Category Archives: Personal

Us in the Early Days

Today – December 12, 2018 – marks four months since Barbara died. It’s nine months to the day she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s hard to believe. (An expression Barbara always liked was: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana!”) But, I guess, if I’m really being honest, the hours mostly seem to drag, even as the days race by.

So, how’m I doing, you may wonder? Fine, I’ll tell you … because, in the big picture, I believe that’s true. But it’s been hard. It’s not so much about being sad or lonely (which, of course, I am). It’s that it’s all so strange. And so permanent. Some days are worse than others, and there’s no real rhyme or reason. (Riding alone in the car is often hard.) I’d been attributing my recent melancholy to the darker days, colder weather and the holidays, but a friend who lost his wife to cancer several years ago mentioned that after three months, the “have to” tasks have mainly been done, and you really begin to realize what’s changed. I suppose it’s all of those things.

But the point of this isn’t  to be maudlin. It is, in fact, to make a point…

Many of you have been a tremendous help to me in ways large and small. And, of course, I can’t speak for everyone who’s experienced a loss. Still, I have noticed some things. My advice to those who may feel awkward around the bereaved would be this: don’t be afraid to talk to them. Yes, it can be hard to know what to say, but even something as simple as “we’re thinking about you,” has been nice. If that seems too general, try asking a specific question. For me, you can ask me anything. Talking about it all has been very helpful. For others, a simple question like, “What’s your favorite memory?” (although, for me, it’s hard to pick just one!) or “How did you two meet?” (or an appropriate equivalent) might be better.

And that’s my long-winded way of getting around to the story of how Barbara and I met.

 Launch
This is the first picture we have of the two of us together,
at the launch for my first book on November 1, 1992.

Many of you know the story already, but a lot don’t. I won’t go into too much detail, but we met when Barbara was hired to edit my first book, the novel “Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.” She was a strange choice, as to that point Barbara had only worked on non-fiction. But Barbara and Malcolm Lester, who would publish the book, had become friends over a mutual love of classic American Westerns. Something about the “men in a men’s world” aspect of my story (I would come to refer to it as an “Eastern”) made Malcolm think Barbara would be good for it. I certainly think she made the book better, yet I know she had her doubts. But we had so much fun working together! And talking together. We just clicked. Despite the many differences in our backgrounds (not to mention the 16-year age gap), we saw things the same way. Right from the beginning, we were finishing each other’s sentences. So often we seemed to know exactly what the other person was going to say even before they said it.

That never stopped. It’s what I miss the most.

I still talk to her. Sometimes. She’s yet to answer.

Anyway… as I’ve written before, it was Malcolm Lester and Lester Patrick who brought us together. Lester Patrick was the star of my story, along with other real-life hockey pioneers Frank Patrick (Lester’s brother),  Newsy Lalonde and Cyclone Taylor. Barbara’s knowledge of hockey was pretty limited at the time. She was raised by two parents from Montreal, and her understanding of hockey was, “Canadiens, good. Maple Leafs, bad.” But Barbara loved history, and historic photographs, and soon she could pick out Lester Patrick in a picture from just about any period of his life.

Three
That’s me, Lester Patrick, and Doug Gilmour … all about 29 years old in these photos.

Barbara was even less of a baseball fan before I took her to her first game, but in the first two years that we were together the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series and the Leafs reached the Conference finals in two straight seasons. She thought being a sports fan was easy. You just cheered for winning teams! So, in addition to Lester Patrick, she quickly became a big fan of Doug Gilmour. Tom Henke and Paul Molitor too.

When we were working on Hockey Night, I often brought her pictures of the players and other things I’d found in my research. Shortly after the book was launched, we went together to Ottawa and Renfrew, where most of the story takes place. The pictures that follow are among the very first ones in our first photo album together…

Parliament
Barbara’s father was in the army and she moved A LOT in her early years.
She lived in Ottawa from ages 10 to 22 and met her first husband there.
So she’d been in the Canadian Capital many, many times…

Ottawa
… but she hadn’t seen the places I would take her! This is the O’Connor House at Nepean
and O’Connor in downtown Ottawa. (Not sure if it’s still standing.) I was pretty certain this had originally been the boarding house where Cyclone Taylor lived when he first came to Ottawa in 1907. I stayed there when I was doing research, so we went to see it.

OBrien1
The O’Brien Apartments on the main street in Renfrew had once been the
O’Brien Opera House. (M.J. O’Brien, who financed the team with his son Ambrose,
was the true millionaire of the Renfrew Millionaires hockey team.) That’s Barbara
you can barely make out standing in front.

OBrien2
The tiles on which Barbara was standing date back to the year the Opera House opened.

Ritzas
Barbara is sitting with Margaret Ritza and her husband Larry. Margaret was the granddaughter of M.J. O’Brien. Larry’s father ran a pharmacy in town and was involved with local hockey right back to the days of the Millionaires. He was pleased to see that his father had a small part in my book. The Ritzas ran a B&B in their home and they were very helpful in introducing me around Renfrew when I stayed with them on my research trips.

Barbara’s First Story

The honest truth is (even though I was just looking at this comic in Barbara’s collection a few weeks ago), when I got the idea last week to do this as a story, I actually thought the issue was from November of 1958. Turns out, it’s from May. So, the anniversary isn’t quite as timely as I originally believed. But, hey, 60 years ago is still 60 years ago. (And if you want your money back, sue me!)

KK Cover

As a girl, Barbara loved comic books and paper dolls. (As an adult, she still loved comic books and paper dolls!) Katy Keene supplied both, as the comics usually came with a paper doll you could cut out. Katy is a young woman who is both a model and an aspiring actress. She has an agent,  a Ken doll-looking boy friend, and a little sister named Sis. The great gimmick about these comics was, the creator, Bill Woggon, invited readers to send in stories and illustrations. If he liked them, he used them for the comic book.

A 10-year-old Barbara – Barbara Embury at the time – sent in a story while she was living on the army base where her father served in Ft. Churchill, Manitoba. It became the first thing she ever had published! (Plenty more would follow, but not for another 30 years or so!) These were the days of Sputnik and the Space Race … and Barbara assured me that she knew the moon was NOT made of green cheese! I thought I’d share the story with you today. I’ve indicated near the top of Page 1 where she gets her credit, and although her father had been transferred and she was living in Ottawa by the time this issue came out, the Canadian Army forwarded her letters from kids all over North America!

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Me and the Movies

Well, back to it. For today, anyway…

Because it’s been a while (and because I’ve added some new names to the mailing list), perhaps a reminder. This web site was set up four years ago. For most of that time, I wrote a story nearly every week; usually about some aspect of hockey history, or baseball history. Sometimes the stories had a personal angle, but often they were just quirky things I’d come across in my work. Since Barbara got sick, I’ve only posted four stories. None since things took their turn for the worst in late July.

Recently, I’ve gotten back to some hockey writing for jobs I’d already contracted to do. Everyone was wonderful about telling me to take all the time I needed, but I didn’t want these things out there looming, so I’ve started them. It’s been harder than I expected. (Don’t worry, Scholastic, I’ll be delivering it close to on time and up to the usual standards!) The truth is, quirky hasn’t been as much fun lately, and I’m pretty burned out on hockey. Still, I guess it’s good that the urge to write is strong some days. And I do want to get to certain things that are more personally meaningful to me. Not sure if this qualifies, exactly, but I was thinking about all this while I was out for a walk this morning (yesterday as you read this), and I wanted to get it down.

DVDs
Our DVD collection. Until recently, we had nearly as many VHS tapes too.

Movies have always been a big part of my life. They were for Barbara too. In our early days together, we saw everything! People who knew us would often ask if something new was worth seeing because they knew we’d have seen it already. But over the years, we started cutting back. Movies got too expensive, and, too often, not good enough. (I’m not a fan of comic books and superheroes or big-action-blow’em-ups.) And, really, it may have been more of an early warning sign than either of us realized a year or two ago when Barbara started to lose interest in movies even after expressing a desire to see them. But I don’t like to think too much about that.

I’ve been going to the movies for longer than I can even remember. I know (at least I think I’ve been told) that the first movie I saw was Mary Poppins. My parents loved movies, but given that Mary Poppins came out in 1964, I have a hard time believing they took me to see it when I was only 1 year old. Perhaps it was still playing somewhere in Toronto a few years later. I do remember seeing Oliver! in a giant downtown theater. It came out in 1968, a little before I turned 5, but I’m guessing I saw it some time in the spring of 1969. I still watch at least some of it whenever I notice it’s on TV. I must have seen The Love Bug around the same time, and I also retain a warm spot in my heart for Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle.

Posters
Jaws was my first grown-up movie. Ben Hur was Barbara’s. For Amanda, it was Titanic.

I saw a lot of Disney live-action films in the early 1970s, and others like them. Some have been remade in recent years, but I’m not sure that too many critics were impressed at the time. Still, they were fun for a young kid.

My first truly grown up movie was Jaws, which I saw very shortly after its release in June of 1975. I went with a few friends from school to see it at a matinee a day or two after the end of Grade 6. I was 11, although some in the group were probably 12. It was terrifying, but thrilling too! I know I didn’t sleep very well that night and I distinctly remember keeping my arms and legs underneath the covers. (Everyone knows covers can save you from ghosts and bogeymen and things, so it felt a lot safer to keep my limbs tucked under the sheets and blanket rather than dangling off the side of the bed.) Still, seeing Jaws did NOT keep me out of the water at the cottage that summer … so take that!

Bayfield
Bayfield Mall only had two cinemas back in my father’s day. It’s closed down now.

Around that same time, my father and a friend opened the Bayfield Mall Cinema in Barrie. (Until then, Barrie only had two old downtown theaters: the Roxy and the Imperial.) For a movie-lover, having a father who owned a theater was like being a kid in a candy store! In point of fact, we had to pay for any popcorn and candy we wanted – Dad and Mr. Hamat didn’t own the concession rights – but I got to see a lot of free movies over the next few years. They never got a lot of first-run films, so I saw some strange things, and some older stuff too, including What’s Up Doc from 1972 which is still one of my favorite comedies. I also saw Gone With the Wind with my mother on one of its re-releases circa 1976. And the big hits of the day did eventually play there. I definitely saw Rocky more than once at my Dad’s theater during the summer of 1977.

Barbara and I passed on our love of movies to Amanda. Her childhood coincided with the rebirth of classic Disney cartoons such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, but one of my best Amanda movie memories is introducing her to Buster Keaton on television. My mother had taken my brothers and me to see Charlie Chaplin movies as young kids, and I was sure Amanda would enjoy Keaton. Barbara was less sure, but I was right! Amanda was so young (only about 5 years old) that we had to read her the title cards, but she loved “Busty”. Didn’t matter that the movies were black-and-white and silent; they’re great and Keaton’s comedy is classic.

Comedians
Charlie Chaplin (left) was my introduction to silent films, though I’ve come
to enjoy the movies of Buster Keaton (center) and Harold Lloyd (right) more.

This past month or so, I’ve found myself going to the movies again. Sometimes with friends; sometimes alone. And I’ve been enjoying it. I’m sure Barbara would be happy to know that.

Fun With Another’s Family Tree

The very first thing I wrote in my first post to this web site four years ago said: “My favorite part of writing is doing the research. I love to look things up.” That was true back in 1990 when I began working on my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. It remains true to this day. It was never more true than when I was working on Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. It was never more fun either!

When I set out to write a biography of Art Ross, I had no idea where it would lead. I certainly had no inkling of the family saga I would get caught up in. The Ross genealogy – even without any connection to hockey – was simply fascinating! I have already written about my efforts to track down a correct birth date for Art Ross, but that’s hardly all…

When I first connected with Art Ross III in the fall of 2005, I had already stumbled onto the fact (via the 1901 Canadian census, which had only recently come on line) that when Art Ross was growing up in Montreal in the late 1890s and early 1900s, his mother was married to a man who was not his father. This other man was Peter McKenzie.

Maggie Peter
When she was young, the future Margaret Ross/Maggie McKenzie was said to be
the most beautiful woman in the Saguenay region. The young Peter McKenzie
was a handsome man of his era.

The story, as Art III heard it from his Uncle John, was that Thomas Barnston Ross had left his family “early and penniless.” While admitting that his father had not welcomed questions about what happened, John Ross had formed his own opinions. Barney – as those of us who have researched the heck out of this family call him – “might have (probably) taken his own life.”

Art and I soon discovered that wasn’t true. Records from the Hudson’s Bay Company (Thomas B. Ross was a fur factor) note that he died in 1930. Yet those same records said that Barney’s widow, Marguerite (Margaret) McLeod Ross – we call her Maggie – had married Peter McKenzie (who was himself a high-ranking HBC official). But given that they were married in December of 1895, Maggie was obviously not a widow!

1891
The Ross family circa 1891. The bearded man in the middle is Thomas Barnston Ross.
A young Art Ross leans against his shoulder.

As Art and I puzzled about this and other family mysteries (we communicated mostly by email – but often!), we were soon joined in our online endeavours by Serge Harvey. Serge is a distant relative of Art’s through Barney’s father’s family. Serge later connected us with Helen Webster, granddaughter of Thomas R. Ross, who was an older brother of the hockey Art Ross. (I’ve yet to mention here that Barney and Maggie had 10 children!)

Both the Ross and McLeod families had been prominent in the history of Quebec’s Saguenay district. Serge had found all sorts of fascinating family history in the Quebec archives. Helen had access to letters written by Maggie herself. So, eventually, we were able to put together bits and pieces of the story of a marriage that fell apart.

1901
The Ross family circa 1900. Barney is out of the picture. The bearded man
in the middle this time is Peter McKenzie. Art Ross sits in front of him.

Still, there was one thing we could never determine. Though Maggie and Barney both remarried, had they ever actually been legally divorced? Art and I both came to believe that Maggie had to be a bigamist – though it always seemed odd to me that she and Peter McKenzie moved so well through Montreal society if that was the case.

Serge searched even more diligently through Canadian divorce records than I did. (It was very difficult to get a divorce in Canada right up until 1968.) He wrote to church officials and searched through provincial records in Quebec. Nothing! He also concluded that Barney and Maggie must have been bigamists. While I don’t believe I have any emails from Helen stating it so bluntly, I think she felt the same way too.

Marriage
Peter McKenzie married Maggie on December 26, 1895, in Naughton, ON near Sudbury.
This is a segment of the record of their marriage from the Ontario Provincial Archives.

But enter a new character in our modern Ross family adventure. Darlene Ackerland is a descendant of Charles Ross, another of Maggie and Barney’s 10 children. In October of 2017, she connected with Art III as a DNA match through the Ancestry.com web site. Darlene has been a dynamo in chasing down her family story!

Now, admittedly, I am not actually a member of the Ross family. My interest is a lot more narrow than the others and when it all became a little overwhelming for me, I asked kindly to be removed from the flurry of new email activity. Still, I did say that if Darlene ever came across a divorce record for Maggie and Barney, I wanted to know about it…

Well, last Thursday, Darlene wrote the gang (me included) saying she thought she had found it. The names – as indicated in a hint through Ancestry – were a perfect match … but the location was odd. North Dakota?

Divorce 1
From the records of the Ross divorce, housed in
the archives at North Dakota State University.

“What do you all think?” Darlene asked.

It so clearly seemed that it must be them, and yet I wondered to the group: “Do we think they were divorced in North Dakota? Like the way people used to go to Reno?”

Now it was time for my research skills, although it turned out to be pretty simple. A few key terms on a Google search, and I discovered that North Dakota in general, and Fargo in particular, was the Divorce Capital from 1866 to 1899. People from all over the world flocked to Fargo for divorces. An entire industry sprung up around it. It wasn’t cheap, but it was fairly easy – and there was even a clever way to get around the three-month residency requirement. People would apparently take a train to Fargo, leave their luggage in a hotel for 90 days, and then return to pay the bill and collect their divorce.

Divorce 2
More from the records of the Ross divorce.

Serge wrote to North Dakota State University for copies of the divorce proceedings, which arrived as pdfs by email on Monday. It really is “our” Maggie and Barney, with Maggie initiating the proceedings against a reluctant husband. And so it was that in January of 1895, they really were legally divorced. No bigamy. Instead, confirmed drunkenness, cruelty and possibly even adultery. Wow!

Sports Dad and Little Girl

Many of you know that our daughter got engaged recently. The wedding will be near the end of the summer. We couldn’t be more thrilled! Amanda is actually my step-daughter. She is Barbara’s daughter from her first marriage, but she’s been a part of my life since she was 3 1/2 … and I couldn’t possibly love her more.

I’d never really seen myself as the father of a little baby. But I had always figured I would get married some day and have children, so jumping in with a child Amanda’s age seemed just about perfect. But, of course, there were challenges. She still had her father, so what would my role be?

4

In truth, I know I was a more lenient parent than Barbara really liked. As I saw it (and as we like to say in my family), I often felt that my job was to “try to keep the clubhouse loose.” Didn’t mean I wouldn’t be firm if I had to be, and when I sometimes got told “You’re not the boss of me!” I knew it wasn’t that Amanda didn’t see me as a legitimate authority or thought I was trying to replace her father. The truth was, even as young as 4 and 5, she had a pretty strong sense of herself as a person and felt that she was entitled to a role in the decisions made about her. She was just as likely to challenge her mother that way. And probably her father too.

I had grown up in a very close family. My brothers and I bonded with our father (and each other) through sports, but there was a lot more to the relationships than that. Same with Amanda and me. In her younger days, she always went to schools that were closer to her father’s neighborhood. That meant when she was staying with us, I always drove her to school in the morning on my way to work and picked her up at daycare on the way home. We had some of our best times talking to each other on those car rides together.

Still, sports would be a special part of my bond with Amanda too. She was fearless playing all sorts of games with my brothers and me at our family cottage. She was never (and still isn’t) much of a hockey fan, but Amanda loved baseball. I took her to her first Blue Jays game when she was about six years old. I have never liked to leave a game before it was over, but I was going to let her make the decisions that day. I didn’t want this to feel like a chore she had to get through.

Cottage

My family has great seats, which certainly helped, but after a few innings, Amanda said she wanted to go up to the small play area they had in the SkyDome for young kids. She played there for a while, and when she was done, I fully expected she’d want to go home. Instead, she said, “can we go back and watch the rest of the game now?”

A proud moment indeed!

Amanda always had fun at the games, and when they were over she liked to leave by climbing over the seats, rather than walking up the stairs. (An early indication, I guess, that climbing would become her favorite sport!) Barbara and I still laugh about the time when an elderly male usher admonished her with, “son, please don’t climb on the seats.”

I loved going to games with Amanda, and she was always excited when the Blue Jays won … but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad sometimes thinking back to the Glory Days. Over the years that Amanda and I were going to games together, even the most exciting victory tended only to make the difference between finishing, saying, 14 games behind in the standings instead of 15. She never got to see them as a contender when she was growing up, but it was so much fun for me to see how much she got into it all over again – even though she was (and still is) all the way out in Vancouver – when the Jays were finally back in playoff contention in 2015 and 2016.

Jays

Over the years, Amanda has had a couple of serious boyfriends. Barbara and I have always liked them. The first time we met Brent, it was clear to us that he was crazy about her. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen how much she’s grown as a person with him at her side. He’s a wonderful man, and they’re so clearly great together.

I promised Barbara that this story would be about Amanda, but I don’t think that I can really do it justice without saying that when we told them about Barbara’s cancer diagnosis in March, the way Amanda and Brent initially dealt with it was to grab their gloves and a ball and go outside to play catch and talk about it.

How could he not be the one for her!

Update on Inactivity

The reason I haven’t been active on this site over the past two months is that in March, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, my main job has been to help take care of her. I’m lucky that cancer has never really touched me before. I had no idea how all-encompasing the battle is.

I have had a few writing assignments during that time, and they have proven to be a welcome distraction. I was glad when the New York Times took an interest in this one. It’s something regular readers of the stories on my web site may recognize, as it combines information from a couple of stories I’ve posted before. The link is immediately below.

A Bit of a Heartbreak

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone … but we’re talking baseball today. Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training, so no matter what the groundhog said (and, around these parts, I’ve always wondered why six more weeks of winter isn’t an early end) we know that summer can’t be too far away.

Still, the baseball news is sad for Canadian fans. After 36 years at the microphone for Toronto Blue Jays baseball on radio, Jerry Howarth announced his retirement yesterday. His health has not been great in recent years, and he just didn’t feel his voice could hold up over the long season anymore.

Thanks

Jerry didn’t have the “classic pipes” of a sports broadcaster, but he had a passion for baseball and wonderful way of telling stories. He always made the listener feel like they were part of every game he was calling. “Hello, friends.”

I was not a baseball fan before Toronto got its team in 1977. Tom Cheek, and later Jerry Howarth (he joined the team in 1981) certainly did their part to spread the Gospel of the Blue Jays to my brothers and me. My parents had loved the minor-league baseball Maple Leafs and we quickly came to love the Blue Jays in my family. All those 100-loss seasons in the early days didn’t dampen our enthusiasm at all. It was fun (and inexpensive!) to take in a game at the ballpark – even if Exhibition Stadium wasn’t much of a ballpark. Even in those early days, you could find a radio tuned into the game in almost every room in our house.

It’s funny, but here in Owen Sound, I can usually get the games on my car radio from anywhere in town … until I turn onto my own block. Can’t get the games on the radio in the house at all. So, I watch on television. I’m not the first to say this, but baseball is a perfect game for radio … and I haven’t been able to listen to Jerry as much as I’d have liked to in recent years. Now, I won’t get that chance anymore.

Tom
My father took this picture of the Blue Jays’ first broadcasting duo, Early Wynn and Tom Cheek, at a spring training game against the Phillies in Clearwater, Florida, in March of 1980.

It seems that no one has anything but nice things to say about Jerry Howarth. He’s widely regarded as a lovely person. I haven’t had a lot of experiences with him, but the ones that I’ve had certainly confirm that.

When I worked for the Blue Jays ground crew from 1981 to 1985, I always tried to hang around Tom and Jerry as much as I could get away with when they were on the field before games. I loved to listen to them telling stories. A few years later (it must have been the summer of 1987), when I was working for a small company called Digital Media, I was able to arrange for us to get the occasional press pass. The very first time I was on the field as a “reporter,” I re-introduced myself to Jerry. I doubt that he really remembered me, but he immediately marched me up to Jesse Barfield and set up a quick interview for us. He certainly didn’t have to do that, but that’s the kind of person Jerry Howarth is.

In 2001, when we published The Toronto Blue Jays Official 25th Anniversary Commemorative Book, I had a chance to be in the radio broadcast booth during a game to talk about the book. It was a thrill to be on the air with Tom Cheek, but I remember that when I was done, Jerry asked me quietly about my favourite parts of the book. I told him that while the Pennant-Winning and World Series years of 1985 to 1993 had, of course, been fun, my favourite story was something smaller. It came under the category titled “Oddities and Others” and was the story of the final game of the 1982 season.

Jesse

Until the baseball strike of 1981, even a diehard fan like me knew that the Blue Jays were terrible. Still, the team played better in the second half of 1981 and, with players like Willie Upshaw and Damaso Garcia, the outfield of George Bell, Jesse Barfield, and Lloyd Moseby, and platoon partners Rance Mulliniks and Garth Iorg and Ernie Whitt and Buck Martinez, we finally got a glimpse of the future in 1982. The team was 44–37 in the second half, and with a series-sweeping win over expansion cousins Seattle on the final day of the season, the Blue Jays  finished with nine wins in their last 12 games to escape last place for the first time in franchise history … sort of.

With a record of 78–84 in 1982, the Jay actually finished tied for sixth with Cleveland in the seven-team American League East. I can remember fans chanting “We’re Number Six!” in the stands after the game, and “Bring on the Indians!” knowing that we would beat them in this theoretically tiebreaking playoff and escape last place for real.

Attendance was only 19,064 (in my memory, the crowd was bigger … but not much) yet everyone stuck around to the end. When Jim Clancy finished up his complete-game victory, he was cheered off the field and threw his hat and his glove into the seats. Alfredo Griffin brought a bag of balls out of the dugout, and he and his teammates began tossing them to the fans too.

1982

There would be bigger celebrations in the years to come, but that one always felt special to me – a treat for the real fans. I can recall Jerry smiling as I reminded him off it. I don’t know what (or if) he remembered of it personally, but he certainly seemed to appreciate the story.

Best of luck wherever the future takes you, Jerry.

Your retirement certainly marks the end of an era.

Writing and Research and The NHL Awards

A contract arrived by courier on Monday for a new hockey book for kids. This one won’t appear until the fall of 2019, but I’m awaiting another contract for two other books (updates to older projects) for adults that should be out this fall. So, after some slow times lately, at least I’ll be busy again for the next little while.

I sort of fell into writing for children, but I enjoy it. The truth is, in most cases, I don’t do anything very much different than what I write and research for adults – it’s just that the books are generally much shorter, so they don’t take nearly as long.

Books 1
The 2nd edition of The Big Book of Hockey for Kids has been out since September.
Absolute Expert: Soccer is due out in late May in time for the World Cup.

As I’ve mentioned here on occasion, I currently have seven new children’s books in stores, with one more due out in the spring. That one is somewhat different for me in that it’s about soccer, not hockey. Fortunately, since it’s for National Geographic Kids, they were much more interested in a book about the history and geography of soccer than a “how-to-play” manual … despite the title! It’s a beautiful book, and the research for it was a lot of fun. Plus, I was paired with US Soccer and MLS referee Mark Geiger, who was most helpful when I had questions. He also wrote some great personal stories that appear throughout the book.

All Six
The Original 6 series for Crabtree Books received a very nice review recently.

I think you’d be surprised at how many of the stories I’ve posted on this web site, as well as how many stories for my adult books, and how many updates and corrections to the NHL Official Guide & Record Book, have come from discoveries I’ve made while researching and writing my children’s books. For example, all the information I discovered for the story I posted last summer about Godfrey Matheson came as a result of the Chicago Blackhawks book in The Original 6 series. The genesis of today’s story comes from the New York Rangers book.

Boucher Book

Each book in The Original 6 series features a section on NHL trophy winners from those teams. Clearly, the designer who queried me had hoped to find a photograph of Frank Boucher with the Lady Byng Trophy. But it seems that no such photo exists. It turns out that until Boucher was given the original NHL prize for sportsmanship to keep in 1935 after winning it for the seventh time in eight seasons, he’d never even seen the trophy before! As for the Weber & Heilbroner Cup, it was presented to him prior to a playoff game with the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden after the 1929-30 season for scoring the most points among Rangers and New York Americans players that year. (Weber & Heilbroner was a fashionable menswear chain in New York.)

Boucher newspapersThe article on the left is from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on March 24, 1930.
The cartoon on the right is from the Ottawa Journal on March 16, 1935,
shortly before Boucher won the Lady Byng Trophy for the seventh time.

It appears that until the 1960s, the practice of handing out trophies to NHL players (as opposed to just announcing who’d won them) was hit and miss. The Hart Trophy for the NHL’s most valuable player was donated to the league in 1924. It was presented to the first winner – Frank Nighbor of the Ottawa Senators – on the ice prior to the final game of the NHL playoffs on March 11, 1924. The presentation was made by Lord Julian Byng, Canada’s Governor-General at the time. Almost exactly a year later, Lady Evelyn Byng presented Nighbor with the new trophy she’d just given to the NHL.

In the following  years, it appears that sometimes the NHL trophies were presented on the ice, and sometimes at team banquets for Stanley Cup winners when those teams also boasted an individual award winner. And, obviously, based on Frank Boucher’s experience, sometimes they weren’t presented at all. But one trophy always was. Beginning in June of 1937, NHL president Frank Calder presented each winner of the rookie of the year with a trophy he bought for that player to keep. After his death in 1943, the NHL created the Frank Calder Memorial Trophy as a permanent remembrance.

Apps
Syl Apps was the NHL’s rookie of the year for 1936-37. Writing in the Toronto Star on June 14, 1937, Andy Lytle says that it was he who’d suggested the trophy idea to Frank Calder, and that Calder decided while on the train to Paris, Ontario, from his office in Montreal that because the winners would never be rookies again, they should get to keep the trophy.

The earliest reference I’ve  found in newspapers to a modern NHL Awards ceremony dates to April of 1967, although the stories for that year refer to it as “the annual awards luncheon” so it must have been going on for a few years by then. (There had been an NHL luncheon or dinner associated with the NHL All-Star Game pretty much since its beginning in 1947, and a postseason luncheon since at least 1963. Hockey Hall of Fame inductees were announced at the 1963 luncheon, but there appears not to have been any trophy presentations.)

Trophies 1932_1968
This photograph of Charlie Gardner receiving the Vezina Trophy (minus its elaborate base) appeared in several newspapers following the presentation to him on March 29, 1932.
The AP Wirephoto on the right is from the 1969 NHL Award Luncheon.

During the 1970s, the NHL Awards ceremony changed from a luncheon held during the Stanley Cup Final to a dinner held after the playoffs were over. The NHL Awards were aired on live television for the first time in 1984.

Season’s Greetings

From the Vancouver Daily World, on Tuesday, December 24, 1912…

Xmas 2017

Who knows how “Extra” becomes “Wuxtry”? And, personally – not to be sexist or racist in this day and age! – I wish All Good Sportsmen AND Sportswomen a Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Hanukkah, or best wishes for any holiday you celebrate at this time of year.

Thank you to everyone who takes a few minutes once a week or so to read these stories, and especially to those who offer comments; either by email or Facebook, or directly on the site.

All the best to everyone in 2018.

Leon’s Revenge!

I’ve written before about how Canadian Football runs deep in my family. I’d say the Argos, much more than the Maple Leafs, were my first favorite team. I saw my first Leafs game in December of 1970 when I was seven years old. They were only 3 1/2 years removed from their last Stanley Cup victory. I was 3 1/2 when that happened … and I have absolutely no memory of it. It’s ancient history to me. I saw my first Argos game a few months later, in the summer of 1971. They had not won the Grey Cup since 1952 and were coming off pretty close to two decades of misery. But I had no idea about that either. It was also ancient history.

In my first season of Argos fandom, the team went 10-4 and won the East Division … only to lose the Grey Cup to Calgary. Leon McQuay’s fumble wasn’t the only reason they lost that game, but perhaps the 109-yard fumble return for a touchdown that was the key to this year’s Argonauts victory over the Stampeders was Leon’s revenge!

Leon

I am certainly not the Argos fan that I once was. I worshiped Joe Theismann when I was young. I had his Quarterbacking book and tried to run the plays he diagramed with my brother David. It was tough to do with just the two of us! Jonathan was never much of a football fan, but he did have an inflatable Argos souvenir player we used to call Leon. We all played a little too rough with Leon, and the seams in his ankle gave way. My father would try to patch him for us, but our Leon always had a slow leak, which made him look kind of sad.

In my second season of Argos fandom in 1972, Joe Theismann broke his ankle. (It’s a much less famous injury than his career-ender with the Washington Redskins in 1985.) I broke my wrist around the same time. No, I was not trying to emulate my hero … but I did get to meet him at a game a week or two later. Theismann hobbled by my father and me on his crutches as the rest of the team was making its way to the field to start the game. I was too shy, but my father asked him to sign my cast.

“Well, kid,” said Theismann, “signing casts isn’t exactly my bag…” But he was smiling when he said it, and he did sign it for me. I kept it until it virtually crumbled into dust!

Parade
Toronto Star coverage of the 1983 Grey Cup Parade.

For a while after the Blue Jays came to town, we held on to our Argos season tickets, but like many in Toronto, our family’s football loyalty faded. I’ve always continued to follow the team, and we’ve often (though we didn’t this year) made it a point to at least attend any home playoff games. But really, my last great Argos enthusiasm dates back to 1983.

The year before, Toronto had hosted the 1982 Grey Cup. On either the Friday night or the Saturday before the game, my friends and I (all in first year at university at the time) headed downtown on the subway. Someone had told one of us there was a better chance of getting into the best parties if you were well dressed, so we were all in suits and ties … but I don’t recall us getting into any place special.

Win
The Argos celebrate after a thrilling 27-24 come-from-behind
victory over Calgary on a snowy evening in Ottawa.

The Argos lost to Edmonton that year (the last of five straight for that great dynasty), but the next year, Toronto returned to the Grey Cup and defeated the B.C. Lions in Vancouver. This was the first time in my memory that my hometown team had won a championship. Given how long it had taken the Argos since their last Grey Cup, how poor the Leafs had become, and how relatively little the Blue Jays had accomplished yet, I had no idea if I’d ever see one again! So, I did everything you’re supposed to do to celebrate. I went out to the airport to welcome the team home (there was a pretty big crowd there!) and I went to the championship parade. It was all a lot of fun, but I guess the excitement didn’t really last for me.

Rally
The weather was much nicer yesterday for the Grey Cup rally at City Hall in Toronto.

The Argos were founded in 1874, which makes them the oldest team in North American professional sports. It’s a shame to see how far out of favor Canadian football has fallen in the country’s largest city. I hope this year’s championship gives the team a real boost … but I know I’m not the only one who has his doubts about that.