matter what happens up at the new one,” Mr. Matthews says. “I am sad to leave it, but excited to go — because it is time to move on.

“And it is going to be nice not to have to dress like an Eskimo every day. You come into work in this old place and you’re wearing 50 pounds of clothes.”

(Courtesy of National Post joconnor@nationalpost.com)

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One response to this post.

  1. Very interesting article and great pics
    Photos will be around long after the forum is gone
    I remember the competition between local schools culminating with sports night

    Eric

    Reply

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