NANAIMO CIVIC ARENA
Opened – 1940
Demolished – 2006
In November 1939, Nanaimo Council agreed to fund $100,000 for a new downtown arena. Construction began in January 1940 and was completed five months later. The Civic Arena officially opened on May 15, 1940, with a gala ceremony. Lynn Patrick of the New York Rangers attended the event and said, “This arena is the finest of its size I have ever seen.”
Civic Arena originally had seating accommodation for 2,000. The capacity was later reduced to 1,600 when the benches at the top were removed.
Here are two videos that showcase Civic Arena:
1996 - concert video of the band RamFunkious with views of the dressing room
1988 - Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron #205 - Crowning of the May Queen Ceremony shows the interior of the arena, playing surface and stands.
In 1951, Princess Elizabeth and her husband Philip visited Canada for the first time. During their trip, a public event for the Royal couple took place at Civic Arena. One year after their visit, Elizabeth became the Queen of England.
In September 2006, the Civic arena was demolished to make way for a new condo development. Those construction plans fell through and the site is now a parking lot for Moffeo Sutton Park. It’s a shame the arena was torn down for no other reason than a rarely used parking lot.
The Nanaimo Ice Centre opened in 2006 as a replacement for the Civic Arena.
The Nanaimo Clippers Men's intermediate hockey team was the first club to play out of Civic Arena. They debuted in the fall of 1940 and won the 1941 Coy Cup (the Senior AA championship of British Columbia). Next season the Clippers defended their Coy Cup championship and captured the 1942 Western Canadian Championship. One of the top players on those early Clippers teams was Alfred “Red”Carr. He made it to the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1943/44. For the final three years of his career, Carr returned to the Clippers from 1949 to 1952. In 2010, Red Carr entered the Nanaimo Sports Hall. He is the father of former NHL player Gene Carr.
The Nanaimo Buccaneers, managed by Cliff McNabb, dominated the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (Junior B) in the late 1960s, winning three straight championships (1968 to 1970). Wayne Bianchin scored thirty-five points for the Buccaneers 1969/70 championship team. Bianchin moved up to the WCHL in 1971/72 and played for the Victoria Cougars, Calgary Centennials and the Flin Flon Bombers. In 1973, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Bianchin in the second round of the NHL entry draft. He went on to appear in 276 NHL games and retired after two years with the Italian National Team. Bianchin later coached in the BCJHL with the Esquimalt Buccaneers and Nanaimo Clippers.
In 1971, the Nanaimo Clippers joined the British Columbia Junior Hockey League (BCJHL/BCHL). Cliff McNabb spearheaded the drive to bring the BCJHL to Nanaimo and served as the team’s President/GM. The Clipper's first game at Civic Arena took place on September 30, 1972, against the Bellingham Blazers. The sold-out crowd watched the Clippers throttle Bellingham 13-1.
Larry McNabb, Cliff’s brother, took over as head coach in 1973/74 and remained in that position until 1982. The Clippers left Civic Arena and moved to the newly built Frank Crane Arena in January 1976. Between 1976 and 1978, the Clippers won three straight BCJHL championships. In 1982, the Clippers franchise relocated to Esquimalt and renamed the Buccaneers. The team moved to Greater Victoria to avoid competing with the incoming Nanaimo Islanders of the Western Hockey League. The Buccaneers struggled with attendance, so the franchise moved back to Nanaimo in February 1983. They changed their name back to the Clippers, playing the remainder of their home games that season at Civic Arena.
The Nanaimo Clippers returned to Frank Crane Arena in 1984/85, but went back to their original home at the Civic Arena in 1985/86. They remained there for eight years before moving permanently to Frank Crane to start the 1993/94 season.
The only National Hockey League game at Civic Arena took place on September 23, 1986. In a preseason matchup, the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 6-5.
Senior “A” lacrosse debuted at Civic Arena in 1951 with the Nanaimo Native Sons. In 1955, they changed their name to the IWA Timbermen and in 1959 became the Nanaimo Labatts.
In 1956, Nanaimo captured their only Mann Cup Trophy (Canadian Senior Men’s Lacrosse Championship). After sweeping the Vancouver Burrards in the Western finals, they took on Eastern champion Peterborough for the Mann Cup. Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens hosted the series with Jim Robson broadcasting each game for Nanaimo radio. In the finals, the Timbermen defeated Peterborough three games to two. In 2008, the 1956 Timbermen were inducted into the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame.
One of the greatest lacrosse players of all time, Jack Bionda, joined the Nanaimo Labatt’s in 1960. He led Nanaimo to their second Intercity Lacrosse title and a Mann Cup appearance. The Labatt’s travelled to Port Arthur, Ontario for the Mann Cup but lost four games to one.
The current version of the Nanaimo Timbermen joined the Western Lacrosse Association in 2010 and play out of Frank Crane Arena.
VICTORIA PAYLESS (SHAMROCKS)
Civic Arena hosted the first game of the 1983 Mann Cup finals. The Victoria Payless (now known as the Shamrocks) moved the game to Nanaimo because Memorial Arena was not available. More than 2,000 fans, mainly from Victoria, packed Civic Arena for the only Mann Cup game to take place in Nanaimo. Victoria cruised to a 14-7 win over the Peterborough Lakers. The rest of the series took place at Memorial Arena, with Victoria winning the Mann Cup in six games.
Nanaimo has been the site of the biggest boxing cards on Vancouver Island.
Shane Sutcliffe was a local Nanaimo boxer who fought in forty professional bouts and captured the Canadian Heavyweight championship in 1994.
Port Alberni’s Gord Racette enjoyed a successful career in boxing, kickboxing and lacrosse spanning four decades. In 1982, he fought Trevor Berbick for the Canadian Heavyweight Championship at Frank Crane Arena. In 1984, he captured the Super Heavyweight Kickboxing Championship.
Here are some of the major boxing events that took place at Civic Arena:
November 27, 1981 - Gord Racette defeated Rudi Lubbers with a third-round TKO. Lubbers previously competed in two Olympics for the Netherlands and fought Muhammad Ali in 1973.
April 22, 1994 - 19-year-old Shane Sutcliffe defeated Darryl Gray with a third-round knockout. The same card featured “Smokin” Bert Cooper taking on Joe Savage. Cooper was a veteran American fighter who three years prior fought Evander Holyfield for the World Heavyweight Title. For Savage, this was his boxing debut. He racked up a 42-0 record (all knockouts) as a bare-knuckles fighter in Great Britain. The fight only lasted 65 seconds, with Cooper knocking out Savage. You can watch the entire fight on YouTube.
October 1, 1994 - Shane Sutcliffe won a unanimous heavyweight decision over Leon Spinks before a sell-out crowd of more than 2,000 fans. Spinks was a former World Heavyweight Champion, making a comeback at 43 years old.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, All-Star Wrestling had a strong fan base in Nanaimo. Here are a few of the major events held in Civic Arena:
December 21, 1963 – Don Leo Johnathan vs Cowboy Bill Watts
October 1, 1966 - Paul Jones vs Dutch Savage
September 9, 1967 - Rocky Johnson (The Rock’s father) vs John Tolos
May 11, 1968 - Tex McKenzie vs Abdullah the Butcher.
October 26, 1968 - Gene Kiniski defended his NWA World Heavyweight Championship vs John Tolos
November 24, 1973 - Dory Funk Jr vs Gene Kiniski
The last World Championship fight at Civic Arena took place on July 20, 1974. Champion Jack Brisco defended his title against Dan Kroffat (After wrestling, Kroffat became a guard at the Vancouver Island regional correctional centre in Saanich). Bob Remus also appeared on the card that night. He went on to become a WWF champion as Sargent Slaughter.
In 1985-86, Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling stopped in Nanaimo on their tours of British Columbia. Some of the wrestlers on these shows include Bad News Allen, Chris Benoit, the Great Gama and the Honky Tonk Man.