By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator
My family moved to Oshawa in 1986, not long after I turned seven years old. We lived in a nice area within walking distance to schools, shops, and the Oshawa Centre, but best of all the Civic Auditorium. I have so many great memories of the Civic that were brought back after commenting on a photo in the Facebook group Vintage Oshawa; it was posted a few weeks ago and I decided to write about those memories.
My brother, sister and I all took swimming lessons at the Civic. This was brought on after my brother fell into the creek at Camp Samac and could not swim. Back then, the levels were divided up by colour and you received a badge if you passed the level. Currently all of mine are sewn onto my campfire blanket that we used for Cub and Scout campfires at Samac. At the time, the Civic also had two diving boards, the ‘high diving board’ and ‘the low one.’ I can clearly remember my sister belly flopping off the high one. I only jumped off once and that was enough for me.
We took swimming lessons because that is what my parents said we had to do. It was ok, but I have awful memories of being made to go grocery shopping (Miracle Mart in the Whitby Mall) afterward with dry skin from the pool and static-y hair from the dryers.
My best friend in elementary school was a synchronized swimmer and their club trained at the Civic. I spend many evenings there watching her train and watching competitions. Until 2005, the only viewing gallery was upstairs. For swimming lessons, parents would get their kids changed in the lower floor change rooms then go up to watch their kids in the upper gallery. Within the gallery there was also tiered seating. The higher up you sat, the hotter it got – but that’s where the cool kids sat to watch the synchro competitions.
Me and another girl helped our synchro friend ‘train’ by running the track in the Dome with her. Mostly we would just mess around, but that changed when the Dome was removed to be replaced in 1990. It seemed like it was down forever! In 1999, the Dome actually did collapse under high winter winds in March. It meant months of seeing a weird gap where it had once stood until it was reopened on November 1, 1999.
We spent an enormous amount of time in the arena as a family too. Almost weekly, we would walk over on Sunday’s for public skating. Low wooden boards, only comfortable enough to sit of a minute or two, partitioned ‘the baby section.’ The grown ups and big kids skated counter clockwise around the rest of the rink. I don’t remember the direction alternating. There were tons of great songs to skate to, but the one that sticks out the most was the instrumental Theme from St. Elmo’s Fire by David Foster and the version with lyrics St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion) by John Parr. Any time I hear the first few bars of that song it instantly takes me back to that time.
In addition to public skating, there were also a number of ‘Skate with the Generals” days. Getting to skate with the ’89 and ‘90s teams was so much fun! The Generals (and all of the OHL players for that matter) always seemed so grown up, but it was not until I grew up that I realized what babies they were – most of them still in high school! I wish I still had all of my OHL hockey cards! We knew the schedule of the games, we knew when practices were and watched them often. My friends and I had a regular section we sat in; one of their cousins played for the Pete’s, so those games were always interesting. Games against the Kitchener Rangers or Sudbury Wolves were always good too. I saw a few bench clearing brawls back in the day. There was always the 50/50 draw at the games. One time my Dad won. I remember him taking home a brown lunch bag of change! At each game, a giant six-foot sub was given away too!
I’ve taken my kids swimming there a few times in the last few years. Some of the ambiance is the same, the blue walls and railing as you walk down to the stairs to the pool area (even though the Sports Hall of Fame photos are no longer on the wall,) but mostly it seems big and impersonal. Sometimes I completely forget that the arena is no longer there. You could always open the doors and see who was in there practicing or what event they were getting ready for. As I’m trying to finish writing this more and more memories keep flooding back – seeing the Barenaked Ladies there on their first ever tour, countless trips to the Circus and even sledding down the giant steps that faced Thornton Road during huge snowstorms. I could go on forever, but I’ll finish by wishing that my kids end up having memories of a place like this to look back on as I do when I think about the Civic.
Oshawa Museum archival collection: Civic Auditorium Box 0002, File 0047