One last trip through the house that Gretzky built: Northlands Coliseum

Photo credit:Zach Laing
Zach Laing
1 year ago
Hockey teams are intrinsically married to the arenas they play in and the cities they live in. For the players, it’s a home away from home.
Call Edmonton’s old barn what you will — Northlands Coliseum, the Edmonton Coliseum, the Skyreach Center, or Rexall Place — this place was more than just a home for the Edmonton Oilers players: it was a home-away-from-home for its fans, too. It was the house that Gretzky built.
Famous for its particularly potent beers and intimate setting, it was almost eerie walking its halls on Friday morning. For what could very well be one of the last times, members of the Edmonton media got to walk the concourse and see the ins and outs of one of the NHL’s most legendary arenas.
It’s far from what it once was. The ice and boards have been long removed, and all that remains of where 17,000+ would sit are stacks of seats strewn throughout the arena bowl. The beer lines are gone and the concession stands are long disassembled. Suites, too, are shells of themselves but cupboards still hold a few glasses that would once be filled with wine.
“It’s emotional — you guys felt it going through,” said Oilersnation co-founder Wanye, who attended the event Friday with myself and our jack-of-all-trades, Kennedy. “This is where Edmonton had the best times as a city for forty-odd years, and you can still feel it in here.
“What I find going through here is I’m just remembering certain instances. I always dream of being drunk in the downstairs bar, and I dream about it all the time because I had so many good times there. It’s not a specific Oilers game, it’s not somebody’s plus-minus. It’s an honour to be here today. It’s an honour to see it out.
“It’s sad to see her go. It’s sad. It’s a chapter of Edmonton’s history, a really good chapter. A lot of really good people came here and had some of the best times of their lives. The Oilers who sacrificed themselves on that floor for us, you think about guys who are in their 50’s and 60’s now who are long forgotten. They’re still nursing injuries, the money’s long gone, and they have memories here still too — the connection they had with fans.”
Walking the halls of the concourse looked nothing like it used to when it was once filled beer swillin’ hockey nuts. If you missed a step now, you might have stepped on a shell casing fired by the Edmonton Police Service’s tactical squad, who used the rink as a training facility years ago.
In 2025, work will begin when a city contractor begins work on the demolition of the building. Just weeks ago, the city earmarked $35-million in that year’s budget for the work to be done in a move that has ceased any conversation about potentially repurposing the building off 118th Ave.
Heavy equipment will be used to take the building down piece by piece with an implosion too risky given its proximity to the LRT line and other causeways.
Lovey Grewal, project lead with the Edmonton Exhibition Lands Redevelopment Project, said a plot of land west of the arena will be listed for sale soon, and the area where the Coliseum stands today will be replaced by a combination of public space, housing and business.
“This area calls for what we’re calling an urban transit village,” he said Friday, adding there are plans in place for a new LRT station to be built on 119th Ave. “We would envision an urban plaza for gathering and using the transportation system, as well as mixed and high-density residential and mixed-use development.”
When it comes to honouring what happened inside the Coliseum, Grewal said that would be up to whoever builds on the land.
“I’m sure they will,” said Wanye. “As much as it’s nice to think of keeping this thing around, it’s pretty messed up. To get a building like this up to code, it’s not like you just repaint that thing blue and now it’s good to go again.
“There were liquids that were unidentifiable, there were some solid powders that had fallen out of places. It’s got to go. Will the new people honour it? They will, just because people would get so pissed off. There’s no way they’re going to build a building here and not do something.”

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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