Category Archives: General History

Family Secrets…

It is truly amazing the things that can be discovered online these days. Some times, maybe, it’s too much. I admit, this story almost feels like an invasion of privacy. Or even exploitive. But, it’s been going around in my head for days so I’ve written it all down.

I remember, years ago, when Barbara sent away for the complete military records of her grandfathers, who both served in World War I. Both survived, and Barbara knew them well when she was young. She adored her mother’s father, but the family had a more difficult relationship with her father’s father. She knew that her mother’s father had been wounded badly enough some time in 1918 that he spent the rest of the War in a hospital in England. He had difficulties because of his injuries until he died in 1964. After seeing his War records, we began to refer to him as “World War I’s most wounded soldier.” It seemed he just kept getting wounded, getting patched up, and getting sent back out there … until it almost killed him. The most notable thing about her father’s father was how often he was treated for venereal disease! I remember both Barbara and her mother saying how appalled he would be that they knew this about him.

But, at least those stories were all in the family. This one certainly isn’t. But here goes…

Recently, I wrote about Babe Dye being perhaps the first Babe Ruth of Hockey. I already knew a lot about his story, and have written about him here before, back in 2015 and 2016. Dye was a multi-sport star who became a top scorer in the NHL with the Toronto St. Pats in the 1920s while also playing high-level minor league baseball, mostly with the Buffalo Bisons and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Like Babe Ruth, Babe Dye was a left hander who pitched and played the outfield. Dye was also a fine football player, but was never a halfback with the Toronto Argonauts, as old hockey biographies used to say. He actually starred with a Toronto team called the Capitals from 1917 to 1920.

In baseball, Babe Dye threw and batted left. In hockey, he shot right.

As a baseball player, Dye was good enough that the legendary Connie Mack wanted him for his Philadelphia Athletics. Hockey records long claimed that Mack offered $25,000 to Dye in 1921, which is what was reported in the Toronto Star along with an obituary for Dye on January 4, 1962, a day after he died. In truth, the offer came in 1923, and it appears to have been for $30,000. Hockey stories say Dye turned down Mack in order to concentrate on his NHL career, but the Buffalo Enquirer of August 29, 1923, makes it pretty clear that it was the Bisons who were actually offered the money to buy Dye’s rights. It was also the Buffalo team that turned down Mack because the Bisons wanted players in return, not money, if they were going to give up a perennial .300 hitter.

Babe Dye with the Stanley Cup champion Toronto St. Pats of 1921-22.
The Buffalo Bisons gave Dye permission to report late to spring training as
the St. Pats faced the Vancouver Millionaires in the Cup Final late in March.

And by the way, what an amazing coincidence that the day after Connie Mack was in Buffalo, the New York Yankees were in town to play an exhibition game against the Bisons … and that Babe Dye and Babe Ruth both hit home runs in the same game! (The Yankees beat the Bisons 13–7.)

The Buffalo Enquirer from August 29 and August 30, 1923.

So, by now you’re wondering, “what’s so personal about all this?” Well, bear with me a little longer…

While poking around old newspaper stories about Babe Dye last week, I discovered that in May of 1918, he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force for service in World War I. Dye joined the 69th Battery of Toronto and was sent to Camp Petawawa (near Ottawa) to train as a gunner. (I had no idea of this, but others did. Alan Livingstone MacLeod writes about it in his book From Rinks to Regiments, and tells me that Dye’s name was on a list of hockey playing soldiers produced by the Department of Veterans Affairs.)

With the War ending on November 11, 1918, Dye was never sent overseas before being discharged on December 20. He seems to have spent an awful lot of his army time playing sports; often back home in Toronto. Dye played for the 69th Battery baseball team, and also pitched for his old Toronto baseball team, the Hillcrests, while home on leave a couple of times during the summer. He also played a few football games in Toronto with the Capitals on leave in the fall.

The 69th Battery won the military baseball championship at Camp Petawawa and actually played against the Hillcrests in the Ontario semifinals. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday, October 5, 1918, but wet grounds forced a postponement and the game was played the following weekend, on October 12. Though he had pitched for the Hillcrests during the season, Dye was given permission to pitch against them. Through five innings, he kept things close … until he hurt is ankle sliding into third in the top of the sixth. Dye attempted to continue pitching, but he couldn’t, and the Hillcrests (who were leading 2-1) scored six late runs for an 8-3 victory.

Later in life, Babe Dye would credit his athletic prowess to his mother, who apparently taught him to skate and play hockey and to pitch and play baseball. “My mother knew more about hockey than I ever did,” Dye once recalled, “and she could throw a baseball right out of the park.”

Dye, it was said, never knew his father, who died when he was only one year old. The family was living in Hamilton then, but his mother Esther brought young Cecil (Babe’s given name) and a brother back to Toronto, where she and her late husband were both from.

OK. Here’s where we get to the personal/privacy stuff!

There’s not much military information in Babe Dye’s military records, but there’s some fascinating family information.

In July of 1918, Esther Dye filled out an application for financial assistance, claiming that her son who was now in the military, was her main source of support. But she was not a widow. Her application states that her husband, Sydney Dye, (John Sydney Alexander Dye, I would later discover) had deserted her on January 13, 1898. She had received no support from him since then, and his whereabouts were unknown.

But what about the other son? Babe’s brother of the hockey stories, who Esther had apparently brought to Toronto after her husband died? Couldn’t he support his mother?

Apparently not.

Sydney Earle Dye “lives with an aunt,” Esther wrote. “Has never contributed to my support.”

It wasn’t so much that he never had, but that he never could.

“From the physical viewpoint, he is neither an invalid nor is he incapacitated,” wrote Dr. George B. Smith on Esther’s form in August of 1918. “From the mental viewpoint, he is totally neurotic and if not carefully handled his brainstorms would be unbearable…. He is unsuited to meet the public at large. He shuns publicity and society.” How long had he been like this? “From childhood.”

Not in the military records, but available if one searches hard enough on Ancestry, is the rest of the story…

John Sydney Alexander Dye married the former Esther Swinbourne on May 22, 1891 (above, left). Sydney Earle Dye was born on September 6, 1891 (above, right). Do the math. That’s barely four months after the wedding. Esther must have been five months pregnant at the time. And, by coincidence (or maybe not?) Esther also seems to have been about five months pregnant when her husband left her in January of 1898, as baby Cecil would be born on May 13, 1898 (below).

Esther raised Cecil on her own. She had two sisters who never married, but older brother Sydney (who went by Earl) was actually brought up by one of his father’s brothers and his wife. So the Dye family didn’t abandon Esther completely. And it further turns out that Babe Dye was one of three sons, not two. He had a second older brother, William Vernon Dye, who was born on August 20, 1896, but died of meningitis on January 20, 1911. Life was more difficult in those days, but it still must have been a difficult childhood. Sports must have been a comforting refuge.

William Dye’s birth record on the left, and death certificate on the right.

These were definitely family stories you wouldn’t have read in an old-time biography of Babe Dye. I imagine it was stuff the family rarely spoke of. If ever.

But all the facts are out there now.

If you dig deep enough.

So, now we know.

Another Story of the Spanish Flu

Since moving to Owen Sound in the fall of 2006, I’ve done most of my work from home. And when I haven’t had a ton of actual paying work (freelancing can be pretty boom or bust), I often manage to keep myself busy reading and noodling away on my computer. So, I guess I’ve been better equipped than many to handle what’s become day-to-day life these days.

This story may read like the efforts of someone who’s got too much time on his hands (which I do right now), but, really, it’s not very different from what my “real” life was like before. It’s also a pretty good example of why I always try my best to help anyone who contacts me with a question as quickly as possible … because I often have to rely on similar help myself. And when I do, I like to get my answers NOW!

In my Spanish Flu story last week, I said that I was limiting myself to how the pandemic affected pro hockey players. Still, the story of one amateur player that popped up in my research stuck in my mind. His name was Frank Montgomery.

The Globe, Toronto. November 2, 1918.

Montgomery was not someone I’d heard of before, so I started doing a little digging. I began with the web site of the Society for International Hockey Research. No one by the name of Frank Montgomery showed up in the statistical database. However, there were eight players with the last name Montgomery and no first name. Only two of them had stats ranges that made sense, and only one of those two had an entry showing that he’d played in Sarnia in 1917–18. There was no other information. No first name; no date of birth or death; no statistics; no other seasons.

Montgomery’s death was apparently national news. This item is from the Victoria Daily Times. I also found stories in newspapers from Vancouver and Edmonton.

A little more searching through old issues of the Globe online determined that a Montgomery did play in Sarnia in 1917–18, and that he was a defenseman. Better than the nothing that was there for him before, so I sent along what I’d found to my friend and fellow SIHR member Aubrey Ferguson.

Sarnia’s Junior team played only three games in the OHA in January of 1918. Montgomery (no first name) was highlighted as a star in two of them.

The short obituary in the Globe had already told us that Frank Montgomery was from Peterborough, Ontario, so Aubrey passed along the information to a Peterborough SIHR colleague, Peter Pearson:

Hi Peter
Thought you would find this interesting, if only to put a Ptbo hockey twist on the Spanish Flu. Also thought you might have something from local sources on him.
Cheers, Aubrey

Following the email chain that would soon make its way back to me, Peter contacted Sylvia Best, who found a much more detailed obituary from the Peterborough Evening Examiner on October 28, 1918. There was plenty more information on Frank Montgomery in there, as well as the sad fact that not only had the family suffered his death from the Spanish Flu, but they had also learned at almost the exact same time that another family member had been seriously wounded fighting in World War I:

Frank Montgomery Died This Morning
- The Deceased Was Well Known in Local Athletic Circles -
Word was received late this after noon that Mr. Frank Montgomery had succumbed to pneumonia in Oshawa this morning. Mr. Montgomery had been ill with pneumonia for 12 days which succeeded Spanish influenza. Mr. Montgomery played on the Peterboro Junior O.H.A hockey team for Peterboro in the season of 1916-17. Last winter he played for the Sarnia team. He left for Oshawa in the latter part of July where he intended playing hockey this winter. The deceased also played for the Matthews-Blackwell team in the Twilight league.

The body will be brought to the city and the funeral will take place from the residence of his sister, Mrs. Thomas H. Skinner, 354 Stewart Street to Little Lake Cemetery. Rev. Mr. MacKenzie of Knox Presbyterian Church will officiate.

Mrs. Skinner received word on Saturday night that her husband Pte. Thomas Skinner of the 21st Canadians, had been badly wounded.

A big thank you to Peter and to Sylvia (neither of whom I know) and to Aubrey for their efforts … but I was still curious.

A Google street image of 354 Stewart Street. (Left half of the semi seen here.)

For one thing, I went to Trent University in Peterborough from 1982 to 1985. In my last year there, I shared a house with a few friends. It was on Stewart Street in the same part of town! What were the chances that I’d actually lived in that house? (Turns out, I didn’t. We were about two blocks away, at 264 Stewart.)

The house on the right is 264 Stewart Street. The balconies have
been enlarged since I lived there, and the ramp has been added.

Really, what I hoped to find was a birth date for Frank Montgomery. The Spanish Flu was notorious for killing men and women in the prime of life, with a huge percentage of deaths occurring in people between the ages of 20 and 40. As a junior hockey player, Montgomery was likely to be under 21. So — though I know they can be notoriously unreliable — I turned to the records of the Canadian census for 1901 and 1911.

In 1901, I found a Montgomery family from Peterborough. (A later search through city directories showed the family lived at 33 Louis Street then … not too far from Stewart Street.) There was a father named John and a mother named Jane, plus four daughters … and then another daughter named Francis J.

The area of Peterborough where the Montgomery/Skinner familes (and I) lived.

Francis J. would actually turn out to be our guy Frank. (The J. stands for John.) The birth date in 1901 is listed as January 7, 1899. By the 1911 Census, father John is no longer there. (I would later discover that he’d driven a team of horses for the fire department, and that he passed away around 1907. NOTE: Daniel Doyon found the death certificate confirming that John Montgomery died of pneumonia on Jan. 19, 1907.) Jane is now the head of the household and youngest daughter Geraldine is still at home. (The much smaller family by then was living at 262 Dalhousie, in the same neighbourhood.) Frank is now a boy, at least, but his birth is listed as July of 1899, not January.

As I said, those old Censuses can be unreliable

However, in both 1901 and 1911, the family also has boarders in their home. In 1911, two of those boarders are T.H. Skinner and Edith Skinner. I assumed that Edith (there had been an Edith Montgomery in 1901) must be the sister from the obituary who was married to Thomas Skinner, and he must be the T.H. from the Census.

I knew I’d be able to confirm all this if I still had a membership to Ancestry.com but I’d cancelled that a while back. So, friends to the rescue once again! I called on Lynda Chiotti to ask if she could hunt down a birth record for Frank Montgomery, his death certificate, and anything on the marriage of Thomas and Edith when she had some time.

The official record of the birth of Frank Montgomery. (See the last line.)

Meanwhile, as I waited to hear back from Lynda, I was also curious as to whether or not Thomas Skinner had survived the war wounds mentioned in Frank’s obituary. I was able to find his complete military record through Library and Archives Canada. Turns out, Thomas Skinner suffered gun shot wounds in his arms and legs on October 24, 1918, but survived and returned safely to Canada in 1919. (Thomas and Edith were still living with Jane Montgomery, and Frank, at 262 Dalhousie Street when Thomas enlisted in 1915, but both Thomas’s war records and the Peterborough city directory show their address as 354 Stewart by 1917.)

Lynda did find the marriage record for me. Skinner, Thomas Henry, was a carpenter who married Edith Maud Montgomery, daughter of John and Jane, on November 9, 1909. She also found a family tree showing that Thomas lived until September 19, 1960 and that Edith died on March 5, 1974, when she would have been nearing 100 years old. (City directories help to confirm this.)

As for Frank Montgomery, the birth records show that he was actually born on January 5, 1899, in Peterborough, to John and Martha Jane Montgomery. The death certificate confirms that he was only 19 years of age when he died in Oshawa on October 28, 1918. The cause of death is listed as “Pneumonia following flu.” The body was turned over to Mrs. Jane Montgomery, 354 Stewart, Peterborough.

The official death record for Frank Montgomery. (Middle column.)

All the pieces of this sad story fit. Still, it was satisfying to put them all together.

Well, maybe not all the pieces. The family tree that Lynda found actually shows Frank Montgomery listed as the son of his sister Edith! Edith Montgomery would have been about 22 (and unmarried) when Frank was born, while Jane would have been about 42. So, it’s certainly possible that grandmother Jane raised Frank as her own … but it might just have been an error in the listing. As of now, there’s been no way to know for sure. Family histories can certainly be mysteries.

Happy (History) Holidays

Thanks to everyone, but especially to Lynn and to my family, who helped me through this past year. Lots to adjust to, but things are good. I know that many of you have experienced losses, or health issues, or other changes, in your own lives this year. I wish you all strength and hope that you (like me) have the love and support you need.

So, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, or anything else you celebrate at this season.
All the best to everyone in the New Year. (It’s going to be 2020! How did that happen?)

Montreal Gazette, December 25, 1913.
New York Daily News, December 25, 1926.
The American Israelite (Cincinnati, Ohio), December 30, 1948.
The Canarsie Courier (Brooklyn, New York), December 24, 1959.
Ottawa Journal, December 14, 1921.
Los Angeles Evening Express, December 15, 1928.

Barbara, Wally and The Great Escape

Even before the recent change in the stories I’ve posted to this web site, much of what I wrote —even some of the nerdiest of the hockey nerd stuff — was for Barbara. As I’ve said before, a big part of my enjoyment in all this was to see how she’d react. Quirky just hasn’t been as much fun without her.

This story — while not nearly as “romantic” as some of my recent ones — is definitely for Barbara. But, as is often the case, you have to let me work my way around to it…

This past weekend, the British and Polish air forces honored the 75th anniversary of the Great Escape — the actual breakout from Stalag Luft III, the Nazi prisoner-of-war camp in the town of Zagan (sometimes written as Sagan), now in eastern Poland. The events took place in the late night and early morning hours of March 24 and 25, 1944.

 Us
The movie came out in 1963. Barbara (on the right in the center photo) is with her
friend Peggy around then. That’s me with my father about the same time!

I won’t go into much of the story, but the Allied air force prisoners at Stalag Luft III had hoped to free some 200 men through a series of tunnels dug under the camp. They knew it was unlikely that any would make their way back to England, but they hoped to do as much as possible to disrupt the German forces who would have to chase them down. Due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, only 76 men got out before the Germans discovered what was going on.

Over the next few weeks, all but three men were recaptured. Hitler was so angry he wanted all 73 men shot. Other German authorities pointed out that an action showing such blatant disregard for the Geneva Conventions might endanger the lives of German prisoners held by the Allies. Even so, Hitler personally ordered that “more than half” should be shot. In the end, 50 men were killed. It’s the deaths of those 50 that was commemorated in Poland this past weekend.

Barbara first learned of this story — as did so many other people — when the Hollywood movie The Great Escape came out in 1963. Even then (and ever since she was a little girl), if Barbara was interested in something, she was INTERESTED! It wasn’t enough just to see the movie — which, of course, she did — over and over. She needed to know more! So, she got herself a copy of the 1950 book The Great Escape by Australian Paul Brickhill, who’d been held at Stalag Luft III during the War.

Covers
Barbara told the story of Wally Floody in her book, The Tunnel King. The Desert Hawk
is about Stocky Edwards, one of the leading Canadian aces of World War II.
She worried about glorifying war in books for children, but felt it was important
to put a human face on what happened.

It was through Brickhill’s book that Barbara first learned about Wally Floody, the Canadian who was so integral to the tunnel construction for the Great Escape. (The movie is actually a very accurate description of events – up to a point! – although there were a lot more Canadians, and a lot fewer Americans, who were involved.)

Wally Floody (the Charles Bronson character in the movie is based loosely upon him) lived most of his life in Toronto, not far from where Barbara lived most of her Toronto life. Older accounts of him always claimed that Wally was a mining engineer in Canada, and that’s why he was in charge of the tunnels for the Great Escape. But that was just a bit of British prejudice. The Brits simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that someone who’d actually worked in the mines might one day become a fighter pilot. Wally worked in both Timmins and Kirkland Lake as a young man, although his experience with hard-rock mining there was very much different from tunnelling through the sandy soil beneath Stalag Luft III.

Barbara always believed that Wally’s true story was worth telling, and she finally got to write about him in her 2004 book The Tunnel King, which was a big success. Floody had died in 1989, and Barbara regretted that she’d lived in Toronto for 20 years by then and had never tried to meet him. Wally’s wife, Betty, died just around the time that Barbara started working on the book, but she did get  a lot of assistance from Wally’s sister, Catherine, and his son Brian. They were both more than happy to share stories – and photographs – of their brother and father.

WallyBetty
Wally Floody (left) wears his cap at the proper rakish angle for a
fighter pilot. He married his wife, Betty, very early in his air force career.

Just recently, I received a very nice letter from a man who works at the Museum of Northern History in Kirkland Lake. The city is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the museum is interested in telling Wally’s story among their centennial celebrations. His letter gave me the occasion to get back in touch with Brian Floody, and it got me thinking about all this again.

One of Barbara’s nerdiest interests was her love of movie soundtracks. Not just songs, but the full score. If a movie she liked happened to be on television and she was in the other room, I used to like to turn it up loud and see how long it took before she’d say, “Is that … To Kill a Mockingbird?” or whatever it was. When it was The Great Escape – no matter where it was in the movie – it only took a few seconds. And there was no question necessary…

Set
Wally Floody (in the centre, with the tie) served as the technical advisor for the movie.
Brian Floody had some amazing pictures in an album from that time. This is my favorite.

Stars
Wally with the film’s biggest stars, James Garner and Steve McQueen.
Betty was much more taken with Garner, who signed the photo.

Bronson
Wally with Charles Bronson, who played Danny “The Tunnel King.”

Fit For a King…

I haven’t posted anything since June 27. Have you missed me?

I hadn’t meant to take all this time off. I’ve just been very busy. Since May, we’ve been back at work on the NHL Official Guide & Record Book, which is scheduled to head to the printer around the middle of next week. In addition, since about this time last summer, I’ve been working on 11 different book projects for five different publishers. Only one has come out so far. The others have, in some form or another, kept me busy all summer. A couple of them still aren’t done. (One of my brothers is always commenting that “I must be rich.” Sadly, all I am is busy!)

It seems the combination of too much work and too little fun following the Blue Jays has meant not enough time for stories on my web site. Tonight (although in reality two nights ago by the time I post this) has actually been the first time all summer that I’ve had a story pop into my mind that I couldn’t shake. So I wrote it down.

This has been a story I’ve been thinking about since June 20 … 2005! At that point, we were nearing the end of the NHL lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. It was really becoming possible to search newspaper archives on line, and I had been collecting stories on the early history of the Stanley Cup, which would eventually lead to a 2012 book. While doing that, I came across this story in the Edmonton Bulletin from August 18, 1908:

The story goes on to mention that Charles King carried with him a letter from Thomas Shaughnessy, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, allowing him to walk across the country along the CPR tracks. He carried another letter from the Royal North West Mounted Police stating that he was “not to be molested.”

Something about this really spoke to me. I thought there might be a book in it too. So, within days of coming across the story, I had written to the Canadian Pacific archives in Montreal asking if they had any information on the Shaughnessy letter. They did not. (It’s been a few years since I last followed up, but archivist Jo-anne Colby promised to keep an eye out for anything for me.) An email to the RCMP Heritage Center in Regina also turned up nothing. I later searched through six months of issues of the Montreal Standard on microfilm, figuring that if the newspaper had a stake in this story they would be hyping it all summer long to try and boost their circulation. I found not one word…

Over the next year, I did come across a handful more stories of Charles King, mostly in newspapers in Western Canada, tracking his progress across the country. Some mentioned that King had developed his theories of nutrition and exercise at the Stymana club in Montreal … but I could never find any record of such an establishment existing.

Manchuria
Japanese print displaying the destruction of a Russian ship at Port Arthur,
Manchuria. This image will make more sense if you keep on reading!

Several newspaper all across North America reported that King reached Vancouver on September 14, 1908 —  day 137 of his 150-day trek. According to some, he had only earned $120 of the $150 he needed, but he still had 13 days to earn the additional $30. Over the years, I’ve collected stories of his arrival in Vancouver  from 11 different newspapers … but I’ve yet to find a single one that followed up to report on whether or not he ever made the money he needed to win the bet. (Eventually, a story in the Vancouver World from Bellingham, Washington, on October 21, 1908, noted that “Charles King, who has just completed a walking trip from Montreal to Vancouver, B.C., winning a wager of $1000, arrived in the town of Nooksack yesterday and has proceeded on his way to Seattle…” so I guess he did earn those extra $30.)

Based on the stories I’d collected, I assumed Charles King must be from Montreal (I’d later find other stories indicating he was actually from Detroit) and that this was a Canadian saga.  But more recently, I’ve learned that King’s was a much bigger story. In April of 2015, I found stories in four different newspapers saying that he had left Seattle in March of 1909 to walk to New York … and that this dual crossing of North America was actually part of a bet that began on May 1, 1905 in Port Arthur, Manchuria, in which King had wagered that he could walk around the world within seven years.

I would later come across stories claiming that Charles Addington King was a former war correspondent who had covered the Spanish-American War (1898), the Boer War (1899-1902) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Some stories claim that the bet he apparently made with publishing interests in London, England, was for $12,000 in gold.

In stories from the summer of 1909, as King was leaving St. Paul, Minnesota for Chicago en route to New York, he told reporters: “I am now seven months ahead of my schedule, or in other words, I am 5,000 miles to the good.” But I have yet to discover if Charles King made it back to Port Arthur by May 1, 1912. I’ve never even found any stories about him beyond that summer of 1909.

Little Jeff

Last week, I caught some of The Prizefighter and the Lady on Turner Classic Movies. It stars Max Baer, who was a top heavyweight contender at the time, in his first movie role as the Prizefighter, and Myrna Loy as the Lady. It was made in 1933 and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Original Story. Generally speaking, it still gets good reviews. Admittedly, I didn’t see that much of it, but from what I did see, it seemed much more interesting now as a piece of history than it did as a movie.

I won’t go into the plot, but it builds towards a big fight scene at the end where Baer’s character (Steve Morgan) fights the real heavyweight champion of the time, Primo Carnera. (In real life, Baer would beat Carnera for the title a year later.) In the film, the fight is promoted and also refereed by Jack Dempsey playing himself, and before the bout begins Dempsey is joined in the ring by other legendary heavyweight champions of the past, Jess Willard and James J. “Jim” Jeffries. I recognized Jeffries right away from his strong resemblance to hockey legend Cyclone Taylor!

Movie
Movie poster plus the hand and footprints of William Powell and Myrna Loy at the
Chinese Theater in Hollywood. W.S. Van Dyke, who directed The Prizefighter and the Lady, would later direct Powell and Loy in the first of “The Thin Man” movies.

I first learned of Cyclone Taylor’s resemblance to Jim Jeffries in Eric Whitehead’s 1977 biography Cyclone Taylor: A Hockey Legend. (Reading that book, and then Whitehead’s biography of Frank and Lester Patrick, inspired me to write my first book, the historical fiction novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.) Whitehead writes of hockey fans in New York City taking to Taylor because of his skill and because of his resemblance to the former heavyweight champ. He says they called him “Little Jeff.”

While I couldn’t find any newspaper references to that specifically, Jeffries was actually in New York at the same time as Taylor and the Ottawa Senators were there to face Art Ross and the Montreal Wanderers in a postseason series in March of 1909. Jeffries was very much in the news, with fight promoters offering him huge money for the time – $50,000 and up – to come out of retirement to fight Jack Johnson. (Jeffries would be the first “Great White Hope” to fight the controversial Black heavyweight champion when he lost to him on July 4, 1910.)

The clipping below doesn’t use the nickname “Little Jeff” but does come pretty close to confirming Whitehead’s account by referring to Cyclone as “Jeffries” Taylor…

TribArticle in The New York Daily Tribune on March 18, 1910, when Taylor
returned to New York as a member of the Renfrew Millionaires.

And while you wouldn’t exactly confuse one for the other (especially considering that Jeffries was about 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds in his prime while Taylor was 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds), there definitely is a resemblance…

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The NHL’s First Game?

Ninety-nine years ago today, on December 6, 1917, at 9:04 Atlantic Time (just about the time I’ve set this story to be published), the French ship Mont-Blanc, with a cargo of military explosives intended for the First World War, blew up in the harbour at Halifax shortly after colliding with the Norwegian vessel Imo. The explosion – often said to be the largest man-made blast until the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima – destroyed the community of Richmond in the north end of Halifx, leveling buildings, snapping trees, bending iron rails and shattering windows throughout the entire city of 50,000. In fact, the blast shattered windows 100 kilometers away in Truro, Nova Scotia, and could be heard in Prince Edward Island.

Close to 2,000 people were killed and another 9,000 injured. Some 25,000 people were left without adequate shelter. The Halifax Explosion resulted in $35 million in damages, which would be close to $600 million today. Rescue efforts began almost immediately – although they would be hampered by a blizzard that struck the next day. Supplies and money soon arrived from across Canada and the northeastern United States.

Papers
Newspaper accounts of the Halifax Explosion, December 6 & 7, 1917.

The hockey community did its part too. In Montreal the new season opened on Saturday, December 15, 1917, with a pair of fundraising games for the Halifax relief effort. The second of those games was little more than a glorified scrimmage, but was, in fact, the first game played in the history of the NHL – or, at least, the first game contested by players belonging to NHL teams.

I’m not the first to write about this – although I only know of two other sources. (One is the excellent 2002 book Deceptions and Doublecross by Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth about the formation of the NHL and the other is the web site Third String Goalie.) Neither says much about the game … but that’s likely because there was so little written about it at the time, and what there was is rather conflicting.

The NHL had been formed from the ashes of the recently defunct National Hockey Association in late November of 1917 and would officially open its schedule on December 19. This exhibition game on December 15  – despite what the Montreal Gazette says in the clip below – was played by mixed teams made up of players from the Montreal Wanderers and the Montreal Canadiens. The lineups in both the Gazette and the Montreal Star show the teams as follows:

                  Team 1                                                     Team 2

  • Bert Lindsay (W)              G             Georges Vezina (C)
  • Jack Laviolette (C)          D             Joe Hall (C)
  • Dave Ritchie (W)              D              Bert Corbeau (C)
  • Joe Malone (C)                 F               Harry Hyland (W)
  • Newsy Lalonde (C)         F               Jack McDonald (W)
  • Didier Pitre (C)                 F               Billy Bell (W)
  • Louis Berlinguette (C)  Sub          Billy Coutu (C)
  • Phil Stephens (W)          Sub          George O’Grady (W)

Montreal
Brief coverage of the game in the Ottawa Journal
(December 18) and Montreal Gazette (December 17).

Team 1 was the winner, but different sources list the score as 11-3, 10-3, and 10-2. The Montreal Star has it as 10-3 and reports the scorers as Lalonde (4), Pitre (3), Malone (2) and Berlinguette for the winners with Hyland scoring all three for the losers.

One night before the games in Montreal, the senior amateur season of the Ontario Hockey Association kicked off in Toronto on Friday, December 14 with its own exhibition for the Halifax Relief Fund. The defending Allan Cup champion Dentals Hockey Club of Toronto (and, yes, they were all either dental students or recent graduates of the dental program affiliated with the University of Toronto) defeated the Hamilton Tigers 5-4.

Toronto
Toronto’s Globe newspaper ran an ad for the local benefit game on December 14
and had a brief summary of the game in Montreal on December 17.

Though it was advertised as a fundraiser (and said afterwards to have been a very entertaining game), only 1,200 fans showed up. No account seems to give the attendance for the games in Montreal, and nothing I’ve come across indicates how much money was actually raised in either city for the victims in Halifax.

[NOTE: I was later sent a story about the Montreal game in the French-language Le Devoir newspaper that stated “Huit cents personnes environ” – about 800 persons – attended. This newspaper also has the score 10-3, but again, no mention is made of how much money was raised. Thank you Daniel Doyon.]

As Wrist Watchy as a Bull Elephant

Since the picture of hockey legend Lester Patrick that appears below originally ran in the Sunday Oregonian newspaper in Portland on February 14, 1915, consider this story a somewhat strange, slightly belated, Valentine’s gift to my wife, Barbara.

Watch Lester

You see, it was Lester Patrick who brought us together. (OK, technically, it was publisher Malcolm Lester who brought us together by hiring Barbara to edit my first book, the 1992 novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. But Lester Patrick was the star of my story, along with his brother Frank, Newsy Lalonde and Cyclone Taylor.)

Barbara’s knowledge of hockey was pretty limited at the time. Raised by two parents from Montreal, it basically consisted of, “Canadiens, good. Maple Leafs, bad.” But Barbara loves history, and historic photographs, and soon she could pick out Lester Patrick in a picture from just about any period of his life.

The fact that Lester is posed with a wrist watch in this picture has nothing directly to do with Barbara and me. But it does fit nicely with our own quirky interests in history and the fact that among the strange bits of trivia we know is that to most people in North America in 1915, a wrist watch – often referred to at the time as a wristlet, or bracelet watch – would have been thought of as – well … girly.

Consider the following excerpt from a story by Christopher Klein that appeared last year on the web site of The History Channel:

Fashionable dandies with portable timepieces on their arms were belittled as “wrist-watch boys” while the tried-and-true pocket watch remained the masculine convention. “The fellow who wears a wrist-watch is frequently suspected of having lace on his lingerie, and of braiding his hair at night,” reported the Albuquerque Journal in May 1914. A New Orleans theater in 1916 assured audiences that the main character in one of its plays was not “portrayed by a wrist-watch, screen actor dude, but by a man’s man.”

Nobody would ever guess,” said the 1915 story accompanying the wrist watch pic in the Oregonian, “but Lester Patrick, ferocious, wild-acting captain and cover point of the Victoria hockey club of the Coast League, wears the daintiest, most cunning little timepiece imaginable, on his powerful left wrist… Patrick stands about six feet one and weighs 180 pounds and he is about as wrist watchy in action as a bull elephant on a rampage.

But Lester Patrick was in the vanguard as opinions began to change. Wrist watches had been popular with military leaders in Europe since the 1880s, and by the middle of World War I – even though the United States wouldn’t be in the fighting for almost another year – The New York Times on July 9, 1916, featured a story entitled Changed Status of the Wrist Watch. It reads in part:

Until recently the bracelet watch has been looked upon by Americans as more or less of a joke. Vaudeville artists and moving-picture actors have utilized it as a funmaker, as a ‘silly ass’ fad. Now, however, since preparedness has become the watchword and timepieces have become a necessary part of the equipment of soldiers, the status of the wrist watch is changing.

Lester Patrick had received his wrist watch from the citizens of Victoria, B.C. as a thank you for leading its hockey team to a second straight PCHA championship in 1913-14. The Oregonian called it, “Vindication for the wrist watch. Yes sir-e-e-e-e!” So much so that these days, “screen actor dudes” clearly aren’t worried about wearing one.

Watch Celebs

Of Pucks and Pilots…

In his 1944 autobiography Winged Peace (a follow-up to his 1918 Winged Warfare), Billy Bishop wrote about the interview process when he wished to transfer from the Canadian Cavalry to Britain’s Royal Flying Corps in 1915.

“Can you ride a horse?” Bishop was asked.

He pointed out that he was a cavalry officer.

“Do you ski?”

Bishop heard, “Do you she?” and only later realized what had really been asked. “Yes,” he answered, although he didn’t understand the question … and he didn’t ski. (He did enjoy the company of women, which he thought might be what had been asked of him.)

Bishop books

“How well can you drive a motor car?”

Bishop had never driven a car before. “Very well,” he lied.

“How well can you skate?”

Here was another question he could answer truthfully, although he exaggerated somewhat. “Very well,” he said.

“Did you go in for sports at school–running?”

Bishop was a crack shot with a rifle, but had never been much of an athlete otherwise. Still, he reasoned that the RFC wasn’t going to take the time to check on his records back in Owen Sound. “Yes,” he said, “a great deal.”

The future flying ace was beginning to wonder just how much running, skiing and skating he might be called upon to do, but in 1915 it was believed that people with good balance made good pilots. An ability to withstand cold temperatures was thought to be an asset too. No wonder so many hockey players who enlisted in the First World War found their way into the Air Force. Among them were Hockey Hall of Famers Harry Watson, Frank Fredrickson (both of whom were mentioned in a story recently) and Conn Smythe – as well as the first American-born hockey superstar, Hobey Baker.

For more on Baker (who died with his orders to return home in his jacket pocket while taking “one last flight” five weeks after the Armistice), you can read his entry on Wikipedia, or the One-On-One Spotlight at the Hockey Hall of Fame, or see the web site for the Hobey Baker Award. But for now, I share with you some newspaper clippings. Most of these were printed 98 years ago this month as Hobey Baker took to the skies over the Western Front.

Hobey 2 Hun
American Hobey Baker was big news in Canada too.

Hobey 2 Pro
The story on the left appeared in the New York Tribune on January 14, 1918.
The story on the right had been in the
Vancouver Daily World on December 27, 1915,
confirming at least one flattering Canadian offer for Baker to go pro.

Hobey Cartoon 1
From the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, January 20, 1918.

Hobey Cartoon 2
The cartoon appeared in the Washington Herald on January 18, 1918.
The poem had been in the same newspaper on January 13.

Hobey Story Click to enlarge.

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!