HALIFAX – The voice behind “cannonading drive” started here, and the Voyageurs thrived in this gem of a barn that now is the practice facility for the IIHF World Championship in Halifax.
The hallways are concrete and the seats made of wood. The smell of ice and Zamboni fumes hit you the moment you walk into the time machine known as the Forum. Built in 1927, it was the first arena with artificial ice east of Montreal. Today, it is a busy remnant of bygone days, a veritable active museum of sorts.
When it opened officially on December 21, 1927, the Forum was packed to the rafters. Some 5,500 fans can squeeze in for big games, and over the years there have been many. The roof is almost flat and made of wood. Large tarps hang just below the ceiling to catch dust and dirt.
Steel beams near the ice create obstructed views for some fans, but the most remarkable thing about watching a game here is the sound. From every seat in the house you can hear players talk on the bench, officials howl “icing!” and players holler “yep” as they look for a pass. You are not just watching a game here—you are part of the game.
There are three kinds of wood seats. The fancy seats, painted grey, are individual and have a small number in the upper right corner of the back to identify its location. The last five rows are simply benches painted blue, and behind these are upper hallways for standing room. At the top, along the two side walls, are glass blocks which help light the interior.
Above one side of seats, right at centre ice, is the small gondola. It practically hangs over the ice. This is where Danny Gallivan started his career. He moved from tiny Antigonish to do play-by-play for St. Marys, a local senior team in the Maritime League. He later went on to another Forum, the bigger version in Montreal, to call the Canadiens’ games for decades.
There are seats only on three sides of the interior. The fourth is nothing but a wall with “luxury suites” protruding humbly. These are rudimentary offices which provide a spectacular vantage point for a game.
Over the years the Forum has served many purposes and seen many championship games. In 1935, the Halifax Wolverines captured the Allan Cup, perhaps the biggest win in the Forum’s history. In the early days, however, big-league teams played alongside aspiring pros and amateurs. The Grammar School Hockey League, for instance, took over the Forum every Saturday morning as kids and pros were given equal opportunity in the Forum.
In the early 1940s, while war raged through Europe, Canada’s Department of National Defence mandated that the Forum be used to provide physical activity for soldiers. As a result, many incredible players entertained Haligonians as NHLers left their team to join the army. Bobby Bauer, Joe Klukay, Gaye Stewart, and “Bingo” Kampman (so nicknamed because the ferocity of his hits, according to one reporter, sounded like “bingo!”) all played at the Forum during the war.
The Halifax Atlantics won the Alexander Cup, as Canadian Major Senior champions, in 1952-53 and ’53-’54. One of the players on the first team was Ken Laufman who later played in the 1956 and ’60 Olympics for Canada.
If the Allan Cup victory wasn’t the biggest moment in the arena’s history, then certainly events during the 1970s were. The Forum was the home of the Nova Scotia Voyaguers, AHL affiliate for the Montreal Canadiens, the dominant team of the decade. Many members of the Stanley Cup champions started their careers at the Halifax Forum, presaging NHL glory by winning three Calder Cup championships (1971-72, 1975-76, 1976-77).
Despite the importance of the building both historically and to the ongoing cultural vibrancy of the city, the arena fell into sad state in the 1980s and was nearly torn down. However, citizens and city officials rallied, infused the needed money for upgrades, and created renewed success for the old barn.
Today, there is no pro hockey here, but locals rent ice and use it every day of the week. Except now, of course. The IIHF has taken control of the building during the World Championship, and now players from all over the world can see the history of hockey in Canada just by stopping briefly at centre ice and looking around. They see the wood seats, the light filter in, the old scoreclock above the ice and the gondola on one side. They see where the game came from, and as they look down to see the temporary Skoda logo, they see where it still is.