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