Monthly Archives: November 2015

Grey Cup Memories

The Canadian Football League runs deep in my family. My father and his father were at many of the classic Grey Cup games played at Varsity Stadium in the 1950s. My grandfather had Toronto Argonauts season tickets for years, and I attended my first game in his seats with my father at CNE Stadium in 1971. After my grandfather died in 1972, my father was surprised to learn that those tickets actually belonged to my grandfather’s business and didn’t transfer to him. So, in 1973 my father ordered his own season tickets for our family. This meant a move from the old, covered grandstand to the new bleacher seats on the other side of the field.

In those days before the stadium was renovated for the Blue Jays, CNE Stadium held 33,000 fans and was always sold out for the Argos. I remember attending a game in August when the temperature was 100 degrees (no Celsius back then!) and a playoff game in November that ended in a blinding blizzard. But with Ottawa set to face Edmonton in the Grey Cup this weekend, I have a memory of a very different sort. Many will remember Ottawa’s last-second victory (over Saskatchewan) with the Tom Clements to Tony Gabriel touchdown pass in 1976. Others, the 1981 game where Dave Cutler’s last-second field goal kept the Eskimos dynasty alive with a win over the surprising Rough Riders. But I remember 1973.

EZ FootballMy first football team. I’m in the top row, next to our enormous coach.

The first Grey Cup game I remember watching is 1971, when Leon McQuay’s late fumble sealed Toronto’s loss to Calgary. I started playing football in 1972, and my greatest athletic accomplishment remains leading our Zion Heights Grade 9 intramural football league in scoring in 1977. I loved football. My brother David liked it a lot. Jonathan … not so much. Still, my parents tried to keep things fair. We all took turns going to games, and we all got to fill out the ballots in the program to vote for the Shopsy’s team MVP. One lucky winner among the MVP voters would receive two tickets to the 1973 Grey Cup game which was in Toronto that year. Jonathan won! He couldn’t really have cared less, and I wanted to go so badly… but it was his ballot that was drawn and his name on the letter that arrived at our house with the tickets, so he went to the game and I watched on television.

Long before any of us starting watching, Albert Henry George Grey, the 4th Earl Grey, was Canada’s Governor-General from 1904 to 1911. He was a big sports fan – as many of his predecessors had been. By 1908, he had already donated namesake trophies for the Dominion trapshooting championship and for horse racing.


According to almost everything you’ll ever read about the history of the Grey Cup, the Earl originally intended to donate a new trophy for the senior amateur hockey championship of Canada in 1909 since the Stanley Cup had been recently taken over by the professionals. But Canadian businessman Sir Hugh Montagu Allan had already beaten the Govenor-General to the punch, so he gave his trophy to football instead.

HockeyThe article on the right is from Vancouver Daily World on February 24, 1909.

But this story is only partly true. In an era when so many Canadian championships were contested exclusively in the east, the announcements concerning Earl Grey’s new trophy in February of 1909 clearly state that it was intended only for competition among western hockey teams in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

FootballFrom the Toronto Daily Star, June 1, 1909 and the Brandon Weekly Sun, June 3, 1909.

It’s unclear what caused the change in sports, but on June 1, 1909, it was announced that the Grey Cup would be awarded for the amateur rugby football championship of the Dominion of Canada … which had been contested since 1884, but apparently without any tangible reward. (Ironically, no Western Canadian team would be able to compete for this new trophy until 1921!)

Rules plus
From the Winnipeg Tribune, June 12, 1909 and the Ottawa Journal, September 2, 1909.

By the time football teams were preparing for the new season in September of 1909, the Grey Cup was already being touted as a boon to the game. First won by the University of Toronto on December 4, 1909, the evolution of the trophy and its many great moments are much to long to go into here, but the Grey Cup remains a unique part of Canada’s sporting history – and of my family history too.

Hockey Ads From 1932

They’re not going to win the Stanley Cup this year, but the Leafs have been on a bit of a roll lately. Still, no one’s likely to be wondering this time if it’s the cigarettes or if it’s the shoes!

Leafs Ad 1

(In case you can’t read the small print, the cigarette ad reads: Joe Primeau, clean sportsman, staunch centre of the Stanley Cup winners, Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Team’s famous “kid line,” won this season’s award of the Lady Byng Trophy for “the best type of sportsmanship combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Joe says of Buckingham: “A clean, cool, mellow cigarette. I recommend Buckingham.”

Clancy’s letter says: Dear Sir – We came across, the championship is ours, and your shoes for both hockey and street wear helped though a long, hard season. Kindest regards, Yours truly, Frank King Clancy.)

Lest We Forget

Over the last few years, I’ve taken part in the Remembrance Day service in Owen Sound on behalf of Beth Ezekiel Synagogue. Unfortunately, I’m unable to participate this year, though I know the job will be more than capably handled in my absence.

Anyone who knows me can attest that I’m hardly the soldiering type, but I’ve often wondered over the years if I would have felt compelled to enlist during World War I or World War II. While I can’t see myself rushing off to join the army the moment war was declared, would I have succumbed to the pressure as the years went by?

WWI Posters

I can remember my father telling me once that when was a boy, he wished that the Second World War would last long enough for him to get in it. Those were different times, and he was very young. (He was still only about seven when World War II ended.) He had an uncle serving overseas, who was badly wounded in the fighting. When he finally returned home, my father would pester him to tell him his war stories. He never did. He could only convey that you wouldn’t want to be there.

Had we been of age 100 years ago, would my friends and I have been able to resist the call? Especially if it meant the chance as Jews to prove ourselves as Canadians? I found a story online in which Eric Levine, secretary-treasurer of Toronto’s Jewish Canadian Military Museum (which, until this writing, I did not know existed!) says that during the First World War, 38 percent of all Jewish males older than 21 in Canada served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. I can’t recall where, but I know that I’ve read that in both World War I and World War II, Jewish participation was in greater numbers than their percentage of the population would have indicated.

Jewish League

If you’re interested to know more, you can follow any and all of these links:

Jewish Canadian Military Museum
Halifax Chronicle Herald
Ontario Jewish Archives
Jewish Legion – Wikipedia

And, on a lighter note, this was recently brought to my attention: “At the stroke of 1 pm on October 12, the end of World War I will be closer in time to the [Toronto Maple Leafs’] last Stanley Cup win than that 1967 win is to today.” I haven’t actually done the math myself, but even if it’s off, it’s awfully close!

Building a Better Puck

Back in March, I wrote about Frank Patrick trying to come up with a glowing puck for better visibility … back in 1941. The other day, I came across this, which appeared in Sports Editor Frederick Wilson’s column in Toronto’s Globe newspaper on February 17, 1927:

Red Puck

Interesting that Wilson lumps this in with “other trick ideas” such as seven-foot nets and five-man teams, which I also wrote about back in March. I’m not going to go into to bigger nets again, but just consider this…

Space available around 5’3” Roy Worters, the smallest goalie in NHL history:


Space available around 6’7” Ben Bishop, the tallest goalie in NHL history:


Regardless of who’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame, which one looks easier to score on?!?

But let’s get back to pucks for a moment. Art Ross III shared this story with me during the writing of Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. Among his many contributions to the game, Art Ross is famous for designing (refining, really) the modern hockey puck. But his son, the second Art Ross and father of Art III, figured he had a way to make it even better. This would likely be some time during the late 1950s. It didn’t work out.

Dad got the idea for a new puck, one with more color and, therefore, “followability.” Spaced at equal intervals around the outer inter edge of the black puck were orange inserts. The color matched the label on the puck. I seem to recall that the first trial version had triangular wedges – think pie slices – but the final product had something on the order of a hollowed out cylinder: a round disk on the top and bottom, same beveled edges, but the disks would be connected by a thin strip of black rubber which was counter-sunk into the edge rubber. It’s a bit hard to describe, but the point was that there were six orange implants on the outer edge of the puck giving it enhanced visibility and a cool look if you spun it slowly. Dad, ever creative and thoughtful, decided to call his innovation an “Art Ross Puck.” You didn’t need a focus group for that one.

We lived in [the Boston suburb of] Newton at the time on the Charles River, a good part of which froze each winter. My sisters and I were the OPTs – Official Puck Testers – and Dad joined us a couple of times. It was great fun zipping around whacking the disc with vigor and, best of all, we had almost an unlimited supply of pucks! It wasn’t very long, however – like two days, maybe – before the OPTs noticed a problem. On a couple of pucks, the implants had fallen out. This looked ugly and could cut someone. Soon most of the pucks had missing inserts, and Dad was beside himself. He immediately called the manufacturer, and they had a heated discussion about rubber glue, or more accurately, glue for rubber. Two or three weeks later a couple of boxes of new pucks showed up. Not willing to wait, the OPTs whacked the pucks around the driveway. Alas, the same result: little pieces of orange puck edge all over the place.

In case you haven’t read my book yet (and if not, why not?!?), the NHL first started using Art Ross’s puck design during its second season of 1918-19. The bevelled edges reducing rolling and injuries,  but the NHL didn’t always stick with it. The advent of artificial rubber during World War II improved Ross’s design. He received a U.S. patent in 1940 and the new Ross-Tyer puck was adopted as the NHL’s official puck before the 1940-41 season. Ross’s puck patent has long since expired, but the basic design has never really changed.