What Makes the Pembroke Memorial Centre Special?

Hockey Night in Canada’s Twitter feed had some fun with hockey fans recently when it tweeted, “Name your favourite small-town hockey rink to play in and why?” The tweet generated a lot of interest as Canadians posted pictures of their favourite rinks and explained what made them special. Among the responses was the Pembroke Memorial Centre, the venerable palace of junior hockey rinks in Eastern Ontario.

So, that had us thinking about what makes the PMC so special? Even Bob McKenzie of TSN was struck by the grand old rink when he visited Pembroke a few years ago and tweeted, “You never feel more Canadian than when you’re in a barn like this one.”  We agree, so here are a few reasons why the PMC is so loved by so many hockey fans.

Let’s start with the history.  Walking into the PMC is like taking a step back in time. The PMC will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2021 and much of what was unveiled when it was officially opened on November 11, 1951 is still in place.  The original wooden seats, the steel posts that obstruct some sightlines, the goal judge shelter and the memorial plaque that plays homage to Pembroke’s war dead from the first and second world wars are all striking reminders of the building’s age.  You can’t help yourself from being sucked into the nostalgic character of the building which is amplified by the historic pictures of past players and a tribute to its predecessor, the MacKay Street Arena which operated from 1905 to 1951.

The players who have played in the PMC are also part of its mystique. When the PMC opened there was a week long celebration highlighted by an exhibition game between the Montreal Canadiens and Pembroke Senior Lumber Kings.  The Habs came to town with six future hall of fame players in their line-up including Maurice “the Rocket” Richard, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion and Elmer Lach.  Two years later, the Chicago Black Hawks held their training camp at the PMC, playing an exhibition game against the Detroit Red Wings featuring Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Terry Sawchuck.

That all happened in the 1950’s, the golden era of senior hockey when players like Roy, Bruce, Bert and Jack Giesebrecht were making Pembroke a perennial challenger for the Allen Cup, the trophy awarded to the best senior hockey team in the country. By the early 1960’s senior hockey was gone from the PMC, giving junior hockey the spotlight and over the next several decades Pembroke proved to be an attractive spot to play, partly because the PMC had so much character compared to other junior rinks.

In the 1970’s players like Tim Young and Rodney Schutt who went on to NHL careers were fan favourites. In the 80’s Peter White’s 226 point season and Luc Chabot’s 101 goal season crushed league records and in the 1990’s a 18 year old Ukranian, Dainus Zubrus went from Pembroke to Philadelphia, becoming a first round selection of the Flyers without playing a single major junior or minor league game. Their paths through Pembroke are a small sample of the great players who played at the PMC.

And there are a few famous coaches too.  Bryan Murray parlayed a start in coaching with the Lumber Kings into a long career as a NHL coach and general manager.  Jim Farelli became the winningest coach in Lumber Kings history when he won six championships in eight years in the 1980’s and in the 2000’s a future coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sheldon Keefe, led the Lumber Kings to five consecutive championships, including the city’s only national junior hockey championship in 2011.

The characters who have been hanging around the PMC  are also a big part of its allure.  People like the crafty general manager of the Senior and Junior Lumber Kings, Art Bogart, who earned a reputation as a shrewd operator but knew how to secure players to keep his team’s competitive. Bogart is memorialized in the PMC in one of the few sections of the old rink that has had a facelift, the western end zone which was glassed in more than 20 years ago to include a protective viewing area, private suites and Bogie’s Bar, a tribute to the man who was affectionately known as “60-40.”

Among the other characters that have shaped the PMC are the late Jack Minns, a club owner and dedicated fan who could be heard bellowing his encouragement to the team when it needed a goal, shouting “Give Me the Big One!”  Then there are people like Don Stresman who has been a fixture in the rink for decades as the most recognizable 50-50 salesman in the Central Canada Hockey League.

The PMC is also a place that honours greatness. It’s a museum to Pembroke’s hockey legacy.  Tales of its great players, coaches and broadcasters are shared through pictures and short stories such as the Hall of Fame room which highlights the city’s three Hall of Fame players, Frank Nighbor, Hughie Lehman and Harry Cameron.  The press box which overhangs the stands was named the Bill K Broadcast Centre when the PMC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2001, paying homage to the team’s greatest broadcaster, Bill Kutschke. The rink is also home to the Ottawa Valley Sports Honour Roll which celebrates great athletes from across the region and is home to dozens of banners that capture the winning history of both the Senior and Junior teams and retired numbers of players who will forever be remembered.

And finally the PMC is a place that defines winning. The success of the home town teams that have played in the building are on display everywhere.  Championship banners are a constant reminder that no team in the Central Canada Hockey League can compare to the winning that has occurred in Pembroke where the junior Lumber Kings have won 14 league championships since the CCHL was founded in 1961.  The building and its historical charm have been weaved into the success of the teams that have represented the city over so many years, setting a high expectation for the players who wear the Lumber Kings crown on their jersey, but also reminding the opposition that Pembroke is a city of champions.

Over the years, the Memorial Centre has hosted minor hockey tournaments, recreational leagues, skating competitions, concerts, trade shows, graduations and circuses.  It has been a community hub, a place that brings people together.  It’s no wonder so many people have fond things to say about it.  The PMC is truly a special place.