Category Archives: Hockey History

A Stitch in Time…

This is, I guess, a sequel of sorts to my recent story about Walter Smaill. When finishing up my research for that one, I came across a cartoon and a brief story in the Calgary Herald from February 27, 1932. It reported on Helge Bostrom of the Chicago Black Hawks (two words in those days; not Blackhawks) who had recently been cut for 140 stitches. Having previously suffered some 100 stitches from various minor injuries, Bostrom was now considered hockey’s Most-Stitched Player. “The former title holder,” the story reported, “… was Walter Smaill, of the old Montreal Wanderers, who suffered 168 in his career.”

The 1931–32 season marked Helge Bostrom’s third year in the NHL. He’d just turned 36 years old when he joined the Black Hawks in January of 1930, and had played plenty of hockey before that. His earliest records place him in military and patriotic hockey leagues in his home town of Winnipeg (some sources say he was born in Gimli, Manitoba), playing for the Ypres team against Walter Smaill’s Somme in 1917–18. After a year of military service in England and France, Bostrom played two seasons of amateur hockey with the Moose Jaw Maple Leafs in Saskatchewan before turning pro with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada Hockey League during the 1921–22 season.

Calgary Herald from February 27, 1932.

Mostly a hard-hitting defensemen, but also something of a penalty shot specialist (in those days, penalty shots were taken from a fixed point, so a powerful blast was key), Bostrom helped Edmonton to a WCHL title in 1922–23, before a Stanley Cup loss to the Ottawa Senators. He spent the next four seasons with the Vancouver Maroons before top-level pro hockey collapsed in the west after the 1925–26 season. He then played three-plus seasons with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Hockey Association before finally entering the NHL.

As to the injury in question, Bostrom was hurt during the second period of a 1–1 tie with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 24, 1931. There’s not a lot of details about the injury in most game stories. The New York Times says nothing at all, noting only that Bostrom (they spell it Bostrum — as many papers did) was in the penalty box when the Rangers scored their only goal late in the first period. (Chicago tied the game late in the third period.) The New York Daily News reports, “The second session was marked only by an injury to Helge Bostrum … who cut a tendon in his leg in a mixup with [Earl] Seibert.”

From the back page of the New York Daily News, November 25, 1931.

Of the newspapers I’ve been able to check, the Montreal Gazette and the Brooklyn Times-Union had the most to say about Bostrom’s injury in their game reports the next day. “Early in the second period,” says the Gazette, “Bostrum was assisted off the ice after colliding heavily with Seibert and it was afterwards announced that the burly defence man had cut a tendon in his left leg.” The account in the Brooklyn paper says, “Bostrum was injured by a skate when he checked Seibert in the second period.”

The Times-Union story says it was Bostrom’s instep that was cut — though most stories later would say his ankle — “and the discovery of a severed tendon means that he will be lost to the team for several weeks.” The Brooklyn paper further notes that “Bostrum’s foot was to be operated on today.” A later story in the Chicago Tribune on December 6, 1931, reports that Bostrom was still in New York’s Polyclinic hospital when his Black Hawks teammates visited him there on a return trip to New York prior to a game that night against the Americans. The operation was likely performed there, as Madison Square Garden and New York Rangers team doctor Henry O. Clauss Jr. was a member of the surgical staff at the Polyclinic.

Helge Bostrom photo courtesy of Stephen Smith, Puckstruck.

In recalling the injury in the New York Times on January 4, 1932, John Kieran writes: “Remember the night Helge Bostrum of the Hawks was hurt at the Garden? Ankle cut by Earl Seibert’s skate. Didn’t seem so bad as he hobbled off the ice, but when Dr. Clauss checked up, three of the four tendons were cut and before they got through patching him up, they took exactly 142 stitches to pull him together.” (Stories in other newspapers put the number of stitches at 140 or 145, but the Minneapolis Star-Tribune asked “What’s [a] Mere 400 Stitches” in a headline above a story about Bostrom on February 12, 1932.)

Despite the early report that he would be sidelined for several weeks, word soon was Bostrom might never play hockey again. That was certainly a fear Black Hawks coach Emil Iverson expressed in a story reported in The Minneapolis Star on December 11, 1931. A story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle a month later, on January 10, 1932, explained more:

It was cruel the way the accident happened…Earl Seibert just stumbled over the half-prone Helge in a harmless-looking mixup around center ice. But the tip of Seibert’s skate bit like a rapier down to the bone, slashing tendon after tendon. The cut wasn’t more than an inch and a half long and the surgeons had to lengthen it, reach up and pull down the muscles, and fasten them. When they knit together Bostrom will be able to walk without even the semblance of a limp, but the repairs may not be able to hold under the strain of those sudden stops in hockey.

This cartoon and accompanying story appeared in several papers in January of 1931.

Apparently — according to a story in The Minneapolis Journal six years later (February 17, 1938) — things were so dire that Bostrom was receiving ads from casket owners (casket makers?) while he was in the Polyclinic hospital. But Helge was having none of it!

By early February of 1932, Bostrom was in the Twin Cities and skating again. “Out of hockey, nothing,” he roared for an Associated Press story out of St. Paul that appeared in papers on February 12. “I’ll be playing again before the season’s over.” The day before, The Minneapolis Star quoted him saying, “Whoever said I wouldn’t be able to play hockey again is crazier than the hombre who insists that the Hawks won’t be in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Why, I expect to be in those same playoffs myself.”

And he was.


From the Minneapolis Star, December 11, 1931.

Bostrom was back in action on February 17, 1932, when the Black Hawks hosted the Canadiens in Chicago. According to the NHL game logs, he played in seven more games after that, but then missed the next five, before returning for two playoff games against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The strange thing is, the newspaper accounts of games late that season don’t always match up with the NHL records. And for sure, those records must have it wrong when they show Bostrom playing in Boston on November 26, 1931 — two days after the injury. It seems highly unlike that he was hurt that badly on November 24, had surgery on November 25, played in Boston on November 26, and then returned to New York to spend another week or more in hospital there.

Regardless of how many games Bostrom actually played in 1931–32, he was not only back with the Black Hawks for the 1932–33 season, he was named the team’s new captain. But that December, he was traded to the St. Paul Greyhounds of the American Hockey Association, where he would be their player-coach. Bostrom continued to play in minor league cities through the 1935–36 season, finishing up with the Kansas City Greyhounds, whom he would later coach for two years from 1937 through 1939.

The image on the left from before the game shows Helge Bostrom in the starting line up.
In the image on the right, Bostrom’s name does not appear in the summary of the game.

And tough as he must have been, it seems Helge Bostrom may have done more for the sport of figure skating than hockey. According to Roy Shipstead, one of the founders of the Ice Follies, Bostrom gave the struggling Roy, his older brother Eddie, and their partner Oscar Johnson, a significant boost. Shipstead told the story to Vern De Geer of the Gazette for his column on February 1, 1961 while in Montreal for the Canadian Figure Skating Championship.

It wasn’t easy. We were fancy skating bugs in St. Paul when most of our neighborhood pals were busy on the hockey rink. Most of the hockey players were coming in from Western Canada. They were making good money and it looked like a good career for Minnesota boys. But it was one of those imports who persuaded me to follow Eddie and Oscar in the ice skating entertainment business.

Helge Bostrom, a fun-loving Norwegian friend of ours from Winnipeg, recommended us to an entertainment booker at the Chicago Sherman Hotel’s famous College Inn. That was in 1935. We were given four weeks trial and stayed for 16 months. It was the success of this run that started us in the travelling carnival routine the next year. And we’ve been at it ever since. We’ll be forever grateful to Helge for this.

A Smaill of a Tale…

Walter Smaill is not a name likely to be recognized by many hockey fans today. (Even my spell-checker keeps trying to change his name to Walter Small.) But that’s never stopped me before! Smaill is yet another OLD old-time hockey player I have great affection for.

Walter Sydney Smaill was born in Montreal on December 18, 1884. He grew up in Westmount, playing local sports with other future hockey stars such as Art Ross, Frank and Lester Patrick, and Sprague and Odie Cleghorn. (He would play most of his his pro hockey career alongside Ross or Lester Patrick.) As Frank Patrick would write of those neighbourhood kids in the Boston Sunday Globe on January 27, 1935, in one of an eight-part series on his life when he was the coach of the Bruins, “Almost every young boy competed in football, baseball, basketball and [track] as well as hockey.” Walter Smaill was no exception. He grew up to play hockey, football, and lacrosse at the highest levels. He was also an excellent paddler, sailor, and swimmer.

When Smaill died at the age of 86 on May 2, 1971, he’d outlived almost all his contemporaries, save for Cyclone Taylor. Smaill lived most of his life in Montreal, but spent time in Victoria, Winnipeg, and a few smaller cities across the country too. In his younger days, he worked as an athletic instructor, often running sports clubs for youths, and even after going to work as a car salesman around 1925 he stayed involved in sports for many years, serving as a coach, referee, or league executive in hockey, lacrosse, football, canoeing, and other sports. He even served as an NHL referee during the 1924–25 season, and was suggested as a potential president of a professional hockey players union before the 1925–26 season. “Smaill denied all connection with the movement,” reported the Montreal Gazette on September 2, 1925. “He stated that ten years ago there had been such a move in which he had been interested, but that the present plans … did not concern him directly.”

Smaill seems to have been a guy that people liked, and likely because of his “good guy” status — and also because he lived so long — many sportswriters (particularly in Montreal) who’d been on the job since his playing days would occasionally mention his name in columns during the 1960s as someone who should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was definitely a good player.

Smaill’s career at the highest levels of hockey lasted from the winter of 1904–05 through 1915–16. He played mainly with the Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, and Cobalt Silver Kings of the National Hockey Association (forerunner to the NHL), and with the Victoria Aristocrats of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. He played both forward and defense and had a couple of decently high-scoring seasons in his early days. He helped the Wanderers win the Stanley Cup in 1908, and Victoria to victory over the Stanley Cup champion Quebec Bulldogs in a “world championship” exhibition series in 1913. Still, he was probably more of a support player than a true Hall of Fame star — although he seems no less worthy of selection than some of the other inductees from his playing days.

One thing, it seems, most other players of his era agreed on was that Smaill was “the worst battered man playing hockey.” In a story that made the rounds in at least a few Canadian newspapers in January and February of 1918, Smaill’s numerous cuts and scars over the course of his career — “he has over one hundred stitches sewn into him by surgeons in all parts of the Dominion” — were detailed. One of the more than 50 times his nose had been cut occurred in the first game ever played in the history of the PCHA, on January 2, 1912, when he collided with future Hall of Famer Harry Hyland of the New Westminster Royals. Smaill was married six days later, and as several of the papers in Victoria, Vancouver, and Montreal that reported on the wedding noted: “[he] looked anything but the happy bridegroom with his nose all swathed up in bandages.”

The Vancouver Province, January 22, 1918.

The 1918 stories mention nothing of one of Smaill’s more unusual injuries/afflictions, which was detailed in the New York Telegraph on March 18, 1908, the morning after the Montreal Wanderers played the Montreal Shamrocks in New York:

Walter Smaill, who played with the Wanderers, has the distinction of being the only man in this or any other country who has a silver-plated shin bone. Vicious blows from hockey sticks in the hands of his opponents in games he has played have from time to time so battered Smaill’s right leg below the knee that he was for a time retired from the game. He sought medical aid for months, but was compelled to continue the use of crutches until he visited a prominent surgeon in Quebec. The physician told him that the hurt could be remedied if he was willing to undergo a very tedious and painful operation. He consented at once.

Suffering the most excruciating pain, he permitted the surgeon to lay bare the bones of his leg an inch at a time and bind it with thin plates of silver. The operation required more than three months to complete, but was very successful.

Back in Montreal, the Gazette repeated the story the next day, under the headline HIS SILVER SHIN, but explained the original injury had actually occurred while playing a different sport. “The foundation for the story,” said the Gazette, “is that Smaill was laid up three years ago from a kick on the leg received in a [Quebec Rugby Football Union] game against Ottawa on Atwater Park.”

The whole truth of the story is difficult to confirm, but you can see below in this article from the Montreal Star on October 23, 1906, that Smaill did hurt his shin playing football for Westmount and would likely require surgery:

While he did miss the end of the 1906 football season, which wrapped up early in November, he was out for practice with the Montreal AAA hockey team by mid December.

Ironically , Smaill suffered the worst injury of his hockey career shortly after the appearance of the newspaper articles outlining his battered career. It occurred on February 21, 1918. Technically, Smaill had retired from hockey by then.

Having spent four seasons from 1911 to 1915 playing and living in Victoria, work took Smaill to Winnipeg in the summer of 1915. Having been granted free agency by the PCHA, he returned to Montreal for the winter of 1915–16 and played for the Wanderers in the NHA. Hockey at this time was suffering during the years of World War I. Many amateur leagues shut down for the duration, and several pro teams went out of business. Not surprisingly, salaries were slashed. A Toronto Star story from December 14, 1916, notes that Smaill had once earned as much as $200 per week to play hockey (probably a $2,000 contract for 10 weeks with Cobalt during the first NHA season of 1909–10), but was being offered only $40 per week to return to the Wanderers for the 1916–17 season. He quit hockey instead, and took a full-time job working for the YMCA in Winnipeg. In the fall of 1917, Smaill was appointed secretary of the YMCA for military athletics in the Winnipeg area. “Smaill has had a vast amount of experience in sport,” reported the Winnipeg Tribune on November 20, 1917, “and should be able to provide many attractive events for the khaki boys.”

Smaill in the sweaters of the Cobalt Silver Kings and Montreal Wanderers,

Among the sports Smaill organized was a military hockey league, with three Winnipeg teams dubbed Vimy, Ypres, and Somme. (Future Hall of Famer Dick Irvin starred for Ypres, and led the league with 29 goals in just nine games played.) Smaill returned to the the ice with the Somme, and was injured in the final game of the season. A report in the Tribune on February 22, 1918, notes only that, “in clearing an attack Walter Smaill was badly hurt in the head and was obliged to retire.” The next day’s Manitoba Free Press tells more:

The greatest anxiety prevails among Walter Smaill’s friends on account of the serious reports received from the General hospital last night of his condition. On examination his skull was found to be fractured, and he had suffered a series of convulsions during the day and was unconscious the greater part of the time; it was found that the only relief can be found in an operation of a highly dangerous character. The physicians in charge of the patient believe there is either a blood clot on the brain or a piece of the broken bone pressing upon it.

When the accident happened at the Amphitheatre rink Thursday night in the Somme-Vimy game, the final of the schedule, Smaill and [Harry] Wilson were making an attempt to stop [Cecil] Browne who was going down at a rapid gait. The two Somme players bumped into each other and Smaill was a little overbalanced when he met Browne, and he fell heavily, his head striking the ice with terrific force. Though he was able to walk from the dressing room to the ambulance he was in a much more serious condition than at first believed.

There were concerns that Smaill’s injuries might prove fatal. As it was, he would spend five weeks in hospital before (as the Winnipeg Tribune would report on March 25, 1918), “his grand physique pulled him through in good style.” Even then, it was thought he would require another two or three weeks of recovery at home. He never played hockey again.

The Montreal Star, March 2, 1918.

Smaill had suffered a dangerous head injury once before, in a manner similar to the way in which hockey star Hod Stuart had been killed in the summer of 1907. On July 1, 1909, Smaill and some friends were standing on a dock in Cartierville in the North End of Montreal. A woman dropped her glasses into the river, and she asked Smaill — an expert swimmer — if he would dive in and recover them. “He was told,” reported the Montreal Gazette on July 3, 1909, “the water at this point was sixteen feet deep, and so he dived almost straight down.” But the water was only three feet deep with a rocky bottom. “The result was that Smaill hit bottom with sufficient force to stun him, and he remained for a few moments head down in the river.” His friends thought he was just fooling around, and were laughing until “he suddenly came up with his face a mass of blood and bruises…. He was badly dazed, and was helped to the shore, where he soon recovered.”

Still, with all of his sporting mishaps, perhaps the closest Smaill ever came to death was while he was helping in the construction of the Victoria Arena he would play in for four seasons. Smaill told the story to Lloyd McGown of the Montreal Daily Star for a column on February 22, 1941:

I went to the Coast to play hockey for Lester [Patrick] in 1911. I went with Skinner Poulin, Dubby Kerr and Bobby Rowe… We went out to play for $1,500, which was more than we were making here in the East…. We went out in August of 1911. The Patricks were building the rinks at Victoria and Vancouver. Both rinks went up at the same time, so we went to the contractor for jobs—Poulin, Kerr and Rowe and I. We bought canvas aprons with pockets, T-squares, chisels and hammers. We helped build the rink to play in at 50 cents and hour.

I almost fell from the roof, about a sixty-foot drop to the ground. I happened to catch a scantling [a small cross-section of lumber] and there I hung with my feet dangling over the edge. Finally they lassoed my legs and hauled me up to safety. I was sick for three days. It was that close…. [T]he sports writer of The [Victoria] Times was there. ‘Walter, I thought you were done for,’ he told me.

After that, Smaill helped install the ice-making system in the Victoria rink. (The Patrick arenas in Vancouver and Victoria were the first in Canada to feature artificial ice.) “We helped lay 15 miles of pipes,” said Smaill. “When we got them down they had a test and found about 150 leaks. We had threaded the pipe-ends the wrong way, though a plumbing inspector was supposed to be overseeing the job. We weren’t very good plumbers.”

It’s stories like these that are the reason I find hockey of this era so fascinating!

The Gorrie Details: A Hockey Romance

It’s been almost four months since I last posted a story on my website. I don’t usually go this long, but I’ve been pretty busy since June, working on three manuscripts due to publishers between the start of September and the end of October. Two done, one still to go for anyone who’s interested…

There’s a lot I could be writing about now. The Blue Jays are — probably — headed for the postseason. But they’ve been so frustrating this year. Yes, I do believe (as I heard on the radio recently) that any team that actually makes the playoffs deserves to make the playoffs, but baseball used to be about excellence over a long season. I really don’t like the fact that, after treading water for most of the schedule, they could get hot at the right time and possibly win the American League pennant.

That’s so hockey!

And, of course, the hockey preseason is under way. I could write about the Maple Leafs. But they’ll probably have another excellent season that will be undermined by an early playoff flameout. (That’s so baseball!) Or, I could chime in on the Boston Bruins’ selection of their 100 “Historic Players” to kick off the team’s centennial celebrations. But, despite literally writing the book on Art Ross (and contributing stories about him, and his era, to the Bruins’ centennial book and upcoming documentary), I’m not really a Bruins guy. My thoughts — as with the NHL and the Leafs in recent years — is that these lists “are what they are” and that too many old-timers get overlooked.

So, what am I writing about today?

Well, admittedly, this one’s a bit quirky even by my quirky standards!

Recently, while looking for something else (the best stories get found that way!), I came across some interesting things about a long-ago goalie named Clarence Gorrie.

Now, aside from the three people I’ve asked for a bit of help from for this story, I figure there are probably only about three or four other people out there who will recognize that name. Unless you were a pretty rabid fan of Toronto hockey about 120 years ago, you’d have no reason to know of Gorrie. But still…

Clarence Gorrie started playing goal for the Toronto Marlboros at least as early as the winter of 1900–01 when the team played in the Toronto Lacrosse-Hockey League. When the Marlboros entered the Ontario Hockey Association for the 1902–03 season, Gorrie played for their intermediate team. However, after the junior team won the OHA championship that season, he was replaced by the junior team goalie in the intermediate finals. (That goalie was Eddie Giroux, later of the Kenora Thistles, and I’m pretty sure that Gorrie’s name stuck in my mind after researching Giroux for my 2022 book about the Thistles.)

Anyway, a story I stumbled across about Gorrie recently in the Montreal Gazette on October 27, 1903, mentioned him signing to play in Pittsburgh that winter, where Canadian players had been lured for a few years with the promise of being paid. Most of the Canadians were hired for cushy off-ice jobs, but everyone knew they were really being paid to play hockey, which often got them banned from playing back home in Canada, especially in Ontario, where the OHA championed amateur hockey over professionalism.

The Toronto Marlboros Intermediate team of 1902-03.

I checked for Gorrie on the web site of the Society for International Hockey Research. There were no stats for him playing with the Pittsburgh Bankers in 1903–04. It turns out the Toronto Star had the same story back on August 7. Still, I couldn’t find any stories about him actually playing in Pittsburgh. But since there were a lot of gaps in his SIHR stats record, I did a little poking around. Turns out, Gorrie actually played — with the OHA’s permission — for the Markham intermediate team in the winter of 1903–04 instead of in Toronto with any of the Marlboros teams. (Eddie Giroux and Tommy Phillips of the Thistles led the Marlboros senior team to an OHA championship that season, and on an unsuccessful Stanley Cup challenge of the Ottawa Silver Seven.) Gorrie also played at least one game with a Toronto team known as “the Fearnaughts” at a tournament in Markham in February of 1904.

No reason as to why Gorrie left the Marlboros intermediates — though maybe there was a bit of bad blood over his being replaced. Yet, it seems he was at least at the preseason workouts with the Marlboros seniors in 1904–05 when they were looking for a new goalie after Tommy Phillips convinced Giroux to head north to Kenora — still known as Rat Portage at the time.

I won’t go into all the whys and wherefores of where Gorrie played over the next few seasons — except to note that he served as the secretary of the Toronto Aquatic Hockey League in 1906–07 instead of playing with the new Toronto professional team that season that was a feature of Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s hockey book. (Gorrie — and the Aquatic league — are mentioned briefly in Harper’s book.) The league involved the Parkdale Canoe Club, Toronto Canoe Club, Toronto Rowing Club, the Argonauts Rowing Club, and the Balmy Beach Canoe Club. Gorrie was a member of the Toronto Canoe Club, though the only record I’ve seen that indicates he may have played for the team was a listing for one game showing a player named Gorrie at center. He did serve as a referee in some league games.

When he wasn’t playing hockey, Clarence Gorrie worked for the post office in Toronto. In the hockey news in The Globe on November 14, 1907, under the headline A HOCKEY ROMANCE, the following story appeared:

The staff of the general post office yesterday presented Clarence M. Gorrie, the well-known hockey player, with a silver tea service as a mark of esteem on the eve of his marriage.
The bride-to-be is Miss Rundle, a member of the Wellington ladies hockey team which aggregation was under the management of the groom…. Mr. Gorrie is a versatile athlete and widely popular.

So, Gorrie the goalie married a goalie!

Miss Vera Rundle played goal for the Wellington ladies team from the winter of 1904–05 though 1906–07. (It was probably not considered proper for her to continue playing after she was married.) Her sister Amy was a center. Toronto papers covered the team — and other women’s teams of this era — in pretty decent detail.

From the Toronto Daily Star, February 15, 1907.

In reporting on one of the team’s early games, The Globe of January 18, 1905, said this:

The ladies’ hockey match, played last night on the Broadview Rink, was won by the Wellingtons, who defeated the Broadviews by a score of 4–0. The ladies did not play in crepe de chene, as some of the spectators imagined, but buckled down to hard work, donning white and red sweaters and short bicycling skirts.

The Toronto Daily Star on February 15, 1907, which reported on the Wellingtons’ second consecutive Ontario ladies hockey championship, said, “the game was by no means a burlesque. The girls were very much in earnest all the way, and considering the handicap afforded by three-quarter skirts, put up a very good exhibition of Canada’s national winter pastime.”

The Wellingtons defeated Waterloo by a score of 6–0. “The [team] is a well-balanced aggregation,” said the Star. “Miss Rundle in goal made many good stops.” As for her sister, “Miss Rundle, at center, a decidedly pretty girl, was very tired at the finish but she showed much ability while she was fresh. A jolt in the face from the butt end of a stick made her dizzy for a while, but she was plucky and continued.”

Though the Star story about the Wellingtons says they wore white uniforms with blue shoulders, it also mentions a letter W inside a maple leaf on the breast. I suspect this is actually their team. The date given is 1909, but the picture may have been taken earlier, so that still may be Vera Rundle standing in front of the goal.

Though both families appear to be working class, The Globe gave a decent amount of space to the Gorrie-Rundle wedding in the paper on November 16, 1907. “The bride wore a pretty dress of pale grey. Her sister, Miss Amy Rundle, was bridesmaid, in a mauve colienne.”

The last records of Gorrie playing goal are from the 1908–09 season, but he stayed in the game as a refereee, and was still prominent enough that the Toronto Star considered this story newsworthy on December 10, 1921:

Clarence Gorrie the well-known OHA referee and ex-goal keeper of the famous Marlboros senior team [that would appear to be an error], has been promoted by the Post Office authorities to Woodstock. Clarence, who has spent ten of his fifteen years’ service at Postal Station E., Markham street, was yesterday presented with a handsome club bag by his fellow employees prior to his departure for Woodstock tonight.

The Gorries would live the rest of their lives in Woodstock, with Clarence coaching the local OHA junior team during the 1921–22 season. He passed away on March 22, 1952. Vera survived him for another 30 years. They are buried together in Woodstock at the Hillview Cemetery.

The World Champs of 1930

Canada won the World Championship in hockey on the weekend. Yay, us! But the tournament has never really attracted a lot of attention in this country. When Canada was dominating in the early days, everyone here knew the amateurs representing the country in Europe weren’t the best players we had to offer, since the pros in the NHL weren’t allowed. And, of course, that became our national excuse when the Soviet Union began to dominate during the 1960s.

The vast majority of Canadian hockey fans have always been much more interested in NHL teams and Stanley Cup victories than the World Championships. It’s also part of the reason why, when it comes to international hockey, we long for the “Best-on-Best” format of the Canada Cup/World Cup and so enjoyed the Winter Olympic tournaments of 1998 through 2018, when the NHL was allowing its best players to compete … which hasn’t been the case at the last two Winter Olympics.

Still, the victory on Sunday — 5–2 over Germany — gave Canada 28 world titles all-time; one more than the Soviets/Russians. So, again, yay us! That said, I barely paid any attention this year myself … but it was an interesting tournament. Latvia won the bronze medal by defeating the United States 4-3 in overtime for the first World Championship medal in that country’s history. Germany’s silver was their first medal since 1953. And, it was the first time the Germans faced Canada for gold since 1930 … which was the very first year the hockey World Championships were conducted separately from the Olympic Games.

And therein lies the rest of my story.

I guess it was in early May, back in 1994, when I first began to do some research into the 1930 World Championships. I had, by then, published my first book, the novel, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada, and had since managed to sell a few articles about sports history (mainly hockey) to various Toronto newspapers. With Canada en route to its first hockey World Championship in 33 years, I figured there would be (or maybe there already had been — I can’t remember!) plenty of stories coming out about the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters. So, I thought, instead of re-hashing the last Canadian World Champion team, I would write something about the first one.

I remember reading a little bit about the 1930 tournament in the book Hockey is Our Game, by the esteemed Canadian sportswriter Jim Coleman. Coleman wrote that Canada was represented at the tournament by the 1929 Allan Cup champion Port Arthur Bearcats. That made sense to me, since I knew it was often the previous year’s Allan Cup champions — the senior amateur champions of Canada — who represented the country at the World Championships and Olympics in the early days of international hockey.

So, I went down to the Metro Toronto Reference Library to read through microfilm and see what I could find. Again, I can’t recall precisely, but my memory is I spent the whole day searching through either a Fort William or Port Arthur newspaper. (It’s possible I was searching through The Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail … but I don’t think so.) Anyway, I began in the fall of 1929, and just kept searching. The Port Arthur team started out playing their local season schedule … and kept on playing. As they did, I kept expecting to find a story one day saying they’d been invited to represent Canada overseas, and so had dropped out of the local hockey scene to head to Europe.

But then it was March and the playoffs were starting. And Port Arthur kept playing.

The Ports (as they seem to be called — not the Bearcats) won the Thunder Bay championship, and then defeated the Manitoba champion Elmwood Millionaires in a Western Canada semifinal. Meanwhile, the British Columbia champion Trail Smoke Eaters defeated the Alberta champion Blairmore Bearcats and then beat the Saskatchewan champion Saskatoon Quakers in the other Western semifinal (I looked all that up now) before Port Arthur eliminated Trail in the Western Final and advanced to play the Montreal AAA for the Allan Cup.

Even then, I still expected to find a story saying Port Arthur was going to bail on the Allan Cup and head over to Europe. I didn’t know yet that the 1930 World Championships had actually taken place between late January and early February. But then, I came across a photo in the newspaper of the Canadas Hockey Team of Toronto who had represented the country at the tournament!

Who were they?!?

I don’t remember when I began the research that would eventually lead me to write about the Toronto Canadas (who were actually the Toronto CCMs — more shortly). Nor do I remember how I tracked down a phone number for Jim Coleman. But I did. I don’t remember if he was still living in Toronto, or if he had already retired to Vancouver. Wherever he was, and however I got the number, I called him.

I told him he’d been mistaken in his book.

He couldn’t have cared less! Couldn’t have been ruder to me, actually.

(I shouldn’t hold a grudge, but nearly 30 years later, it’s still lessened my opinion of him!)

Anyway, I would come to learn the CCM sporting goods company had been entering a team in the Toronto Mercantile League since at least 1923. My brother Jonathan and I produced a short TV feature about the Toronto CCM team and the 1930 World Championship for TSN in 1997. Unfortunately, the Toronto Blue Jays fired manager Cito Gaston around the time our piece was supposed to air and we got bumped … but TSN did show it later, and it was pretty exciting for us.

I would later write about the team again for The Toronto Star on April 26, 2005. Much of what I’m about to say here comes from that story. As I wrote then, CCM won not only the Toronto Mercantile title in 1929, but also defeated the winners of the city’s Mining and Brokers League too, and that fall, CCM executive George S. Braden travelled to Europe on business. While there, he decided the growing number of hockey teams in Europe would benefit from increased exposure to Canadian teams. (He no doubt saw a lucrative new market for CCM merchandise too!)

Braden obtained permission from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to send the CCM team on a European tour. Since the International Ice Hockey Federation had decided to expand its annual European Championship into a World Championship in 1930, the Toronto team — wearing a white maple leaf on red sweaters and with the name “Canadas” emblazoned beneath — would represent the country at the new tournament.

Nine of the 11 men who had played for CCM’s championship team gathered at Union Station on December 5, 1929. One day later, goaltender Percy Timpson, defencemen Joe Griffin and Fred Radke, and forwards Gordie Grant, Wally Adams, Don Hutchison, Bert Clayton, Alec Park and Harold Armstrong, along with George Braden and coach Les Allan, set sail from Saint John, New Brunswick. They arrived in London on December 14 and defeated the British All-Stars 6-2 at the Wembley Ice Club three nights later.

Averaging a game every second night, the Canadas scored victory after victory en route to the World Championship, which was scheduled to begin January 27, 1930. Unfortunately, warm weather at the outdoor venue in Chamonix, France, pushed back the start until January 31. The round-robin system was abandoned in favor of a knockout format that would serve as the European Championship. With no U.S. team present, the Canadians were given a bye directly into the finals, where they would face the European champs for the World title.

To stay in shape while the European teams knocked each other out, the Canadas scheduled games in Vienna, and on February 7, 1930, during a stretch of three games in three nights, they dropped a 1-0 decision to the Austrian national team on an outdoor rink that had been waterlogged by a day of rain. They bounced back the next night with a 6-0 win over the Vienna Skating Club, then boarded a train for Berlin, where they would face Germany in the World Championship final (which had been relocated to an indoor arena) on February 10.

Buoyed by a hometown crowd and taking advantage of their weary opponents, Germany’s Gustav Jaenecke beat Percy Timpson for the game’s first goal, but Gordie Grant retaliated quickly. A few minutes later, Alec Park put the Canadas on top. Grant and Park scored again in the second period, while Red Armstrong and Joe Griffin tallied in the third for a 6-1 Canadian victory.

Back home in Canada, the World Championship victory was newsworthy, but hardly noteworthy. “The title is an empty one, of course,” wrote Toronto Star sports editor W.A. Hewitt in the paper on February 11, “and the Canadas will make no such pretensions when they come home. To their credit, however, they have played good hockey on their trip and plenty of it, and have done much to educate Europeans in the fastest of all sports.”

Having won the World Championship, the Canadas flew from Berlin to London and finished their tour. They arrived back in Toronto on the evening of February 25. In their 83 days abroad, the Canadas had travelled 22,500 kilometers, played 32 games, won 31, and outscored their opponents 304-26.

The City of Toronto held a small civic reception for the Canadas/CCM team at Union Station on the night of their return. In reporting on it in The Star on February 26, writer C.H. Good was quite complimentary of the team, and although his story mentions they would be “sure of a great reception when they show themselves at the Ravina rink where the Mercantile League first playoff game is scheduled, and also tomorrow noon when they will be guests of honor at a luncheon to be tendered by the West Toronto Kiwanis,” and, furthermore, that a civic dinner, or, at least “something of the sort” had been promised by the city fathers on hand at Union Station, I could find nothing to confirm any of it.

And so, Canada’s first World Champions of hockey soon faded into obscurity.

I wasn’t the first to uncover their tale, but I’ve certainly done my part.

And I still think it’s a pretty neat story!

Go Leafs Go!

On May 2, 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. It was the fourth time they’d won it in six seasons. Overall, in what was then the 50-year history of the NHL, the franchise had won the Stanley Cup 13 times; 11 since the team name had become Maple Leafs 40 years earlier. And how many times have they won it in the 56 years since then? Well, we all know the answer to that! It’s the longest Stanley Cup drought in NHL history.

When the city’s newspapers came out on May 2, 1967, they didn’t know yet that the Maple Leafs would win that night. Interestingly, they didn’t even consider the opportunity to win it to be front-page news. I don’t have access to the Toronto Telegram, but you can see the front page from the Toronto Daily Star and The Globe and Mail here:

Sports sections were a lot smaller back in 1967, but you can see that — even in the sports pages — the Stanley Cup news was limited to one page in each paper … and not even the full page:

Tonight, May 2, 2023, the Maple Leafs will face the Florida Panthers in the first game of their second-round playoff series. (Note that in 1967, the last year of the six-team NHL, it only took two playoff rounds to win the Stanley Cup.) I still get home delivery of the Toronto Star, and in my paper this morning you can see that Leafs news is featured on the front page (it may well have been even more prominent if not for the death of Gordon Lightfoot yesterday) and it fills the entire front page of the sports section:

Leafs news also dominates the next two pages inside the sports section (which is only six pages long these days):

And the Leafs also get space on two more pages in the front section:

What does all this mean?

Nothing, really.

I just thought it was kind of interesting.

Hope you do too.

Go Leafs Go!

Celebrating with the Varsity Grads

On this date in history, March 21, 1928, Toronto newspapers were filled with stories and photographs welcoming home the Varsity Grads from Europe. Canada’s representatives in hockey at the 1928 St. Mortiz Winter Olympics had returned to the city the previous day (March 20 was a Tuesday ninety-five years ago) after a successful European tour and had been paraded from Union Station (on Front Street) to City Hall (now Old City Hall) at Bay and Queen in downtown Toronto.

As the name implies, Canada’s gold medal-winning hockey team was made up mainly of graduates of the University of Toronto. The Varsity team had reached the finals of the Allan Cup, Canada’s national senior amateur championship, in 1925 and 1926, only to be defeated by the Port Arthur Bearcats in both seasons. Returning to the final as the Varsity Grads in 1927, they defeated the Fort William Forts in a tight series in Vancouver to earn the right to represent Canada at the 1928 Winter Olympics.

Two images of the crowd scenes in front of City Hall. The top is from the Toronto Star
on March 21, 1928. The bottom is from the Sault Ste. Marie Star on March 28.

To prepare for their European journey, the Varsity Grads withdrew from competition in the Ontario Hockey Association for the 1927-28 season. From November 26, 1927, through January 21, 1928, the Grads played a series exhibition games before departing for Europe from Halifax on January 22, 1928. If I counted right, a total of 14 games were scheduled, although one was never played. Of the games they did play, most resulted in one-sided romps. Among the very few close games, the Grads defeated the University Club of Boston 2-1 in Boston on January 6, 1928 and suffered their only loss when they were beaten 1-0 in a rematch two nights later.

After playing their final home game in Toronto on January 17, 1928 (either a 10-2 or 12-2 victory playing one period against each of three different Toronto teams at Varsity Arena), the Grads played in Kingston, Montreal, and Halifax on January 18, 19, and 21 and then sailed for France.

Olympic ice facilities in St. Moritz.

The Grads had a rough crossing before arriving in Cherbourg, on Sunday, January 29 after six days and 18 hours at sea. They had traveled with the figure skaters, speed skaters, and skiers who would also be representing Canada at the Olympics. All athletes made their way to Antwerp the following day, but while the other competitors left the Belgian town immediately for St. Moritz, the hockey team stayed in Antwerp a while longer. They had their first workout on Olympic ice on February 6. The hockey tournament began on February 11, 1928.

The United States didn’t send a hockey team to Switzerland for the 1928 Winter Olympics, and so the decision was made to split the 10 European countries into three round-robin groups, with the winners of each advancing to the final round to play off with Canada, who had been given a bye. After nearly a month without any games, Canada then played three times on three straight days, but it didn’t matter. The Grads defeated Sweden 11-0 on February 17, Great Britain 14-0 on February 18, and then Switzerland 13-0 on February 19 to win the gold medal.

Canada versus Switzerland in the gold medal game.

After the 1928 Winter Olympics closed on February 19, the Grads embarked on a European tour. They defeated the Austrian Olympic team 13-0 in Vienna on February 22, and then traveled to Berlin where they defeated Germany 12-2 and Switzerland 12-1 on February 25 and 26. The game with Switzerland may have been played in Davos, although some newspapers report the scores as 13-2 and 12-0, and also list a 6-0 score at a different game in Davos, so it’s a little unclear.

The Canadians finally had some real competition in Berlin on February 27 … when the Olympic starters played their own backups and scored a 5-4 victory. Some members of the team then flew from Berlin to Paris, where they beat a Paris team 6-0 on March 2. Next, the team flew to London, where they defeated an English team 11-4 on March 8. The Grads were to be presented to the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII, briefly) the following day — although it appears he abdicated on them too! He is said to have sent a telegram congratulating the team on its gold medal victory and expressing regret that he would not be able to entertain them in person (as he had with the Toronto Granites following their Olympic championship in 1924).

The Varsity Grads were coached by Conn Smythe, but he didn’t go to the Olympics over a dispute involving players added to the team’s roster. Two other big Toronto hockey names of the future were with with the team in Europe. The arrow on the left points to Harold Ballard. The arrow on the right points to Foster Hewitt.

On March 10, 1928, the Varsity Grads sailed for home from Liverpool. They arrived in Halifax on March 17, and then played a final exhibition game either that night or the next. After defeating the Moncton Atlantics 6-1, they boarded a train home for Toronto. Delayed 14 hours by snow in New Brunswick, they arrived in Montreal some time between midnight and 2 am in the early morning of March 20. Still, they were able to find food and drink in the city before returning to their train car to sleep until late morning when they departed for Toronto.

Scheduled to arrive at Union Station at 5:40 in the afternoon, the players were greeted at the train platform by family and friends who hadn’t seen them in two months. “But,” as the Toronto Star reported, “at every step towards the exits they became more and more public property.”

The Varsity Grads wore Ballard skates, and Harold paid his own way to Europe to help take care of the team’s equipment. (Foster Hewitt accompanied his father and mother on the trip, as W.A. Hewitt was in charge of the team through his position with the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, as he had been in 1920 and 1924.)

Greeted at the end of the “underground station labyrinth” by representatives of the city and their university, they then stepped out into a huge traffic jam on Front Street. Loaded into cars, they were led by horses, motorcycles, and marching bands to City Hall, where the Mayor of Toronto, Sam McBride, made a welcoming speech. Each player was presented with a diamond stickpin before addressing the crowd themselves. And for those who couldn’t make it out to see the players in person, the whole thing was broadcast on the radio.

We’re On the Air!

One hundred years ago tomorrow, on February 8, 1923, the first radio broadcast of a hockey game was made from Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena. But the man who made that pioneering broadcast, Norman Albert, a Toronto Star employee working that night for the newspaper’s CFCA radio station, would soon disappear from the historical record and remain lost to a rather tangled history for nearly 50 years. And, really, it’s only been recently that he has once again gotten his due.

The game on February 8, 1923, was an Ontario Hockey Association intermediate playoff where North Toronto beat Midland 16-4. Six nights later, on February 14, Albert was on the air again for the first broadcast of an NHL game where the Toronto St. Pats beat the Ottawa Senators 6-4. Those broadcasts on CFCA covered the third period of these games, but they were (as far as we know!) the first of their kind. For more on all this, you can read the story I wrote for the Toronto Star on the 90th anniversary back in 2013.

From the Toronto Star radio page, February 9, 1923.

CFCA was on the air again for the third period of every big game from the Mutual Street Arena until the end of the hockey season, but Norman Albert is only known to have broadcast one more game that year. On February 16, 1923, Foster Hewitt called his first game, a 3-3 tie between the Toronto Argonauts (yes!) and the Kitchener Greenshirts. Hewitt very quickly became a hockey broadcasting legend. His domination of this new field pushed Albert out of the spotlight, and Albert’s pioneering efforts would soon be all but forgotten.

Foster Hewitt must have known that Norman Albert preceded him, but over the years he did very little to dissuade people from believing that he had been the first. However, in his 1967 autobiography, Foster Hewitt: In His Own Words, Hewitt would recall the date of his first broadcast as March 22, 1923. (Other stories, over the years, would list the date as March 23, 1923.) But March 22, 1923, was actually the date of the last of many hockey broadcasts Hewitt made that season. His confusion over the dates would lead to another misconception over early broadcasts … and eventually bring Albert’s name back into the picture.

On March 14, 1923, radio station CKCK, owned by the Regina Leader newspaper, aired a playoff game between the Regina Capitals and Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada Hockey League, then a Stanley Cup rival of the NHL and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The man who called the game that night was Lionel Dyke “Pete” Parker. There were many in Western Canada who recalled Parker’s game and as the date of March 22, 1923 for Hewitt’s initial broadcast came into vogue, there were those who believed that Parker’s performance must have been first.

A youngish Foster Hewitt and and old Norman Albert. These pictures accompanied
Bruce Levett’s story when it appeared in the Red Deer Advocate on June 28, 1972.

Among those most strongly in Parker’s corner was Tom Melville, whose family had moved from Scotland to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, in 1910 when Melville was only two years old. He may well have heard Parker’s first broadcast. He’d certainly heard of it. Melville would work for Regina newspapers from 1933 until 1998, and he made Parker’s case to hockey authorities in the late 1960s.

Writing in the Regina Sun on December 5, 1993, Melville recalled, “[i]n the late 1960s an eastern company used television to promote a series of phonograph records dealing with Canadiana. Frank Selke Jr. did the TV commercial. Among his statements was one that people could listen to an excerpt from a hockey game played in Maple Leaf Gardens as broadcast by Foster Hewitt ‘the first-ever hockey broadcaster.’”

Melville writes that he “had been fighting for a long time to get recognition for Parker, who was living in retirement in Kelowna.” Melville wrote to Selke and told him he was wrong. Selke told Melville he was surprised to learn that Hewitt was not number one and promised to look into it. Selke — probably by looking through old issues of the Toronto Star, as I did in 2004 when all this first came to my attention — discovered the February 8, 1923, broadcast by Norman Albert.

From the Regina Leader, March 14 and 15, 1923.

Though he doesn’t say so, Melville was also likely surprised to learn of Albert, and relayed the information to Parker in Kelowna. “Getting information from the telephone office in Toronto, [Parker] came up with a number for Norman Albert and called him.”

Albert told Parker that he had, indeed, broadcast the third period of a game that night as an experiment for the radio station owned by the Toronto Star, the paper for which he worked … and where Foster’s father, William A. Hewitt, was the sports editor.

Perhaps this all happened a little bit later than Melville recalled. Or maybe it just took a while for the story to emerge, since it’s not until 1972 that Norman Albert appears to have finally gotten his due. Bruce Levett, sports editor for Canadian Press, spoke to both Albert and Hewitt for a story that appeared in many newspapers across Canada in late June of that year.

“Who broadcast the first radio account of a hockey game?” wrote Levett. “Tradition says it was Foster Hewitt on March 23, 1923: files seem to indicate it was Norm Albert on Feb. 8, 1923. But neither of the pioneer broadcasters knows for certain.”

From the Toronto Star on March 8, 1928, telling how
Albert was filling in on the air for Foster Hewitt.

“People are always telling me I was the first, but I’ve never claimed that, Hewitt says. But then, I never argued the point.”

Hewitt may not have come clean, but the rest of Levett’s story makes it pretty clear that Albert knew the truth! “If that game (Feb. 8) was the first,” he told Levett, “then I guess I was the first.”

In Albert’s recollection, CFCA manager William Main Johnson had actually asked Hewitt’s father to make the first broadcast. “Bill couldn’t do it,” Albert remembered, “and looked around for son Foster, who was out on another assignment. He offered the job to the late Lou Marsh, who turned it down. There was nobody else available, so Main Johnson asked me. I had been doing a lot of sports reporting and had a loud, clear voice.”

As Albert remembered it, he broadcast the game from “a little hut about the size of a coffee table” beside the penalty timekeeper’s bench. “I sat bent over and we broke in halfway through the game, somewhere in the second period. [The broadcast definitely began with the third period.] I think we followed the Hambourg Trio, I seem to recall a bass drum and a violin.” The Star’s radio listings from February 8, 1923 do show a Concert program from 8 to 9 p.m. that night, but no act called the Hambourg Trio.

Manitoba Free Press, February 22 and 23, 1923.

Albert, who had left the Star for the Toronto Telegram in 1927, and then got out of the newspaper business in 1950 to work with an investment firm, was, said Levett, philosophical about it all. “If I had stayed with the Star, I might have laid claim to being first – but what’s the point now? [Still] if anyone doesn’t believe you when you write this, send them to me. I’ll straighten them out.”

And so, Norman Albert briefly returned to the limelight, only to pretty much disappear again after he died on Christmas Day in 1974. But still, the story of hockey on the radio was being told wrong. This was because no one had yet discovered that Foster Hewitt’s first broadcast was actually on February 16, 1923, nor Albert’s pioneering NHL broadcast of February 14, nor the other early broadcasts in Toronto. Bill Fitsell may have been the first to report on these, in the Kingston Whig-Standard on November 23, 1985, when Bill took Scott Young to task for his lazy research in Young’s Hewitt bio Hello Canada! Yet, I think that until I wrote about all this for the Society of International Hockey Research in 2004, anyone telling the story still believed that Albert was hockey’s first broadcaster, Pete Parker the second, and Hewitt third … even though Hewitt had actually been on the air before Parker by nearly a month.

In Parker’s first broadcast on March 14, 1923, he was on the air for the full 60 minutes, so regardless of whether he’d been first, second, or third, his supporters now claimed that he was the first man to broadcast an entire hockey game. But that’s not true either. On February 22, 1923, radio station CJCG in Winnipeg, owned and operated by the Manitoba Free Press, aired the complete game as the Winnipeg Falcons defeated the Port Arthur Hockey Club 4-1. It seems that none of the stations in Toronto, Winnipeg, or Regina had been aware of what the others were doing. The name of the Winnipeg broadcaster seems never to have been reported.

Foster Hewitt, of course, would go on to call thousands of games, on radio and television, before ending his broadcasting career with the 1972 Canada-Russia series. In addition to the two other games Norman Albert was known to have called in 1923, he also returned to the air for a few games during Hewitt’s absence from the CFCA booth in March of 1928. (Albert had left the Star by then, but was refereeing OHA games. Hewitt was in Europe, with his father and the Varsity Grads, during and after the 1928 Winter Olympics.)

Images of a young and old Pete Parker from the Regina Leader-Post, 1937 and 1997.

As for Pete Parker, his was the first complete broadcast of a professional hockey game. He called more games during the winter of 1923-24 (six more, according to a Leader-Post story from March 31, 1991), but apparently none beyond that. He seems to have been out of radio entirely by the 1930s and when he passed away in Kelowna on February 11, 1991, Parker’s obituary in the Leader-Post said nothing at all about his radio career.

On September 13, 1997, on the 75th anniversary of CKCK, the Regina Leader-Post ran a transcription of an interview taped in 1962, with the station’s first (and long-time) employee, Bert Cooper. In his interview, Cooper spoke of Parker and their first hockey broadcast. It was a nurse in a sanitorium in Fort Qu’appelle who suggested hockey on the radio as something her patients would enjoy. Cooper got permission from the owner of the Regina Capitals, who said he would go along with it … as long as they didn’t announce it ahead of time. He didn’t want to cut into potential ticket sales.

“I told Pete Parker, assistant to the manager of the Leader-Post. He was quite a sports fan, and he was a baritone singer. He had a deep low voice, an excellent voice, and he loved hockey, and he knew hockey. We built a booth at the south end of the rink…. That night I announced, “We’re now switching you to Studio No. 2, where you’ll hear the voice of Pete Parker, our new announcer. I gave Pete the cue, and he went ahead, and you could hear the hockey sticks, and the crowd, as plain as can be.

“Pete Parker was a minister’s son. One of the Edmonton Eskimos came down the ice with the puck, and time and time again, he couldn’t get it in the net. And he swore. Pete Parker had the window open, and he shouted down to the player, ‘Cut it out, we’re broadcasting!’”

Torn from the Pages…

This week, as Owen Sounders take part in Hockey Day in Canada festivities prior to Saturday’s day-long broadcast from here in The Scenic City, as least one current Own Sound resident is also noting the anniversary (albeit the somewhat inelegant 116th) of another small-town hockey story: the Stanley Cup championship of the Kenora Thistles. On this day in 1907, the Thistles were resting up from the first game in their best-of-three series with the Montreal Wanderers — a 4-2 victory on January 17 — and preparing for the second game, which resulted in an 8-6 victory and series sweep on January 21.

This victory, of course, is the centerpiece of my book, Engraved in History: The Story of the Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles. Hopefully, some of you received the book at the holidays last month; or had a copy already. (If you didn’t, or don’t, they’re still for sale at Amazon in Canada or at Rat Portage Press. Get yours today!)

Front page in the Winnipeg Morning Telegram, January 22, 1907.

In many of the interviews I’ve done to promote the book, people asked about doing the research for a story that’s so old. Yes, it took a lot of work, but, in some ways, it was very easy. It mainly involved reading and reading through many, many old newspapers … which is one of my favourite ways to pass the time anyway.

During these days of the decline and fall of print media, it can be hard to imagine just how many newspapers there used to be. Any town of almost any size was likely to have, if not its own daily paper, at least a weekly or a biweekly (as Rat Portage/Kenora did). And in bigger cities, there were many, many different dailies competing for readers.

In newspapers of only 10 to 12 pages, with perhaps only a single page of sports news, the coverage was still be quite in depth. Especially if you were a Stanley Cup contender boasting some of the greatest players in the game — even if your team hailed from a town of only about 6,000 people. So many rumors of player movements in or out of Kenora were reported year-round in the early 1900s all across Canada. Multiply that by all the other hockey teams playing in communities across the country and even the “insiders” reporting on television today would be hard-pressed to keep up. As Stanley Cup games approached, coverage only intensified.

As I’ve written in these “pages” several times before (How They Watched…, Hello Out There…, and Tuning in Over Time), the earliest telegraphed reports of Stanley Cup games being sent out to crowds of listeners date back to 1896. Not too long after that, newspapers reporting on games the following day would provide those telegraphed play-by-play accounts for their readers. They are remarkably detailed and modern. Consider this from the pregame leading up the January 17 Thistles-Wanderers game from the Winnipeg Tribune of January 18, 1907:

  • 8.20 p.m.—The rink is filling up rapidly and the prospects are for an immense crowd in spite of the extreme cold. The 50 cent seat crowd are smoking in spite of the prohibitory notice against the practice. The [Thistles] are favorites in the betting at about 100 to 80. The general opinion is favorable to Kenora for tonight’s game.
  • 8.25—Reserved seats are now filling rapidly. The crowd is going to be a tremendous one. The [Thistles] are now in the dressing room getting the preliminary rub-down.
  • 8.35—Wanderers are out on the ice for warming up. They look in good shape, except for [Moose] Johnson, who wears a souvenir of the game with Ottawa. Ernie Russell changed his mind at the last moment and is in uniform. It had been said during the day that he would not be out.
  • 8.37—The [Thistles] are out on the ice. They got a tremendous ovation. Their skating is taking immensely with the crowd in spite of Wanderer sympathies. [Kenora captain Tommy] Phillips seems to be up to his old-time gait….
  • 8.45—Both teams are warming up waiting for referee. There are very few empty seats, and those only in the reserved section. About 5,000 people now in the rink and a steady stream of humanity floating in. Players are now shaking hands at the side. Phillips wears a broad confident smile. [The Wanderers’ Lester] Patrick is looking businesslike.
  • 8:53— [Referee Bob] Meldrum calls teams to centre of ice. Now tossing for ends. Getting final instructions from referee. Crowd wild with excitement. Wanderers win toss and defend southern goal. A horseshoe with Wanderers colors covering it is just thrown on the ice.
  • 8.55—They’re off!

As to the extreme cold referenced in the first notice, I discovered the Government of Canada has a website with historic weather data. Through that site, I was able to confirm the newspaper reports that not only was it freezing cold in Montreal on January 17 with a low of -31° Celsius (24 below zero Fahrenheit), but that it really did warm up so much in the next couple of days (as newspapers also reported) that it actually rained on January 19 and 20 before plunging well below freezing again on January 21.

The cartoon is from the Montreal Daily Star, January 18, 1907.

Up in Kenora, the temperature that night, according to the historical data, ranged from a high of about -23° Celsius (about 10 below Fahrenheit) to a low of -37 (35 below). The Victoria rink, where Thistles fans gathered to hear the telegraphed reports read out, was only heated by wood-burning stoves in the two dressing rooms, but it seemed to have been warm enough inside. In its local recap of the game, the Kenora Miner and News reported that the scene inside rink had been “enlivening to the limit,” particularly as the Thistles build up a 6-2 lead that night. But things got tense (in Kenora and in Montreal) as the Wanderers fought back to tie the game 6-6 with only a few minutes remaining before the Thistles won the Cup.

With all the reading of old newspapers I did, I came across a story in the Winnipeg Telegram from March 20, 1907, telling about those final minutes on January 21, 1907, that I’d never heard before. The teller of the tale was Mike Shea, one of the referees in game two.

“You can talk as you like about peculiar circumstances under which big games have been decided,” said Shea, “but I want to tell you that the Stanley Cup was once lost as the result of a torn pair of pants. And it occurred just two months ago when Kenora beat the Wanderers in the final game of the series.”

Shea sets the scene, reminding readers that the Thistles had jumped out to a big lead before the Wanderers roared back to tie the game. “It was a fine rally,” said Shea, “and the tide switched right around…. The Thistles, to a man, were all skated out; they looked beaten and in fact were beaten had not the incident on which this story hinges cropped up…. Wanderers were there with a bundle of speed and I expected them to turn in and utterly rout Phillips and his men.

“Away went the forwards and I started after them when [Jack] Marshall skated up to me and shouted: ‘Mike, blow your whistle!’

Mike Shea’s story in the Winnipeg Telegram.

“‘What for?’ I asked.

“‘My pants are ripped!’

“‘Do you mean it?’ I asked.

“‘Sure,’ was his reply.

“…I gave a blast of the horn and the game stopped. Marshall skated off to have his breeches pinned up and the Kenora players were hugging themselves at the chance of getting their wind. The delay took about three minutes, and when the game was restarted, Kenora immediately starred on the offence.

Front page in the Kenora Miner and News, January 23, 1907.

“You know the rest,” said Shea, describing the late penalties to Montreal’s Hod Stuart and Lester Patrick and the goal that Roxy Beaudro scored to reclaim the lead for the Thistles, but: “Had Marshall played with the torn pants and not stopped the game, I think the Stanley Cup would still be in the east.”

So, there you go.

The Kenora Thistles might just owe their Stanley Cup victory to a pair of torn pants … 116 years ago this Saturday.

            *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Hockey Writers in Canada

A reminder that, in conjunction with Hockey Day in Canada,  I’ll be taking part in Hockey Writing in Canada via Zoom with Owen Sound-born author and historian Paul White through the Owen Sound library tomorrow (Friday, January 20) at 3pm ET. You can contact the library for the zoom link at or email me at and ask me for it. 

Lanny McDonald brought the Stanley Cup on stage for the finale last night. The
Hockey Day in Canada concert at the Roxy Theatre in Owen Sound was a big hit!

The Bruce County Boys

This is, I guess, a sort of a sequel to my post last month, Early Era Hockey Heroes Played in Owen Sound. The names, this time, aren’t as prominent in hockey history as Howie Morenz and Cyclone Taylor, although these two contemporaries of Taylor are also members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. And, with Hockey Day in Canada hitting town next week, they’re relevant today because — like Taylor, who was born in Tara, Ontario — they were both born in small towns near Owen Sound. Remarkably, these two would later join Cyclone Taylor on the West Coast, giving the Vancouver Millionaires three Bruce County boys on their Stanley Cup team of 1915.

Russell Stanley, known as Barney Stanley for unknown reasons (and an uncle of latter-day NHL star Allan Stanley), was born in Paisley, Ontario, on June 1, 1893. Duncan McMillan “Mickey” MacKay made his debut almost a year later, on May 25, 1894. Both would begin to make their names in hockey during the winter of 1910-11, playing for their respective hometown teams in District 2 of the Northern Hockey League (NHL) along with clubs in Durham, Hanover, Walkerton and here in Owen Sound. MacKay’s Chesley team also competed in the Ontario Hockey Association’s junior series that winter.

Paisley’s 1910-11 NHL team was a weak one, finishing the 10-game season with a record of just 2-8. Stanley was obviously a standout, though, and after Owen Sound crushed his team 11-2 in the season opener on local ice here, the Owen Sound Times of January 12, 1911, reported: “Had there been two or three more in the Paisley bunch of the calibre of Barney Stanley, there would have been a different tale to tell in the final tally…. With a teammate as fast as he himself is, Barney would be a dangerous shooting proposition for any ordinary team to go up against.”

MacKay (whose name was often spelled, incorrectly, as McKay) helped Chesley win the District 2 title that winter, though they would lose the league championship to the District 1 winners from Mt. Forest. But, other than having his name appear (as McKay) in the lineup in a summary in the Owen Sound Sun on March 3, 1911 after a game the night before, there appear to be no other mentions of him in the local paper. However, his hometown weekly, The Chesley Enterprise, noted him prominently throughout the season … despite also spelling his name wrong.

The Vancouver Millionaires’ Stanley Cup team photo. Interestingly, the trophy shown
is Patterson Cup – the championship trophy of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.

“McKay [was] always in the right place,” noted the Enterprise on March 2, 1911, reporting on the team’s final home game (played two nights earlier). He scored at least 8 goals in a 25-0 win over Walkerton. When Chesley clinched the District 2 title with a 7-3 win over Durham in Walkerton on March 7, the local paper, reporting two days later, said: “Every man on the Chesley team played the game of his life; Beatty, Rocker and McKay apparently being the favorites of the crowd…. McKay, as in Owen Sound, was conceded to be a marvel.”

Mickey MacKay was still in Chesley for the winter of 1911-12, playing again for the local team in the NHL and moving up to the intermediate division in the OHA. Barney Stanley had moved out west that year to Edmonton. Hockey would take him to many more places after that, but Edmonton would remain home for the rest of his life.

Stanley began the winter of 1911-12 in Edmonton playing hockey for the Eurekas, a team affiliated with the Westminster Church, in a local Sunday School league. He quickly attracted the attention of an Edmonton team called the Maritimers, who played senior hockey with the Eskimos, Edmonton YMCA and the University of Alberta in a northern provincial league, and finished the year with them.

Cheshley team photo from the Society for International Hockey Research.
Mickey MacKay is the very young looking kid standing at the top right.

According to a story from the Edmonton Journal, picked up in the Ottawa Citizen on April 5, 1918, it was in the fall of 1912 that one Bruce County boy helped another begin his journey to the west.

“It was in the autumn of 1912 that Barney Stanley, himself just graduated from a local junior league, approached Deacon White and Anse Young, telling of a boy down in Chesley, Ontario, who had been burning up the Junior OHA and was anxious to come west.” The only thing holding him up was the cost of the journey, “and the Deacon, always ready to gamble a few dollars in the cause of sport, produced the wherewithal…. It did not take the fans long to reach the conclusion that MacKay was one player from the east who would live up to advance notices, and before the winter was over he was a universal favorite.”

The Chesley Enterprise of October 17, 1912, notes only that “Duncan McKay has gone to Edmonton… ” with no mention of Barney Stanley’s role, but Stanley and MacKay would play together that season of 1912-13 on a new team in Edmonton called the Dominions. Stanley would remain with that team for a couple seasons more, but MacKay moved further west the next winter, to Grand Forks, a mining town in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. According to stats from the Society for International Hockey Research, MacKay led the Boundary Hockey League with 15 goals during the 10-game 1913-14 season before moving further west, to Vancouver, the following year.

Paisley and Chesley are just a short distance apart not too far from Owen Sound.
Walkerton, Hanover and Durham, indicated with arrows, also played in the “NHL.”

Grand Forks would remain home to Mickey MacKay for the rest of his life, but it seems he returned to Chesley following that first B.C. winter. As Frank Patrick — owner, coach, manager, and a star player, with the Vancouver Millionaires — would recall in newspaper stories in 1940 and again in 1950, he received a letter from MacKay from Chesley in the summer of 1914.

According to the 1940 story, Patrick, who frequently received letters from players who thought they were good enough to turn pro, wrote back to MacKay and recommended he try to catch on with a Toronto team. “I don’t know what made me change my mind,” said Patrick, “but I sent a following letter with transportation and told him to report to Vancouver. It was one of those sixth sense hunches. MacKay wasn’t practicing five minutes before he attracted the attention of all watching him…. He was perhaps the greatest centre we ever had on the coast; an equal favorite with Cyclone Taylor in the minds of the masses.”

Frank Patrick provided more details to the story in 1950, telling Alf Cottrell of the Vancouver Province, that he’d never forgotten MacKay’s letter and could almost quote it from memory.

Various clippings from Owen Sound papers during the winter of 1910-11.
References to Stanley and McKay/McKay are in the red rectangles.

“The writer,” recorded Cottrell, “said he had played for an amateur club out in Grand Forks, B.C. the previous winter. No doubt Mr. Patrick had heard of him, as he had done very well. And he would like to play for Patrick’s Vancouver club for special reasons. There was, the young follow said, a young lady out in B.C. whom he would like to marry. Would Mr. Patrick forward money for transportation, so he could come out when the season started and lay his wares on the ice, so to speak?”

Patrick again told the story about recommending this young player try out for a Toronto team, but this time he said he decided he liked the sound of the name Mickey MacKay. So, he changed his mind and sent a second letter enclosing transportation.

Is either version of the story true?

Mickey Mackay with the Vancouver Millionaires and in a
grainy newspaper photo with the Dominions in Edmonton

Well, Mickey MacKay did marry Miss Anne May Reburn of Grand Forks on June 13, 1916. But in his own version of how he wound up in Vancouver, it was Frank Patrick who sought him out. MacKay told his tale in the Owen Sound Sun-Times on January 23, 1932, while visiting his mother and a sister in Chesley.

“It is interesting to hear Mickey tell about his jump into the pro game,” wrote the Sun-Times correspondent. “He was playing amateur with Grand Forks and in the mining towns of British Columbia the going was tough. Frank Patrick heard how he was burning up the league so he telegraphed him transportation and instructions to report at Vancouver.”

The Chesley Enterprise of November 19, 1914, reports on MacKay (still spelled McKay) leaving for Vancouver “on Tuesday last week,” seemingly from Chesley, though with references to his success in Grand Forks. “Still in his teens,” says the 1932 Owen Sound story – though he would actually have been 20 at the time – “Mickey kept thinking things over on his trip to the coast and the more he thought of it, the less he figured he could make good, so when he arrived at Vancouver and was met by Patrick, the first question he asked was, ‘Say, if I don’t catch on with your team, do I get my transportation back home?’”

Barney Stanley early his his career with the Dominions and later with the Edmonton Eskimos.

Patrick wanted a look at him first, and brought MacKay down to the rink. Mickey told of “being taken to the dressing room and introduced to such seasoned performers as Cyclone Taylor, Si Griffis, Frank Nighbor … and Hughie Leman [all future Hall of Famers]. The boys were dressing for a work out and as he was introduced to each one in turn, they merely stuck out a hand, pulled it hastily away, but never said a word or looked up from the lacing of their boots.

“‘A swell reception,’ Mickey thought!”

When he got out on the ice and saw Taylor in action, MacKay figured he’d be sent back to Grand Forks for sure. But then, he decided to take a run at the game’s biggest star. “Before I knew it, I was headed full speed for Taylor. I checked him and sent him sprawling into the boards and sailed clean through the whole outfit and never stopped…”

MacKay made the team. And carried with him the good wishes of his old friend Barney Stanley, who predicted great things for him that winter. “Mark my words,” Stanley was quoted in the Edmonton Journal of December 8, 1914, “Mickey will be a sensation this winter.”

And he was.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy, but these are the all-time scoring stats for the PCHA.
Barney Stanley ranked 18th with 62 goals and 37 assists in 80 games played.

MacKay scored three times in his pro debut for Vancouver against Portland that same night, leading the Millionaires to a 6-3 victory. “Our own speedy hockey player was the sensation of the first game,” The Chesley Enterprise reported with pride on December 17, 1914. He would go on to lead the Pacific Coast Hockey Association with 33 goals in just 17 games played in 1914-15, and his 44 points were just one back of Cyclone Taylor who led all scorers with 45 points on 24 goals and a league-leading 21 assists.

Late that season, Barney Stanley joined Mickey MacKay in Vancouver, signing with the Millionaires on February 13, 1915. In his debut three nights later, Stanley scored the opening goal on a setup from Taylor. MacKay collected a goal and an assist in a 5-0 victory over Portland. Stanley would score seven goals in the five games he played with Vancouver through the end of the schedule.

After the season, in a best-of-five Stanley Cup series with the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL), Stanley added six more goals in three games. MacKay had four goals and two assist, while Cyclone Taylor had seven goals and two assists as Vancouver scored a stunning sweep by scores of 6-2, 8-3 and 12-3.

The two new Bruce County boys, along with the old one, had definitely made their mark.

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Hockey Writers in Canada

In conjunction with Hockey Day in Canada,  the Owen Sound library will be hosting a series of author events from January 17 to 21 they’re calling Hockey Writing in Canada. For information on the whole program, and all the writers involved, you can contact the library at If you’d like a direct link to the zoom event featuring me and Owen Sound-born author and historian Paul White at 3pm on the afternoon of Friday, January 20, email me at and ask me for it. 

Season’s Greeting! (2022)

Christmas/New Years greetings from an ad in the Owen Sound Times on December 8, 1871. And a Hanukkah story from a few years later, on December 7, 1915.

And, in keeping with the usual theme, Owen Sound opened a new indoor ice rink just after New Year’s in 1893, which was a big boon to local hockey. Clippings from the Times of January 5 and 12, 1893:

And, finally, thank you to everyone who had anything to do with the success of this book; those at Firefly Books who helped me get the job done … and to those of you who bought a copy!

From the Toronto Star, December 17, 2022. Slipped a bit this week, which will
be reflected in Saturday’s newspaper. But it’s been fun while it’s lasted!

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year, have a happy and safe one!