I have written about the Keystone Centre many times over the past 20 years. I have a shoebox beside me containing scrap paper with jot notes from previous attempts to share.
Above you will see an original Weiming Zhao painting that I am grateful to be the owner of. The Dome Building can be found along the Keystone Centre’s eastern border. It is a national historic site that was built in 1913. Weiming is one of Brandon’s most exceptional talents, and a great friend of mine. I have a large collection of his works, all of them capturing Brandon’s beauty.
As I have said in an earlier post, I have struggled to write in the context of a book, hence this shoebox that doubles as a memory resting place. Finding this previously ignored venue recently, my blog has resuscitated these memories, and is now providing a place for them to reside outside the box, inside the light.
No, I have not been living under a rock. I knew blogs existed, but my perception of blogging was somehow totally warped? When I would hear of someone blogging, I honestly (and now embarrassingly) felt that they should get a life; wasting all that time in front of a 15.6″. This while I obliviously invested my life into a random sitcom. In my defense, my TV screen is 50″.
Why the Keystone? How did this public sporting facility have such a profound impact on my young life? What could be so special to me? The beginning of the story is likely remembered by only a select few. That list may include a few veteran retired referees, a handful of our beloved past Wheaties, a couple OBO security staff, one or two Brandon Barbarians, and also my Brother and Father. I guess a fair amount of people knew if you count the kids at the games from 1979 to 1987 that I had boasted to.
It was my first Wheat Kings game. The sound of the announcer and the horn, the smell of the freshly buttered popcorn, and the sound my shoes made as they peeled away from the beer and soda pop laden concrete walkways and stairs made me feel different than ever before. A circus for my senses.
My house was in the 800 block of 12th Street from 1979-1985, just one block away from the northeast corner of the home of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
I knew the grounds of the Keystone very well by this day in 1979. At 6 years old, I would suggest that I already knew the property better than some of the maintenance personnel. I could tell you what state the roof of the main building was in as I had been up there numerous times by then.
There is a set of entrance doors to the main concourse on the west side of the building near the large overhead door. To the left of those doors but before the old Kinsmen Arena was an area that at one point was clad in the same brown aluminum that is still there today if you survey the roof’s perimeter.
On a hot day you could peel off your socks and climb straight up the side of the building, stepping on little 2 inch ledges all the way up. I showed many kids how, few would follow. I also used the sticky feet trick to scale the green Quonsets with ease, it was really scary coming down. I rode my bicycle down every long set of stairs that adorn the east, south, and west sides of the building. I had discovered the general area in great depth.
Tonight we were inside though. Dad wanted me to sit still and watch the game, but there was so much going on. As the first intermission drew near I had no idea my life was about to improve drastically. And how could it, my lawn care interests were thriving, the lemonade stand was a going concern, my portfolio of pictures I had colored in my coloring books was…okay, still busting at the seams, and I was so careful to stay within the lines. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad though?
My Father gave me enough for a pop and told me to deliver it to his friend who was a referee that night, he thought I might be able to get a puck. He instructed me to go where the Wheaties had just come off the ice and to carry on down the hall a bit and knock on the referee’s dressing room door.
The door opened and I asked for the fella by name. He accepted the gift and asked what he owed. I said it was my Dad’s treat but that I would love to have a Wheat Kings puck. He gave me one, and I was tipped by the other two refs in the room as they sent me up to get them drinks too. A new revenue stream had been realized and I missed very few games in the next 8 years as I was now “on staff”. I never paid for another admission either.
“He accepted the gift and asked what he owed. I said that it was my Dad’s treat but that I would love to have a Wheat Kings puck.”
In the early days security at the Keystone didn’t exist or at least the Barbarians at the door got to know me and my story, “I’m the guy who gets drinks for the refs at the first and second intermissions” I would say. They would wave me through.
I will reduce the size of this post substantially by listing the jobs that I did following that evening and not elaborating on each. Nearly every one of the items on this list have a story or stories to tell. I will tackle them one by one in detailed posts later.
Keep in mind that I was out of school mid way through the 8th grade. I will explain that in more depth later as well. By learning through correspondence I had more freedom than kids in school. Oh, and by “learning through correspondence”, I mean Days of our Lives, Another World, Santa Barbara, and The Young & The Restless.
Jobs at the Keystone Centre
- Getting drinks for the referees 1979-1987
- Did nets back then with a guy who is now my brother-in-law intermittent between 1982-1985
- Selling pop in the stands at the Shrine Circus and Royal Manitoba Winter Fair 1979-1987
- Mitchell Concessions, Conklin Shows, and various stints with games and rides during summer fairs 1979-1990
- Ball boy for the Harlem Globetrotters twice. I also got my Brother on with the Washington Generals in the second year.
- Personal assistant to Ernie Brookins, the builder of the Coors Light Jumping Combine. I rode in the car in the picture below with him to Canadian Tire to get supplies.
- Assisted in concert seating setup in exchange for tickets (this was outside of my KC employment) for Metallica, Midnight Oil, Honeymoon Suite, Charley Pride, Patty Loveless, The Stattler Brothers, Tom Cochrane twice, etc.
- Drilled studs into tires of liquid cooled trikes racing on ice, straightened hay bales during motocross events, tractor pulls, mud bogs, etc.
- My first official job on a payroll anywhere was at the Keystone Centre at 13 years old. I was hired into the maintenance department and immediately started setting up for what I believe was the very first Sun of a Beach Social in the Manitoba Room.
I even joined the Brandon Boxing Club which was situated right next to the Manitoba Room at the time. I won a provincial title in the junior B division under a very classy gentleman, Terry Fowler Sr. Not just a coach and friend, but another work ethic mentor.
My life revolved around the events at the Keystone. I learned to drive there as Dad would put me on his lap and let me steer through the green tunnel the huge trees created. As a family, when we bought McDonald’s or Burger King it was a tradition to picnic under the beautiful tree’s greenery.
There are many more posts about the Keystone Centre in my blog’s future. It is the place that taught me more about myself than anywhere else and I am so grateful.
I did not relate to kids my age, my friends were men in management positions at the arena or they were men dressed in black and gold. There were thirsty men with zebra stripes and men who’s job it was to flip a red light on by the net. I learned how to talk and act like them, no wonder I didn’t relate to my peers.
I have spoke to many of these men as an adult, some of them do not remember me, none of them knew they had an impact. I was exposed to more leaders, more role models, and a few heroes, one would later become Mayor.
B E G O O D T O P E O P L E