Howie Morenz, the Stratford streak

Morenz Drive came into existence in 1961, 10 years after the new entrance at the west end of the Classic City Arena was officially opened. The arena had been built by a private group of local investors in 1924 and the main entrance faced North Street. It remained that way for over a quarter of a century. When Nile Street was extended to Lakeside Drive to serve the new west entrance, it was decided to honour a local boy who became one of the greatest stars in the world of hockey. Morenz Drive was named for Howard William Morenz who was born in Mitchell in 1902.

At the age of 15, Howie played there on the championship team of the Western Ontario Juvenile District. He began his career with the Mitchell juveniles, 1916-17 and, after his family moved to Stratford, he played with several teams there. His skillful play, characterized by exceptionally fast skating and intense focus, stirred the interest of more than one professional team. But in 1923 the Stratford streak joined the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League. His success was immediate, and he remained in the league for 14 years, 12 with Les Canadiens. So great were his popularity and appeal that he made a major contribution to the league's success during its early years, especially in promoting the game in the United States. 

 He scored 270 goals and added 197 assists in the NHL. He won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player three times, and helped the  Canadians win three Stanley Cups. On Jan. 28,1937, Morenz was checked at full speed in a game against Chicago. He crashed into the boards in the Montreal Forum and broke his leg in five places. While recovering at the age of 34 he died of a heart attack. His funeral in Montreal was reported to be the largest in Canadian history. Some 50,000 fans filed pass the casket. Marlene Morenz married Boom Boom Geoffrion, who bettered his father-in-law’s NHL scoring mark in 1960. 

In 1950, Morenz was voted the outstanding hockey player of the half-century in a poll of sportswriters and broadcasters conducted by Canadian Press. He was one of the first players to be voted into the NHL hall of fame and his number 7 was the first sweater to be retired by the Canadiens. With notes from Stanford Dingman

* Morenz was honoured with a Stratford Bronze Star in 2017. It is in the sidewalk in front of the William Allman Arena.

Bronze Star  Photo Fred Gonder

Book by Dean Robinson

Watch Dean Robinson talk about his book about Howie Morenz on YouTube  

Waterloo Street Arena 1886-1924 fronting on Waterloo Street at the River Drive just southeast the Waterloo Street bridge. Circa 1910. Photo Postcard:  Stratford Perth Archives 

The grand old shrine. Photo: Stratford Warriors Hockey

The grand old shrine turns 100 in 2024.

The Stratford Classic City Arena, now known as "the grand old shrine," was built in 1924 in just 66 days. However, before the "grand old shrine" ever existed on Lakeside Drive, Stratford enjoyed the original Waterloo Street Arena nearby for 38 years. It had been been built in 1886 with natural ice and was Stratford's pride and joy until a new arena was envisioned and quickly built in 1924.  By then, Howie Morenz, the Stratford Streak, who had thrilled fans in that old Waterloo Street Arena, had turned professional in 1923 with the Montreal Canadiens. That was just one year before the Old Waterloo Street Arena  ceased to be. 

That original Waterloo Street Arena arena had been a mammoth building with an ice surface 200 feet by 89 feet that housed curlers, skaters and hockey players in the winter and boxing matches, dances and silent movies in the summer. It was bounded by Water Street, Waterloo Street South, and what is now referred to as Lakeside Drive. It fronted onto Waterloo Street and stretched to the east, parallel to Water Street.

It was eventually enlarged by the addition of a curling rink which ran to the north off the hockey rink's east end. It never did have the insulation and ice plant to meet the increasing needs of hockey teams, recreational skaters and curlers, so in the early 1920s, a committee was formed to built a modern arena.

As mentioned, the Stratford Classic City Arena, now known as "the grand old shrine," was built in 1924 in just 66 days. Its original main entrance was off North Street. When the new lobby area was built at the other (west) end of the rink on Nile Street in the 1950s, the main entrance was changed to the north end of Nile Street, which has since been renamed Morenz Drive. In 1996, the arena was renamed the William Allman Memorial Arena after its longtime building manager.   

Dozens of banners now hang from its rafters in testimony to the championship seasons that have played out on its ice for almost a century. It has hosted title and trophy wins by teams at all levels. For more than half of its years it has been home to one of the most successful junior B franchises in Canada.

The William Allman Memorial Arena is widely considered one of the finest old arenas in the country and has been used by numerous film and television crews for documentaries and commercials. It's interior is awash in colour. Bright red and blue wooden seats surround the ice surface. Polished dark hardwood floors ring the seating area. Most of the bricks and steel are painted in a whitewash. Signage is bright yellow and black, painted directly onto the brick outer walls. Banners and signs hang above the ice surface, but well below the roof line, which sits higher still with a gentle arch. The score clock, however, is relatively new. 

The Allman seats 2,800 with standing area for 1,000 around the top row of seats. The ice surface is regulation size 190 feet by 85 feet. The 1924 original wooden-bench seating for 3,500, without backs, was replaced but not until after the Stratford Indians fashioned some winning Ontario Hockey Association senior A seasons in the 1950s. The seating was changed but the ambiance maintained.

Players, officials and fans walking into the building for the first time are awestruck by its character and charm. Attending a junior B game featuring the Stratford Warriors (formerly Stratford Cullitons) is a wonderful part of hockey tradition. The list of NHLers who began their careers playing junior hockey in Stratford includes: Mark Bell, Rob Blake, Kevin Dahl, Louie DeBrusk, Greg de Vries, Boyd Devereaux, Nelson Emerson, Jeff Halpern, Rem Murray, Ed Olczyk, Mike Peluso, Chris Pronger, Garth Snow, Tim Taylor.  Sources: Wikipedia, Gord Conroy and Stratford Warriors

In the spring of 2012, the Sportsnet Network produced a great video  on Stratford’s Allman Arena. See  CANADIAN CATHEDRALS: WILLIAM ALLMAN MEMORIAL ARENA.     

For the arena's comprehensive history, see the Ontario Heritage Trust rational for the arena as an Heritage Site in the PDF below.

The William Allman Memorial Arena 1.pdf

"What heart pounding excitement".  Now I will walk a little further down Lakeside Drive passing Art in the Park to visit the beautiful Festival Gardens on Queen Street to  see the toscanini of tents.

Art: By Rich Thistle

The Allan Cup and Flick, Roth and Flanagan

This is the place where Flick, Roth and Flanagan led the Stratford Indians to the Ontario Hockey Association senior men’s championship. Game 7 was held here and witnessed by fans hanging from the rafters. The game went into overtime and the Indians scored three goals to win. “The place went absolutely insane,” said Bill Inkol, who called the series for CJCS Radio.

One of the most memorable times was in 1952 when we sat glued to the radio listening to the Allan Cup final between the Stratford Indians Senior A men’s hockey team and the Fort Frances Canadians. The Indians had a fantastic line that we idolized called Flick, Roth and Flanagan

Bill Inkol,  CJCS radio

Bill Inkol served as the CJCS radio station’s sports director throughout the 1950s before moving to Kitchener. In his first season behind the microphone, in 1951, he called all the games for the Stratford Indians in the Allan Cup final, which they lost to Fort Frances in a classic series that went six games. The Indians had the great line of Flick, Roth and Flanagan but injuries dogged the Stratford team. They played the final game with only nine players.  Everyone in Stratford sat by their radios to listen to Bill Inkol's distinct voice call the heart-throbbing games.

Inkol had a tremendous 47-year career as a sports broadcaster, starting with CJCS in Stratford in 1951. He moved into television in London in 1962. This was followed by a brief stop at CHYM radio from 1964-66, Kitchener, when he then joined CKCO/CKKW Kitchener as the sports director in 1967. Bill entertained many broadcasting fans in five Olympic Games, as well as hosting Blue Jays Banter, and appearing on CTV Wide World of Sports and the Grey Cup. He also called the Kitchener Rangers games.

Bill died at the age of 92 in 2021, but his broadcast sign-off lives on in the hearts of all who listened to him: "If you can't play a sport, be one."  Broadcasters We Lost in 2021 - Broadcast Dialogue 

Click video to hear Bill Inkol talk about the Stratford Indians who were inducted into the Stratford Sports Wall of Fame in 2011.

Bill Inkol talks Wayne Gretzky , click picture

Wayne Gretzky, first goal

Wayne Gretzky scored his first goal in Stratford's  grand old shrine when he was six years old in the 1967-68 season. He was number 11 playing for the Nadrofsky Steelers in a division for kids up to 10 years of age. It was his only goal that season. Walter Gretzky captured it on film. Gretzky went on to score 1,072 goals in his professional career, a rare feat, indeed. 

Howie Meeker

Howie Meeker was born in Kitchener, Ont., the son of Kathleen Wharnsby and Charles Howard Meeker, and raised in New Hamburg, Ont.. He played his junior hockey with the Kitchener Greenshirts in the Ontario Hockey Association. In 1941–42, Meeker joined the Stratford Kist Canadians. In just 13 games, he scored 29 goals and had 45 points, and helped Kist win the OHA Junior B title. He played one more year of junior hockey before joining the Canadian Army. He was badly injured during the war, but he made a full recovery. In 1945-46, after the Second World War had ended, Meeker returned to the OHA and played one season with the Stratford Indians.

In 1946–47, he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League. He scored 27 goals and 45 points during his NHL debut and he was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's top rookie.

Meeker also won his first Stanley Cup with the Leafs that season, the first of three consecutive Stanley Cups for him and the Leafs. In 1950-51, Meeker won his fourth Stanley Cup with the Leafs as they beat the Montreal Canadiens in five games. Meeker played three more seasons with the Leafs before retiring from the NHL. In the 1970s and 1980s, Meeker became known to a new generation of hockey fans as the excitable, squeaky-voiced analyst and colour commentator on Hockey Night in Canada. Source: Wikipedia  "Keep your Stick on the Ice"

A Stratford hockey team in about 1900. Charlie Lightfoot is sitting at the left end of the middle row.

Charlie's stick, donated to the Hockey Hall of Fame

Charlie Lightfoot

Charles Hamilton  (Charlie) Lightfoot, born in 1880, was the descendant of a Kentucky slave. He played right wing on the Stratford team that won the Ontario Hockey Association junior championship in 1900 and on the intermediate team that won the OHA title in 1901.

He was a pioneer of the game as an African- Canadian hockey player with the Stratford Hockey Club. Born in Flamborough, Ont., he came to Stratford when he was eight. His family operated a coal and wood business. Like other boys in town, he played hockey on the Avon River and then for the junior team. He worked as a tailor and later as a welder at the Canadian National Railways shops. He lived at 126 Water St. with his wife Louella (1889-1965), and died in 1968 at the age of 87.

Two of hockey sticks used by Lightfoot were donated to the Stratford Perth Museum by former Beacon Herald sports reporter Harold  (Winger) Thomas (see Thomas Street) in 1975.


One of his sticks was donated to the Hockey Hall of Fame by the Stratford Perth Museum. Source: Stratford and District Historical Society

Tim Taylor , Hockey Star

Tim Taylor’s hockey career  started in his hockey-mad hometown of Stratford, Ontario. His fondest memories as a kid were playing road hockey with his brothers, one of whom, Chris, also played in the NHL. “I loved the NHL, but my biggest thing was to play for my hometown and the fans here,” Taylor said. “I wanted to play at the big rink, the Allman. Once I made the All-Star team, it was a big deal to play at the Allman in front of my friends and my family. I was fortunate to grow up next a rink and I was there every day. Hockey is everything to the people of this city. There’s a long history of players coming from here going to the NHL, like [Howie] Morenz, [Nick] Libett, me, and Craig Hartsburg.”

A left-handed shot, Taylor played center and left wing during 13 NHL seasons. Although he was a defensive-minded forward in the NHL, he led the AHL in scoring with the Adirondack Red Wings in 1993-94. He came up to the parent club for a single game that year and notched his first NHL goal, at the Montreal Forum. “It was a great feeling,” he said. “But for me it was a long time coming. Once it came, it was like Christmas – you look forward to it the whole year and then it comes and goes so fast.”

As a fourth-line forward, Taylor made the most of his opportunities under Scotty Bowman. Although he got into only two games in the 1997 playoff run, he was in uniform to hoist the Stanley Cup the evening Detroit completed a Finals sweep in Philadelphia. Boston claimed him off waivers in the offseason, and Taylor responded with 20 goals and 31 points, both career highs. He spent another year in Boston before moving on to the New York Rangers.

By now a seasoned and respected veteran, Taylor played two seasons in New York before being traded to Tampa Bay, where he won a second Stanley Cup in 2004. Two years later he was named captain, but hip surgery caused him to retire in 2008.