Hockey rinks in Ontario can be the pulse of their community. The pulse of Sault Ste Marie, the Essar Centre, is about the celebrate a milestone.
On Sept. 29, the Essar Centre, home of the OHL’s Sault Greyhounds, turns 10-years-old. It replaced a gem of a venue in the old Sault Memorial Gardens. The Memorial Gardens, which opened in February 1949 in the heart of downtown Sault Ste. Marie was simply not adequate for the changing times. While the old arena was as entertaining as they get, with slanted, rickety seats, an old-time scoreboard and dark, damp concourses, it was certainly time for something new and modern.
The City of Sault Ste Marie broke ground on the new arena in June 2005. It was to be called the Steelback Centre after Steelback Brewery. The Memorial Gardens was situated between Bay Street and Queen Street in downtown Sault Ste Marie and the new arena was to be built directly East in the Memorial Gardens’ parking lot. With the Station Mall right across Bay Street, there was still ample parking for Hounds fans and visitors alike.
In July 2008, Steelback Brewery ran into financial issues and ended its contract with the City of Sault Ste Marie. Essar Steel Algoma bought the naming rights for 10-years and the new arena name was born.
Essar Perfect for City
Outside, the Essar Centre is a beautiful arena with brick and glass surrounding the building. Multiple enclosed stairs outside the arena allow fans to get into the rink without dealing with the sometimes harsh Northern Ontario winter. Next to the arena, the city kept the original Memorial Light Beacon, which was attached to the old Memorial Gardens. It glowed bright red whenever the hometown Greyhounds play that night. The Beacon is a city icon and it commemorates those from the city who did not return during World War II.
Inside, it’s pretty close to your perfect arena with just under 5,000 seats for hockey and not a bad view in the house. The concourse surrounds the top of the bowl and is wide open, allowing easy access to both shops and a view of the action on the ice. Hounds fans pack the rink every game with a sea of red and are more than happy to talk to visiting fans about their passion for their hometown boys.
Essar Centre’s anniversary also joins in with the Greyhounds’ 45th Anniversary. The team has been celebrating since early August with “45-Days of Giveaway”, as they’ve been a staple in the community since 1962 and in the OHL since 1972.
Arena Valuable for Entire Region
The Essar Centre isn’t home to just Greyhounds OHL hockey, though. In 2010, it hosted the prestigious Scotties Tournament of Hearts Canadian Women’s Curling Championships and, in 2012, it hosted CARHA, a major recreational hockey tournament that features teams from around the world. Of course, it has also hosted dozens of major artists including Elton John, KISS, The Backstreet Boys and The Tragically Hip.
The OHL has seen many new rinks come into the spotlight over the last 10-years as older, original arenas have grown weary and the modern look takes over. The Sault Memorial Gardens was an arena the city was proud of. While it was getting up in age, it was a place where generations grew up, memories were made and championships were won. Now, Sault Ste Marie celebrates the 10-year Anniversary of the Essar Centre and they have another venue to be proud of. They are a passionate city and the Essar Centre is the pulse of the city, creating new memories and experiences for generations to come.
I’m a resident of Windsor, ON and a graduate of St Clair College Journalism and New Media program as well as the University of Windsor Communication, Media, and Film program. I’ve been a junior hockey fan (specifically the Windsor Spitfires) for 30-years and have written about/photographed junior hockey since about 2005.