The Peace Bridge Arena - Fort Erie, Ontario
Home to Buffalo hockey and bootleggers
The Peace Bridge was completed in 1927. The structure linked Buffalo with Canada over the Niagara River, for the first time. American businessmen poured across the border. Some arrived to relax in the peaceful town, others came because land and property taxes were cheaper. It was the prohibition days of the 1920's. Liquor was illegal in the U.S. but not in Canada. As a result, Fort Erie became the playground for flamboyant Americans. They built casinos, hotels, dance halls, and speakeasies where liquor flowed freely. The area was in bloom and in urgent demand for an ice plant. The nearest plants were in Niagara Falls and Port Colborne. So construction began in the summer of 1928 on the Fort Erie Ice Co., Ltd. on Main Street, three blocks from the Peace Bridge. Owners of the ice plant felt it would also be a good idea to include an ice rink as part of their structure. The cost of the combined project, with land, was $300,000.
The “Peace Bridge Arena” boasted free parking for 2,000 cars and a seating capacity of 5,000 (about the same as the entire Town's population.) The structure’s pinnacle was the "Lamella Trussless" roof, which was designed with the spectator in mind. The Peace Bridge Arena offered a complete, unobstructed view of the ice surface from every corner. The roof, with an arch span of 140 feet and no distractions from support beams, was the first of its kind in the area. It was constructed from a network of precisely made wooden rafters, which resembled a giant woven, spiders' web. The 190 by 90-foot ice surface was also one of the largest in North America. It was opened to the public on November 18, 1928.
The Arena became home to professional and amateur hockey teams. Two National Hockey League teams, the Chicago Black Hawks and Pittsburgh Pirates, made Fort Erie their temporary home for a few regular season games in 1928 and 1929. The "Big City" influence left its mark on Fort Erie. After the matches, fans packed the once sleepy-eyed town's new hotels, casinos and clubs. The affluent could foxtrot and wager a few dollars on the roulette wheels, and drink the spirits that were illegal across the border. This border hockey connection was ideal for rumrunners to smuggle the contraband into the U.S. At least one bus, which carried a visiting American team to the Arena, was secretly loaded with liquor for the return trip, and unpacked in a Buffalo garage.
On March 17, 1936, the arena's roof collapsed, the result of a snowstorm, which dumped thirteen inches of heavy, wet snow across the region. The collapse marked the end of an era in Ft. Erie.