Kerrisdale probably isn't the first neighbourhood to come to mind for those looking for a place to rock out but, as a new multimedia documentary project explores, the Kerrisdale Cyclone Taylor Arena has a long rock and roll history stretching back more than half a century.

Lisa Neilson and Rene Cherrie are the artists behind Arena Rock, an oral and visual documentary celebrating the Kerrisdale arena's musical roots.

The pair collected stories, photos and memorabilia from countless rock and roll lovers and community members to showcase the building's past. 

"When you pass a building that has so much history, it's worth exploring what kind of history it had," Cherrie said. "I'll never look at this arena in the same way again."

Rockin' and rollin' through the ages

The arena was originally built in 1949 as an activity zone for youth and as a gathering place for the community.

"The documentation we found was all about having something for the youth to do so they didn't get into trouble," Nielsen said.

"I don't think [rock and roll] was the initial intention because there was going to be the ice skating — so hockey and figure skating — and then there were things like dances and square dances. Then the rock and roll hit."

And when the rock and roll hit, it hit hard.

"It's amazing to see the quality of acts that came through here throughout the 50's, from Bill Haley and the Comets all the way to the Clash and Motörhead," Cherrie said.

The arena hosted concerts also featuring big rock and roll names like Peter Tosh, Devo and Frank Zappa until the early 1980s. Motörhead's 1982 concert was the arena's last, due to noise concerns.  

Lori and Clash

One of the woman interviewed for the project still had the original poster advertising The Clash concert at Kerrisdale Arena in 1982 which she had attended. (Arena Rock)

Community stories

Nielsen and Cherrie set up a recording station in the lobby of the Kerrisdale arena, talking to those passing through on their way to skate, and scouring the neighbourhood for memories. They have been collecting stories since the fall of last year.  

"It's still part of their lives," Cherrie said "There's one woman who came in, she went to the Bill Haley and His Comets concert, she came in with her ticket stubs and her program. I thought it was pretty amazing that she still had that stuff."

Many of the people interviewed for the project donated their photos and memorabilia, which are now displayed online.

"Projects for me are all about collecting stories from the community that may be lost and this definitely has a lot of stories," Nielsen said. "I want people to think of what came before, it's not just a play palace or a figure skating rink, but it has this amazing history and music."

With files from North By Northwest and Margaret Gallagher.