Story by Brock Ormond and Nicole Kleinsteuber 

Photo courtesy of Picton Gazette-

The roar of an energized and packed hometown crowd reverberated within its walls for decades.

It was where many learned to skate, play as a team, score their first goal, dance, volunteer, cheer and/or jeer under the warmth of a blanket they had stapled to their “reserved seat.”

Home to many, the ol’ Wellington ‘Duke Dome’ is where lifelong friendships were made.

“It was the hub of the community growing up,” recalled Tod Lavender.

Whether it was to play and coach hockey or take in a public skate, the Lavenders enjoyed the arena as a family and it was “always full of friends.”

The former Wellington Duke centre and Head Coach watched his career “go full circle” in the arena and is one of many community members taking a trip down memory lane as the once lively community centre is being demolished to make way for affordable housing.

The Wellington and District Community Centre was built in 1974 at 230 Niles Street after the previous dome-shaped arena burnt the year before, which is where the ‘Duke Dome’ phrase was coined.

Lavender said he remembers hearing stories from his father Garry Lavender about how the arena was rebuilt by the community “like an old-fashioned barn raising” and “that’s one of the reasons it means so much.”

“That’s where the pride came from because everyone had a hand in building it,” he said.

With hometown hockey back on the ice the collective hubris overflowed as multiple Ontario championships were won in front of cheering fans.  Thanks to pioneers Garry Lavender, Hugh Parliament and former Coun. Jim Dunlop, in 1989 it would also become the home of arguably one of the most stored and well-known franchises in Canadian Junior A hockey, the Wellington Dukes.

Lavender was on the bench in 2003 when the Wellington Dukes won their first of two Dudley Hewitt Cups.  The Dukes later won the Buckland Cup in 2018.

“The town was a buzz and everywhere you went there was talk of the hockey team,” he said.  “To be able to share that with my dad.  The community as a whole embraced that team as they have for years.”

‘It was just like a family here,’ expressed Linda Lloyd, a longtime canteen volunteer.

“Everybody was just together.  If anybody needed anything.  If anybody didn’t have extra money, people helped…It was fun.”

One of the biggest team supporters – Foster Bailey is remembered fondly by many.

In between periods, Bailey would lace up his skates and entertain the crowd while the Zamboni was cleaning.  He would jump over the blue and red lines or fly around like an airplane on one leg, Lavender described.

“His contribution to the character of the rink went beyond that with the fundraising that he did in support of the team and rink.”

Bailey would volunteer his time to sell raffle tickets for the hockey teams or when the rink needed a new ice surface.  He would ride his bike from Wellington to the Glenora Ferry where he would spend the day going back and forth between Picton and Aldolphustown selling tickets.

“He was an emblem of how the town supported that hockey team.  When you think of the Wellington Dukes, Foster Bailey comes to mind.”

Over the years there have been many notable Dukes to call the Dome home including Bateman, Helmer, Gilbert, Longo, Smith, Woodward, Dunn, Franklin and Blake, among many others.

“With the history and the character that rink brought out, especially in playoff time, I don’t think there will be another rink, at least that I can think of, in Ontario that can match Friday nights at the old Duke Dome,” recalled current assistant coach Tyler Longo.

The small ice surface and the intimate nature of the arena were conducive to competitive games and exciting atmospheres.

He remembered going to games as a fan and seeing what was a rare sight for any junior team in Canada but was a prominent part of the old rink and the County’s fabric – a Zamboni fashioned out of an old tractor.

Todd Reid played in the early 1990s and later went on to be an assistant coach under Marty Abrams in the late 2000s, early 2010s as the team was transitioning out of the building.

One story Reid noted that epitomized the Dukes’ eventual rise to OJHL power was from a conversation with a former Wellington and University of Guelph teammate who coached a junior team from Thornhill in the 2000s.

“He said the team bus would turn off of Wooler (Road) and he could literally, feel the bus go dark and start shaking because guys were scared to go into Wellington with those fans and that atmosphere,” Reid remarked.

The players, coaches and fans remembered the fanbase as being fiercely loyal and proactive in the cold building.

“I remember fans would lay blankets out (on the bench seating) around noon for playoff games,” he said.

“That was our method of advance tickets, placing your blanket down in the stands on Wednesday for a Friday night game,” long-time head coach Marty Abrams joked.

Referring to the fans, many of whom still attend games at the new Duke Dome (Lehigh Arena), Longo described the group as “The 7th man.”

“Talk about noise, oh my God, it could get deafening in there,” he reflected.  “With everyone being so close to the ice, it just felt like the fans and the visiting team and the benches were right on top of you. It was quite unique.”

The memories still felt as fresh as they did during the arena’s heyday for many Dukes supporters and residents of the village as well.

“I remember the visiting team had to cross the ice and go through the canteen lobby to reach their dressing room,” Booster Club member and manager of ticket sales Betty Masterson remembered.

“This little trip was most often not pleasant as you can imagine being shoulder to shoulder with Dukes fans.”

Dukes fan, broadcaster and Wellington native Allan Etmanski emphasized the building was more than a community arena for many – it was the lifeblood of the village.

“It’s where I learned to skate, learned to play hockey, started and finished my hockey playing days and was where I started a career in junior hockey that is going on 20+ years,” he stated.


The old Duke Dome had a true home-ice advantage in ‘Whiskey Corner.’

Often referred to as ‘The Fifth Line’, Whiskey Corner featured a relentless band of fans who made it their mission to wear down the opposition over the course of a 60-minute hockey game.

The best-remembered story from everyone associated with the Dukes to this day is when fans in that area got so far under the skin of Aurora Tigers netminder Chris Whitley in the ’03 championship series, that he fired a puck over the glass near the fans and garnered a suspension that saw him miss the remainder of the series.

That produced the turning point that led the Dukes to their first OPJHL title and effectively put Wellington on the junior hockey map as a popular destination for players.

“I recall as a fan being at Game 7 between Wellington and the Trenton Sting in 2003 when attendance capacity reached an all-time high,” added Picton Gazette reporter Jason Parks, who has covered the team for more than 20 years.

Parks was pressed up against the glass in the Wellington end opposite Whiskey Corner during the third period.  The crowd was so deep that someone found a long table and there were people standing on it to see the ice surface.

“Sometime during the period, I heard a low groan and I turned in time to see the table finally give way,” he described.  “It was quite a scene. Luckily no one was hurt, but you couldn’t have slipped another soul in that building that night.”


Besides the ’03 championship run, the 2010 second-round series where the Dukes came storming back from 3-0 down to stun the then-Markham Waxers was another memorable moment to send the old building off in its last full season.

“Watching sniper Joe Zarbo streak down his wing and rifle a shot five-hole in overtime to win us the series was remarkable,” Abrams remembered.  “I will never forget the atmosphere in the rink that night.”

The team had real local content, which fans, players and coaches alike noted made the connection between the fans, the team, and the arena even more concrete.

That connection was moulded through events such as the annual team Christmas meal in the hall above the rink, organized by the Booster Club.

It brought together billets, game staff, parents and fans and was a chance for the team to thank everyone for their contributions to the organization – and it continues to this day.

“The Dukes were a family, led by Garry Lavender and that was a favourite memory of mine,” Abrams said.

That family atmosphere has continued into the now-13-year-old Lehigh Arena and the community feel remains as strong as the memories that have come from the old Duke Dome.