Call me sentimental but I am a little wistful about Edmonton City Council’s decision, taken shortly before last Christmas, to approve $35 million in funding for the demolition of Northlands Coliseum. By the way, for those who like numbers, that is double what it cost to build in the early ‘70s. I have always called it that, even if some remember it better as Rexall Place or even, briefly, as Skyreach Centre. When the old arena finally comes down, likely sometime in 2025, Connor McDavid’s Oilers may have already hoisted a Stanley Cup – hey, a fan can hope – in their shiny downtown starship, meaning that generations younger than mine won’t give a damn about the sad end for a storied franchise’s first NHL home. But no matter what happens to bring forth cheers and joy in the ICE District, that spot on the north side of 118th Avenue will always remain a spark to memory for me.
It was here after all, in fact just a few rows away from his then-fiancé Janet Jones, that I watched the Great One’s last shifts as an Oiler, game five versus Boston one glorious May evening in ‘88. There were other games, too, many featuring excellent Edmonton teams (both in the NHL and World Hockey Association) and plenty played by lousy ones.
I won’t forget the classic concerts of my youth in there either: Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, the Police — all of them at their peak. There are other things to remember about the place, too, if not exactly miss. Like the ice cream pail thumping Charlie Watts wannabe busking outside the rink or just inside the doors of the nearby LRT station after almost every game and concert. Or that long wait for a cop’s all clear to dash across Gretzky Drive near the Forum Inn, followed by the hurried walk to a frozen car left on some darkened street half a dozen blocks east, beyond the restricted parking zone.