B.C. Place celebrates silver anniversary - Vancouver Courier

Bob Mackin

Dome welcomed Pope John Paul, Hammerin' Hank, Bono and others

On this day 25 years ago, we rushed indoors to make history. There were 60,342 of us under the air-supported, Teflon-coated fibreglass at B.C. Place Stadium on June 20, 1983 for Monday Night Football with a difference.

The Vancouver Whitecaps beat the Seattle Sounders 2-1 in a North American Soccer League game, the day after almost 20,000 fewer people attended the grand opening pageant.

Seattle had its cavernous concrete Kingdome with two major league teams inside. Toronto had a major league baseball team but not a major league ballpark. Montreal had both, but the park had a big hole in the roof and left a big hole in the pockets of taxpayers. Vancouver had a building and a dream to get a major league team. Well, the building's still here, even if the dream disappeared.

It all started when Pacific National Exhibition president Erwin Swangard went public Aug. 18, 1978 with a plan for a $180 million multiplex to replace Empire Stadium. Premier Bill Bennett had another idea after Paul Manning recommended a downtown site near the Cambie Street Bridge. Plans for Bennett's Bubble were unveiled Jan. 29, 1980. Less than two years later the roof was inflated. Queen Elizabeth II arrived for the first invitation-only public event on March 9, 1983, to invite the world to Expo 86.

The temporary sign outside dubbed it "the Stadium at B.C. Place," but 957 different names were suggested by 7,446 people. It never became Pigeon Place or Whoopee Stadium or the Rain Bowl. Mind you, it never became Terry Fox Stadium, which 15,138 people supported in a petition.

The original Whitecaps disappeared with the NASL after the 1984 season. But the beloved B.C. Lions remain. They've hosted seven Grey Cups and are 1-1 when they've played in the big game under the big top. Kicker Lui Passaglia's cup-winning field goal in 1994 may be the greatest moment in Vancouver sports history. As triumphant as that was, the Vancouver Nighthawks were futile. The 1988 entry in the World Basketball League drew fans by the dozens to watch short men in long pants.

Quick, who hit the first home run indoors in Canada? It was Tony Oliva in the old-timers' game that featured Hank Aaron and Roger Maris on Aug. 12, 1983, before the Vancouver Canadians met the Phoenix Giants. The 41,875 attendance was a record for minor league baseball. Bob Hope's pre-game concert helped put bums in seats, too.

Yes, indeed, thanks for the memories. Memories of Pope John Paul II. U2, Rolling Stones, the Who. The 1990 NHL draft when the Canucks chose Petr Nedved and Shawn Antoski instead of Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur. There were bad times, when the Lions were drawing 12,000 fans and the near-riot at the 1998 American Bowl NFL exhibition. The darkest day of them all was Jan. 5, 2007 when the roof ripped and collapsed under the weight of snow when the heater wasn't turned on.

It'll get renovated before and after the Olympics in two phases, with a new roof to replace the original. The price tag hasn't been announced, but it could be around $200 million. Add that to the original $126 million and 50 years from now Vancouver could be proud that it had a bargain stadium for a fraction of the cost of Montreal's billion-dollar Olympic Stadium.

Happy birthday, B.C. Place!

© Vancouver Courier 2008