'It's opened me up a lot': Oilers honour longest-serving employee

Marti Hiniuk loves her job, which is why she’s stuck with it for 40 years. The proud hockey fan has worked as an usher and host at Northlands Coliseum, renamed Rexall Place, and now at the new Rogers Place, since March of 1979.

Marti Hiniuk has worked as an usher and host for 40 years

Marti Hiniuk has been working as an usher and host at Edmonton Oilers games since 1979. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Marti Hiniuk loves her job. It's why she's stuck with it for 40 years.

The proud hockey fan worked as an usher and host at Northlands Coliseum (later renamed Rexall Place) and is now at the new Rogers Place downtown. She was only 15 years old when she showed up for her first shift in March 1979 — when a beer at the arena cost less than five bucks.

During Thursday's Oilers home game against the Vancouver Canucks, Rogers Place aired a tribute honouring Hiniuk's 40 years of service. 

"I'm just very grateful that I have this job," Hiniuk said. "I've become more confident with myself. I was pretty shy when I was 15, so it's opened me up a lot."

During a typical shift, Hiniuk checks the rows in her section — always section 132-134 — to make sure they're ready for hockey games and concerts. She also greets fans and helps wanderers find their seats.

Sometimes, she does more.  

"My highlight was helping a fan. Her boyfriend had left her that day at the concert, she had no way home," Hiniuk said. "I made arrangements to get her home. I got her a better seat at the concert, so she wouldn't miss the concert." 

Marti Hiniuk has worked behind the scenes for each of the Oilers five Stanley Cup wins. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Four decades ago, Hiniuk worked her first shift during a Jethro Tull show — and it wasn't easy.

"We had to go up the stairs … and check to see if everyone was behaving and stuff like that. I was coming back down the steps and I felt something hit the back of my head and found out later that it had been a bottle that they had thrown, so I was pretty upset," Hiniuk said.

"I still continued to come back after that and I'm glad I did," Hiniuk added.

Hiniuk is so committed to her job, she can't remember the last time she called in sick. Thanks to 10 years of nearly perfect attendance, she's seen a lot of shows and hockey games.

40 years of events

Hiniuk lists the Eagles and Rod Stewart concerts as her favourites. She estimates she's only missed about 10 Oilers games since 1979. 

That means she witnessed first-hand each of the Edmonton Oilers' five successful Stanley Cup runs.

"Being at a Stanley Cup game with the fans, the excitement is unbelievable," Hiniuk said. "I also remember the 2006 year when we made it to the end. I was in tears at the end there, it was such a heartbreak to lose that."

Donna Paliwoda has worked in guest experience services with Hiniuk since 2005. She says Hiniuk is the most enthusiastic Oilers fan she knows. 

Donna Paliwoda has worked alongside Hiniuk since 2005. (Anya Zoledziowski/CBC)

"Marti never changes. She is the most consistent person I know," Paliwoda said. "[When the Oilers are] good, bad, indifferent during the season, she is probably their number one fan."  
 
Hiniuk speaks as passionately about Oilers fans as she does about the Oilers themselves. 

"To see these fans come in and, you know, to interact with them and hear their stories and excitement when they're excited about the game, it's amazing," Hiniuk said. "It makes me feel good." 

And after 40 years, Hiniuk said she has no plans to retire. 

"I want to see another Stanley Cup, definitely," she said. "I think it's going to happen, so I'll stay for a while yet."

About the Author

Anya Zoledziowski

Anya Zoledziowski is an Edmonton-born multimedia journalist who joined CBC Edmonton in December. She moved back to her hometown after reporting on hate crimes targeting Indigenous women in Montana and North Dakota for News21, an investigative journalism fellowship based in Phoenix, AZ. You can reach her at anya.zoledziowski@cbc.ca

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