Old barn, brick by brick
Master builder’s Winnipeg Arena Lego project lights lamp with Queen portrait, Dancin’ Gabe, and, yes, men’s room trough
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All they want for Christmas is their two front seats.
Winnipeg school teacher Scott Templeton created a bit of stir this fall when he unveiled his “COVID project,” a replica of the old Winnipeg Arena fashioned entirely out of Lego blocks.
No sooner had he posted pictures online of the finished product, which depicts the final Winnipeg Jets 1.0 game played at the old barn, an April 28, 1996, 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings, than he began hearing from fans who wanted to reminisce about that particular tilt, plus one person who was hoping to attend a second time.
“This guy asked if he was to send me three Lego mini-figures, would I place them in the stands for him and the two guys he was at the game with,” Templeton says, seated in the living room of his West End bungalow, which he shares with his cat Gus.
“I told him I’d be happy to, only there was one condition: the figures had to be wearing white, because of the Winnipeg whiteout. No problem, he said, so when (the figures) came in the mail, I gave them great seats, as promised.”
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Templeton, 26, was born in 1996, the same year the city’s NHL club moved to Phoenix, owing to mounting financial problems. He was obviously too young to go to a game during the original Jets farewell season, but he did visit the Winnipeg Arena a number of times to cheer on the Manitoba Moose, before the Maroons Road structure was razed in 2006.
Growing up, he had two primary interests: hockey and Lego. When he wasn’t chasing a puck around the ice, he was holed up in his bedroom, building and rebuilding whatever sets his parents gave him for Christmas. Yes, he used to do the “old shake test” if a present had his name on it, he concedes, and yes, Lego makes a more distinctive sound than, say, a pair of socks.
He never sold or gave anything away, though he did take a break from the hobby for a while, upon entering high school. Then along came the computer-animated comedy The Lego Movie, which hit theatres in 2014, his senior year at St. James Collegiate. After taking in the flick and thinking to himself, “Hey, I have that figure and that figure and that figure…” he got back into it, “big time.”
Templeton was 20 years old when he twigged into Manitoba LUG, an affiliated group comprised of adult Lego users. He had an inkling there were other people his age and older who were fans of the building toys, but he didn’t know there was an organized body that hooked up regularly to compare notes, and to raise money to donate Lego to underprivileged children during the holiday season.
Here’s the thing: his forte had always been themed sets, such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. What he discovered through MLUG, mind you, was that a lot of members pieced together whatever it was that popped into their head, be it an imaginary building or city, without a set of instructions to guide them.
Hmm, he thought, how much fun would it be to try his hand at creating his own Lego masterwork, too? But what could it be?
Because he loves hockey so much, the first thing he contemplated was the Jets’ current home, Canada Life Centre. He reconsidered that plan after examining it more closely, and noticing the exterior has a fair number of curves, which would probably prove tricky.
“Then, because I’m also a history buff, I thought it would be better to do something that didn’t exist any longer,” he says. “And because the old arena was so squared off, the design seemed perfectly suited to Lego.”
The reason he decided to focus on the last Jets game played there was fairly simple. When he went online to hunt for photos of what the interior of the building looked like back in the day, the majority of what he discovered was from that specific game, given so many people had brought a film camera along, to document the occasion.
He used a computer program called Lego Digital Designer to determine the number of bricks he would need, and approximately how many of each colour. That would have been in January 2020, he points out, a few months before he was due to graduate from the University of Winnipeg’s education program.
“COVID struck right when we were finishing school,” he continues. “Our last class was March 20 and literally three days later, they closed the university. And since I didn’t get my first teaching job till September (2020), I suddenly had all this time on my hands and was like, let’s do this, let’s build the Winnipeg Arena.”
Although it isn’t built to scale, he knew there were a few things he had to include, for it to appear as authentic as possible, one of those being the aforementioned fans decked out in white. All right, maybe Homer Simpson and Batman nemesis the Joker weren’t at the game, 26 years ago, but they are now, owing to him scouring through hundreds of Lego figures, looking for ones dressed appropriately.
Secondly, there had to be a facsimile of super fan Dancin’ Gabe, shake-shake-shaking his booty in the stands.
Thirdly, he needed a portrait of the Queen, albeit a Lego queen, which cost him around $33 plus shipping, when he ordered it from a Lego shop in London.
Lastly, he recreated the mournful banner that flew from the rafters that day, the one that read, “Our Jets will fly 4 ever.” Earlier this month a woman reached out to let him know it was her future husband and his two pals holding said banner, so he made a quick change, to have three figures clinging on to it, instead of just one.
“Like I said, I’ve heard from tons of people who have super fond memories of the arena, as well as from others wanting to know why I don’t have this or that,” he says, mentioning the No. 1 request, since rectified, was the men’s room trough for those who had to go, well, No. 1. (Wait, what? No next-door Chi-Chi’s? No Jennifer Hanson?)
Templeton, who helps run a student Lego club at the elementary school he teaches at, has displayed the rink publicly twice so far, at a Lego convention in Moose Jaw, Sask. and at Winnipeg Comiccon in late October. And while he’d love to keep things fully intact for years to come, the 15,000 or so bricks that went into the layout would sure come in handy for other ideas he’s been tossing around lately, he says with a wink.
That said, he does keep an eye on his phone, hoping and praying he’ll get a call or text from True North Sports and Entertainment one day, inviting him to show his masterpiece off at the Jets’ current digs (We know! How about at a playoff — wait for it — block party?)
If the Jets ever do reach out, asking if he wants to park it in the concourse or the store, he’d be there in a heartbeat, he says, running a finger along the plastic dasherboard, which carries ads for, among others, Air Canada, 7-Eleven and Molson Dry.
“Past that, who can say what will happen? Though for fun, I could stage a demolition down the line, with little Lego bombs and everything.”
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.