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Where Agriculture (and Hockey) Were King

For the week of Monday March 6, 2006

On March 7 and 8 March 1903, Ottawa's Aberdeen Pavilion hosted a hockey tournament where teams challenged for the Stanley Cup. At the end of the tournament, the Ottawa Silver Seven, the Original Ottawa Senators, claimed their first Stanley Cup! 

However, the Aberdeen Pavilion was not specifically designed as a hockey venue. Its history begins in 1868 with the founding of the Ottawa Agricultural Society, which, the following year, acquired a block of land along the Rideau Canal in the then-rural outskirts of Ottawa for holding agricultural exhibitions. Now called Lansdowne Park, this land has been used for an annual fall fair, several provincial expositions, and two dominion exhibitions.

1903 Ottawa Senators Stanley Cup Team
© Hockey Hall of Fame
In its early years, the Ottawa Agricultural Society erected temporary tents, short-term frame structures and several barns to display animals and agricultural produce. The exhibition grew and, in 1898, the Central Exhibition Association, which had organized the fall fair since 1888, recognized the need for a grand permanent building. Ottawa architect Moses Edey was hired to design a spectacular structure of prefabricated steel trusses, pressed metal siding, and vast expanses of glass. Architectural features such as cupolas and a large dome and the moulded exterior decoration — garlands, animal heads and faux masonry — make the building distinctive. Inspired by the Crystal Palace in London, England, the Aberdeen Pavilion was the first exhibition hall in Canada to be built using such materials.

Erected in two months, the Aberdeen Pavilion — named after Lady Aberdeen, the wife of the contemporary Governor General — housed agricultural exhibits. It also served several other purposes throughout its existence. It was used as military barracks during both the Boer and First World wars, as an ice rink, and as a home for cattle during more recent exhibitions.

Lady Aberdeen Pavillion
© Pierre Lachaine 2003
As the annual fall fair expanded, new buildings were erected on the exhibition grounds, while the Aberdeen Pavilion remained an increasingly shabby centerpiece of Lansdowne Park. During the early 1980s the building was routinely condemned for public use, and makeshift repairs were periodically made to get it through the annual exhibition. In the early 1990s plans for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park included the restoration of the Aberdeen Pavilion and, in June 1994, the Aberdeen Pavilion was reopened.

The Aberdeen Pavilion was designated a National Historic Site in 1983 and, in 1998, a plaque was erected commemorating the history of this distinctive structure.

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