From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
Remember This? . . . Gouin Street Arena – a real community centre!
Before the Essar Centre, there was the Memorial Gardens but before that the city had the Gouin Street Arena!
Following the destruction by fire in1910 of the existing arena, the idea for a new arena was proposed by Colonel S.L. Penhorwood, Harry Sargeant, W.J. Thompson and R.H. Knight. These four men became the driving force for the construction of the ice skating arena. It took three years for their idea to become reality but in 1913 the Gouin Arena on Gouin Street opened.
On January 6, 1913, the new arena opened its doors to the public. About 600 skaters and spectators filled the skating rink. The arena not only had an ice rink for skating and hockey, it also featured a curling rink in an adjacent ice surface making it a dual purpose arena. On January 10 the hockey team from Sault Michigan came to play a hockey game against the local team in the first indoor hockey game since the previous arena had burned.
During its first year of operation the Gouin Arena became a true community centre. Once the ice was removed for the summer months, the local Farmer’s Market moved from its previous location on King Street into the arena. During the summer months the curling rink surface was re-purposed and used as a roller skating rink.
A popular social event occurred every Saturday night at the arena when people from all over the city came together to skate. Live music for the skating was provided by the rink commission’s brass band under their original leader, Harry Pearse. People have recounted that many marriages in our community at that time could trace their beginnings back to these weekly skating events as young people met their future spouses!
In 1922, the movie called The Rapids, a fictionalized account about Francis Clergue and his impact on the development of the city was filmed in part at the Gouin Arena which served as the headquarters for the silent film project starring Mary Astor. Although filming took place at several locations throughout the city, stages were built inside the arena in order to shoot the inside scenes.
The Rotary Club sponsored local boxing matches that were held in the arena. However it is not surprising that the most popular events held at the Gouin Arena were hockey games. In a Sault Star article, Wilf Ross remembered in the 1920’s that people used to stand in line the night before a scheduled hockey game in order to get a ticket. Often these lines extended all the way from Gouin Street at East Street down Queen to Brock Street. They were able to pack in 2,500 people every game night.
During the First and Second World Wars, the arena was used as a barracks to house the American and Canadian soldiers that were stationed here to guard the locks and canal system. With the construction of the Memorial Gardens in 1949, the arena became home to the Sault’s Sea Cadet Barracks and the Soo Curlers Association. It was also used by both the T. Eaton Company Ltd. and Stedman’s as a warehouse to store merchandise for their respective stores.
On July 3, 1965, disaster struck as flames raced through the Gouin Street Arena building leaving nothing but collapsed walls and twisted steel. Thirty foot flames were fanned by strong southwest winds at the height of the fire causing firemen to fear that the fire would continue to spread to other structures. Although the fire did spread to an adjacent house located on Bay Street, it was vacant. They were able to save the other houses in the area. Due to the proximity of City Hall, officials moved vital files and money from City Hall and they had fifteen trucks lined up along Queen Street in order to start evacuating additional records if it appeared that sparks could spread and ignite the City Hall complex as well. At one point there was also fear that the flames could spread to the large oil tank storage depot located on the south side of Bay Street so the Coast Guard patrolled St. Mary’s River in case they were needed.
As soon as the fire was out members from the Soo Curlers’ Association began searching through the debris looking for close to 100 curling rocks valued at $85 each. The rocks were buried under three feet of brick wall that had collapsed during the fire. About $100,000 worth of furniture was being stockpiled by Stedman’s in preparation for their planned opening in August in the Market Mall. Eaton’s also had been using the space to store furniture for their business but no estimate was available of their losses.
The total damage caused by the fire was estimated to be about $500,000 but the loss of the popular city landmark was felt deeply by every local resident as they recalled the happy times that they had spent in the Gouin Street Arena. Gouin Street no longer exists due to the redevelopment of the Bay and East Street area. Today you will find a couple of apartment buildings on the site of the old Gouin Street.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.