British Columbia

Rogers Arena's 25th birthday sparks memories from the past — and questions about what lies ahead

Vancouver's hockey hub is quietly ringing in its silver anniversary as arenas across the world remain closed to fans.

Vancouver hockey hub quietly rings in silver anniversary as arenas across the world remain closed to fans

Rogers Arena marked its silver anniversary on Saturday. It opened its doors to the public as GM Place on Sept. 19, 1995. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The doors are locked and the seats are folded, but Arthur Griffiths can't help but take pride in the vacant Rogers Arena.

He sits next to a bronze statue of hockey legend Pat Quinn in the stadium plaza. An engraving on the bench reads "Obey your passion, listen to your heart, follow your dreams."

Advice he can certainly vouch for.

"I was young, I was ambitious, I was determined, I was full of energy," he says, reflecting on the man he was three decades ago.

Griffiths was the original owner of the arena. He had it built in 1993, with a vision of a bigger and brighter home for the Vancouver Canucks.

Saturday marked the silver anniversary of the day that the arena — formerly known as GM Place — opened its doors to hordes of fans. Its 25-year history is filled with sold-out crowds and iconic moments in sports.

But its future is less clear. Like many other venues, it's been shuttered by the pandemic, with no firm timeline on when it will reopen.

A man in a blue blazer glances, smiling, at a statue outside a stadium.
Arthur Griffiths glances at a bronze statue of Pat Quinn — a former legendary hockey player and executive for the Vancouver Canucks. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Build it and they will come

Griffiths owned the Canucks in the early 1990s. At the time, the team played at the city-owned Pacific Coliseum — a venue where they drew capacity crowds and made several Stanley Cup playoff runs.

"I recognized in the time and place and the history of sport, that the Canucks required their own home," said Griffiths. "They couldn't be any longer in a public facility, in a small building."

Griffiths secured five acres of land at the old Expo 86 site and more than $160 million in private funding to build a new arena. His hope was that it would also make Vancouver an attractive option for an NBA team.

WATCH | GM Place opens its doors in 1995:

CBC archives: Rogers Arena opened 25 years ago

2 years ago
Duration 2:05
The iconic venue is home to the Vancouver Canucks and has hosted many events since it opened in September 1995

Construction crews managed to make the tight two-year timeline, ensuring the site was ready for the upcoming hockey and NBA seasons.

The doors first opened to fans on Sept. 19, 1995 — with Canadian pop-rock star Bryan Adams christening the live stage.

"I remember sitting in the arena on the morning of ... kind of taking it all in," said Griffiths, fighting back tears. "And realizing what had been accomplished."

Bryan Adams rings in the grand opening of GM Place in 1995. (CBC)

The thrill and the agony

In the years that followed, the arena was the site of some memorable moments in Canadian hockey, from Sidney Crosby's golden goal in the 2010 Olympic Games to Alex Burrows' dragon-slaying Game 7 overtime goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011.

Sidney Crosby celebrates his golden goal for Canada against the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Michael Jordan dunked basketballs on the court. Sir Paul McCartney played to sold-out crowds. A Stanley Cup has even been raised in the building — just not by the home team.

"We've experienced both the thrill of victory there, and the agony of defeat," said Aziz Rajwani, a die-hard Canucks fan and lecturer at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.

The Vancouver Canucks celebrate after Alex Burrows' winning overtime goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2011 playoffs. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

An uncertain future

Like many fans, Rajwani wishes he was back in the stands. But with cases of COVID-19 on the rise in Canada and beyond, it's unclear when the arena will open again. There are no events listed until the spring of 2021.

Earlier this summer, Canucks Sports & Entertainment — which owns and operates the arena — terminated a quarter of its staff as it grappled with the financial implications of the pandemic.

The Vancouver Grizzlies played six seasons inside GM Place. (Getty Images)

Rajwani expects there won't be full arenas until at least 2022, but timelines could change depending on when a vaccine is available.

In the meantime, its unclear how the NHL plans to follow through on its upcoming season, which is tentatively scheduled to begin Dec. 1. If it opens without fans, teams like the Canucks will be foregoing millions of dollars each game in potential ticket sales.

However, league officials have said there's the possibility to add fans as the season goes on.

"It may very well happen that early in the next year .... they could have one-sixth of attendance at Rogers Arena, about 3,000 people," said Rajwani. "Your food and services won't be the same experience ... you may not be able to roam like you used to."

While many leagues are dependent on ticket sales, Rajwani says the Canadian hockey clubs are well positioned to stay afloat financially with sponsorships, broadcast deals and arena naming rights.

Arthur Griffiths stands proudly in front of Rogers Arena. 'It's got so many great days ahead,' the arena's original owner says. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

For former owner Griffiths, the pandemic marks another moment in the building's history — one that will be overcome.

"It's got so many great days ahead," he said. "I'm excited by this hockey team right now, and I'm excited to see them bring a Stanley Cup, and win it in this arena."


Jon Hernandez

Video Journalist

Jon Hernandez is an award-winning multimedia journalist from Vancouver, British Columbia. His reporting has explored mass international migration in Chile, controversial logging practices in British Columbia, and the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Follow Jon Hernandez on Twitter:


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