The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
The Flames have been in Calgary for 40 years now and have played in just two different home rinks. On the second day of Hockeymas, I’ll be taking a look at the history of the Flames’ two iconic homes, the Stampede Corral and the Saddledome.
The Corral served as the perfect temporary home for the Flames while the more permanent Saddledome was being built. 37 years later, though, the Saddledome is really starting to show its age – it will be missed in the Calgary skyline but it is time for a new barn in town.
The Corral was built in 1950 and served as a home rink for the WHA’s Calgary Cowboys and three seasons of Calgary Flames hockey. The Cowboys were not considered for expansion into the NHL because the league had deemed the arena unfit for an NHL franchise.
The 7,475 capacity rink would see three seasons of Flames hockey when the team first arrived in town. The fans that were able to secure a ticket were treated to great hockey in an intimate setting as the Flames made the playoffs in all three seasons.
The first season featured Kent Nilsson’s record 131-point season and coming within two wins of a Cup Final in the Corral. In the end, the Flames would only lose 28 times in 120 regular-season contests in the building pictured below.
It was the perfect humble beginnings for the city’s first NHL team but the ticket demand from fans made the Corral unsuitable as a long-term home. Since 1983, the building has hosted many events from concerts, various Stampede events, and three recent Calgary Hitmen games that honoured former Calgary hockey teams before demolition on the building began.
Between the Corral being too small, an overwhelming amount of people wanting season tickets, and the city bidding on an Olympics, it was time for a new rink. Construction began on July 29, 1981, after a lengthy battle between Calgary City Council and Victoria Park residents who were worried about traffic congestion in the area caused by a bigger arena.
It would be a lengthy and costly battle before then-Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein asked the Alberta government to step in and overrule any planning regulations that were holding up the construction. The province supported the Mayor and City Council and stepped in to see that the project in Victoria Park would come to fruition.
The Saddledome was designed by Graham McCourt Architects, and the roof was designed to be a reverse hyperbolic paraboloid (RHP). The shape was chosen because it had many benefits including being flexible to Calgary’s famous chinook weather fluctuations that shift the roof. Plopped in the middle of the ‘Stampede City’ though, the RHP shape, of course, looks like a saddle.
It’s an iconic landmark on Calgary’s city skyline but any Flames fan will tell you, it’s time for a new arena. The Saddledome has now become the second-oldest arena in the league behind Madison Square Garden. Besides flood repair, the arena has not seen a major renovation since 1994 and the inside looks it.
The Future Arena For the Flames
At the end of 2019, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and the City of Calgary agreed on a $550 million deal for a new event centre. Construction is set to break ground sometime in 2021 in the parking lot on the north side of the Saddledome and is expected to be finished within three years, although COVID-19 may push dates back.
It’s time for Calgary, both city and team, to move on from an iconic rink and plan for the future to hopefully be in a third iconic rink come 2024 or 2025. Compared to other arenas in the league, it’s clear how far the Saddledome has fallen behind – it’s time for a new home for the city’s beloved Flames that the team and fans can appreciate.