Canadian Tire Centre – Ottawa Senators
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Canadian Tire Centre 1000 Palladium Dr Ottawa, ON K2V 1A5
Year Opened: 1996
Capital City Issues
The NHL expansion that would create teams to begin play in 1992 surrendered a surprising entrant. The city of Ottawa, Ontario, capital city of Canada, was granted a team. Most hockey observers felt certain that a team was going to Hamilton, but the Southern Ontario loss was the Eastern Ontario gain. After playing the initial years in the undersized Ottawa Civic Centre, the Ottawa Senators would make their way to the suburbs to the brand new Palladium or Canadian Tire Centre as it is now known. Located in the suburb of Kanata, the Canadian Tire Centre is often ridiculed for its distance from the centre of Ottawa and being a venue that is lacking. It was opened in 1996 by then-owner Bruce Firestone and viewed more as a spot where there was affordable land as opposed to the best location for a hockey arena.
The current iteration of the Senators are not the original professional team in Ottawa. The original Ottawa Senators were a force in the pre-Original Six days and dominated the early 1900s, claiming eleven Stanley Cup Championships between 1903 and 1927. The Senators are currently owned by Biovail founder Eugene Melnyk, who bought the team out of bankruptcy in 2003. The modern Senators have experienced the full spectrum of results on the ice, going to the Stanley Cup Finals and winning the Presidents’ Trophy as well as earning a number of first overall draft picks.
The Senators did have a plan to build a new arena in the LeBreton Flats area of Ottawa, much closer to downtown, but being bogged down in litigation has the prospects of this project ever seeing the light of day not very strong. Fan anger towards owner Eugene Melnyk for a perceived lack of financial support in the team has led to a public outcry and fewer seats being filled at the Canadian Tire Centre than ever before. This is a dangerous play for Ottawa fans as there is no lease to the team-owned building holding them to the capital city and the Ottawa market is not strong enough to be considered a top NHL market. Ottawa fans may wake up one day to find that their team has left for greener pastures, which would be a real shame.
Food & Beverage 4
The concession scene at Canadian Tire Centre offers plenty for the hockey fan to indulge. All of the expected arena food can be found at Canadian Tire Centre including hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels and burgers. There are some concession stands that will definitely make the patron’s mouth water. Gabriel Pizza is a local staple and the Burger Shack offers some great choices off the grill. Smoke’s Poutinerie is a Canadian staple and definitely worth consideration. Canadian Tire Centre does offer a number of restaurant options in lieu of a lack of perceived options in the surrounding area. Reservations can be made at Bert’s Bar, Brookstreet Lounge, Check Point and others. This is a fairly unique situation and props must be given to the Sens for realizing a weakness and attempting to capitalize on it.
The Canadian Tire Centre is an acceptable NHL venue that is not terrible, yet does not compare to the modern venues and their amenities. The exterior of the CTC shows a building that towers and is seen from a distance with a circular design and a unique exterior colour scheme. A long canopy along the central sidewalk leads to the exterior plaza to protect fans from the elements, specifically cold winter wind, on the trip from the parking lot to the building. Fans are welcomed by a “Sens” sign, perfect for that exterior “I was here” photo opportunity, and a natural gas fireplace which is glassed in for safety. The main entry is from the large plaza on the east side of the building.
Upon entering the building, fans are faced with a situation seldom seen in the NHL as they are forced to go to whichever concourse is appropriate according to their ticket. Fans in the 100 level will have their ticket scanned and they head straight to the 100 level concourse, while fans with a 200 or 300 level ticket are required to ascend the stairs to have their ticket scanned along the way to the 200 level concourse. No arena has an exact replica of what can be found on the upper and lower levels. It is assumed that concession items on the upper level are the same as the lower level and there is a team store on both levels. The upper level concourse, where this review must focus, is fairly nondescript, but does offer a couple of items worth checking out. There is a wall with a number of hockey sweaters on display, which are assumed to be local youth teams. One sweater that was recognizable was from the Ottawa Gee-Gees, the hockey team representing the University of Ottawa. Some photo ops can be found at the giant goalie mask and headless Sens player cutout. The interior walls feature posters of musical acts that have played at the CTC. The Molson Cup, presented to the player with the most “3 Star” selections, is on display behind glass. It is fair to assume that there are other interesting things found in the lower concourse, but fans are herded into one of the two concourses and are unable to explore both.
Upon entering the seating bowl, fans are welcomed by a fairly universal seating design. There are three levels of seating with luxury boxes between the second and third levels, and high above the third level, near the rafters. The ice surface is oriented in an east-west direction with seating on the north side preferable for that perfect centre ice logo picture. The videoboard above the ice surface is actually a bit of a refreshing change with a crystal clear, simple design that does not overpower the experience as it does in many other venues. On the south side of centre ice fans are welcomed by the eleven Stanley Cup banners hung proudly by the Senators. All banners were earned by the previous incarnation of the team and show a dominance in the toddler years of the NHL. Stanley Cups were won in 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1920, 1921, 1923 and 1927. On the west side hang the accomplishments of the modern Senators including the 2003 Presidents’ Trophy and 2007 Eastern Conference Championship. The east side features the banners honouring the retired numbers for the Senators including previous era Senator Frank Finnigan, joined by Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips. The pressbox is located on the north side of the Canadian Tire Centre and is named in honour of Brian “Smitty” Smith, a local television broadcaster and former NHL player who was tragically murdered in 1995.
Gameday production at an Ottawa Senators game is a little less over-the-top than at other venues. The Sens provide the requisite pre-game video montage with lights and player introductions. The Senators lack some of the more modern production tools including the now common projections on the ice, but the production is still good. The music played throughout the stoppages is what one would expect for an NHL game, and the mascot, Sparty, can be found partaking in various promotions, specifically involving t-shirts being thrown or shot into the crowd. Although the festivities are more subdued than other NHL venues, it is a bit of a refreshing change to have more focus on the hockey itself rather than being bombarded with ads and promos.
Much of the vitriol sent toward the Canadian Tire Centre is based on its location of Kanata. Kanata was once a city of its own, but was amalgamated into the City of Ottawa in 2001. Now a suburb of Ottawa, Kanata is not close to the centre of Ottawa, requiring over twenty minutes of driving from Parliament Hill. The development of Kanata since the arrival of the Senators has been significant and it would be incorrect to assume that there is nowhere to eat or drink in the suburb. The Senators have attempted to combat the lack of options within walking distance by creating their own in-house restaurants, which may be options for fans. A very short drive to Terry Fox Drive will bring fans to the Kanata Entertainment Centrum, which is a large retail area with many dining options. Large chain options like Montana’s, Jack Astor’s, Milestones and Moxies are on site as well as 3 Brewers Kanata, which may be an option of interest. Beaver Tails, which is an Ottawa must, can be found at the nearby Tanger Outlets.
For fans wishing more sporting options in the Ottawa area, they are in luck. The Ottawa RedBlacks of the CFL play at TD Place Stadium and the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s play right underneath at TD Place Arena. The summer months have Frontier League Baseball at RCGT Park with the Ottawa Titans. The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees play football at Gee-Gees Stadium, hockey at Minto Sports Complex and basketball at The Court at Montpetit Hall. The Carleton Ravens play football at MNP Park, hockey at Carleton Ice House and the 15 time National Champion basketball team plays at the Ravens’ Nest. For a possible doubleheader, fans may want to consider crossing the river into Gatienau, Quebec to check out the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL at Centre Slush Puppie.
Outside of sports, Ottawa boasts one of the premier tourist destinations in Canada. Being the capital city, the Parliament buildings are high on the list of places to see. There are a ton of museums to check out while in Ottawa including the Canadian Museum of Nature, Canadian War Museum, Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Royal Canadian Mint are the tip of the iceberg. Lansdowne Park and the Rideau Canal are worth checking out and skating on the canal may be the quintessential Ottawa winter activity. The Tanger Outlets are located in Kanata for shopaholics. Unfortunately, almost all of the attractions are located in Downtown Ottawa and will require some travel.
For fans wishing to stay near the Canadian Tire Centre, the Fairfield Inn Ottawa Kanata is within walking distance, however it is not the greatest walk. There are other spots along Highway 417 that will take a minute or two to drive to from the Canadian Tire Centre.
Fan support for the Senators has fallen off as a result of the disputes with owner Eugene Melnyk. The Covid impacted 2021-2022 season has the Senators attracting the fewest fans per game in the NHL at under 9,000. They were also the lowest the previous season of 2019-2020 and in the bottom third the season before at over 14,000 fans per game. It will be interesting to see how fans react with the Senators showing some improvement on the ice and a season that is not impacted with fan reductions due to Covid. The best thing Ottawa Senator fans could do would be to support the team as best as possible while being vocal for a new arena situation. By staying away from the Canadian Tire Centre fans are helping increase the chances of the Ottawa Senators making a significant move to an entirely new market.
As with many venues that are surrounded by parking lots, traffic can be a real issue. The Canadian Tire Centre is immediately south of Highway 417, which provides the outlet for nearly all of the traffic to the arena. Not leaving sufficient time to get to the arena and out of the arena would be a fan’s error in judgment. There is plenty of parking around the Canadian Tire Centre to support the Senators and other events held at the arena. Pre-paying for parking may be the way to go to make things just a little bit easier to get into the arena. There are OC Transpo lines that do travel to the Canadian Tire Centre. Fans who wish to take public transit will need to check out the OC Transpo website for fares, maps and schedules.
Inside the Canadian Tire Centre, being forced to the upper or lower concourse depending on the ticket held is not ideal and the design of the building has plenty of stairs, which could be an issue for those with mobility challenges. The washrooms are sufficient given the lack of capacity crowds that are currently found in Ottawa.
Each venue and city may have specific security and Covid combatting requirements. Stadium Journey urges all fans to have a look at the Canadian Tire Centre and Ottawa Senators websites to get the most up to date security information including what bags, if any, are acceptable in the arena.
Return on Investment 3
The return on investment at the Canadian Tire Centre is a bit of a challenge. According to the Fan Cost Index for the 2019-2020 season, the Ottawa Senators were one of the cheapest options in the NHL, ranked 28th. However, at over $330 that is still a very significant outlay. Ticket prices can jump all the way to $325. There are some better deals to be found, however, with some tickets in the upper level corners at $65. Most upper level tickets will be $75 or $85, but tickets often fluctuate as most NHL experiences do. The return becomes a bit of a challenge due to the access issues and lack of fan support. A better crowd will help alleviate the arena location as will a better team on the ice, but overall the return on investment is average at best.
An extra mark for the Senators embracing their heritage and the original Senators with their eleven Stanley Cup banners and retirement of Frank Finnigan’s number 8.
An extra mark for the names of the streets surrounding the Canadian Tire Centre. Many have significance for Ottawa hockey, including Frank Finnigan Way, Cyclone Taylor Boulevard and Palladium Drive. The Palladium was the original name of the Canadian Tire Centre.
An extra mark for the Canadian Tire Centre as the final Canadian building to showcase NHL icon, Wayne Gretzky.
An extra mark for the return to the original expansion logo that the Senators wore during their first season in 1992.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the Ottawa Senators and their much maligned building in Kanata. It must be said, however, that regardless of the situation with the Canadian Tire Centre, the Ottawa Senators are still an NHL experience and fans will still have a great time during the game. Proper research and preparation can overcome some of the Capital City issues, but reinvigorating the fanbase with a new, exciting, better located venue can’t be a bad thing.