Vancouver Arena – West Georgia and Denman

The Vancouver Arena was sometimes called the Denman Arena, as it sat on the water side of West Georgia Street, to the west of where Denman Street crosses. It was developed in 1911 and is seen here around 1920 (and not 1913) in a Vancouver Public Library image. It was the city’s biggest venue, with 10,500 seats around the artificial ice surface, used for ice skating, ice hockey and curling. Thomas Hooper designed the $300,000 arena for the Vancouver Arena Co., Ltd, controlled by Frank Patrick. (The permit was for $80,000, but that was just the cost of the structure; the land and ice making equipment added significantly to the investment).

It was the first artificial rink in Canada, and was claimed as the largest indoor ice rink in the world at the time it opened (although Madison Square Gardens was actually bigger). Frank Patrick was from Ottawa, and came to Vancouver in the early 1900s when he ran the local operations of the Patrick Lumber Co. based in Nelson and run by his father, Joe. A former professional hockey player, he founded the Vancouver Millionaires hockey team in 1911, bringing Fred ‘Cyclone’ Taylor to lead the team in 1912, and winning the Stanley Cup in 1915 by beating the Ottawa Senators at the Denman Arena.

In 1914, the Arena was used to house over 1,000 soldiers who were assembling to form the 23rd Infantry Brigade. The soldiers left Vancouver in August 1914 to be deployed as the first Canadian troops in World War I. The arena was also used for other sports, musical performances and public assemblies. Here’s the 1917 motor show on the floor of the Arena.

In 1921 it hosted the first international women’s ice hockey championship, organized by Patrick’s Pacific Coast Hockey Association. In 1924 William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Canadian Prime Minister, during a tour of the west, broadcast a speech from the arena which may have been the first political broadcast in Canada. The CCF held a political rally in 1935 that attracted 16,000 people – the largest indoor gathering that the city had ever seen.

Wooden buildings in Vancouver had a history of burning down, and in the mid 1930s the Arena was given a brick skin (and a new nickname, ‘The Pile’) in order to avoid the fate of the Victoria and New Westminster arenas. In August 1936 a crowd of around 4,000 watched a boxing match between Max Bauer and James J Walsh. Later that evening the nearby boat builders yard caught fire, and around 1.30am the flames spread and engulfed the Arena. Two lives were lost and three firemen injured. The Arena was destroyed, along with seven industrial buildings, two homes and fifty-eight small boats.

The Patrick family announced plans for a replacement, but that never happened. They had built a smaller building in front of the Arena, the Georgia Auditorium, and although damaged that was saved from the fire. In 1945 the Arena site was sold to Hymie Singer, a local theatre and club owner, for $80,000, and he announced a new million-dollar arena, that was also never realized. Once the Auditorium closed in 1959 the site was eyed by several developers for a forest of towers, but eventually it became part of Devonian Harbour Park.

Image sources; Vancouver Public Library and City of Vancouver Archives CVA 94-56

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Posted 9 September 2021 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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