North Bay Memorial Gardens Sports Arena – North Bay Battalion
Troops by the Bay
Reality came crashing down in 2002. Faced with an aging facility, dwindling attendance and bad ownership, the North Bay Centennials were sold to a consortium in Saginaw, Michigan and uprooted to become the Saginaw Spirit. After twenty seasons, there would be no Ontario Hockey League presence in North Bay. The Gardens would be empty for a number of years. However, the people of North Bay would not give up.
Hope would come to the city known as the Gate to the North in 2009. The combination of the support shown the new university team that would call the Memorial Gardens home, the Nipissing Lakers and the successful bid for Kraft’s Hockeyville would catch the eye of the hockey community. Meanwhile, in Brampton, Ontario the Battalion were suffering. Unfortunately brought into the OHL at the same time as the neighbouring Mississauga IceDogs and a year after the Toronto St.Michael’s Majors, the Battalion failed to make an impact at the turnstile. Eventually, Battalion owner and Trivial Pursuit co-creator C. Scott Abbott would leave Brampton and look for the greener pastures of Northern Ontario.
The North Bay Memorial Gardens Sports Arena would become home for the Battalion. Built in 1955, the Memorial Gardens remains a living memorial to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in World War I and World War II. This has extra meaning as North Bay is also the home for Canadian Forces Base North Bay. Suddenly the Battalion name, which made little sense in Brampton, is perfect. With the arrival of the Battalion in 2013, the city owned Memorial Gardens would receive over $16 million in upgrades including all new seating, a large video board at centre ice and expanded seating in the south end. The capacity was brought up to over 4,200. North Bay is one of the smaller OHL centres at a population of over 52,000 but the rewards of moving North are tangible. The Troops are now North Bay’s team.
Food & Beverage 3
The North Bay Memorial Gardens offers a solid concession lineup. Popcorn, chocolate bars, candy, chips, pretzels, nachos, fries, poutine, onion rings, chicken fingers, and pizza are all available. Combos are available to help with the cost a bit. A few different types of hot dogs from Nathan’s are also available to promote variety. One of the more interesting items on the menu that might be worth consideration would be the Dessert Funnel Cake Poutine available in either strawberry or chocolate. Prices for concessions are not out of line from what you would find across the league.
Pepsi products are the soft drink of choice at the Memorial Gardens. Nestle coffee products are also available. Molson Canadian, Coors Banquet and Coors Light are available in the concourses. A variety of coolers and cider are also available for those not interested in beer. The Hall of Fame lounge also features a full fridge for beverage purchases.
The North Bay Memorial Gardens is not an overly spectacular site from the exterior. New office space and luxury boxes, part of the big renovation, created a green glass exterior above the main gates. The rest of the building boasts brown brick and yellow and brown siding that looks like the age of the Gardens.
Inside, the concourses give a historic sense of the building. The light brown brick gives the arena a historic feel. There are a number of items in the concourses that fans should pay attention to. Team pictures of the North Bay Centennials from each of their years in North Bay join those of the Battalion. The North Bay Sports Hall of Fame at the north end of the building is full of local history. Combing through the inductees will show fans the likes of CFL star Mike O’Shea and former Montreal Canadien Craig Rivet.
The arena is plus-sign shaped with all of the seats facing the ice at a right angle. The ice surface runs from north to south with the majority of seating on the east and west sides of the building. A four-sided video board hangs above centre ice and the south side of the building features the 2014 Central Division and Eastern Conference Championship banners. There are no banners left from the Centennial days.
The game day production for the Battalion is about what you would expect for an OHL team with a couple of original ideas. The military motif is still woven throughout the experience. The Battalion enter the ice through an inflatable tank and with a minute to go in the period, the PA announcers declares “one minute to cease-fire.” The video board is surprisingly not used for the score or statistics, but solely for game action, replays and promotions. A number of simple score clocks around the arena keep the fans informed about the score, time and penalties.
North Bay is a wonderful city in Northern Ontario. Known mainly for outdoor activities such as snowmobiling and ice fishing in the winter and cottaging and fishing in the summer months, there are plenty of opportunities for fans to find other adventures that could include a Lakers game. The North Bay Memorial Gardens is located west of the Trans Canada Highway, east of Lake Nipissing on Chippewa Street. The immediate area surrounding the arena is fairly residential with the local YMCA right next door. Access to the highway is easy so it is not difficult to head downtown or other spots to find interesting North Bay highlights.
In addition to the many outdoor activities that can be found in North Bay, fans may also want to check out the North Bay Museum. As far as other sporting options go, Nipissing University fields a number of athletic teams. The Nipissing Lakers basketball team plays on campus at the Robert J. Surtees Student Athletic Center. The Nipissing Lakers hockey team also shares the Memorial Gardens with the Battalion.
There are a number of options for pre and post game fare in North Bay. Fans will definitely need to hop in the car to get there though. Cecil’s Brewhouse, Moose’s Cookhouse, Burger World and Arugula are all good options.
For fans staying in the city, the Holiday Inn and Hampton Inn are good options that are pretty close to the arena.
The return of OHL hockey to North Bay has entered its fifth year. In that time, the city has done what has been necessary to bring the Memorial Gardens up to what the OHL would consider to be an acceptable capacity. However, it seems as if the Battalion are at a bit of a turning point at the turnstile. From the 2016 season to the 2018 season, the Battalion has seen attendance drop to the point of nearly 1,000 fans per game. The end of the 2018 season saw the Battalion attract over 2,300 fans per game. Some lean years on the ice combined with some tough economic times have aided the drop in attendance. Although when compared to the entire Canadian Hockey League, North Bay is not nearly the franchise in the worst shape, it does not compare favorably to other OHL franchise attendance marks. That being said, the Battalion do have a lot going for them in the fan department. The fans in attendance are passionate about their team and make plenty of noise in the stands. A couple of better seasons on the ice should bump attendance back up where it belongs.
The North Bay Memorial Gardens is located west of the Trans Canada Highway on Chippewa Street. The highway runs north, right through the city, essentially splitting it. Being very close to the highway and highways 11 and 17, the Gardens is very easy to get to by car. There are 1000 parking spots at the Memorial Gardens and there is no charge for parking. For fans who wish to utilize public transit, there is a bus stop on Chippewa Street directly in front of the arena. Fans can check out the North Bay Transit website for maps, fares and schedules.
The box office is located on the west side of the building and lineups are not usually an issue. Getting around the arena is not too difficult, although at times, the concourses can be a bit narrow. The washroom facilities are also adequate.
Return on Investment 5
OHL hockey offers one of the best return on investments in all of sport. Junior hockey is fast paced and exciting. The opportunity to see future professional hockey players is also a bonus. What is extra special, however, is the low cost for such an experience. Battalion tickets go for $16 for an adult with discounts for students, seniors and children. This is relatively inexpensive even when comparing to other OHL franchises. Parking is free and concession prices are decent. Add it all up and North Bay Battalion hockey is an excellent opportunity to get the whole family out for an outing without dropping a mortgage payment.
An extra mark for the renewed rivalry with the other Northern Ontario teams in the OHL, the Sudbury Wolves and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Two extra marks for Remembrance Day celebrations for the Battalion. The game that was reviewed was just before Remembrance Day on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice Treaty. The Battalion did a wonderful job of celebrating the day with the help of the local Legion and the locals that are stationed at CFB North Bay. The Gardens remains a living memorial of those who served.
The return of OHL hockey to North Bay was most definitely a welcomed one. The Battalion have brought top notch hockey back and even the Battalion name and military motif make a whole lot more sense than they did in Brampton. Hopefully, the Battalion will continue to have a long and prosperous tenure in North Bay, an experience that fans who are in the north, should definitely check out.
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Canadian Forces Museum of Aerospace Defence
22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base
North Bay, ON P0H 1P0
Hampton Inn by Hilton North Bay
950 McKeown Ave
North Bay, ON P1B 9P3
Days Inn & Suites North Bay
340 Main St W
North Bay, ON P1B 9V1
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Latest Crowd Reviews
Making their first steps upon return to the OHL, the city of North Bay and the Battalion are well on their way to a significant stay in the Gateway to the North. It is a return that has been long in waiting, but for all those involved, it hopefully will be a permanent return.