- Dave Cottenie
North Bay Memorial Gardens - North Bay Battalion
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
North Bay Memorial Gardens 100 Chippewa St W North Bay, ON P1B 6G2
North Bay Memorial Gardens website
Year Opened: 1954
The Troops and the Bunker
In 2013 the Ontario Hockey League made a triumphant return to North Bay, Ontario. After the North Bay Centennials had their run from 1982 to 2002, they left for Saginaw, Michigan under a cloud of mistrust and bad feelings. The hockey light would shine again in the Gateway to the North after the local fans provided next level support for the Nipissing Lakers, a newly formed university team. Brampton Battalion owner and Trivial Pursuit founder Scott Abott would bring his OHL team from outside of Toronto north to the banks of Lake Nipissing in search of greater fan support. Moving the team to a military city like North Bay made the team name and moniker suddenly make a whole lot more sense.
Home for the Battalion is the North Bay Memorial Gardens. Originally built in 1954 as a living monument for those who gave their lives in the great wars, the Gardens underwent a significant renovation to bring it up to OHL standards. The Gardens may not be the newest or shiniest venue in the league, but it is a throwback to a previous era and there is nothing in the OHL quite like it.
Food & Beverage 3
The concession options at the North Bay Memorial Gardens are fairly pedestrian. The expected items are available with hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels and fries taking centre stage.. Nathan’s Hot Dogs are widely advertised as the hot dog of North Bay and a gourmet hot dog. Poutine, chicken fingers and onion rings are also options. Pizza slices and even whole pizzas are available for fans as well. The item with the most originality that may be the ticket for fans is Dessert Funnel Cake Poutine which can be purchased with strawberry or chocolate topping. Pepsi products are the soft drink of choice and the Battalion also offers a wide variety of hot beverages as well. Beer is available at small stands or in the Hall of Fame Lounge.
When the Battalion moved to North Bay, the North Bay Memorial Gardens required a significant renovation. The City of North Bay, owner of the Gardens, would be sticking with the 1954 bones and making improvements from there. The first of those renovations is evident from the main entrance on Chippewa Street. A huge glass enclosure at the top of the rather inconspicuous building gave the building a more striking appearance while adding luxury boxes and office space to the west side of the building.
North Bay Memorial Gardens was built as a living memorial for those local residents who lost their lives in World War I and II and it is evident in the concourses. The concourses, along with the exterior of the seating bowl, are dominated by brown brick which brings the fan back to the era in which the Gardens was built. Lists of those residents who lost their lives in the war memorialized in framed glass highlight a number of interesting aspects of the concourse. Mementos for winning The 2007 Kraft Hockeyville contest and NHL hockey sweaters along with team pictures from both the North Bay Centennials and North Bay Battalion will keep the exploring fan entertained. Further exploration can be done in the North Bay Sports Hall of Fame, found at the north end of the Gardens. Fans should search for the likes of CFL Hall of Famer, Mike O’Shea and NHL players Darren Turcotte and Ken Wharram among others.
Upon entering the seating area, fans won’t be able to help but notice the unique structure. With the Hall of Fame Lounge at the north end of the north-south oriented ice surface, the east and west sides house the majority of seats in four sections each. The south end also has seating, which was part of the renovation. Choosing the right seat should be more of a conscientious decision at the Gardens. The seating area is not really bowl-like and all of the seats on the east and west sides are at right angles. The ceiling structure features large beams on the east and west sides creating a number of seats where the view of the four-sided video board is obstructed. Fans should consider seats no higher than rows H or I for a clear view of the videoboard at centre ice. Not being able to see the videoboard, however, is not the end of the world. There are a number of TV screens and digital scoreboards to keep fans engaged. Standing room is found at the top of the east side and a few rows of ice level seating is found around the ice surface. Conference and Division banners for the Battalion hang to the south of the videoboard and the lone 1994 Conference Banner for the Centennials has to the north. Unfortunately, the maze of structural steel makes for no really great place to hang any banners.
The gameday production is deftly put together and is a happy medium between old and new school experiences. The Gardens does, surprisingly, have LED lights. The Troops enter the ice surface through an inflated tank, after Sarge, the Battalion mascot. The Battalion do have a few little nods to their military motif with announcements of “One Minute to Cease Fire” and playing Edwin Starr’s “War” as their goal song. The military spots have been downplayed over the years, but considering North Bay is a military town, with an air force base in the city, the Battalion production is most appropriate.
North Bay is a wonderful city in Northern Ontario. Known mainly for outdoor activities such as snowmobiling and ice fishing in the winter and cottaging and fishing in the summer months, there are plenty of opportunities for fans to find other adventures that could include a Lakers game. The North Bay Memorial Gardens is located west of the Trans Canada Highway, east of Lake Nipissing on Chippewa Street. The immediate area surrounding the arena is fairly residential with the local YMCA right next door. Access to the highway is easy so it is not difficult to head downtown or other spots to find interesting North Bay highlights.
In addition to the many outdoor activities that can be found in North Bay, fans may also want to check out the North Bay Museum. As far as other sporting options go, Nipissing University fields a number of athletic teams. The Nipissing Lakers basketball team plays on campus at the Robert J. Surtees Student Athletic Center. The Nipissing Lakers hockey team also shares the Memorial Gardens with the Battalion.
There are a number of options for pre and post game fare in North Bay. Fans will definitely need to hop in the car to get there though. Cecil’s Brewhouse, Wacky’s, Moose’s Cookhouse, Burger World and Arugula are all good options.
For fans staying in the city, the Holiday Inn and Hampton Inn are good options that are pretty close to the arena.
Fan support of the North Bay Battalion has waned over the years. North Bay received their team after huge support for the Nipissing Lakers hockey team. Initially, the fans came out to support the Battalion, selling out most nights. The 2022 season, which admittedly has been decimated by coronavirus limitations, saw fewer than 2,000 fans per game at the Memorial Gardens, second fewest in the OHL. The 2020 season, pre-covid, had the Battalion averaging just over 2,000 fans, their fewest to date, the lowest in the league. With the Battalion having a strong season on the ice, attendance has picked up a bit. It will be interesting to see what happens in a full, uninterrupted season for the Battalion at the turnstile. The fans that are in attendance are strong supporters of the Battalion and can definitely be heard.
The North Bay Memorial Gardens is located west of the Trans Canada Highway on Chippewa Street. The highway runs north, right through the city, essentially splitting it. Being very close to the highway and highways 11 and 17, the Gardens is very easy to get to by car. There are 1000 parking spots at the Memorial Gardens and there is no charge for parking. For fans who wish to utilize public transit, there is a bus stop on Chippewa Street directly in front of the arena. Fans can check out the North Bay Transit website for maps, fares and schedules.
The box office is located on the west side of the building and lineups are not usually an issue. Getting around the arena is not too difficult, although at times, the concourses can be a bit narrow. The washroom facilities are also adequate.
With the protocols for covid and the ever changing security situation at arenas, Stadium Journey encourages fans to check out the North Bay Memorial Gardens and North Bay Battalion websites for the most up to date safety and security information.
Return on Investment 5
Taking in a North Bay Battalion game is pretty easy on the pocket book. Tickets for the Battalion are under $25 for the regular season. Parking is free and concession prices are about what one would expect. The product on the ice is as good as anywhere in Ontario and does not feel like a once in a lifetime endeavor as some NHL experiences do.
An extra mark for the renewed rivalry with the other Northern Ontario teams in the OHL, the Sudbury Wolves and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Two extra marks for Remembrance Day celebrations for the Battalion. The game that was reviewed was just before Remembrance Day on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice Treaty. The Battalion did a wonderful job of celebrating the day with the help of the local Legion and the locals that are stationed at CFB North Bay. The Gardens remains a living memorial of those who served.
In a league where more than half of the arenas are now shiny and generic, there is something to be said for the throwback arena. It may not have all the bells and whistles, but it has character and provides for a great time. The North Bay Memorial Gardens is such an arena. Taking in a North Bay Battalion game is a ton of fun and great value for the sporting dollar.
Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.