FirstOntario Centre (originally Copps Coliseum) is a sports and entertainment arena on the corner of Bay Street North and York Boulevard in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The arena, which opened in 1985, has a capacity of up to 19,000.
The interior of FirstOntario Centre
|Former names||Copps Coliseum (1985–2014)|
|Address||101 York Boulevard|
|Owner||City of Hamilton|
|Operator||Core Entertainment (Comcast Spectacor)|
|Field size||200 x 85 feet (expandable to 200 x 100)|
|Broke ground||July 8, 1983|
|Opened||November 30, 1985|
|Construction cost||C$42.7 Million|
($90.4 million in 2018 dollars)
|Architect||Parkin Architects Ltd.|
Sink Combs Dethlefs
|Project manager||STERRY Support Services Ltd.|
|Structural engineer||John A. Martin & Associates|
|General contractor||Pigott Construction|
|Hamilton Steelhawks (OHL) (1985–1988)|
Dukes of Hamilton (OHL) (1989–1991)
Hamilton Skyhawks (WBL/NBL) (1992–1993)
Hamilton Canucks (AHL) (1992–1994)
Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) (1996–2015)
Ontario Raiders (NLL) (1998)
Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) (2015–present)
Hamilton Honey Badgers (CEBL) (2019–)
Hamilton was left without a large ice hockey arena with the demolition of the Barton Street Arena in 1977, and even that arena had a relatively small seating capacity by modern standards. Construction was started in 1983 and was completed two years later at a cost of $33.5 million, with an additional $2.3 million spent on a parking garage. The project was overseen by local Hamiltonian Joseph Pigott. The arena was originally named Copps Coliseum after long-time mayor Victor Copps, the patriarch of a Hamilton political family which includes his daughter, former Member of Parliament of Canada and Member of Provincial Parliament of Ontario Sheila Copps, and wife, Geraldine, who was a long-time councillor.
The arena's first scoreboard clock was originally from the Winnipeg Arena, and was purchased for $214,000. The original Day Signs/Naden scoreboard, built in Toronto, was replaced in the mid-1990s by a centre-hung scoreboard with an electronic message centre on each side, which, in return was replaced with the current scoreboard, built in Hamilton by Media Resources and featuring a LED video board on each side.
The arena has hosted many teams and events over the years. The Hamilton Steelhawks of the Ontario Hockey League began play at the arena in 1985. The 1986 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships were held in Southern Ontario, with Copps Coliseum used as the primary venue. In the decisive game, the Soviet Union defeated Canada 4–1. In the 1987 Canada Cup, the arena was the primary host for the tournament and was the site of Mario Lemieux's famous goal that beat the Soviets 6–5 in the decisive game. Copps Coliseum hosted the 1990 Memorial Cup. The tournament that year recorded the highest attendance for any single Memorial Cup game, on May 13, 1990, with 17,383 spectators. In that same championship game, the Oshawa Generals defeated the Kitchener Rangers by a score of 4 to 3 in double overtime on a goal by Bill Armstrong. The arena hosted a number of games in the 1991 Canada Cup when Canada defeated the USA in the finals.
The first WWF Royal Rumble, which was shown on the USA Network, was held in the arena on January 24, 1988. The arena also hosted the Billy Graham crusade that year, attended by 19,000 spectators each night.
The Coliseum was host to the 1994 FIBA World Championship, along with Maple Leaf Gardens and SkyDome. The next year, the Centre hosted the FIBA Americas Championship for Women, which was won by Canada. During their first two seasons of play (1995-96 and 1996-97), prior to the completion of construction on their new home the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors played three regular season games at Copps Coliseum, as well as a preseason game in 1997. And in 1998 a strange twist of scheduling conflicts the Toronto Raptors played their final regular season game in Hamilton as the Toronto Blue Jays had first right of refusal for all SkyDome dates. The Raptors had attempted to play the April 19th match at Maple Leaf Gardens, but were unsuccessful.
In October 1996, Copps Coliseum became home to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. The Bulldogs, who were the top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers (1996–2003) and the Montreal Canadiens (2002–2015), brought over 2 million fans to the arena. On June 7, 2007, the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs won their first Calder Cup Championship in franchise history at home in Copps Coliseum, defeating the Hershey Bears.
The arena hosted the WWF pay-per-view Breakdown: In Your House on September 27, 1998.
In 2007, from March 3 to 11, Copps Coliseum hosted the Tim Hortons Brier, the annual Canadian men's curling championship. The Coliseum hosted the West 49 Canadian Open, from September 20 to October 1.
Copps Coliseum was built to National Hockey League capacity and specifications in the hope that it would allow Hamilton to acquire an NHL expansion franchise. However, the city is less than 50 miles from the home arenas of two NHL franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres, both of which have opposed an NHL franchise in Hamilton. Hamilton's close proximity to Toronto and Buffalo has proven to be an obstacle to attracting a franchise to Hamilton. Though the Centre has never been able to attract a full-time NHL tenant, it did host eight regular-season neutral-site games during the 1992–93 and 1993–94 seasons. Most of these games featured either the nearby Maple Leafs or Sabres.
In 2007, Waterloo billionaire Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, made an offer to purchase the Nashville Predators for $220 million US. His intention was to move the team to Hamilton and either use Copps Coliseum as a temporary home while a new state-of-the-art arena could be built, or to renovate the Coliseum to bring it up to modern NHL standards. The bid was ultimately unsuccessful. In the spring of 2009, the Phoenix Coyotes filed for bankruptcy and Jim Balsillie immediately offered a rumoured $212.5 million US, while stating he wanted to move the franchise to southwestern Ontario. Balsillie applied for a lease option which, should the relocation have succeeded, would have invoked a 20-year lease for the team to play at Copps Coliseum. On May 9, 2009, the Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator and others reported that Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger was to meet with a second group interested in securing a lease. The group, led by Vancouver businessmen Tom Gaglardi and Nelson Skalbania, was interested in securing an interest in the Atlanta Thrashers and moving them to the Centre for the 2010–11 NHL season. The team ultimately moved to Winnipeg in 2011, becoming the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets instead. On May 13, 2009, The Canadian Press reported on TSN.ca that Balsillie won the exclusive rights to Hamilton's Copps Coliseum until November after a unanimous vote by Hamilton city council. On May 29, 2009, Balsillie unveiled his plans to renovate the Centre into a state-of-the-art facility in anticipation of a NHL franchise coming to Hamilton. It's unknown whether these renovations will come to fruition since Balsillie ultimately lost his bid to buy the Coyotes.
In 2008, it was announced that the Golden Horseshoe would be bidding for the 2015 Pan American Games. On February 18, 2009, Copps Coliseum was identified as the proposed site for the volleyball competition for the Games, though it ultimately did not host any events.
On January 3, 2014, Nitro Circus performed at the stadium for the first ever and only stop in Canada. Due to the high-risk nature of their stunt-based shows, most North American venues will not host the events.
On January 27, 2014, Hamilton City council voted unanimously to approve a $3.5-million deal to rename Copps Coliseum after local credit union First Ontario. The city unveiled the new look signage, FirstOntario Centre, later that spring.
On March 12, 2015, Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer announced that he had sold the team back to the Canadiens, who would move the team to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador for the 2015–16 season as the second incarnation of the St. John's IceCaps. Concurrently, Andlauer announced his acquisition of the Ontario Hockey League's Belleville Bulls, and that the team would be moved to Hamilton and adopt the Bulldogs name. The Bulldogs are the primary tenant in the facility.
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- Shoalts, David (May 9, 2009). "Hamilton Mayor Only Focused on Balsillie". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
- "Jim Balsillie Unveils Dramatic Revitalization for Copps Coliseum" (Press release). Veritas Communications Inc. May 29, 2009. Archived from the original on June 1, 2009. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
- "The Montreal Canadiens announce the transfer of the Hamilton Bulldogs to St.John's, Newfoundland". Montreal Canadiens. March 12, 2015.
- "Hamilton Bulldogs sell AHL franchise, buy the OHL Belleville Bulls". CBC News. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
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