EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hockey keeps Canada together

Chapleau Int A Huskies in 1970s
I took a course in twentieth century European history from Dr Jacques Goutor more than 40 years ago now, and the first thing I learned from him was that hockey kept Canada together. Well, he didn't actually come out and say that exactly, but on the first day of class he told us about his arrival in Canada from France.

Dr Goutor told us that upon arriving in Toronto, he went out and bought the newspapers and the headlines were LEAFS WIN STANLEY CUP! It was 1967, our Centennial year as a nation, and the Toronto Maple Leafs had defeated their arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens in six games. It was to be the last time the Leafs would win Lord Stanley's mug.

Dr Jacques Goutor
All so typically Canadian for our Centennial year -- a team from the heart of English Canada wins the Stanley Cup but the focus for the celebrations of the centennial is on Montreal, the major French Canadian city which hosted Expo '67, and the cup is named after an Englishman who was Governor General at one time. Trust me on this one! It is such as this that contributes to keeping the country together and safe-- the invisible hand of Canadian compromise!

Dr Goutor, who at the time had little knowledge of hockey and its importance to Canadians, said he decided to stay here because it had to be a safe place if the headlines were about a sporting event. He was raised in France and lived through the horrors of World War II and its aftermath.

To this day, I watch the headlines of Canadian daily newspapers, and headline writers are ecstatic on those days they can proclaim victory for their local hockey team when it wins a title, and are beside themselves with joy when Canada wins internationally. But they know their audience. Hockey keeps it all together in this vast and magnificent land where we will travel great distances for a hockey game, and complain about that other great Canadian unifier, the weather.

MJM in 1978 at Chapleau Carnival
Tee Chambers, Butch Pellow, Aldee Martel, circa 1954
Our passion for hockey of course begins at the local level. I was raised in the northern Ontario town of Chapleau, where the Chapleau Huskies, in various incarnations were  the pride and joy for much longer than I have been around. Growing up there in the 1940s and 50s my hockey heroes were local, especially the late Garth ''Tee" Chambers, who to this day I believe was better than any NHL player who ever donned skates.

When I returned to Chapleau to teach, shortly thereafter I was "hired' by the 1970-71 Midgets to coach them. Yes, they actually "fired" their coach and I took over, and that is a story in itself. At that time though, the focus was on the Chapleau Junior "B" Huskies who played in a Junior league, and in 1967 won the league title, as well as NOHA title.

Chapleau Jr B Huskies 1966-67
 The coaches of the day were the late Keith 'Buddy' Swanson, Lorne Riley, who had been an outstanding goalie and Earle Freeborn, one real tough defenceman in his playing days who also served as the Mayor of Chapleau. Saturday nights were hockey night in Chapleau, and the great community unifier, especially when the Wawa Travellers were in town.

A few years later, again after receiving a visit from hockey players, the Chapleau Intermediate "A" Huskies were born and our arch rivals in the Northland Intermediate Hockey league were the Timmins Northstars. For three years it was a struggle to beat them in the league semi-finals but in our fourth year we did, and it was like we had won the Stanley Cup. We won in Timmins but soon received reports that back in Chapleau, the celebration had begun with horns honking and a party underway.

And so, from local unheated hockey rinks, many of them called barns, where rivalries among communities bring people together to cheer on their own team, to national and international championship series, Dr Goutor was right. It is a safe country in which to live

I welcome your comments. Please feel free to add them or email me at mj.morris@live.com


Lorne Riley said...

Warm memories indeed. And I agree hockey is one of the ties than binds this great nation. To this day I remember those games...huddled under the heaters (if you were lucky) or jammed against the glass by the eiderdown press of the crowd (if you were even luckier). The atmosphere was electric during the play-offs. Local rivalries intensied ...Wawa for the Juniors, Timmins for the Intermediates.

But I fear the tie that binds is fraying. While the five-year run of the Canadian Junior team solidifies our position as the top hockey nation in the world, local enrolments for minor hockey are down dramatically across Ontario. In the north, a shrinking economy and population base is a factor, as are new-age diversions like the internet, video games, satellite TV...things that we never had to contend with.

Another contributor to minor hockey's gradual downfall is the staggering cost. Equipment, rink rental, club fees and travelling costs have gone through the roof. Even the most passionate hockey Moms and Dads think twice about footing the bill. A changing demographic, with cultural roots more closely tied to cheaper sports like soccer, is also eroding interest and participation in Canada's national pasttime.

Is Canadian hockey in danger of extinction? Not at all. Is it at risk? Yes. As is the community spirit and love for the game that not so long ago inspired 1,000 hardy souls in a town of just over 3,000 to jam into the local barn in -30 weather to cheer on their team. We need to recall those days, not only to enshrine them in our memory but to use them to encourage parents and children, in small towns and big cities across Canada not to lose touch with our roots and by extension our national identity.
Go Huskies Go!

Anonymous said...

Great Hockey Rivalries between Wawa and Chapleau back in the days I remember. It was always talked about where ever one went in town about the last game- and waiting for the next one. Some of the Lads from Chapleau went on to play on the Interdediate Team you mention - and we always got into discussions about that era at Franz when i worked there . I enjoy reading the stories you post about the past for which i can relate to. Reg. Fitzpatrick- Bracebridge, Ontario.

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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