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Ian White reminisces about his connection to Calgary's Scotiabank Saddledome

The Scotiabank Saddledome is shown with Calgary's downtown area in the background on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh) The Scotiabank Saddledome is shown with Calgary's downtown area in the background on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)
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I have to admit I’ve become rather fond of the place.

The Saddledome has been a part of my life since it opened in 1983.

In fact, I was there for the opening.

The Central Memorial High School Golden Rams Marching Band – yes, it’s a mouthful – performed at the official opening ceremony.

Playing my baritone horn, I marched with the rest of the band – counter-clockwise – around the Saddledome’s concourse.

If you think it’s loud in between periods imagine the horns and drums echoing off the concrete.

Quite the din.

As we marched, I would sneak glimpses to my left of the playing surface, before the ice had even been made for the Flames and, in a few years, the Winter Olympics.

You can’t underestimate the impact of an NHL franchise for Calgary and a 19,000 seat arena for the Flames to play in.

When the Flames moved here from Atlanta in 1980, Calgary’s population was roughly 500,000.

At last we had caught up with Winnipeg, a city now dwarfed by Calgary’s growth.

Cable TV in the 1970s had brought American pro sports into my home, from exotic locations like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and St. Louis.

With an NHL franchise Calgary had joined the "big leagues."

Only a few years later I returned to the Saddledome for another counter-clockwise journey.

I had started at CTV – then CFCN – in 1990.

The Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)Photographer Kevin Green and I were alone outside one of the dressing rooms in the lower level of the arena, waiting for Jean Chretien and his wife, Aline, to emerge.

The federal Liberals had just elected Chretien as their leader.

The Chretiens emerged and began walking toward their destiny in Canadian politics as Kevin and I walked backwards around the Saddledome, up the stairs, through the concourse and into the arena.

The ability to shoot in focus and walk backwards is one of the most undervalued skills of news photographers.

As we walked the crowd grew, the cheering began.

While the Calgary convention never gave the Liberals the springboard they had hoped for in Alberta, Chretien was elected prime minister in 1993 and served for ten years.

The only oversights in my personal history at the Saddledome?

The 1988 Winter Olympics and the Flames’ 1989 Stanley Cup victory.

As Gordon Lightfoot and Ian Tyson sang Alberta Bound at the opening ceremony at McMahon Stadium, I was in a newsroom in Regina, desperately wishing I was home.

There might have been a few tears.

Only a year later the Flames won the Stanley Cup, clinching the championship at the Montreal Forum, another arena that’s no longer relevant for the NHL.

When Lanny McDonald put the puck past Patrick Roy I was in Fredericton, New Brunswick, celebrating with one too many Moosehead beers.

By the Flames’ historic 2004 Stanley Cup run I was back home, raising a young family.

I remember seeing the faces of young people flooding the Red Mile.

Hockey fans celebrate a Canadian goal against the USA at a bar on Calgary's "Red Mile" strip in Calgary in Calgary on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)As Calgary had taken on a much more multicultural identity, the city embraced Flames Captain Jarome Iginla, who was more than just a BIPOC hockey player, but one of the greatest players in NHL history.

Soon the Saddledome will fade into history, just over four decades after it opened.

Arenas rarely last longer than a few decades.

Baseball’s Fenway Park and Wrigley Field are the exceptions, enduring for more than a century, long enough for fans to treasure their history and view their anachronisms as part of the charm.

I’ve seen dozens of games at the Saddledome through the Flames successful seasons and also through their rebuilding years.

I’ve seen plenty of shows – Genesis, Sting, Don Henley, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, The Chicks, The Tragically Hip, even Disney on Ice.

When the Dome is demolished it will create a void in Calgary’s skyline.

Along with the Calgary Tower and the Peace Bridge the Saddledome has become one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks.

The new events centre won’t be as unique.

But new memories will be made there for a younger generation – as we veterans of the Dome reflect fondly on the past.

And before the wrecking ball hits the Saddledome I’d be happy to buy a couple of seats, as other legacy arenas have done as they fade into history.  

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