Monthly Archives: February 2022

Hockey Night in 1907

On this night 115 years ago (a Friday in 1907), a proud home town celebrated the Stanley Cup victory of the Kenora Thistles at the Hilliard Opera House. Kenora had won the Cup a few weeks before, with victories against the Montreal Wanderers on January 17 and January 21, 1907, to sweep their best-of-three series. Hopefully, around the time this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs start in late April, you’ll finally be able to read all about it in my new book, Engraved in History: The Story of the Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles published by Rick Brignall of Rat Portage Press.

As to that party 115 years ago tonight, “The reception promises to be an event unique in the history of Kenora,” said the local newspaper, the Miner and News, two days before, “and one in which everybody is invited to take part.” The night would be “a bright, joyful, enthusing occasion,” and “you will have regrets if you don’t attend.”

For people who wished to be there, “an admission fee of 50 cents will be charged the gentlemen.” This was in order to defray the costs of the civic celebration. “The ladies will be admitted free.” There were also tickets available to sit up in the gallery at 25 cents apiece. No account is given as to how many people actually attended, but a recap of the evening in Saturday’s paper describes an “immense audience.” It would certainly appear that a fine time was had by all.

The auditorium in the Opera House was decorated with flags and bunting, and there was “an imitation of an immense thistle, worked out with red, white, and blue electric lights.” The colour scheme matched the numerous Union Jacks surrounding the Stanley Cup, which was perched upon a pedestal at the front of the stage. It was described as, “a rather squat and somewhat insignificant looking piece of silverware when compared to the splendid championship trophy [the Stirling Cup of the Manitoba Hockey League] sitting to its left.” At the time, the Stanley Cup was only a little bit larger than the bowl (now a replica – the original is on permanent display at the Hockey Hall of Fame) that sits atop the trophy today.

The evening began with opening remarks from Mayor Charles Belyea, who also read letters of regret from Art Ross and Joe Hall. (The two players who had been borrowed from Brandon were now back in that Manitoba town and playing against Portage la Prairie that same night.) Next up were a few musical numbers, before team executive Dr. Nelson Schnarr addressed the crowd.

Schnarr’s “humour sallies” were “well approved by the audience.” In this new age of openly professional hockey players, he jokingly remarked that it was due to the ladies of Kenora that the town had the best team in the game. After all, efforts had been made from time to time by other clubs to lure away Kenora’s stars, but they had chosen to remain loyal to the team because “affection and sympathy will hold a man when dollars will not.”

This may be where the Stanley Cup reception was held. There were four buildings
known as the Hilliard House (a combination hotel/theater) on the same site.

After concluding his remarks, Schnarr relinquished the stage for several more songs and speeches. Another team executive, John McGillivray, was among the others speakers, and he gave a short history of the team’s attempts to win the Stanley Cup since 1903. “Nothing succeeds like perseverance combined with ability,” he said, “and the Thistles had both.” He concluded his remarks by saying: “We have made a record in going after the Cup oftener than any other team. Let us make another record by defending the Cup oftener than any other team.”

Next, came the hit of the evening. Evelyn Gunne, poet, singer, and wife of local doctor William James Gunne, sang a song she had composed specially for the occasion. Mrs. Gunne had written and performed a similar song at a reception for the team in 1905 after the Stanley Cup loss to Ottawa that year, but now she re-worked the words to celebrate the victory:

We sing of the might of Britain, boys,
     In the face of Britain’s foes,
And side by side, on the veldt, boys,
     We’ve fought for the English Rose,
We own a sneaking fondness, boys,
     For the Shamrock, green and bright,
But the bravest blooms of all, boys,
     Are the Thistles, we cheer, tonight.
The Union Jack, and the colors, boys,
     Are the things for which we fight,
But the colors that hold our hearts always,
     Are those of the Red and white.
We bid you welcome home, boys,
     The news from sea to sea,
Is only heard in praise, boys,
     And joy of victory.
We’re proud of you at home, boys,
     And of your well-earned fame.
We’re proud of your bumps and bruises,
     Because you have played the game.
The Thistles are the winners, boys,
     From Halifax to Nome;
They’re hailed as kings of hockey, boys,
     Our Thistles here at home.
We love to hear you praised, boys,
     We value what they mean,
When every message tells us,
     “Kenora men play clean.”
It’s words like these we prize, boys,
     The words we least could spare,
’Twas great to win the Cup, boys,
     But best you have won it fair.
The Thistles are at home again,
     Our bravest and our best.
We are not perhaps the biggest town,
     But the proudest in the west.
Phillips and Griffis and Ross, boys,
     McGimsie and little Giroux,
Hooper and Beaudro played, boys,
     As often we’ve seen them do.
The East has sadly laid, boys,
     Her hard won laurels down,
Before the whirlwind victors,
     From our little lakeside town.
Three times you’ve tried to win, boys,
     “Three times and out,” they say,
But now the Cup is ours, boys,
     For you’ve brought it home to stay.

After that show-stopper, former mayor A.S Horswill had the honour of presenting silver loving cups to the players, nine of which had been commissioned by the citizens of Kenora for presentation. (Art Ross and Joe Hall received their commemorative trophies later. Today, the Hockey Hall of Fame has both, along with the cup presented to Billy McGimsie.) There was also as a silver tea service for the team’s trainer, Jim Link, and a large silk hat for manager Fred Hudson. Tommy Phillips, the captain, stepped forward to receive the trophies on behalf of his teammates, and made a short address to the crowd:

On behalf of the club and the players, I would like to thank the citizen of Kenora for the splendid reception you have tendered us. It gives us pleasure to know that we have been fighting for a good cause and for a good bunch of people. We have tried, every time, to do our best as we felt we had the reputation of the town at stake. Now that we have the Cup, I hope the team that takes it from us will have as much trouble as the Thistles had in winning it.

Phillips also thanked the officers of the club for their support over the years, and then the evening concluded with a final song before everyone stood to sing “God Save the King.” Those in the audience remained standing to offer “hearty and ringing cheers” to “the world’s champions.” The players responded with three cheers themselves for the people of Kenora.

Art Ross showed off his loving cup from Kenora in the Boston Globe on December 23, 1956. The article on the right is from the Winnipeg Tribune on February 19, 1907.

After the celebration, the Stanley Cup was displayed for the whole town to see in the window of Johnson’s Pharmacy, the Main Street drug store owned and operated by Thistles president Joseph Johnson and his brother Lowry. But by the time the Cup arrived in town, it was already becoming clear that the team’s defence of the prized trophy was going to be difficult.

For more, you’ll have to wait a little longer … and buy the book!

But, if you’re looking for a little hockey & writing talk right now (or at least, on Thursday!), please join by Zoom at 7 pm on February 17 for conversation and Q & A with me and Paul White courtesy of the Owen Sound library.

No registration necessary. Just click here on Thursday at 7:

Canadian Hockey and the First Olympic Winter Games

The 13-hour time difference between Beijing and where I am makes it a bit confusing, but even though the official Opening Ceremonies aren’t for a couple of days, the Winter Olympics get started tonight … which is tomorrow afternoon in China. Women’s hockey kicks things off, with Canada facing Switzerland and the United States against Finland. Men’s hockey starts next week.

Leaving aside the issue of whether ANYONE should be going to these Olympics (for health or humanitarian reasons), we know that Covid is the official reason why NHL players won’t be there. NHL owners had previously given permission for the players to attend … but everyone knows the owners have little to no interest anymore in shutting down the NHL season for Olympic hockey.

In that way, things weren’t a whole lot different nearly 100 years ago before the first Olympic Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Back then – for a little while, at least – it was the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association that was less-than-thrilled about interrupting its season for international competition.

Canada versus the U.S. for gold. Olympic hockey looked very different in 1924!
(This and other images are from the VIII Olympiade Official Report unless noted.)

Word of the 1924 Winter competition was first announced late in 1922. “The French Olympic Committee,” reported the Globe newspaper in Toronto on November 10, 1922, “announces that the seventh renewal of the Olympic games will open … on January 20, 1924, with the program of winter sports.”

The uncredited Globe writer, in his Scanning the Sports Field column, reminded readers that, “Canada, will not, of course, have declared a champion hockey team until perhaps two months later. [So t]he hockey competition will probably be deferred until April, as at the [Summer] Olympiad of 1920 when the Falcons of Winnipeg won the Allan Cup and represented Canada, winning the world’s championship.”

But there would be no deferment.

Articles from the Globe, November 10, 1922; the Toronto Star
from March 28, 1923; and the Globe on October 15, 1923.

On January 11, 1923, the Toronto Star reported: “It is not expected that Canada will be represented in the Olympic hockey tournament … next January to defend the honors won by the Falcons of Winnipeg, according to Secretary Fred Marples of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Mr. Marples states that he has received word that the Olympic committee has refused to change the date of the tournament to later in the year, when Canada would have a representative team to send, and under the circumstances, does not expect the Canadian hockey body will send representatives.”

The subject would be re-visited during the Allan Cup finals in Winnipeg that spring, and, obviously, opinions changed. On March 21, 1923, the CAHA reversed course and decided unanimously at its annual meeting to recommend to the Canadian Olympic Committee that the winners of the Allan Cup (Canada’s amateur hockey championship) for this season should represent the country at the Olympic Games the next winter.

The Toronto Granites won their second straight Allan Cup the following day, and by March 24, it seemed certain that they would represent Canada. Their participation was virtually assured at a banquet held back in Toronto at the Granite Club on the night of March 27, 1923, when city officials and the government of Ontario promised to help fund the trip. The chairman of the Canadian Olympic Committee added that the Federal government had been asked to up its contribution of $15,000 from previous Olympic years to $30,000 in 1924.

The Globe, January 12, 1924.

Rumours in April that Paris might not get the 1924 Games after all, or that winter sports might be excluded if they did, soon proved false, and on May 27, 1923, the Granites formerly withdrew from the senior section of the Ontario Hockey Association for the winter of 1923-24. This cleared the way for the Granites to represent the country in France as the Canadian Olympic hockey team in January and February of 1924.

Unlike when the NHL has participated, there was now no schedule to interrupt when the Granites went to the Olympics … although there was some concern about losing the OHA’s best team (and therefore its biggest draw) for the entire season. Still, there wasn’t really any other way to accommodate a trip that would see the Olympic hockey team set sail for Europe on January 11, 1924 and not arrive back in Toronto until March 4.

Thirteen players had suited up for the Granites during the 1922–23 season, but not all would be able to take the nearly two months off work that was required for the Olympic trip. That was fine, since only nine players would be taken to France anyway. The Granites’ biggest star, Harry Watson, would make the trip. So would fellow future Hockey Hall of Famer Hooley Smith, as well as another future NHL star, team captain Dunc Munro. Team veterans Bert McCaffrey and Beattie Ramsay, as well as Jack Cameron and Ernie Collett (both goalies) would also make the trip. Harold McMunn of the Winnipeg Falcons (though not from the 1920 Olympic team) and Cyril Slater of the Montreal Victorias were added to the roster as well.

In addition to Canada’s huge victories, all the scores in Pool A were pretty lopsided.

Various members of the Olympic team (as well as some Granites from the previous season) saw action in a series of exhibition games to get into shape between December 1, 1923, and January 10, 1924. Sources often show the team playing 14 games, though it seems they actually played 15. They won all but two, and in both cases (defeats at the hands of the Hamilton Tigers and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who had been the Granites’ toughest opponents en route to the 1923 Allan Cup), the losses were avenged by victories in either previous or subsequent games against their two top rivals.

In truth, Canada could have sent the Tigers or the Greyhounds – and probably any number of other senior teams – to the Olympics and still won the gold as easily as the Granites did. Junior teams – possibly even youth teams! – likely would have defeated Canada’s European opponents.

Even playing under unfamiliar conditions on a huge, open-air ice surface with tiny boards to cordon off a playable rink, Canada crushed the European teams. They opened the tournament in Chamonix with a 30-0 win over Czechoslovakia on January 28, 1924, then defeated Sweden 22-0 the next day, and followed up with a 33-0 rout of Switzerland the day after that.

In Pool B, the 7-5 win by France over Belguim was the only close game.

A story told in the Globe the day after the team returned home to Toronto gives an idea of just how easy those three victories were. Apparently, in the first period of the game against Switzerland, a photographer jumped onto the ice and dashed over to Ernie Collett. He told the goalie he’d like to take a few pictures as soon as he was at his leisure.

“Well,” said Collett, “I’ll never be at more leisure than in this game. The play hasn’t been anywhere in this vicinity yet. So if you want to get some pictures, why shoot.”

“But you’ll have to go over to the side of the rink,” said the photographer.

“All right with me,” said Collett.

Apparently, he calmly skated out of his net and over to the side, where he posed for three pictures before returning to his position.

Medal results. The U.S. beat Sweden 20-0 before falling to Canada.
Britain beat the Swedish team 4-3 to win the bronze medal.

Canada’s semifinal game against Great Britain on February 1 proved somewhat more difficult but still resulted in a 19-2 victory. Even the United States didn’t provide much opposition in the gold medal game on February 3, 1924, as Canada scored a 6-1 victory. Beattie Ramsay later stirred up some controversy over that one.

Leaving the team early while they were in Paris after the Olympics, Ramsay arrived back in Toronto on February 14 … just in time for the birth of his first son. (He reportedly got to Toronto two hours before the blessed event, and reached the hospital with seven minutes to spare!) In papers that day and over the next week or so, Ramsay was quoted as saying the Canadians would have beaten the American team 20-0 on a regular rink like the Toronto Arena. He said the U.S. team only kept the score close by playing rough, that the referee lost control of the game, and (as I said above!) that any number of senior teams in Canada could have beaten the Americans. “Perhaps some of our intermediate teams would take a fall out of them,” he added.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Canadian Olympic hockey team remained in Paris a little longer (they had beaten the British team 17-1 in a five-on-five exhibition on an undersized Parisian rink on February 7), and then went on to London on February 15, where they were entertained by the Prince of Wales at St. James Palace on February 20 before sailing home two days later. The team would arrive in Saint John, New Brunswick, on March 2 and stop in Montreal the following day for a banquet and a night at the theater before returning to Toronto for a parade and more banquets.

Eight of nine members of Canada’s 1924 Olympic champions. My best attempt at identifying the players is (L-R); Harry Watson, Bert McCaffrey, Beattie Ramsay, Cyril Slater, Dunc Munro, Hooley Smith, Harold McMunn and Jack Cameron.

Prior to departure from Liverpool, captain Dunc Munro had mailed home a letter of interest. When the Toronto Granites had announced their intentions to skip the season to go to the Olympics back in May of 1923, the OHA had granted them the right to play the league champions upon their return for a chance to get back into the Allan Cup race and try for a third straight national championship.

“Just in case you want to know,” wrote Munro, “the Olympic team is through with hockey for the season.”

The Toronto Star, reporting on the letter on February 27, felt this was the proper choice.

“Their decision not to attempt to hog the honors by going into the Allan Cup finals will appeal to all sportsmen,” read the Star.

Or at least all sportsmen who don’t mind their teams running up the score against obviously inferior opponents! But such was the state of international hockey in its early days.