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Demolition of Estevan’s Civic Auditorium begins

Estevan's Civic Auditorium. Derek Putz / Global News

It was the sight of countless graduation ceremonies, bench-clearing brawls, and many a fall fair.

Now, the city of Estevan, Sask. is saying goodbye to the historic Civic Auditorium, with demolition beginning on May 14.

Residents will tell you it was never the prettiest building, but the Civic wore its scars with pride.

“My first thought of the civic auditorium was not a love affair or anything at all,” Retired sports journalist Norm Park recalled. “In fact, I was not enamoured with the building at all when I first walked through it in the summer of ’69.”

For 61 years, the Civic saw it all.

Estevan’s Civic Auditorium in 1959. City of Estevan

With its unusual layout and an ice surface modelled after the famous Boston Gardens, the rink became notorious for a rowdy atmosphere – thanks to the upstart Estevan Bruins and its legion of fans.

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Star players on visiting teams were known to miss games at the Civic after catching the ‘Estevan flu’ in the 60’s and 70’s, while gritty head coach Ernie ‘Punch’ McLean’s antics would become subject of hockey lore.

Ernie ‘Punch’ McLean
Ernie ‘Punch’ McLean. Hockey Hall of Fame

“As Ernie used to say, ‘if you can’t play a good hockey game here in the civic auditorium in Estevan, then you won’t be playing hockey in the NHL,” Park chuckled.

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Estevan mayor Roy Ludwig remembers making the 40-mile voyage into the city to watch Bruins games with his father as a child. He had a front-row seat to hockey history on one particular night in 1966.

“I happened to be here when Jim Harrison scored the three goals in 24 seconds, which stands to this day,” Ludwig excitedly said “It was amazing. Crowds would be packed, and Mr. McLean would throw his hat on the ice, then everybody would throw their hats on the ice.”

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But, the building’s glory days have given way to rotting supports and numerous structural issues, causing a dip in the north end of the rink’s ice surface.

By 2017, the deteriorating conditions couldn’t be ignored any longer. A survey found the civic was in need of an immediate $1.5 million in repairs. Though the intention was always to reopen the building, the city was unable to find any insurance to cover it. The rink closed for the final time in November 2017, and its fate was sealed in January.

The demolition comes with a $143,000 price tag.

While the civic’s clock, glass, and cooling equipment will be salvaged, by June 15, there will be no sign the building once stood there.

“It’ll be a complete demolition, including the cement pad, and clay put back in the void, packed, and it’ll be like a parking lot when they’re done,” Mayor Ludwig said.

This leaves two rinks, the nearby Affinity Place and Power Dodge Ice Centre, to carry the load of multiple hockey teams, figure skating clubs, concerts, expos, and public skating.

The city said meetings will begin in the fall to see what kind of sports facility could help fill the void left by one of Saskatchewan’s most storied arenas.

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The Civic’s cornerstone will be displayed in Affinity Place, where the Bruins have played since 2011, and a permanent memorial will soon be established.

 

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