April 6th, 2016 – the day the final home game for the Edmonton Oilers was played at Rexall Place; a day that should live in infamy, but few will remember. For the time being we do not know the fate of the place colloquially known as “Rexall,” whether it will stay standing or be demolished as most former sports arenas are. However, it still feels like a funeral of sorts – a final goodbye rather than a “see you later.”
Breaking ground in 1972 and opening in 1974 to replace the old, degrading Edmonton Gardens, the Northlands Coliseum has stood for the better part of four decades. It has hosted many events and acts across the years: Guns N’ Roses, Shania Twain, multiple Briers, Canadian Finals Rodeo, but probably none more important than housing the city’s hockey team. The Coliseum played host to 10 years of what some call the greatest dynasty in the game – 5 Stanley Cups in 7 years, a plethora of Hall of Fame players, the greatest player ever to play the game, and a city united around the cathedral that played host of the team of gods. Yes, we may be far from the “City of Champions” days currently, but for those like myself who grew up in the 90s and the early 2000s, going to the then called “Skyreach Centre” was still just as magical. Instead of Gretz, the Moose, Kurri, and Anderson, we had Weight, Smyth, Smith, and Rolli the Goalie. Even though we didn’t have the dream team of the 80s, they were our dream team.
Rexall Place might be an outdated building by today’s standards – few luxury boxes, old seats, and nothing to marvel at architecturally, but that’s not what matters to Edmontonians. We love that old, crappy concrete building – and not just for hockey games. I can remember one of the best experiences I had at Rexall was when I was 14, having courtside seats to the Harlem Globetrotters when they came to town. An experience I will never forget is going with my dad and a friend to Game 7 of the 2006 Cup Finals. It was broadcasted on the jumbotron and the place was packed as though it was a normal home game.
I can’t remember the last time I was at the building – probably for an Oilers game a season or two ago, cheering on my beloved Montreal Canadiens – but it’s disconcerting for me to think that I might never be in that building again. If the building ends up being demolished, there goes a part of Edmonton’s history – the center of entertainment activity for over forty years – gone. But as history closes one door, another always opens. The transition for the Oilers and the city to Rogers Place is symbolic of a shift for the city. As ICE District continues to be developed, so will Edmonton. If the plans for the new hub of sports and entertainment is anything indicative for the city, Edmontonians have a lot to look forward to in the future. So I hope that on Wednesday, regardless if you cheer for the Oilers, regardless if you have never had the infamous #RexallBeer, I hope you all joined me in one final curtain call to one of the most iconic buildings in this city’s history, and reflect on the many memories we have all had in that crappy, old, but beautiful building.
Photography courtesy of Wanderer Online photographer Alan Paone.