Ottawa Senators set sights on new owner, arena — 100 years ago

As Ottawa Senators fans anxiously await the announcement of the team's new owner, CBC decided to dig into the archives and found a strikingly similar situation in the nation's capital a century ago.

Auditorium opened in 1923 as Ottawa Hockey Association took over ownership of Stanley Cup champs

graphic with assorted images of hockey players and newspaper headlines
There are some interesting similarities between the Ottawa Senators franchise situation in 1923 and that of the modern-day franchise in 2023. (The Canadian Press/Library and Archives Canada)

As Ottawa Senators fans anxiously await the announcement of the team's new owner, CBC decided to dig into the archives and found a strikingly similar situation in the nation's capital a century ago.

In 1923, the Ottawa Senators came under new ownership and changed arenas, which somewhat reflects the climate of the modern-day franchise.

There are similarities between the two franchises playing one century apart, but as one would expect, there were very different processes.

For one, the Senators were defending Stanley Cup champions in 1923, while today's team is looking to become a playoff contender. There were also far fewer teams back then, of course.

The sale of the team was also sparked by very different circumstances.

newspaper headline from 1923
This article from The Citizen newspaper on Sept. 20, 1923 details how ownership of the Ottawa Senators switched hands from the Ottawa Arena Club to the Ottawa Hockey Association. (Archives)

Today's ownership change is a bidding war among billionaires. Needless to say, that was not the case in 1923.

Then owner back then — the Ottawa Arena Club — saw its five-year partnership expire and ownership of the Senators was unified with the Ottawa Hockey Association.

"[The Ottawa Arena Club]'s most valuable asset was its franchise in [the National Hockey League] but the value of the franchise was reduced to almost nil when all the members of last year's world champion Senators were signed up by the Ottawa Hockey Association," according to an article in the Citizen on Sept. 20, 1923.

archived photo of the Ottawa senators
This is a photo of the Ottawa Senators team that won the Stanley Cup in 1923. (Library and Archives Canada)

New owners in 1923 building new arena

There are some similarities when it comes to building a new NHL arena.

In 1923, new owners Frank Ahearn and Tommy Gorman were affiliated with a group that was building a brand new "first of its kind" artificial ice rink, the Citizen reported at the time.

The new owners of today's Senators will own the current arena, the Canadian Tire Centre, in the city's western suburb of Kanata. However, there should be plans afoot to build a new arena in a more central location, and each ownership bid features detailed expertise within the development industry.

A red and white lit-up SENS sign in front of a hockey arena.
The Canadian Tire Centre is the current home of the NHL's Ottawa Senators, but the franchise continues to set its sights on a new downtown arena. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The 1923 Senators would play their game at the new Ottawa Auditorium on O'Connor Street — the site of the current Argyle YMCA/YWCA building — which would be completed in November 1923 with a capacity of 10,000 people.

The process back then was much faster than today, as tenders for the arena were only issued in March of that year.

The Senators previously had to play on natural ice, which led to weather-related problems that even affected some games in the Stanley Cup final. At times, players were faced with "nearly an inch of water" under their skates.

"In past years, the Ottawa players and their supporters, as well, have suffered through the lack of artificial ice," a September article read.

"They have seen Stanley Cup matches transferred from Ottawa to Toronto on account of local ice being unfit to play those most important games on."

newspaper headline from march 1923
Tenders for construction of the new Ottawa Auditorium were out in March 1923 and construction began soon after, according to this article from The Ottawa Journal. The arena would be completed nine months later. (Archives)

New arena opens with pomp

The first hockey played at the Ottawa Auditorium was a two-game exhibition series on Dec. 1 and 3, 1923, between the Senators and Edmonton Eskimos, according to a Citizen article.

At the time, a brand new arena in Canada's capital meant this game became a spectacle featuring some of the country's most powerful brokers in attendance.

The governor general at the time, Lord Baron Byng, officially opened the arena ahead of a 3-1 Edmonton win in front of about 7,000 fans.

newspaper headline from 1923
A newspaper article from Dec. 3, 1923 details the opening game in the new Ottawa Auditorium between the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Eskimos. (Archives)

Before the game, Senators players led by Frank Nighbor — known fondly as the "Pembroke Peach" — presented "Her Excellency Lady Byng with a bouquet of American Beauty roses," according to a newspaper article.

The flowers also featured a ribbon with the team colours of red, white and black, and a note that read: "To Lady Byng from the world's hockey champions."

That opening game between Ottawa and Edmonton also had some familiar names. Lou Marsh was the referee (Canada's best athlete receives the Lou Marsh Trophy each year).

Frank Calder was the NHL president, which would be the commissioner in today's league (the Calder Trophy is NHL's rookie of the year trophy, and the American Hockey League's championship trophy).

Sir Robert Borden also visited the Senators between the first and second periods, according to the Citizen (he was Canada's prime minister from 1911 to 1920, through the First World War).

A hockey team poses for a photo with a player's family.
Here's a photo of the 2022-23 Ottawa Senators, taken in March to mark Derick Brassard's 1,000th NHL game. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

1923-24 season ends in playoff loss to Montreal

The Senators would finish first place during the first season in the new arena, but the team was upset in the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens.

Ironically, the Stanley Cup finals would be played in March 1924 at the brand new Ottawa Auditorium between Montreal and the Calgary Tigers because the natural ice at Montreal's Mount Royal Arena was deemed unfit for games of that magnitude.

Montreal would win the Stanley Cup that year.

newspaper headline from 1924
The Ottawa Senators would fail to defend their Stanley Cup title in 1924 after they were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens. This article was from The Ottawa Journal. (Archives)

As fans of the modern day Senators await new owners, and then potentially a brand new downtown arena in the coming years, this paragraph about the construction of a new arena from the September 1923 article might hit home:

"Local hockey enthusiasts will be pleased beyond measure with the prospect of witnessing, in comfort, the best hockey that is played anywhere."


Jamie Long is a digital journalist, producer and editor with CBC Ottawa. You can reach him at