March 27, 2014

Denman Arena: Canada's First Artificial Ice Rink



When Lester and Frank Patrick were building their western hockey empire in the early 1900s, they constructed Denman Arena in downtown Vancouver to be their showcase venue.

Built on the current site of Devonian Harbour Park (pictured below) on the northwest corner of Denman and Georgia Streets, it was the first artificial ice rink in Canada (the Patrick's also opened the 4,000 seat artificial ice rink Patrick Arena in Victoria around the same time) and one of the largest venues in all of North America when it opened in 1911.

The 10,500 seat arena not only housed Pacific Coast Hockey League action - the first such professional hockey league in British Columbia - but also operas, evangelists, politicians, boxing matches and ice shows. And yes, they even had public skating.

The land, close to Vancouver's famous Stanley Park, originally was a ranch owned by transplanted Hawaiian families who grew fruit and produced charcoal there. By transforming the land into a public destination point, the Patrick's expanded Vancouver's growth as a city significantly.

British Columbian hockey historian Craig Bowlsby said "It was a magnet for entertainment. It was probably the most important cultural center in the city. If you look at the city at this time you see a big block of wood, you wonder what it's doing there. It was used for everything."

During World War I the Patricks found themselves dumbfounded as the Canadian military seized control of the arena to use it as an assembly point for Canadian servicemen stationed in British Columbia's lower mainland.

The large wooden arena burned down in 1936, just hours after hosting a boxing match before 4,000 fans. The Vancouver Sun newspaper reported that the fire "started mysteriously." Just months earlier construction crews clad the building in brick to reduce the chance of destruction by fire.

An adjoining 2,500 seat auditorium survived the fire and was continued to be used for several purposes until 1959. Lester Patrick sold the auditorium and land to a fellow named H.M. Singer for just $80,000. Singer was said to be interested in building a new, state of the art arena at the location, but never did. He leased the land to Boeing for storage space for their seaplane division and managed the auditorium until 1959 when it was demolished. The opening of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre made the aging venue redundant.

Devonian Harbour Park is now a very popular park in Vancouver, especially for dog lovers. A historical marker is the only hint of hockey's historic importance on the site. There are also many cherry trees to honour the Hawaiian families who lived here before that.


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