Opened on December 31, 1898, it held 10,000 people, 4300 seated. It held a refreshment buffet and smoking rooms, with rugs available for rental to sit on. It is likely the third arena designed expressly for ice hockey, after the St. Nicholas Rink in New York City, and the Dey's Skating Rink in Ottawa, which both opened in 1896.

The ice rink ends were not squared off but rounded off. The ends were somewhat semi-circular, possibly the first design of its kind. A puck could be shot along the outside rim, slide along the corners, pass behind the goal and come out the other side. That type of shot is common in hockey today and is called "rimmed around." The rounded-corners design spread to other arenas. In 1902, after Ottawa's Dey Rink was demolished due to a storm, it was rebuilt with rounded ends to match the Montreal Arena. The fence along the ice surface was increased in height to 4 feet (1.2 m), an increase from the Victoria Skating Rink's one foot high boards. The first artificial ice-making plant in Montreal was installed in the Arena in 1915.

The owners of the Montreal Arena, the Canadian Arena Company, later built the Arena Gardens in Toronto, and operated the Toronto NHL franchise in 1917-18. Principals of the Arena Company, such as William Northey, would later be involved in the building of the Montreal Forum and the founding of the Montreal Maroons.

The Montreal Canadiens won their first (pre-NHL) Stanley Cup in this building on March 30, 1916 against the Portland Rosebuds.

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