Gotta give the old dump its due
Plain, functional stadium served us well for 58 colourful years
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/06/2011 (4289 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NO one, near as we can tell, ever referred to Winnipeg/Canad Inns Stadium as ‘picturesque’, a ‘cathedral’ or a ‘grand ol lady.’
It was never held in the same high regard as Yankee Stadium or the Montreal Forum or the Boston Garden — sporting shrines every one of them — or even revered or romanticized like Empire Stadium in Vancouver or Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.
It was and remains, in one word, functional.
And now the building’s last days are upon us.
The home of the Blue Bombers since 1953, the stadium will meet the wrecking ball after this season as the football club moves into its new home at the University of Manitoba to open the 2012 campaign. There are potholes in the parking lot, leaks in the ceiling and coats upon coats of paint covering up some serious flaws.
But the stadium has given its patrons some wonderful moments over close to six decades — particularly in sports and entertainment — and during the next six months The Free Press will revisit 10 of the most memorable gridiron-themed events on the day of each Bomber home game.
Call it our farewell to the 58-year-old facility that has served us so well.
Aug. 15, 1953
There was little doubt some six decades ago that Winnipeg needed a new stadium — although, as was the case with the building now rising at the U of M, it wasn’t easy getting the deal done. Osborne Stadium, located just west of the Legislative Building where the Great West-Life headquarters are now situated, seated less than 8,000 for football and the popularity of the Blue Bombers — especially with quarterback Jack Jacobs filling the sky with passes and the seats with fannies — was cresting.
The city approved the construction of a new 15,700-seat home for the Bombers at Polo Park late in 1952 and the $483,000 stadium officially opened the following summer — on Aug. 14, 1953 to be exact, with a fundraising-event in support of the Shriner’s Hospital for Children. The inauguration featured Foster Hewitt, the legendary voice of Hockey Night in Canada, as the emcee.
The first sporting event at Winnipeg Stadium was an exhibition football game between the Blue Bombers and Ottawa Rough Riders on Aug. 15. The Free Press reported the crowd — 15,600 — was the largest ever to watch a sporting event in Winnipeg outside of horse racing. The Bombers would win 18-11 with the newspaper story — just above an advertisement for ‘Electric Shavers’ offering ‘while-you-wait cleaning, oiling and adjusting by expert repairmen for 50 cents’ — documenting the scoring this way:
‘Touchdowns went to import fullback Ralph McAllister and sophomore right half, Gerry James. All-star flying wing Bud Korchak kicked both field goals and one convert.’
Meanwhile, a front-page story under the headline ‘Horns Honk Wildly In Worst Jam Ever’ about a traffic ‘tieup that defied description’ detailed a stadium problem still commonplace all these years later.
One of the stadium’s prize fixtures, as outlined in a story on the day of the stadium opening, was a ‘remote control scoreboard that ticks off, in flashing lights, the minutes and seconds of play, identifies the down and quarter and posts the score.’
The need for even more capacity at the stadium led to an expansion just a year after it opened, when capacity was raised to 17,995; again in 1966 with the construction of a north end-zone section and then a west-side grandstand upper deck in 1972. The east-side upper deck was added in 1978 and more seats were again added in 1987 to bring the total to 33,675 (it would shrink to 29,533 in 1999 when benches were replaced by those tight current seats in time for the Pan Am Games).
The Bombers would win a second exhibition game at Winnipeg Stadium three days after the opening in a 24-0 win over the Toronto Argonauts and christened it with a 7-6 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos in their regular-season home opener on Aug. 29. Winnipeg would win its first six games at its new home before falling to the Esks 16-6 on Oct. 5. Over the first two years at Winnipeg Stadium the Bombers would post an 11-4-1 record.