The day was August 14, 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II was two months into her reign. Seventeen days earlier the Korean War had ended. On that day, with a Shriners fundraiser and Hockey Night in Canada’s Foster Hewitt as the master of ceremonies, Winnipeg Stadium had officially opened.
It would be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ home for the next 58 years. Their final game there is this coming Sunday, Nov. 20.
Many will say that the time for Winnipeg to build a new stadium was long overdue. CanadInns Stadium (Winnipeg Stadium’s name since 2001) could be described by these words: obsolete, decrepit, eyesore. It’s not difficult to see why — it’s supported by an exoskeleton of yellow steel trusses that make it appear to be only half-built, the concrete looks like it has been painted over many times to hide its flaws, while chipped paint exposes rusty railings.
It is neither state-of-the-art like Toronto’s Rogers Centre (built in 1989), nor first of its kind like Houston’s Astrodome. It never achieved the folklore-status of Yankee Stadium, but matched the character of the sport events and Manitoban people it played host to: strong, resilient and inimitable.
Winnipeg/CanadInns Stadium was built because of a love of Canadian football and its home team. Downtown’s Osborne Stadium couldn’t handle the demand to see star players like Jack Jacobs and Buddy Tinsley. In fact, the new stadium was expanded immediately after the 1953 season, and many times since.
It has been the stage for the great performances of Blue Bombers past. During the dynasty years of the 1950s through ’60s, it was coach Bud Grant leading his squad — consisting of the likes of Ken Ploen, Leo Lewis, Gerry James and Herb Gray. In the 1980s, Dieter Brock, Tom Clements, Willard Reaves, Joe Poplawski, James Murphy and Chris Walby led the offence. Meanwhile, their stingy defence consisting of Tyrone Jones, Rick House, Rod Hill and Greg Battle helped the Bombers win three Grey Cups in seven years. Later on, Matt Dunigan would throw for 713 yards in a 1994 game at the stadium, Milt Stegall would break the CFL touchdown record and Charles Roberts would spin away from defenders into the end zone.
It has hosted three Grey Cups: in 1991, 1998 and 2006 in sub-zero temperatures.
The Goldeyes called the stadium home for its first five seasons. “Deformity Field” — as it was once called due to yard lines on the asymmetrical outfield — hosted the Goldeyes only league pennant in 1994. The Bisons won the 2001 Churchill Bowl and 2007 Mitchell Bowl at the Stadium. It opened and closed the Pan American Games twice — in 1967 and 1999. It has hosted many high school football championships, where young men achieved their dream of playing on its turf. It was the Mecca of Manitoba sport.
Yet, it wasn’t the events it hosted that made this place special. It was the fans.
It’s the fans who fill every seat and bleacher, who look past the stadium’s numerous imperfections. We feel like we are part of the action; we know it by the concrete vibrating underneath our feet. Without the fans, CanadInns Stadium lacks it’s soul.
Former New York Yankee Bernie Williams once spoke about old Yankee Stadium: “Concrete doesn’t talk back to you — it’s the people in the stands who made this place magical.”
The same can be said for Winnipeg Stadium.
Goodbye, we will miss you.