Coliseum gets yet another new ‘lease on life’

There was cake and free ice skating when the Southampton Coliseum celebrated a new ‘lease on life’ on Sunday, October 20th (2019) at its re-opening after being closed for  major renovations to the flooring and boards.

(L-R) Councilor Cheryl Grace, ice expert (ret’d) Hardy Henry, Mayor Luke Charbonneau, former Southampton Recreation Director Ted Quennell, former employee Robert “Butch” Johnson and Vice-deputy Mayor Mike Myatt

At one time however, Southampton Coliseum came close to being closed forever.

In January, 1976, the Industrial Safety Branch of the Ministry of Labour stepped in and told the town to close the arena and curling club because the building was structurally unsafe and did not meet minimum safety standards.

Southampton Recreation Committee Community Centre Board of Management immediately set up a committee of various representatives from interested organizations to study alternatives to the problem and make recommendations to the Board.

The recommendation was that a new building was warranted and that a fundraising campaign should be started immediately. Many were against the idea at the outset but long-time resident Cater Matheson reportedly said, “When I was young, somebody paid for me and now … it’s my turn.”

Council of the day, under the leadership of Mayor Maurice (Mo) O’Dwyer, however, decided that it would not fund the project and that the building would not be constructed until the entire amount of almost $1Million could be raised and so began the monumental fundraising task.

One of the major fundraising ideas was a decision to feature a raffle for a completely built home. While some thought the idea unfeasible, others were enthusiastic about it, including Dr. Herb Coleman who was determined the idea should go ahead … and it did.

The tickets were $1 each and were sold throughout the region and the province, including the Sportsmen’s Show in Toronto.

The ‘fundraising’ house today

Despite the naysayers who said it couldn’t be done, the home in Chippewa Estates was built … completely by volunteers, most of them retirees, and with the highest quality materials, much of which were donated by various merchants and organizations or purchased at a very discounted price through Dr. Coleman’s connections.  Local businesses stepped up providing services such as electrical, plumbing, grading work, dry-walling, eaves-troughing, roofing, stone work, brick laying, painting, surveying and all the other countless services needed to build a house.

The draw on Southampton’s ‘Shindig Weekend’ had a winner from Toronto, the Cormier family, who had purchased a single ticket and who subsequently sold the home.

The sale of tickets netted the committee $36,000 which was matched by the government of the day three to one.

In combination with other fundraising efforts, the community raised almost $1Million and, in April of 1977, Mayor O’Dwyer signed a contract with Logan Construction Ltd. of Stratford to build the Coliseum and Curling Club for a cost of $780,000.

The building was paid for before a shovel was put in the ground and, seven months later, on November 12th, 1977 the Coliseum was officially opened.

“It was a complete coming together of the community,” says Ron Seaman of Seaman & Son Builders and who was on Council at the time.  “Volunteers of every sort stepped in to help and offer their skills.  Others, like Ted Quennell and Hardy Henry, were also there from the beginning.  I remember the ice plant was designed so the building could be used year round and it also supported both the arena and the curling club.  It was state-of-the-art and there was nothing like it in southwestern Ontario at the time.

The original ‘3’ at the 40th anniversary celebration in 2017 – (L)  Hardy Henry, Ted Quennell and Robert ‘Butch’ Johnson                                   (Saugeen Times Archives)

Today, the arena and curling club annex are still a hub of the community where tournaments, public skating and special events are held.