Learning, Connection and Fun

The Coliseum – An Idea Waiting in the Wings

Posted on: September 20th, 2019 by Tristan Evans

Recently the City announced plans to rename the Prospera Centre the Chilliwack Coliseum.  For new residents of Chilliwack, this announcement may mean very little.  However, long-term residents of Chilliwack will have fond memories of the original Coliseum, affectionately called the “Old Barn on Corbould.”  Prior to and immediately following the closure of the original Chilliwack Coliseum in 2004, a flurry of articles appeared in both The Chilliwack Times and The Chilliwack Progress expressing fond memories of the Old Barn.  Since it’s demolition, little has been written about the building.  The surprise announcement two weeks ago provides us with an opportunity to look back on Chilliwack’s original Coliseum and learn what made it so significant to this community. 

Aerial view of unfinished Coliseum, ca. 1950s. 
[P. Coll 42, file 90]
Aerial view of unfinished Coliseum, ca. 1950s.
[P. Coll 42, file 90]

Following World War II, Chilliwack residents called for an athletic community centre as a memorial to those that passed away.  In 1945, City Council designated the Agricultural Ground as the site of a new sports centre.  Assisted by the Chilliwack Rotary Club, the Chilliwack Recreational Centre Association started raising money for the new facility in 1947 under the slogan, “Let’s Skate in ‘48.”  With half the funds raised, construction for the facility began in 1948.  Unfortunately, erection of the new facility halted and the plan quickly sank as the infamous flood of 1948 breached dykes in Agassiz, Chilliwack, Nicomen Island, Glen Valley, and Matsqui. 

The half-finished structure languished for many years as strong opposition in the Township of Chilliwhack viewed it as an unnecessary luxury and a burden for taxpayers.  By 1953, voters in the Township slowly started to come around to the idea.  A close referendum that overwhelming passed in the City was only marginally voted down in the Township.  Through a variety of volunteer and fundraising efforts, a roof and seats were finally installed in 1955.  Still unfinished, 1800 people came to a “Grand Opening Concert” on May 13, 1955 to watch the Our Lady of Lourdes gymnastics team and the Royal Canadian Engineers band from Camp Chilliwack perform.   

After the Grand Opening Concert, support for the Memorial Arena (as it was referred to at the time) soared.  With growing calls to finish construction, the Township of Chilliwhack, City of Chilliwack, Agricultural Association, Federal government, and Provincial government finally came together and contributed the final costs ($150,000) to complete the arena in 1958 under the updated slogan, “We Skate in ’58.”

Chilliwack Progress Press Photo: First Hockey Game at the Coliseum, 5 November 1958
[P. Coll 106 – Unnumbered]

On November 5, 1958, the Chilliwack Flamingos played the first hockey game in the new Chilliwack Coliseum, drawing a crowd of over 1200 for a 7-7 draw against the Nanaimo Clippers.  From 1958 to 2004, a plethora of Chilliwack teams called the Coliseum home including but not limited to the Chilliwack Flamingos, Chilliwack Loggers, Chilliwack Bruins, Chilliwack Colts, and Chilliwack Chiefs.  The early 1960s featured a few WHL and NHL exhibition games at the Coliseum when the Red Wings took on the San Francisco Seals on October 1, 1961 followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs vs the San Francisco Seals on September 25, 1962. 

Many other memories occurred in the Coliseum’s 46 years of operation, some of which can be read in a Chilliwack Times feature on April 16, 2004 at the Chilliwack Archives.  A short list of other sports and events that occurred at the Coliseum include: figure skating championships; concerts; conventions; public skating; football; and the Chilliwack Fall Fair.

The official opening occurred on December 27, 1958.  For those interested, the Chilliwack Archives has a recording of opening night from CHWK Chilliwack Radio (AM 393, file 73).  The Old Barn on Corbould had a special place in Chilliwack’s sporting history.  Whether it was figure skating, a concert, or a hockey game, perhaps you have a favourite memory at the original Coliseum?