Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
A piece of their heart
It's surprising how many people want a chunk of the old stadium -- even the troughs
There's no possible way for Leigh Young to plausibly or rationally explain it. So he won't even attempt to make the effort.
Some people collect hockey cards. Others, the autographs of famous athletes scrawled onto photographs, game programs, team logos, ball hats or jerseys.
And Young? Well, get this: The president and general manager of To-Le-Do Food Service here in town is about to add to his collection of urinal troughs from two iconic Winnipeg sporting facilities -- the old arena and now Canad Inns Stadium.
"Hey, I figured if I already have eight feet of the old Winnipeg Arena trough, I should have eight feet of the one from the stadium, too," Young said late one night this week, not long after a pick-up hockey game with his team, the To-Le-Do Meatheads. "And so I sent the Bombers a letter asking them that if they could find eight feet of 'choice' trough, we would donate $500 to the Children's Rehab Centre.
"One day I hope to have the two troughs together. It's a little bit different, I know. I remember going to games both as a young kid and as an adult. And there were many times I couldn't wait to get to the trough to get rid of all that borrowed beer in my system. It was just part of the whole deal when you went to games.
"But, just so you know," Young added, "I do have seats from the arena and I've ordered seats from the Bomber stadium. I'm not just interested in urinals."
Young keeps the old arena trough stored in the basement of his company's distribution centre and brings it out for men's stags or other special occasions.
"Bobby Hull has actually p ed in it," Young explained. "Somebody put a sign on it of a guy relieving himself on the (Edmonton) Oilers' logo. And when Bobby saw that he was roaring in laughter. He said, 'I never did like those guys.' "
-- -- --
Some time in the next month or so, wrecking balls will start hammering away at the old football stadium on Maroons Road, a building that opened in 1953 and served as the home of the Blue Bombers for 59 years. Most who forced themselves into the tiny seats with little leg room, who cursed the nasty gale-force wind that often crashed in over the north end zone or who stood waiting in line for a spot at the trough will agree the facility's best days had long since passed.
But as much as football fans are eager to experience the comforts of the new Investors Group Field at the University of Manitoba when it opens for next season, there is also a great deal of sentiment for the old place.
And nostalgia, it would seem, comes in many forms, shapes and sizes.
"What we're finding is every person has a different memory or a different moment from all the years here," said Jeffrey Bannon, the Bombers director of marketing. "I'll be walking around here and thinking, 'No one would ever want that...' and all of a sudden I'm getting two emails from people who want it. Every single day I'm getting an email asking, 'Do you have this?'
"I don't want to say one man's trash is another's treasure, but I can't tell you how many things people are asking about. I've lost count."
The club has offered its season-ticket holders the first chance to buy memorabilia from the stadium, including the seats they sat in over the years, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1. The general public has access from Dec. 2 to Dec. 16, or until the inventory is gone. Framed memory collections, including a photo of the stadium and a piece of the turf, are also available.
The Bombers also sent out notices through Sport Manitoba to sporting organizations, community clubs and schools informing them they can request the benches from the stadium at no charge.
"The requests we're getting for the benching are amazing, from the Long Plain First Nation to Brandon... you name it," said Bannon. "It's not just football teams, either. It's baseball, curling, soccer, hockey... every single sport. We've been saying that if you can use them, let us know. We'll take them off, put them downstairs, slap a Christmas bow on them and boom, there you go. All you have to do is come pick them up.
"We don't want anything left that can have a second life somewhere else. That's what we want. It would tear my heart knowing this place would come down without some of it having a second life somewhere else."
-- -- --
The Bombers were a big part of Fred Colston's life for years. So much so that when the longtime season-ticket holder died in 1976, his family had a service on the field at the stadium and spread his ashes there.
"Before he died he used to joke around, 'When I go, scatter my ashes on the Bomber field so I will never miss a game,' " explained his daughter, Chris Katrick. "He was an armchair quarterback and he said he wanted his ashes spread on the Bomber sideline so he could still tell them how to play. My mom took it seriously and when he did die, his boss at the time was a member of the Bomber board and he helped arrange it."
Now there's another chapter to this story. Chris Katrick's mom, who is now 88, has long lamented that some of her husband's ashes weren't kept so they could be taken back to Wales, where they were originally from, to be interred with a son who died in 1947. So Katrick emailed the Bombers with a request: Could she take some of the soil from beneath the 50-yard-line turf, where her dad's ashes were spread?
"My kids think it's totally weird and I wondered if the Bombers would think I was weird, but they were quite nice about the whole thing," Katrick said. "I have a little pill bottle of the dirt and when my mom goes, I do intend to mix some of her ashes with it and take it to Wales and have it put where my brother is."
-- -- --
Drive by the stadium today and you'll see a building on its deathbed. The seats and benches are coming out, the turf is being pulled up in chunks. Even the famous Rum Hut, it was announced Thursday, will be auctioned off for charity.
It is, essentially, the ultimate "Everything Must Go!" sale, and this is a discount town that loves a deal.
The most-popular items being requested are the player lockers. Because there are only roughly 80, they will be sold via auction. Bannon said both Milt Stegall and Doug Brown have asked for their old lockers and fans who do get their mitts on the others will be able to get name plates of their favourite players affixed to them.
The various section signs will be auctioned off and various organizations have asked about the Jumbotron, the lighting system and the goal posts. The Bombers' Bannon even found a demand for the advertising signage that had a home at the stadium all these years.
"The 'Nachos' sign, the 'Hot Chocolate' sign, the 'Cold Beer' signs... they've been here since I was a kid," Bannon said. "Some of those things are going to end up in somebody's basement. I told my wife I was going to bring home the 'Nachos' sign. She said, 'Where are you going to put it?' I just said, 'I'll worry about that later.' I may just sneak it in when she's not home."
The Bombers have had inquiries about the restaurant equipment from Hutterite colonies. The folks from the Manitoba Stampede and the Rockin' the Fields event in Minnedosa have asked about the fencing around the facility and handicap ramps.
"I've had cattle farmers look at the trough as something they may use to feed their livestock," Bannon added, "and so I joke with them that I'm going to eat chicken for the rest of my life."
Bannon said the North Winnipeg Nomads considered taking the turf for their own facility, but a city engineering report from last spring said because it was purchased in 2003 and had an eight- to nine-year shelf life, the integrity of the playing surface would be compromised. That hasn't stopped some fans from inquiring about getting some rather large pieces of it.
"I had somebody ask for a chunk 160 by 200 feet so they don't have to cut their lawn anymore," Bannon said.
-- -- --
Is it too corny to say a sporting facility that housed the Bombers for 59 years, that was the centre point for two Pan Am Games, that hosted the Queen, the Rolling Stones, U2 and hundreds of concerts and events has come to represent more than just a mass of concrete, turf and metal? Maybe so. But a lot of fans, either casual types or diehards, spent a lot of hours at this old joint.
And you'll have to excuse them if they feel a little bittersweet about the stadium's last days.
"A lot of people really cared about this place," Bannon said. "I guess the good thing when you're tearing something like this down is you know there's a new one around the corner."
"You know, I'm looking forward to the new stadium," Chris Katrick said. "But there's lots of memories over there at the old stadium, too. It'll be sad when it goes because it's been a part of so many people's lives for such a long time. I'm going to miss the place.
"Even now when I drive past the stadium I say hi to my dad. It's 'Hey coach, how's the game going?' "
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @WFPEdTait
Fans interested in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Winnipeg/Canad Inns Stadium asset sale should check out this link: www.bluebombers.com/page/winnipegcanad-inns-stadium-asset-sale-details
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 A6
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