Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

'It was better than the busiest summer day': Hockey Day in Canada a boon for region

National exposure from the day-long Sportsnet broadcast is expected to pay economic dividends for years to come
People flocked to see NHL stars and the Stanley Cup during the Hockey Day in Canada festivities at Ship Point on Saturday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada celebrations were a boon for downtown businesses during the typical January doldrums, and the national exposure is expected to pay economic dividends in the region for years to come, say observers.

Hotels were filled and stores and restaurants were overflowing as an estimated 15,000 people poured into the downtown core for hockey games, autographs from famous NHL alumni, skating on synthetic ice and a chance for a selfie with hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup, on Friday and Saturday.

“It was better than the busiest summer day for us … the best I’ve seen in the 25 years that I’ve been here,” said Matt MacNeil, owner of the Irish Times and Bard & Banker pubs on Government Street.

Sportsnet hosts perched above Milestones restaurant overlooking the Inner Harbour, Empress Hotel and the legislature for a 12.5-hour broadcast on Saturday that included a full slate of National Hockey League games across the country. Float planes were seen flying in and out as whale-watching boats took out tourists.

The broadcast included segments on the city’s attractions, including Chinatown’s Fan Tan Alley, and scenes of the Stanley Cup being taken to schools and the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations — even afternoon tea at the Empress — with all ages wide-eyed as they touched the trophy.

The telecast attracted an estimated nine million viewers across the country.

“You just can’t buy that kind of advertising,” said MacNeil. “More than anything it was the mood … people of all ages in every kind of hockey sweater walking around, little kids, families and NHL legends all enjoying themselves. It was a pretty special time for the city and a lot of people were watching.”

Bill Lewis, general manager of the Magnolia Hotel on Courtney Street, said hotels were booked solid with visitors from the Lower Mainland and other parts of the Island. A typical occupancy rate for the same period a year ago was 50% or lower.

“Between the TV crews, teams, celebrities and tourists, most hotels were completely full,” said Lewis. “It was a huge economic driver during a typically slow period for everyone.”

Lewis said despite snowfall and some frigid temperatures leading up to the event, Saturday’s mild weather drew huge crowds. He said the exposure will bode well for the city for the spring and summer months ahead — and for future shoulder seasons.

“It puts Victoria on a lot of people’s idea lists heading into the travel season,” said Lewis.

All the events over the three-day celebration of hockey were sold out. The Hockey Day gala Thursday night at the Victoria Conference Centre brought in more than 800 people, while more than 7,000 fans attended the NHL Alumni and Celebrity Game on Friday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

The Victoria Royals, who played Kamloops on Saturday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, doubled their typical attendance, with more than 6,000 attending the game.

Bars and restaurants in Victoria were packed as the Vancouver Canucks hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs for Hockey Night in Canada’s marquee matchup.

“It was tough to get a seat in any pub or restaurant with a TV,” said Lewis. Even the Courtney Room in the Magnolia was full, despite not having any TVs.

Destination Greater Victoria chief executive Paul Nursey said with January typically one of the slowest months for the visitor economy in Greater Victoria, having an event of this calibre in the region was a welcome boost to everyone in the industry, from hotels to suppliers.

He said Monday that it’s too early to know the full economic impact of Hockey Day in Canada, adding Destination Greater Victoria will be conducting an analysis in the coming weeks. “We hope this event provided businesses a springboard to launch a solid 2024 [season],” he said.

Victoria became the 23rd community to host Hockey Day in Canada and was the largest city to hold the event.

John Wilson, chair of the organizing committee, gave credit for the event’s success to a hard-working committee that started the work a year before, more than 200 volunteers who helped to pull it off and the thousands of people who attended “with a common love of hockey.”

He said Scotiabank provided what it thought was more than enough toques and scarves for the event — about 15,000 — but those were all given away by noon on Saturday.

Nearly $100,000 was raised for the Archie Courtnall Centre for Mental Health, a charity founded by Victoria-born former NHLers Geoff and Russ Courtnall and their family.

Bruce Williams, chief executive of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said hosting the event wasn’t only an economic success — it also created a sense of community.

“Civic pride was the big thing here,” said Williams. “We were successful because people came together and really celebrated the game we love so much.”

The event, which cost about $858,000 to stage, is expected to break even.

The legacy won’t only be potential tourists coming back, but also the 20-foot-by-40-foot synthetic ice surface, which is now back in storage but is expected to be set up for community events throughout the year.

Williams said he is already planning a Chamber of Commerce skating event in July.

[email protected]

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]