Thanks for the mem­o­ries: Say­ing good­bye to Vic High’s old sta­dium

Times Colonist - - Front Page - CLEVE DHEENSAW

Bob McLaren re­mem­bers go­ing into the rusty re­cesses of the Victoria High School stor­age rooms to pull out the rick­ety hur­dles that he leapt over dur­ing train­ing at Me­mo­rial Sta­dium.

Those ses­sions helped el­e­vate McLaren to the 1968 Mex­ico City Olympics. The Is­land’s first cin­der track, opened in 1951, also helped get the likes of sprinter Bob Hutchison to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and 400-me­tre run­ner Terry Tobacco to the 1956 Melbourne and 1960 Rome Olympics.

Vic High stars and fu­ture World Cup play­ers such as Hans de Goede in rugby and Ian Bridge in soc­cer played on the Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in­field. The track, how­ever, was open to clubs and you didn’t have to be a Vic High stu­dent to use it. McLaren and Hutchison, in fact, went to Oak Bay High and Tobacco came down from Cum­ber­land. Be­fore the open­ing of Cen­ten­nial Sta­dium in 1967, on the UVic cam­pus, cin­der was the only way to reach your po­ten­tial in track.

“We used to rake it and roll it be­fore train­ing on it,” said McLaren, of the Vic High track.

“It was like run­ning on the beach. We never ran on anything but cin­ders back then, even in the Pac-8 [where McLaren ran for the Ore­gon State Beavers], un­til Cen­ten­nial Sta­dium opened with its as­phalt track. The mondo and tar­tan tracks came later.”

The demolition of part of Vic High Me­mo­rial Sta­dium, one of the ven­er­a­ble con­nec­tions to Victoria’s sport­ing past, be­gan this week in work as­so­ci­ated with the $79.7-mil­lion ren­o­va­tions to the in­sti­tu­tion which is the old­est high school west of Win­nipeg and north of San Francisco. The north stands of the sta­dium must be re­moved as part of the work.

Vic High stu­dents and the Victoria Gyro Club raised the $20,000 to build the orig­i­nal sta­dium — $6,600 of which went to constructi­on of the track — in hon­our of the school’s alumni who died in the Second World War. It was the first high school sta­dium built in B.C.

A $7-mil­lion sta­dium re­newal is planned. The sta­dium project is con­sid­ered sup­ple­men­tal to the main work be­ing done on the Vic High seis­mic upgrade. The Victoria High School Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion has raised nearly $600,000 to­ward the sta­dium project, in­clud­ing more than $150,000 from mem­bers, $100,000 from the Bays United Foot­ball Club and the prom­ise of a $250,000 match­ing grant from the City of Victoria.

Planned fea­tures in­clude an eight-lane track, all-weather field, new bleach­ers and light­ing and a new field­house. The project is ex­pected to pro­ceed in four stages, as fund­ing is re­al­ized, with the all-weather field go­ing in first for school and Bays United teams, fol­lowed by the field­house, the track and bleach­ers.

“The fundrais­ing con­tin­ues,” said for­mer Vic High prin­ci­pal Keith Mc­Cal­lion, past chair of the alumni as­so­ci­a­tion, and a point per­son for the sta­dium project.

“We have re­quests in for fed­eral and provin­cial grants and hope to have an­nounce­ments. It’s taken longer than we thought and that’s why we have bro­ken it down into phases, with the all-weather field and light­ing be­ing the first phase. Over­all with the project, we hope to get there sooner rather than later.”

The me­mo­rial el­e­ment of the sta­dium will be in­cor­po­rated as part of the ren­o­vated fa­cil­ity.

Host­ing fu­ture high school cham­pi­onships — in­clud­ing the boys’ Colonist Cup and girls’ Ryan Cup soc­cer fi­nals, Howard Rus­sell Cup in rugby and Is­land track and field cham­pi­onships — is en­vi­sioned for the new venue.

But the old struc­ture will not soon be for­got­ten. Many were sad to see a po­tion of the bleach­ers come down this week.

“It’s was a clas­sic old sta­dium we don’t see any­more,” said Tom Turn­bull, a Vic High alum­nus, who has coached track and field at Lam­brick Park Sec­ondary for nearly three decades.

“I have great mem­o­ries of bor­row­ing the keys from [Vic High coach and leg­endary Is­land track of­fi­cial] Keith Newell on week­ends to take out hur­dles from the stor­age bunker, and train­ing for hours. It was such a neat old struc­ture with a lot of his­tory.” With a new story to be writ­ten. To do­nate to the sta­dium ini­tia­tive, go to the alumni link at vichigh.com

Work­ers con­tinue to de­mol­ish the old sta­dium at Victoria High School in prepa­ra­tions for a $7 mil­lion upgrade.

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