Sentimental Saultites who could never really get used to referring to the city’s main arena as the Essar Centre, always correcting themselves after uttering the name ‘Gardens,’ can now rejoice.
After environmental waste management company GFL (Green for Life) Environmental Inc. purchased the naming rights to the home of the Soo Greyhounds from the city for 10 years, the GFL Memorial Gardens sign was officially unveiled at the arena Wednesday.
As the veil dropped from the sign, puffs of green smoke went up, as did cheers from the audience gathered in the arena’s parking lot.
Green for Life was established by Sault entrepreneur John Martella.
Patrick Dovigi, a Sault native now based in Toronto, eventually became GFL Environmental’s CEO, the company expanding dramatically over the years.
Both Martella and Dovigi were in attendance for Wednesday’s ceremony, seemingly appropriate a company associated with two Sault men is now directly linked to the community’s Memorial Gardens.
“When this opportunity came up it just seemed like a fit for myself, my family and the company, given the amount of exposure we have in this community, being from the Sault, growing up playing hockey in this arena,” Dovigi told the audience.
“Being entrenched in this community, a lot of my upbringing and values came from playing hockey in this community,” said Dovigi, who still has many family members in the Sault.
“Being back and seeing ‘Essar Centre’ here just didn’t feel right...it just felt right to have ‘GFL Memorial Gardens’ being the staple of this community,” Dovigi told the audience.
Dovigi conferred with Martella and cousin Chris Dovigi, who manages the company locally, and felt a return to the Memorial Gardens name was in order when the opportunity for naming rights came up.
“It’s great,” Dovigi told SooToday.
“Essar didn’t really have any ties to the community and I thought it was important that we were able to come in. It meant something to me and the company, being able to have a local presence and me being from here and growing up and playing hockey at the Memorial Gardens, there was a real significance to naming the arena.”
“I started a business in Toronto, and being from Sault Ste. Marie, I thought it was important to come back and expand our business and merge our business with John,” Dovigi told us.
That was seven years ago.
Today, GFL Environmental, with its head office in Toronto, has expanded to every province in Canada and into Michigan.
“We have 6,000 employees that work from Vancouver all the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland,” Dovigi said.
“I moved away from home really early to play hockey, I grew up in the Sault and left home to play Junior B hockey in Waterloo, and then was drafted by the OHL and played for St. Mike’s and Erie, so I’ve been gone for 15 years, but it’s always good to come back. All my immediate family lives here. The Sault’s always home,” Dovigi said.
At its May 28, 2018 meeting, city council approved the recommendation from city staff to award the naming rights of the arena to GFL.
GFL will pay the city $75,000 a year for 10 years in exchange for naming rights, year one of the agreement already paid. In addition, GFL will grant the arena a 50 percent discount on all waste and recycling containers.
Dovigi said he hopes GFL will have the opportunity to pay for the naming rights to the Gardens after the 10-year period is over.
The arena, apart from being home to the Soo Greyhounds and a site for concerts, has a special significance for veterans.
The original Memorial Gardens was dedicated to Sault veterans in 1949, the Memorial Tower the only part of that original structure remaining after the original Gardens was demolished in 2006, and now adjoined to the newer arena.
The Gardens, which also has memorial plaques to Sault veterans in its foyer, is home to one of the more impressive and elaborate Remembrance Day ceremonies held in Canada every November.