By PATRICK BRENNAN TIMES-JOURNAL
The St. Thomas-Elgin Memorial Centre, a local landmark which many residents of St. Thomas have visited through their lives -- as a spectator, a dinner guest or an amateur athlete -- is wearing a new face these days.
The city took the wraps off $525,000 worth of improvements to the facility Friday.
The upgrades are spread throughout the building, fixing things like old plumbing, and remodelling high-traffic areas like the front foyer.
The auditorium is where improvements are most noticeable.
Gone is the dated paint scheme, wall coverings and stage at the front of the room, which has been replaced with one equipped with a ramp and lower floor. New flooring and a replacement bar were added, as well as a rebuilt coat room.
The city's parks and recreation department, which replaced the centre's roof before the comprehensive renovations, used infrastructure grants from the federal and provincial governments, said Ald. Sam Yusuf, chairman of council's community services committee and master of ceremonies for Friday's ceremony.
St. Thomas-Elgin Memorial Centre was built in 1953 at a cost of $375,000 on land leased from the Department of National Defence for 100 years. The complex was built as a tribute to returning war heroes in St. Thomas-Elgin.
The lease is renegotiated every 20 years, said Ross Tucker, director of parks and recreation.
Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MP Joe Preston said federal and provincial politicians are now out reaping the rewards of providing infrastructure grants and seeing how communities in their ridings are using them.
"Look at what working together as three levels of government have gotten us," Preston said.
"I have fond memories of this place," said Steve Peters, Liberal MPP for Elgin- Middlesex-London.
"Think of the countless numbers of people who have been through here," he said.
The building's hockey heritage alone is impressive.
Peters talked about the Cleveland Barons, an American Hockey League team which held training camp here, and the St. Thomas Wildcats of the Colonial Hockey League who called Memorial home.
In more recent history, Memorial was the home rink for junior hockey teams like the St. Thomas Pests and the St. Thomas Stars.
Hockey celebrities such as Don Cherry and NHL Hall of Famer Bobby Orr have also walked the halls of the St. Thomas-Elgin Memorial Centre, visiting here for special events.
Mayor Heather Jackson- Chapman, who took skating lessons there in her youth, said the building has a colourful past and promising future.
"It's always had a purpose and now will have a future purpose," she said.
The improvements included upgrades almost everywhere. New fixtures are in the washrooms and most walls have been repainted.
Major entrances feature accessible sliding doors and the parking lot has been repaved and new lines painted.
Several years ago, the city replaced all the spectator seats in Memorial arena.