By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Lowell Cochrane doesn’t consider himself a hockey fan, but he knows somebody who is.
“My son is keen about hockey,” he said, “so I see it through his eyes.”
Through those eyes, Cochrane saw something that intrigued him among the old photos held in the archive of Kingston’s Hockey Hall of Fame, when he undertook to redesign what is now known as hockey’s “original” hall.
“You see the sportsmen and sportswomen in these beautiful old photographs, and you think, ‘Yeah, they’re just like us, except the clothes are different,’” Cochrane said Tuesday night, as the local hall unveiled its new look in its upstairs gallery at the Invista Centre.
“You look at the majesty of them, and you think, if the hall in some way could (allow) people to see themselves in those pictures, we would have accomplished what we set out to do, because people will only know the history of things if they see a reason to. You can’t force anyone to learn something. You have to hook them, and then they have no problem learning it all.”
A man whose specialty is museum design, Cochrane’s company, Show Communications of Kingston, has produced documentary videos and created exhibits for museums and institutes across North America, for such places as the Museum of Nature in Ottawa, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Science North, the Boston Science Museum, Upper Canada Village and the Philadelphia Zoo.
In addition to creative use of the old photos in the redesigned Hall, Cochrane produced a video, narrated by Don Cherry, that uses the images to portray Kingston’s role in the early growth of the game in what noted hockey historian Bill Fitsell described Tuesday night as “a terrific encapsulation of hockey’s start.”
The new film will be shown in the Henderson Theatre, one of the new aspects of the redesigned Hall.
“For some reason,” Cochrane said, “when you look at the pictures, you see the importance of sport in the people. You see in them their development, you see the character that it builds. If you’re not in a sport, you can be cynical and say, ‘Oh, that’s not necessary,’ but you watch the action, you watch a coach coaching, and you see, ‘Wow, look at the way he has everyone’s attention,’ and the respect (they have), and you see something very human there.
“The desire to play the sport, and to excel at the sport is very human.”
The renovation project was made possible by a $250,000 grant from the W.J. Henderson Foundation, and it had its genesis, Cochrane said, four years ago, recalling his first meeting with Hall president Mark Potter. It was around the time when it had become apparent that the city was going to tear down the hall’s original home, a free-standing building at the corner of Alfred and York streets that had fallen into serious disrepair.
Space-wise, moving from a two-story building to a corner of the multiplex arena was akin to an old couple downsizing from a four-bedroom house in which they’d lived and collected stuff for 50 years to a one-bedroom apartment with small closets. The logistics of the adaptation were not insignificant, Cochrane said, the most challenging being the new Hall’s location in a pre-existing facility. “You can’t do anything you want,” he said.
“Often in a museum or a science centre, if you need this wall taken out, well, we’ll take the wall out. How do we design (this Hall) within this space was certainly a challenge. Plus, it’s a free facility, with no one there to guide people through it, so it has certain parameters: it needs to be fun, but it needs to hold up, as well, and it needs to have a certain atmosphere when you go in.
“We tried to make use of the photography and the archival images by making them as big as possible on panels, and telling the stories by bringing them to life, having a few whimsical effects that intrigue people … those are all tricks of the trade, so it’s not only artifacts and text.
“It’s not completely new, either. There’s no sense throwing good stuff out, so we tried to thematically tie things together, (within) the standard museum narrative structure.”
Cochrane is clearly passionate about his profession, but he had never worked on a project in Kingston before. That aspect of the project intrigued him, too.
“I grew up in a science centre,” he said, “volunteering and working there, so I know the impact that the culture of a museum can have, if it can actually reach citizens. A lot of time, you’ll get a museum in town, and no one ever goes there from the town, it’s all tourists, but if it has something that has roots in the city that it’s in, the kids growing up, associating themselves with it, it can change them in some way.
“When Mark said he was moving into the Invista Centre, I thought, ‘That is the perfect place, because the entire amateur hockey community is here,’ everyone from the four-year-olds learning to skate, to the semipros practising to the oldtimers coming during the day—everything is here.
“It’s phenomenal just how much it’s used. I’ve spent the last couple of months here, working upstairs, and you see the hum that’s here all the time, people playing the sport that they love.”
Creating a museum to a sport that is central to the culture of the land, in the city that prides itself as being seminal in the game’s development, is a big responsibility, Cochrane confessed, one that can alternately be inspirational and burdensome.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “We do a lot of different projects, science things, history things, tourist-oriented stuff. You can quickly recognize when you have a topic that people are passionate about, and you can’t get much more passionate in Canada than hockey.
“At a certain point in the project you realize that every single fact is deadly important. You realize it at the beginning but it really sinks in partway through the project, that these people know their stuff.”
The Hall will reopen Friday. It is open daily except when the Invista Centre is closed, which is Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Years Day, Easter Sunday and Monday, Victoria Day and Canada Day. Admission is free.