Joe Iannarelli, Esquimalt’s legend on ice

Veteran arena manager rubbed shoulders with Howe and Sawchuk and built recreation programs in the township

Joe Iannarelli

Joe Iannarelli has been around nearly as long as the town where he made a name for himself.

But the former Esquimalt Sports Centre manager looks and acts two decades younger than his 90 years, gingerly walking alongside his second home, now known as the Archie Browning Sports Centre.

“There’s a lot of memories here,” he said.

Iannarelli will be inducted into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 27, an honour that recognizes his contributions as a community organizer for Esquimalt and Vancouver Island.

The Timmins, Ont., native fell in love with the West Coast after playing a half-season with the old Vancouver Canucks in 1949, part of a four-season stint in minor pro hockey.

But it wasn’t until 1961 that Iannarelli found his way back through a job posting in the Toronto Star sports section.

“There was an ad for an arena manager job in Esquimalt, B.C. So I said to my brother, ‘I don’t know where the hell it is, but if it’s not near a big city, I’m not going.’”

Iannarelli became the first manager of the sports centre – the first multi-purpose facility of its kind on Vancouver Island – and spent 20 years at the helm. His commitment spawned hugely successful hockey, lacrosse and curling leagues, as well as a summer hockey school that grew to 600 annual participants from across Canada.

To take advantage of the empty hockey rink during the summer months, Iannarelli created a roller skating night that attracted upwards of 700 patrons each week.

“Joe built it into the probably the best community arena in Canada,” said long-time friend and physician Dan Buie.

“I’m a hockey guy and I love hockey,” Iannarelli said, recalling the glory days when the sports centre sold out Friday night double-headers featuring teams from the Canadian army, navy, University of Victoria and one commercial franchise.

“You couldn’t get a person in or out on a Friday night with Vaseline,” Buie said. “Joe started a commercial hockey league that was the rival of any league in Canada.”

During the Second World War, Iannarelli worked as a physical training instructor for the Canadian Forces at various bases between Ontario and Nova Scotia.

After the war, he spent four years playing on National Hockey League farm teams, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Detroit Red Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk and others.

“When I attended Detroit training camp in 1946, my bunkmate was a guy named Gordie Howe – he was 18 years old,” Iannarelli said.

The two lived in the hockey arena in Omaha, Neb., scraping the ice between periods for $5 a day. They remain good friends.

But it’s the many local friendships Iannarelli and wife, Jean, forged over the years that make him most proud.

“One of the reasons why I took the job was I liked the people that were interviewing me. I was impressed with them and the community,” he said.

On Aug. 18, the Esquimalt community threw Iannarelli a 90th birthday party at the sports centre’s curling rink, a small token of appreciation for a “very classy gentleman,” Buie said.

When asked what advice he would impart to his two – soon to be three – great-grandchildren, Iannarelli reflected on the guiding principle of his storied career.

“Do what you love,” he said.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Just Posted

More ideas come forward for Victoria’s Centennial Square

Ideas from over 1,400 residents are being presented to council

Sidney bank robbery suspect also sought in connect to Abbotsford robbery

Lucas Daryl Bradwell, 28, is known to frequent the Lower Mainland but is believed to be on Vancouver Island

HarbourCats four-game win streak hits stall in Walla Walla

Victoria team loses the first of a three-game set 6-3 in Washington

B.C. Ferries cancels two sailings Monday due to mechanical issues

In order to replace a steering pump on the Queen of New Westminster

VIDEO: Dashcam video captures moment Victoria cyclist struck

Police seeking cyclist captured in video

New home cost dips in B.C.’s large urban centres

Victoria, Kelowna, Vancouver prices decline from last year

Graphic suicide scene edited out of ‘13 Reasons Why’ finale

Suicide prevention groups support the decision

Nine kittens and cats rescued after being locked in bins in northern B.C.: SPCA

SPCA says cats were starving, and matted with feces and urine

High-speed rail link would run from Vancouver to Seattle in under 1 hour: study

Annual ridership is projected to exceed three million

ICBC insurance renewals get more complicated this year

Crash history, driver risk prompt more reporting requirements

U.S. tug firm to be sentenced for 2016 spill in B.C. First Nation’s territory

The Nathan E. Stewart spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October 2016

B.C. man dies from rabies after contact with Vancouver Island bat

Last known case of human rabies in B.C. was 16 years ago

Asylum figures show overall slower rate of irregular crossings into Canada

Between January and June 2019, a total of 6,707 asylum seekers crossed irregularly into Canada

Most Read