Letter: Memories of the Civic Auditorium

The editor:

The Civic Auditorium has been decommissioned and is about to be demolished or dismantled. You can select whatever word you want to describe its demise.

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Right now, though, I’m remembering a building that was built quickly and opened just in time to greet a junior hockey team eager for a new beginning, having just left their previous digs in Humboldt.

It was no architectural or engineering marvel, but it was useful and quickly became a centrepiece of our community, thanks to a hammered out agreement between the newly minted City of Estevan with a population barely exceeding 5,000, and the local Agricultural Society/Exhibition Association.

I’m remembering a building that had the newly arrived hockey team, renamed the Estevan Bruins, as the original skaters to officially test out the ice surface that was configured to the exact dimensions as the ice surface in the Boston Gardens, since in those early junior hockey days, players were already “owned” by their NHL clubs in pre-draft days.

I’m remembering a floor surface with a slight decline at one end and a slight differential in goal post anchoring measurements. At least that is what the rumour was, and that rumour was confirmed to me by some well-appointed sources that will remain nameless.

I’m remembering a building that hosted annual Bingo games where a few thousand players would come every fall in the hopes of winning a new car as a grand prize and have their cards sold to them and checked by future NHLers.

I’m remembering a building where fans literally hung from the rafters during playoff action because all the seats and standing room spaces were occupied.

I’m remembering a building where three playoff goals were scored by one hockey player in the span of 21 seconds. A record that still stands in the junior hockey history books as far as I know.

I’m remembering the strange configuration of the Old Civic where you could not see the ice surface from the lobby and where the manager’s office was just five steps from the entry where tickets and programs were sold and checked. The bowels of the building were no less fascinating with cramped dressing rooms (not locker rooms) and a small, after-thought coaches’ office bumped up against trainers and equipment manager cubby holes.

I’m remembering a building that housed budding hockey stars who nursed split lips, black eyes and countless stitched up faces and who revelled in home ice advantage, or in the words of former Bruin coach Ernie “Punch” McLean, “if they can’t play a good game here, they’ll never play in the NHL.” And, he was right.

On game nights, the Bruins owned the Civic ice surface and the hockey pretenders were soon sorted and culled out from the hockey contenders. They arrived from Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Flin Flon or Winnipeg, and later from Humboldt, Nipawin, Weyburn, Melfort, Yorkton et al, and usually left disappointed and hurting in both body and spirit because that’s what the Civic and Bruins did to the enemy invaders.

I’m remembering a building that hosted graduation ceremonies and curling tournaments and bonspiels, when a little lipstick would be applied to make it look better than it really was and we smiled at the results and proclaimed that the old barn wasn’t so bad after all.

I’m remembering a building that hosted rock concerts featuring bands like Street Heart and Doug and the Slugs when the noise and excitement echoed throughout the downtown neighbourhood.

I’m remembering a building where figure skaters stumbled and fell and then built up their skills to become graceful swans on ice over the course of a heavy winter of practice and precision drills. Some built their skills to the point of national significance and recognition. The annual figure skating season-ending spectacular was a must-see event.

I’m remembering a building that was an integral part of the annual fair when it housed special events and/or retail vendors selling all kinds of crazy gadgets or materials guaranteed to make our lives easier. We used it even more so when wind or rain or both sent us scurrying inside while the carnival rides slowed to a stop.

I’m remembering a building that hosted rodeos and horse shows and community meals and served as a resource centre in times of civic tragedies and setbacks.

I’m remembering a building with a makeshift press box and an infamous and temporary Bruin lounge and a public address system that was just adequate at best, but where the message always seemed to get across.

Yes, the Civic helped us deliver our messages for decades and now we say goodbye to that venerable old stalwart building. Many won’t miss its faults but many of us will miss its presence. And, remember, in about 50 more years, someone can say something nice about Affinity Place and the place it took and the role it played in our city and how it contributed to our forward progress. We love our history and we also love progress.

The Civic has served us well. Let’s give the old barn a fond farewell shall we?

 

Norm Park

Estevan

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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