For 56 years the Centennial Arena has been part of the fabric of Steinbach. Now, in just a few short weeks, it will be gone for good.
For many residents of Steinbach and the surrounding area, the old barn is chalked full of memories. For some, those memories are life-defining.
Lorie Lenchyshyn says she grew up at the Centennial Arena, noting “By the time I was a toddler, this was where I would come and back then the boys played hockey and the little sisters watched in the foyer.”
To take things one step further, at around age 15 Lenchyshyn says “Steinbach hosted lots of the regional hockey teams. I am good friends with the hockey players, and I remember a friend of mine saying 'hey, you have to come meet this guy, he is from Niverville, but he is playing in Steinbach.' So, the Centennial Arena is where I met my husband.”
Let’s go back to the beginning.
Bob Smith is the son of T.G. Smith who was instrumental in getting the Centennial Arena built and a community builder himself. He says from the moment that his dad moved to Steinbach in the late 1940’s he pushed Steinbach to do what other small communities in the area were doing, building covered rinks.
“He was asked to serve on the Chamber of Commerce, and he said, ‘well okay, but gentlemen, you understand that if I am going to serve on the Chamber of Commerce, I will be a one-issue politician.”
Finally, decades later, T.G. Smith and a group of passionate businesspeople, advocates, and residents got their wish when a public referendum passed, allowing the Centennial Arena to be built. One year later, in 1967, the arena was opened.
Smith notes “It was state of the art, the newest arena in rural Manitoba so it was pretty good.”
Following the opening ceremony, Steinbach’s Eastend Eagles played the La Broquerie Habs. Herb Martel played for Steinbach that day.
“I can't remember scoring any goals, but apparently, I did score the first goal in this rink. The ice was natural ice, there were big crowds, always big crowds. People hanging from the rafters, I couldn't believe it. People didn't have anything else to do so they came to watch us play hockey.”
Steinbach City Councillor Jac Siemens notes there were 2,000 people in the building that night.
“I was 11 years old, I stood right here in the corner behind the wire mesh.” He notes “I remember standing here with my face against the mesh and during warmups these big hockey players come flying by in the wind, the smell of the ice, the whole thing was exhilarating.”
In those early days, Bob Smith played senior hockey and says the dressing rooms were underneath the bleachers.
“We would be under the stands, and we would be listening to all of this, and we would come out here and it was pretty close to the NHL, for me, that was pretty close to the NHL.”
Russ Dyck is the Head of Steinbach Parks and Recreation. He notes there were plenty of important hockey games played in the Centennial Arena. He singles out the Allen Cup run that the Huskies had in the late 1970s, the Steinbach Pistons championship runs, and plenty of amazing minor hockey games.
Jac Siemens notes one game, in particular, stands out in his mind.
“The 1977 bronze-winning team from the Olympics, the German national team played hockey against the local MEHL All-Stars. That game here in 1977 was a highlight.”
The Centennial rink has also hosted more than just hockey. Siemens says “We hosted the Shrine Circus here for a number of years. We would put in a floor, the Knights of Columbus would come in and put in a track and for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we would have an indoor track event and then we would have to have it ready for playoffs on Monday.”
Siemens adds it has been used for car shows, figure skating and speed skating events and, of course, countless ringette games have also been played in the arena.
Plenty of memories have also been made in the lobby, by the canteen, and in the stands.
Having grown up at the rink, fittingly, Lorie Lenchyshyn went on to be a passionate ‘hockey mom’ and spent a number of years as the President of Steinbach Minor Hockey. She notes the friendships and connections she made spending countless hours at the Centennial Arena with fellow parents will last a lifetime.
Lenchyshyn says there are too many memories to recount, but one particular provincial tournament comes to mind. She notes the Steinbach Bantam AA team had a terrible year only tying one game all year long and that year they were hosting the provincials.
“This little team who didn't do so good, came into the provincials and we didn't lose a game. Just remembering all this energy, these parents were tired because this was such a hard year.” She adds “It was this year of unbelievable ups and downs and it ended with this amazing time at the Centennial Arena with our little hockey players skating with the cup.”
Russ Dyck says they have done their best to keep the facility in good condition with countless upgrades, renovations, and fixes over the years, but it is getting harder and harder.
“Our brine lines in the floor are well past their prime, we have been dealing with leaks over the last number of years. Fortunately, it hasn't cost us a loss of ice, but it is a challenge of the pipes being old and brittle.”
He adds “There are mixed feelings because there is a lot of history here and people have made memories here but having said that, it is pushing 60 years now and we do need to look into the future in terms of our growing community and what we would like to host as events and there will be new memories made in the new building so it won’t be like this is the end of it.”
How do you remember a place like the Centennial Arena going forward?
Jac Siemens says “It will be in a book somewhere, there will be a picture and even now today there are things in Steinbach that are only a picture, right?”
Bob Smith’s dad was integral in getting the arena built, but Smith says we are ready for the next chapter.
“It was, finally, after the third vote, the time to do this the centennial year way back when. Now, we are in overtime in terms of an event centre. We are a community, and we need to have good places for people to come and visit, and hang out.”
The demolition process has begun, and crews are just now wrapping up efforts to salvage what they can, asbestos remediation will be next, and then, after 56 amazing years, the Centennial Arena will be torn down.