Saskatoon’s SaskTel Centre marked a special milestone Friday.
On February 9, 1988, the building formerly named Saskatchewan Place opened its doors to the public with a Western Hockey League game which saw the Saskatoon Blades defeat the Brandon Wheat Kings 4-3.
Kevin Hills was in Grade 12 when the building opened and quickly picked up some similarities between the opening and its 30th anniversary.
“That was 30 years ago, but I’m pretty sure when the building opened, it was frigid,” said Hills of the matching weather.
Hills is the general manager of Western Concessions Inc., the concession company housed within Sasktel Centre.
He first went to Sasktel Centre (then known as Saskatchewan Place) for a job fair, hoping to land a job at one of the concessions. More than 30 years later, Hills still marvels at that first day.
“We got to walk on to the concourse for the very first time,” said Hills. “To see the brand new building with all the brand new seats, washrooms and concessions.”
“It was just a great step for Saskatoon and I’ll always remember it.”
Scott Ford is the building’s executive director and has been around for all the big events the building has hosted over the years.
“It was electric,” said Ford, recalling that first year. “All the Blades games were sold out. It was Saskatoon’s first taste of some big concerts.”
Elton John, Garth Brooks, Aerosmith, Metalica along with countless other big-name musicians have played to fans in the arena over the last three decades.
Working inside one of Ssakatoon’s most celebrated venues hasn’t worn on Hills for a moment.
“It was just nice to know that you were part of something big, whether it be a hockey game or a concert,” said Hills. “To know that you played a part in the fan experience for that person.”
“Hopefully, they left and had a good time and a good experience at Sasktel Centre.”
To mark the occasion, a pre-game ceremony will take place before the Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders game on Saturday. Murray Howe, Gordie Howe’s son, will be in attendance signing copies of his new novel, Nine Lessons I Learned From My Father.
Free birthday cake, indoor fireworks and free prize giveaways will also be part of the special night.
Venue faces uncertain future
In 1982, local sports promoter Bill Hunter attempted to buy the St. Louis Blues and move them to Saskatoon. Part of his plan was to build an 18,000 seat arena. Ford said it was the “catalyst” for the arena eventually getting built.
Four years later, ground was broken and 17-months later the nearly $25-million building was completed.
Three decades later it remains a major entertainment hub, but Ford said it’s starting to show its age and in recent years discussions have begun about its future.
“There’s some deficiencies in the building,” Ford said pointing to the low ceiling. “Nowadays the customer and consumers are wanting more space, better facilities like washrooms.”
The boards of SaskTel Centre and TCU Place commissioned on a study in 2016 on the future of both facilities.
The report is expected to be released in spring.
-With files from Keenan Sorokan