Final puck to drop at Gatineau's Robert Guertin arena

·2 min read
The Robert Guertin arena in Gatineau, Que., will soon be demolished as the Gatineau Olympiques move across town to their new home at the Centre Slush Puppie. The QMJHL club played their final game in the aging arena on Sept. 18, 2021. (Giacomo Panico/CBC - image credit)
The Robert Guertin arena in Gatineau, Que., will soon be demolished as the Gatineau Olympiques move across town to their new home at the Centre Slush Puppie. The QMJHL club played their final game in the aging arena on Sept. 18, 2021. (Giacomo Panico/CBC - image credit)

When the doors of the Robert Guertin arena in Gatineau, Que., are locked at day's end on Saturday, it will mark the end of an era.

Soon all that will remain of the 64-year-old arena — nicknamed "The Bob" and located in downtown Hull — will be rubble and memories.

"It's been my second home," said Serge Haché, equipment manager for the Gatineau Olympiques junior hockey team.

"My wife would tell me it's my first home."

The QMJHL club will soon relocate to the newly built Centre Slush Puppie in the city's east end. Saturday's game will be the last at the arena, which first opened in 1957.

Conversations about building a new arena first cropped up in the early 2000s. Although some may have grown sick of the seemingly never-ending back-and-forth, Haché never lost his love for the aging hockey arena.

Games in the Robert-Guretin Arena were intimate affairs, he told CBC Radio's In Town and Out, with hometown and visiting fans packed in tight.

In earlier days, Haché said, plexiglass wasn't installed behind the benches, so fans would often reach out to touch the coaches or even strike up a conversation mid-game.

"When things went well, let me tell you, we definitely heard them. They're literally in our ear," Haché said. "But when it went wrong, let's just say we also heard them."

The 4,000-seat arena wasn't just for hockey games either, with the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus, Pearl Jam, Bryan Adams and the Backstreet Boys all performing there.

Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC

Intrinsic part of Hull's past

Zamboni driver and long-time employee Luc Clément has many fond, occasionally strange recollections from his decades of work at the rink.

He recalled how wrestlers once graced the arena's restaurant, with cases of beer often set aside for individual athletes. After the Pearl Jam concert, cleaning staff found a set of cow's eyes — a discovery that still remains a mystery to him.

Clément said the building's history is intrinsically linked with Hull's past, as well as many of his own childhood memories.

"All the history in this building is very, very, very, very special," he said.

And while Haché and Clément are no strangers to contact sports, they say demolition day will leave a bruise.

"I'm probably not going to want to be around," Haché said. "I think it's going to somewhat bother me."

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