As far as entertainment venues are concerned, St. Catharines and its downtown area experienced a major upgrade in the past decade as they welcomed in an especially notable, brand new facility. The Meridian Centre joined the downtown core in October 2014 and has been synonymous with major events in the city ever since. The facility injected an aspect of modern life into downtown St. Catharines.
According to the city of St. Catharines, the project began as a simple idea back in 2008 when exploratory research began regarding the economic impact a 5,000-plus seat arena would have on the region. From there, momentum continued to grow, as the finishing touches were made to approve the construction of a $50 million venue, and construction officially began at the end of 2012.
Eventually, in October of 2014, the doors on the 5,300 seat Meridian Centre opened. As a result of this, the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Niagara IceDogs moved from their previous home since 2007, the Jack Gatecliff Arena, to the Meridian Centre. The city of St. Catharines also opened a brand new edition of the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame in the concourse of the arena.
Another franchise that now calls the Meridian Centre home is the Niagara River Lions basketball team. Originally, the River Lions were an expansion franchise in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL) for the 2015 season. Since then, the franchise has shifted over to join the brand new Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) for its inaugural season in the summer of 2019. The league is headquartered in the nearby Niagara Falls and is officially partnered with Basketball Canada, so it certainly appears the River Lions and Meridian Centre are set up handsomely for a long, successful relationship.
As for other events, the Meridian Centre has hosted, Canada Basketball once again takes centre stage. In the summer of 2018, the venue hosted the FIBA (The International Basketball Federation) America’s men’s under-18 tournament. In addition to this, in 2016, the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) brought the women’s under-18 tournament to play at Meridian Centre. In 2017, the venue played host to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, a major women’s curling championship. On top of these world class events, the Meridian Centre has hosted Toronto Maple Leafs exhibition games as well as concerts and shows.
Most importantly, though, with Brock student bias fully acknowledged, the Meridian Centre has been the site for some of the most memorable sporting events in Brock history. Since the arena has been in operation, it has been the perfect partner for Brock men’s hockey’s Steel Blade Classic and notable games for Brock men’s and women’s basketball. The first Steel Blade Classic that took place at the Meridian Centre came in 2015 as the event shifted from a weekend-long tournament at the Seymour-Hannah Centre to a single exhibition game. The results have been a smashing success, it’s become a staple of homecoming weekend and has been an annual experience that’s worth marking on the calendar with its sell-out crowds being a guarantee. The Brock basketball programs have experienced similar success in their relationship with the Meridian Centre, as their games also draw large crowds of Brock fans. This venue and the fans that attend have played a big role in the trend that suggests Brock has the “best fans in Canada”. The events held at the Meridian Centre has given Brock and U—Sports athletics the treatment and feel of a high quality product that has lacked to date in this country and it’s exciting to have watched fan support grow.
In the short time the Meridian Centre has been operational in downtown St. Catharines, its positive effect on the sports and entertainment sector of this region has been profound. With Niagara set to host the Canada Summer Games in 2021, it wouldn’t be surprising for the spotlight to find its way to the Meridian Centre in some capacity once again. Given the trajectory we have seen the Meridian Centre and St. Catharines on within this past decade, it’s hard to not get excited about what the future holds for the venue.