Opened - 1949
Demolished - 2003
Victoria Memorial Arena holds the distinction as Canada’s first all-concrete arena. For fifty-three years, the Barn on Blanchard served as the city’s premier hockey venue. After being torn down in 2003, it is now the site of Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Oak Bay’s Willow Arena burned down in 1944 which left Victoria without an indoor rink. This was the second skating facility reduced to ashes after the Patrick Arena, the city's first arena, caught fire in 1925. In response, Victoria approved a new concrete arena as their first major post World War II project. Construction began in 1945, but there were funding issues and design problems right from the start. The original estimate of $215,000 ended up costing $1.2 million.
Following four years of construction, Victoria Memorial Arena opened in the summer of 1949. The first event was a July 1949 stage production of the Merry Widow, with the opening ceremony taking place on September 25, 1949.
Memorial Arena is named in honor of those killed fighting in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. At the opening ceremony, they unveiled a marble plaque in the building’s foyer with the following
In constant remembrance of those who gave their lives in defense of justice,
freedom and righteousness in the Second World War.
“They were a wall unto us both by night and day”
1 Samuel 25:16
By the late 1980s, Memorial Arena lacked the amenities of modern facilities, so city officials pushed for a new rink. Voters rejected a 1989 referendum that would have publicly financed a replacement for Memorial Arena. In the 1990s, the City of Victoria decided to fund an arena through a private partnership. The original plan had a 12,500 seat multiplex connected to a second 2,000 arena scheduled to open in the fall of 2000. The dormant San Francisco Spiders franchise of the International Hockey League was to be revived and become the main tenant. The partnership ended up being a complete failure as the developer defaulted on payments to the city with the project never even getting started.
The City of Victoria held another arena referendum in 2002. This time 71% voted in favour of spending $30 million for a new facility. Memorial Arena came down in 2003 and replaced by the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre which opened in 2006.
The last sporting event at Memorial Arena took place on August 23, 2002, when the Victoria Shamrocks defeated the Coquitlam Adanacs 14-13. On October 5, 2002, a farewell celebration marked Memorial Arena's 53rd anniversary.
The following sections highlight the memorable events of Memorial Arena:
During it’s fifty three years on the corner of Blanshard and Caledonia, Memorial Arena hosted many hockey teams from different leagues.
Victoria Cougars (1949-1952) - Pacific Coast Hockey League - Minor Pro
Victoria Cougars - (1952-1961) Western Hockey League - Minor Pro
Victoria Maple Leafs (1964-1967) - Western Hockey League - Minor Pro
Victoria Cougars (1967-1971) - British Columbia Junior Hockey League
Victoria Cougars - (1971-1994) - Western Hockey League - Major Junior
Victoria Salsa - (1994-1997 and 1999-2002)- British Columbia Junior Hockey League
The first hockey game took place on Thanksgiving Day, October 10, 1949. The Victoria Cougars of the Pacific Coast Hockey League defeated the Portland Penguins 4-1 in front of 4,133 in attendance. Bernie Strongman of the Cougars scored the first-ever goal at Memorial Arena at 2:37 of the 1st period.
On October 2, 1975, 5,718 hockey fans were jammed to the rafters watching the Los Angeles Kings defeat the Vancouver Canucks 6-5. It was the largest crowd ever gathered to watch a hockey game at Memorial Arena.
The final game at Memorial Arena took place on March 12, 2002. Only 1,379 turned out to witness the Cowichan Valley Capitals edge the Victoria Salsa 4-3 in the 1st round of the BCHL Island Division playoffs.
In 2019, Helen Edwards wrote an in-depth book detailing The History of Professional Hockey in Victoria 1911-2011.
Victoria Cougars – Western Hockey League (WCHL/WHL) (1971-1994)
On October 9, 1971, the Victoria Cougars made their Western Canada Hockey League debut at Memorial Arena against the Flin Flon Bombers. The Cougars took a 5-3 victory before a crowd of 2,806. Len Chalmers scored the first Cougars goal with assists from Jack McIlhargey and Dave Okranic. Victoria completed their inaugural season with just eighteen wins in sixty-eight games.
The Cougars’ final game went down on March 19, 1994. That night 4,204 fans watched Victoria fall 6-3 to the Tri-Cities Americans in the regular-season finale. Brad Hammerback scored the last goal in Victoria Cougars franchise history. Coincidentally, the Cougars only managed eighteen wins in 1993/94, the same number of victories achieved in their first season.
The biggest game in the Cougars’ twenty-four-year history happened on May 1, 1981, at Memorial Arena. Victoria faced Calgary in Game 7 of the WHL Finals, with the winner advancing to the Memorial Cup. A huge crowd of 5,021 witnessed the Cougars triumph 4-2 to capture their only Western Hockey League championship.
Victoria hosted two WHL All-Star games:
January 15, 1975 - West All-Stars 4 - East All-Stars 1
January 20, 1981 - WHL All-Stars 8 - Victoria Cougars 3
National Hockey League – Training Camps
The Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks have all held training camps in Victoria.
In 1961, the Montreal Canadiens travelled west and became the first NHL team to train at Memorial Arena. During camp, they played an exhibition game against the Spokane Comets of the WHL.
Memorial Arena hosted the Vancouver Canucks for six training camps. (1974-76 and 1990-92)
The Los Angeles Kings trained in Victoria thirteen times between 1970 and 1988. Wayne Gretzky stepped on the ice for the first time as an LA King during the September 1988 training camp. In one of the biggest trades in NHL history, Edmonton sent Gretzky to Los Angeles just one month prior on August 9, 1988. (Read our post detailing 60 years of NHL training camps on Vancouver Island)
National Hockey League – Exhibition Games
The Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks faced each other annually from 1970 to 1988. The Kings participated in thirty-one Victoria games (more than any other team), with the Canucks taking part in twenty-two. All original six teams have skated at Memorial Arena.
The first exhibition game took place on September 29, 1953, when the Victoria Cougars faced the New York Rangers. The first game featuring two NHL teams happened in 1970 when the Los Angeles Kings took on Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and the Chicago Black Hawks.
Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings came to Victoria in 1959. Alex Delvecchio scored the winning goal with Terry Sawchuk in the net as Detroit edged the Victoria Cougars 2-1.
In his final NHL season, goaltender Gump Worsley wore a face mask for the first time on September 29, 1973. After playing nineteen years without protection, Worsley experimented with a mask in his final year with Minnesota. In the regular season, he only put on a mask during his last six games at the end of 1974.
The most eventful year was in 1973 when the Kings hosted three games against Montreal, Minnesota and Vancouver. That same year the World Hockey Association came to Memorial Arena for the only time as the Vancouver Blazers met the Edmonton Oilers.
Other Hall of Famers participating in exhibition games at Memorial Arena includes Terry Sawchuk, Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Henri Richard, Guy Lafluer, Yvon Cournoyer, Frank Mahovlich, Tim Horton, Norm Ulman, Johnny Bower, Tony Esposito, Denis Savard, Marcel Dionne, Butch Goring, Rogie Vachon, Luc Robitaille, Doug Gilmour, Dale Hawerchuk, Cam Neely, and Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky made his debut in a Los Angeles Kings jersey on September 17, 1988. A sellout crowd of 5,448 watched Gretzky pick up two assists as the Canucks were victorious over the Kings 7-4.
The Canadian national team made their first visit to Memorial Arena in 1963. In the late 1960s, Canada and the Soviet Union made four stops in Victoria. After a twenty-one year absence, the Canadians and the Soviets returned in 1990.
December 18, 1963, - Canada 3 - Czechoslovakia 2 (attendance – 4,970)
December 20, 1965 - Canada 6 - Russia 1 (attendance – 5,200)
December 22, 1967 – Canada 1 - Russia 1 (attendance – 3,995)
December 21, 1969 - Canada 5 - Russia 1 (Vladislav Tretiak in goal for Russia, attendance – 5,388)
January 22, 1969 - Soviet Union 8 - Canada 3 (attendance – 5,298)
January 11, 1990 – Soviet Union 6 - Canada 5 (Ed Belfour in goal for Canada, attendance -5,011)
The Victoria Cougars hosted exhibition games against various under-18 national teams from 1975 – 1980. Moscow Spartak, one of Russia’s top clubs, travelled to Canada in 1979 for an eight game series against WHL teams. Spartak swept all eight games, including a 14-3 victory over the Cougars.
January 2, 1975 - Cougars (3) vs Czechoslovakia (6)
January 10, 1976 - Czechoslovakia (8) - Cougars (2)
December 19, 1978 - Cougars (6) vs Moscow Selects (4)
December 8, 1979 - Moscow Spartak (14) - Cougars 3
December 29, 1979 - Cougars (10) - Czechoslovakia (5)
January 7, 1980 - Cougars (10) – Sweden (1)
The Victoria Shamrocks are one of the most successful lacrosse teams in Canada. They have earned twenty league titles and captured the Mann Cup (the national box lacrosse championship) nine times. They took home their sixth Mann Cup championship at Memorial Arena in 1999.
The first game in franchise history occurred on May 9, 1950, as the Shamrocks defeated the New Westminster Salmonbellies 19-11. For fifty-two consecutive years, the Shamrocks called Memorial Arena home before moving to the Archie Browning Sports Centre in 2003 and then to the Q Centre in 2004.
Although Memorial Arena never hosted a major championship fight, Victoria does have a compelling boxing history.
In 1959, the champion of the world fought in Victoria. On February 5, 1959, Light Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore faced Eddie Cotton in a four-round exhibition in front of 2,893 fans. Moore wore headgear with neither side throwing dangerous punches.
A couple of established fighters headlined events in 1961. On February 21st, former World Middleweight Champion Carl (Bobo) Olson knocked out Floyd Buchanan. A few months later, a crowd of 2,042 witnessed former top Light Heavyweight contender Bobby Boyd beat Ernie Gipson. After the Boyd fight, boxing did not come back to Memorial Arena for another twenty years.
Boxing returned on October 30, 1981, with Victoria middleweight Jerry “Mack Truck” Reddick in the main event. In 1982, Dale Grant scored a second round TKO over Jesse Avila to capture the Pacific Northwest light heavyweight title. As an amateur, Grant won the U.S. Golden Gloves championship and defeated Marvin Hagler.
Michael Olajide Jr., former number one middleweight contender, started his pro career with his first three bouts at Memorial Arena. He made his pro debut on December 17, 1981, knocking out Johnny Gains in the 1st round. Olajide won his first twenty-three professional bouts and went on to fight Thomas Hearns and Iran Barkley. After sustaining an eye injury, he retired in 1991 with a record of 27-5. Olajide is now a personal trainer who works with many celebrities including Will Smith in preparation for his starring role in the movie Ali.
Nanaimo’s Shane Sutcliffe is one of the best boxers from Vancouver Island. On November 6, 1993, he won a split decision over Matthew Brooks with over 2,800 in attendance. He would go on to capture the Canadian Heavyweight Championship in 1998.
Former WBC Light Heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde scored a unanimous decision over Ed Dalton on November 2, 1996. Lalonde was born in Victoria and grew up in Winnipeg. In 1987, he captured the world championship belt with a victory over Eddie Davis. The biggest fight of his career occurred in 1988 at a pay-per-view clash with Sugar Ray Leonard. In the 9th round, Leonard knocked out Lalonde to win the WBC light heavyweight title and the vacant WBC super-middleweight title. After retiring from boxing in 1992, Lalonde started his 1996 comeback in Victoria with the Dalton fight.
The last professional boxing card went down on February 26, 2000, when Nanaimo’s Gord Racette won a 6th round unanimous decision Steve Cortez. Racette is a former Super Heavyweight kickboxing champion, twice fought for the Canadian Heavyweight boxing championship and played with the 1998 Victoria Shamrocks lacrosse team.
Throughout its 53 years, professional wrestling has always been one of the most popular events at Memorial Arena.
Wrestling premiered on October 13, 1949, when Tony Ross took on a 315 pound Black Bear named Ginger (yes, a real live bear). One week later, 2,650 fans turned out to watch the legendary Gorgeous George take on Carl Myers.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, Vancouver’s All-Star Wrestling made monthly visits to Victoria. For these events, they used a quarter of the arena with the ring set up in the south end of the rink. Some of the grapplers who stepped into a Victoria ring include Gene Kiniski, Don Leo Johnathan, Guy Mitchell, John Quinn, Jake Roberts, Bobby Bass, the Iron Sheik, Eric Froelich, Ed “Moondog” Moretti, Diamond Timothy Flowers, the Honky Tonk Man and Al Tomko.
In the 1980s, Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling included Victoria on their touring schedule. These wild events drew large crowds and featured future WWF stars such as Bret Hart, Davey Boy Smith, The Dynamite Kid, Jim Neidhart and Bad News Allen.
The World Wrestling Federation made its Victoria debut in front of a sold-out crowd on January 21, 1987. For the next ten years, they made regular stops at Memorial Arena.
Andre the Giant made three Victoria appearances:
May 9, 1976: vs Don Leo Johnathan
July 20, 1978: with Jake Roberts vs Gene Kiniski and John Anson
March 16, 1989: Jake "The Snake" Roberts.
The World Heavyweight Championship was defended at the following Victoria events:
July 25, 1953 - Lou Thesz (Champion) vs Dave Jons
July 17, 1956 - Whipper Billy Watson (Champion) vs Hardboiled Haggerty
Referee: former world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Sharkey
September 20, 1960 - Pat O’Connor (Champion) vs Gino Garibaldi
November 9, 1963 - Lou Thesz (Champion) vs Whipper Billy Watson
Attendance - 1,916
August 4, 1964 - Lou Thesz (Champion) vs Roy “Kangaroo” Hefferman
July 19, 1966 - Gene Kiniski (Champion) vs Paddy Barrett
March 28, 1967 - Gene Kiniski (Champion) vs Rocky Johnson
July 4, 1967 - Gene Kiniski (Champion) vs John Tolos
June 4, 1968 - Gene Kiniski (Champion) vs Abdullah the Butcher
December 17, 1968 - Gene Kiniski (Champion) vs. John Tolos
November 3, 1970 - Dory Funk (Champion) vs Bulldog Bob Brown
October 15, 1975 - Jack Brisco (Champion) vs Gene Kiniski
October 11, 1996 - Sean Micheals (Champion) vs Vader
August 29, 1997 - Bret Hart (Champion) vs The Patriot
The first basketball game at Memorial Arena featured the Harlem Globetrotters. On March 3, 1954, a crowd of 4,699 watched the Globetrotters edge Toledo 67-64. Instead of using a wooden court for the game, they removed the ice and played on the arena’s cement floor.
The NBA made their only visit to Victoria in 1969. The Seattle Supersonics and the Los Angeles Lakers opened their preseason schedule before a crowd of 1,908. The Lakers, with future Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, handled the Supersonics 134-107. It was the first game for Lenny Wilkens as a player-coach for the Supersonics.
Victoria hosted the 1982 CIAU Men’s Basketball Championship. The hometown UVIC Vikings won their third straight title with a 74-60 victory over St. Mary’s Huskies in the final. UVIC would go on to win seven consecutive national championships.
The 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games held the Gymnastics competition at Memorial Arena. This CBC broadcast of the Women’s Individual All-Around Final is one of the best videos to show the inside of Memorial Arena.
Canadian Men’s Curling Championship (now the Tim Hortons Brier)
1958 - MacDonald Brier (Watch archived footage of the 1958 championship)
1984 - Labatt Brier
Canadian Women’s Curling Championship (now the Scotties Tournament of Hearts)
1974 - Macdonald Lassie
Figure skating always draws large crowds in Victoria. Elvis Stojko, Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Elizabeth Manly, Victor Kraatz, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Michelle Kwan and Karen Magnussen have all skated in Memorial Arena.
Major skating competitions held in Victoria:
1954 - Professional Tennis Tour - Frank Sedgman won a four-man tournament featuring Bobby Riggs, Pancho Segura and Pancho Gonzalez
1995 - Davis Cup - Canada defeated Ecuador 3-1. Daniel Nestor, Sebastien Lareau and Grant Connell represented Canada
1996 - John McEnroe and Andre Agassi faced off in a charity match for the David Foster Foundation.
Setlist.fm has a comprehensive list of Memorial Arena Concerts. Performers include the Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Dire Straits, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Nelly Furtado, B.B. King, Ozzy Osbourne, Rush, Ike and Tina Turner, Tragically Hip and Van Halen,
The University of Victoria’s online exhibit, Volatile Attractions: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash and Managing a Music Legend, contains rare photos of Johnny Cash including the contract for his 1959 Memorial Arena concert.
Rush: Wandering the Face of the Earth: The Official Touring History describes an incident from their concert on November 3, 1979:
During the show, a sixteen-year-old male detonated an explosive device in the men’s bathroom at the south-end, causing an estimated $500 in damages, according to the Victoria Times. The teen was detained for police and promptly released.