THE FORUM - PART 2
Don’t it always seem to go
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
-Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi)
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing
The Charlottetown Forum opened on December 9, 1930 and closed nearly 60 years later the spring of 1990 giving way to the brand new Civic Centre. The Forum stood at 229 Fitzroy Street for six decades and became a landmark.
The first manager of the Forum, W. G. Gillespie wrote in the arena’s first official program “In the Forum we hope to create a Centre that will not only cater to sports of one kind or another but will prove to be a real asset in many other ways to our beloved City.”
It certainly was for those 60 years. A home for hockey, boxing, figure skating, wrestling, curling, political rallies and concerts.
The arrival of the Canada Games in 1991 and a new arena meant progress and the Forum was replaced.
But the memories will never be replaced for those who played there or spent many cold winter nights in the old building which had a certain charm the new arena lacked.
For one, the sight lines were better and fans were a lot closer to the action. The game was played out right before you…..you could literally the touch the players as they skated by the boards.
The Forum was used as storage space for the City or Charlottetown after it closed but eventually the building had to be demolished. The cost was estimated at $1 million to renovate the old rink. It was too much. Councillor Mitch Tweel led the charge to safe the Forum but it came down in 2001….. 70 years after it opened.
For a city that cherishes its past as the Birthplace of the Nation you would have thought someone would have stepped forward to save the old barn but no one did. No heritage group came forward. In the end the Forum was bulldozed down and the rumble taken away leaving behind an empty lot that became a parking lot.
Not even a plaque to commemorate the old building.
One Feburary 6, 1990, 100 Years of Hockey on PEI was celebrated with a special night at the Forum. The first organized game was played 100 years before in Charlottetown. One of PEI’s pro greats, 80 year old Johnny Squarebriggs and six year old Patrick Rossiter dropped the ceremonial puck at centre ice at the Forum to mark the centennial representing the old and the new.
Several dignitaries were on hand including Mayor Jack Ready who had starred with Charlottetown in the old Big Four in the 50’s playing at the Forum.
The Forum had a tremendous history.
The Royals junior team that had a line-up that included Island greats like Buck Whitlock and Bucko Trainor, won the Maritime title in 1939 and got to the Memorial Cup playoffs before losing to Perth, Ontario.
St. Dunstan’s won the 1947 Maritime Intercollegiate championship.
The 50’s saw the Big Four and Big Six pro leagues with the Charlottetown Islanders the prime tenant in the Forum. The era’s greatest star was the legendary Buck Whitlock.
Sandy’s Royals won three Maritime Intermediate crowns in the 60’s.
Saint Dunstan’s returned as Maritime university champs in 1964.
The legendary Junior Islanders took a run at the Memorial Cup and the first Centennial Cup in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
The Intermediate Islanders won Hardy Cup national championships in 1981 and 1984. They hosted the Hardy Cup and won in 1984 at home to Moose Jaw.
The UPEI Panthers won three AUAA titles in 1985, 1987 and 1988 playing in the Forum.
The first on-ice brawl between a Canadian and Russian team occurred as the Canadian University all-stars played Russia at the Forum in 1984.
The old rink was also home to boxing and wrestling championships, political rallies that featured several Canadian Prime Ministers, plus many concerts and even a huge dance floor. It hosted figure skating competitions, religious rallies, and trade shows.
The 1964 MacDonald Brier and the 1984 Scott Tournament of Hearts were held at the Forum in curling.
Minor hockey in the city got its start at the Forum in the late 40’s. Charlottetown Minor Hockey began in 1964 and produced many future pros like Bobby MacMillan and Bobby Stewart.
The original cost of building the Forum was $100,000 back in 1930. That would be equivalent to $1.4 million today in Canadian money.
It was sold to Captain Carl F. Burke and Fred T. Briggs of Toronto in 1955. There was rumour of a new Forum being built in 1965 but those plans didn’t work out.
The new Civic Centre (now the Eastlink Centre) got its start in the late 80’s located at the Exhibition grounds on Kensington Road.
In the end, the Charlottetown Forum was given one last stand in 2001 as a ceremony was held at the site of the rink as it was being demolished. But rather than a funeral for the old building it was a celebration of life of what was a site which created so much entertainment and history.
A Night at The Forum
A night of hockey in Charlottetown was both for entertainment value and cheering on the locals as they battled on the ice. It was more than just a game. It was your civic duty to get behind your team. In the 1970’s Wes “Bucko” Trainor was the rink manager. He was later succeeded by Billy Mulligan. Both had played and coached in the old rink. Outside on the siding put up to cover the old brick façade were the letters in spelled out in metal that read “FORUM”. You knew where you were right away. Mrs. Helen MacKenzie sold tickets in a small booth as you entered through the outside doors. Mrs. MacKenzie sold ducats there for years and retired after the 1983-84 season. She was a happy lady who greeted you with a pleasant “Good evening or hello” before taking your money for a ticket. Helen’s son Merlin was a star amateur golfer and her grandson Tony MacKenzie starred with the Charlottetown juniors and later the London Knights of the OHL and Erie in the AHL.
At the next door into the arena Murray Carmichael (a junior star in the 1930’s who tried out in the pro ranks) took your ticket as you made your way into the south side of the building. Murray carried a cane with him and on a few occasions hooked a fan trying to sneak in with no ticket. On the inside of the in the “Officials Room” next to the lobby is a wall filled with old photographs. Murray Carmichael is shown as a member of the mid 30’s Junior Abbies that won a Maritime title.
The Forum was not heated which led to many cold nights in January and February. There was no liquor licence provided to the arena so quite a few would bring along a flask to keep warm (so they said). The seats were hard wooden benches that were numbered so you could find your place to sit. Steel girders reached to the ceiling. For a few it meant there was a post in your way as you watched the game. In the 70’s seating capacity was 2,600 but on more than one occasion it reached 3,000 plus especially in the playoffs. The rink manager was always aware of the fire marshal’s tight rules on going over capacity. The Zamboni room was located on the west side of the building. Louis Doyle headed the maintenance crew and drove the ice resurfacing machine. In the early days younger kids would come out and scrape the ice. The invention of the Zamboni changed that ritual. Louis Doyle was as much a hockey expert as anyone and quite a character. He took pride in keeping the ice in tip-top shape. There’s no doubt the ice surface was always trim and fast.
On the west side was Dressing Room 4 which was the most famous dressing room in the Forum. The Colonels/Generals/Eagles and Islanders all used that one. It wasn’t luxurious by any means – just benches that stretched down each side to the shower. A long metal hot water pipe ran down the ceiling in the middle of the room. A rubber carpet was found on the floor. Players hung their clothes up on a hook. Across the way in Dressing Room 5 a public washroom with urinals and stalls was located along with a couple of benches where the coaches met. The dressing rooms were warm and cozy but not like today’s standared in modern rinks. Many a pep talk was given by head coaches standing at the end on the rubber carpet. You could sometimes hear them yelling during intermissions.
The press box and Claude Vaive’s canteen were two other important parts of the Forum.
The Forum canteen had the usual snacks including soft drinks and chips and rink fries. Claude Vaive (Ricky’s dad) was the proprietor who served up the fast food each night. The canteen was located under the WELCOME FROM THE CITY OF CHARLOTTETOWN sign. Claude and wife Mary had three sons play in the building. Rick, Stevie, and Ron Vaive all skated with the Charlottetown Juniors. Mom and Dad Vaive also played a role in starting the Spud Minor Hockey Tournament in the mid-70’s which is still a premier event each year in late January and early February around Charlottetown.
Griff’s Diner was located just across the street and was always busy before and after games and during the intermissions. Fans also dropped by Hashem’s corner store which was just next door to the Forum.
The press box at the Forum was a literally a big box made out of timber located in the above centre ice. A drawbridge type of stairs got reporters up and down to the box which had wooden benches and not much space to move. The stairs had to be hauled up or down to gain access. The stairway would drop down toward an exit in the seats and fans had to watch out for it being dropped down. The press box was held up by large pieces of rebar that weir hoisted over the steel cross girders in the rafters (we often wondered what would happen if the rebar broke and gave way which would have tumbled the big box down into the stands – thankfully it was built to withstand 60 years of use). Some famous names broadast or covered games in the old press box including Danny Gallivan and Loman MacAulay. In the early 70’s an older fellow named Roy Steele acted as the custodian in the press box making sure everyone was seated and comfortable.
The Forum office was also used as the Hot Stove Lounge. Former player, coach, and scout Hawk Larter often held court between periods. He was usually joined by an assortment of local hockey experts and media members. We used the Forum phone to call back reports to the radio stations and newspapers.
There were lots of characters who became a part of the Forum. 50/50 ticket seller Bobby Johnson greeted you as soon as you walked in the door and got you to buy a ticket for about $2.00. Sometimes the jackpots were huge. Joe Gallant was the local superfan who’s deep booming voice could be heard all over the rink. He’d get on the visiting team and players throughout the night. Joe sometimes got out of hand and was escorted by a Charlottetown Police officer out of the rink. He’d resurface at another game, just days later. Joe even served as a trainer for the senior Islanders for a season.
Parking was a premium around the Forum. Many fans just walked in from town or parked at Holland College located block away. If you parked on the street outside you risked getting ticket or being towed on many nights.
Donnie “Funnel” MacLean was the P.A. announcer and official scorekeeper. He was always accompanied by his sidekick Cleaver who was the timekeeper. They sat in box on the west side located at centre ice. Often Funnel would be on the public address system announcing, “There is a grey Ford car located outside the building that must be moved right away or it will be towed.”
Funnel also got to announce game winning goals in numerous Blanchard Cup Jr. A final games and the Hardy Cup and Atlantic University finals. He was the voice of the Forum for all those years.
It was always a great night to witness a game at the old arena. And all those memories that were created for six decades that still live on today.
HOCKEY MECCA ON FITZROY STREET
The Final Days on Fitzroy
The Forum Opened in December, 1930
The Forum was more than just a hockey and entertainment arena. It was beloved by many especially players and fans. As the bulldozers were ready to take down the old building in 2001, a few passed on lasting memories of the ice palace.
Sandy Frizzell (owner Sandy’s Sandy & Gravel Service and the Sandy’s Charlottetown Royals) “We had a lot of fun in this rink and it was the finest rink around. I had the Royals for over 20 years and we only lost twice in 18 years as far as winning the Island was concerned. Summerside beat us once and Duck Acorn’s Olde Spain Penguins was the other team. I only had three coaches during those years. Angie Carroll, Buck Whitlock, and Dick Carroll (Angie’s brother).”
Sandy also has memories of his first skate at the Forum. “It was 1931 and the rink had just opened. I lived across the street and spent a lot of time there. I was seven when I first skated on the ice. You couldn’t move there were so many people out there. It was the best place to skate. People may forget but there was a spring under the rink and they had to put a new floor in because the water kept coming up, from time to time.”
Alfie Flanagan (Sandy’s Royals) “A lot of great hockey players played there. I remember my dad took me to see Sydney play the Islanders in the Big Four. That would be about 1954-55. I was there the night Buck Whitlock got a car for scoring 50 goals. I also sold programs in the old rink. I would like to have seen them keep the old Forum but one of the reasons was parking was always a problem and it kept some people away.”
Ironically the Forum became a parking lot.
Jamie Kennedy (Charlottetown Islanders Hardy Cup 1981-82 and coach) “It was where we all learned to play hockey. I started out as a stick boy and eventually played and coached (and refereed) there. A New Brunswick coach once said the visiting team was always down two goals before the game began when you came into the Forum. The fans were right on top of the play being so close to the ice. It scared the visitors.”
There were some memories, good and bad. “I saw my brother Jake lose his leg in the Forum and Billy Mulligan lose an eye. But on the bright side we won two Hardy Cups playing in the building. Many major junior and pros got their start in the Forum.”
Kennedy who played in the minor pros and WHA is one of the few to score six goals in a game. It came in the early 80’s when he was with the Islanders. He did the trick in the Forum facing the Moncton Hawks.
Bobby MacMillan (Atlanta Flames, St.Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks) “The Forum? It was hockey. The place smelled like a hockey rink. I spent my childhood there. We used to scrape the ice so we could get in for free. The staff was great and so were those who ran minor hockey in the building. Bill Murphy, Ivan Doherty and Brigadier General Bill Reid played an important role setting up a minor hockey program. The Forum is where I got my start. Efforts were made by Councillor Mitch Tweel to save the old rink but there was little support from the rest of council. To me it stopped being a hockey rink when it closed and became a place for the City to store equipment.”
Goops Wooldridge (hockey trainer and later President of Hockey PEI) “I was the trainer with the Junior Islanders in the late 60’s. Back then the score clock was above the north end seats (a new centre ice clock was installed in the mid 70’s. The Islanders bench was on the west side and the visitors on the east side. The penalty box was near the scorekeeper’s box on the east side. The senior Islanders used the east side as their bench. Then there was the infamous Knockers Corner in the south side balcony just over the first aid room. Those guys were loud and unforgiving if you were a visiting player.”
The WELCOME FROM THE CITY OF CHARLOTTETOWN painted banner at the south end was the most famous sign in the building.
The End. The Forum was torn down in 2001.
Feb. 6, 1990 - 100 Years of PEI Hockey Celebrated at the Forum
CBC sports broadcaster John Neville introduced the Chinese national team in 1984