Although Harry "Butch" Pellow won't know it until he reads this column, the idea came for it as I was reading his recollections of a "unique life experience" in the "special small town" over about 20 years when he was growing up in Chapleau. Butch was writing in Chapleau Trails, edited and published by his older brother Dr. William R. "Bill" Pellow.
Butch tells us that hockey was a "big part" of snow season lives in Chapleau in the 1940s and 50s whether it was on the back river pond, the river behind Chapleau Public School, or on George "Ice" Sanders "wonderfully manicured" rink in the public school yard. He adds that it was a weekend event in the old wooden rink on Lorne Street or the new Chapleau Memorial Community Arena that opened on the same site in 1951. (Ironically perhaps, Butch was the architect who designed the Chapleau Recreation Centre, which includes the Mrs. A,W, Moore opened in 1978.)
He mentions that our heroes of those days were Don Card and Garth "Tee" Chambers, adding there was a period of time "when without our sticks as support we would never have made it through the morning." Butch was playing Bantam hockey in 1954 and the photo of him with coach Tee Chambers and fellow player Aldee Martel brings back so many fond memories, among them a road trip to Sudbury in our own special "private" car on the CPR to play in the Sudbury Arena. My cousin Michael McMullen reminded me that we sang, "Heart of My Heart" over and over again during the trip.
But it was his comments on road hockey that really brought back memories. Butch remembered nightly games of road hockey on Aberdeen Street with Bill Mcleod, Ken Schroeder, Jim Evans, Buddy Swanson, Charlie White, Timmy Goodwin, me and "frequently some rabble rousers from lower town, across the track or the point."
"... Let's find an empty Carnation can, a roller, or a dropping from Boucher's or Crerighton's horse and let's do it quickly before it gets dark and Milton calls Ken for dinner, Zita calls Jim in to study or Borden calls Billy because it's too dark to play. It was never too dark to play." You can read more of Butch's story in Chapleau Trails.
I decided to send out an email to see if others from those days had similar memories to share.
Bill McLeod, who has a new book coming out this year about Chapleau shared an excerpt from it: "... some very good memories and some great people come to mind. Harry Pellow, Jim Evans, Bill Cachagee, Michael Morris, Charlie White, Joe Steen, Ken Schroeder, Dawn Goldstein, myself and Bud Swanson were the regulars. As I remember, we were often joined by Jack Morris, Ron Morita, Gilles Morin and Mansel Riley.
Bill also recalled that Bud Swanson was the only person he knew who could play and broadcast the action at the same time.
"He (Bud) invented imaginary scenarios where the Toronto Maple Leafs would be playing one of the other teams in the Original Six. We would be the stars. To name a few, Max Bentley, Teeder Kennedy, Rocket Richard, Elmer Lach, Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk were all represented in Bud's breathless descriptions. Most of the time the Maple Leafs would win." The title of Bill's latest book is CHAPLEAU": A Retrospective on Life in a Small Isolated Northern Community".
And Bud Swanson was in touch to share some of his memories.
"Yes I recall a lot of road hockey in my young years. The "pond" off the back river was a favourite place on the weekends because there was no artificial ice back then and the old arena wasn't open much on Sundays. We often needed to shovel off a second rink when the "big boys" from Lowertown would arrive. In the spring there were short-lived natural frozen ponds from the melting snow in the Railway yards.
"I played a lot of road hockey with my friend Gilles Morin and our puck was an empty Carnation milk can. I also have fond memories of the "Evans shed Gardens" where Jimmy Evans played goal and I was the shooter and called the play a la Foster Hewitt. I did the same with Billy McLeod. The rink in the priest's yard was aways popular and I have two hockey scars as momentos of that both from the stick of "Babe" Chambers. This is one old Canadian tradition that is still alive as its popularity may have waned a bit but is still played a lot."
Bill Pellow provided the following from his brief career as a hockey player. "We had a choice in the 40s My allowance was 10 cents a week. I had choice to go to the Regent Theatre or go to the rink and play hockey on Saturday mornings. Pop Depew was the coach. I tried hockey for a few Saturdays, with Eaton's catalogues for shin pads and my skates laced up as tight as any adult around the rink would or could perform the task for me. I remember my last game, The puck was in front of me and on wobbly skates I went for it. Reggie Sonego was on the opposite team and boarded me like I was struck by lightning, my head ached, the stars came out, my body hurt and his comment, if you have the puck you will get hit. I quit.
"That didn't stop us from using horse droppings for a puck on the roads and no short supply of artificial pucks for road hockey at its best. No boarding there. Sometimes the puck just disintegrated."
From Charlie Purich who was called the "catalyst" of the hockey team in the Sixties by his classmates at Chapleau High School came this contribution: "I can recall Billy Fox and I playing on Lisgar street where we used to live. Endless hours. We would get those large rubber washers from Fink's Pop. They were about the size of a puck but with a hole in the middle. They were softer than a puck. and we could "lift" them as we used to call raising the puck "lifting." We had to move for cars and ice hauling sleighs.
"Other players would be the Pilon clan, the Chrusoskie girls and others. We probably missed our historical opportunity to have lower town play us or even the kids from the other side of the bridge. However, with our developed skills we would have cleaned up on any opposition. Can still see that rubber washer flying through the air toward the goal (which was made of two large pieces of snow about 5 feet apart.) If my memory serves me, I think I ended up with over 400 goals and Billy Fox was right behind with 399. A duo to be feared on the road!!! Them skills you don't get just anywhere!"
Charlie tells me that he still plays hockey three times a week and uses the breakaway pass that Bud Swanson taught him. But sorry Charlie, your guys would never have beaten the Aberdeen street stars.
Ken Schroeder sums it all up for us:
"WOW !!!!!GREAT.......So many fond memories....Pond, back river, weeds etc...... Street, yes, not many cars on Aberdeen St., 4 stones for posts and you are all set. Back yard, yes, sometimes with skates, but not necessary. No lifting, unless Albert and Eddie had pads. No lines, just calls by Buddy, and finally "He Shoots He Scores".
"WOW there were some dandy RINKS, all very similar to "Maple Leaf Gardens", but no organ to pump up the crowd.
Remember Evans', McLeods', Bouillions', Braumbergers ', Goldsteins' and ours. Yes, this was lower town.......Those were the days, no TVs, etc......"
My road hockey career actually resumed after I left Chapleau and had finished university. When I was a reporter at the Kingston Whig-Standard I was recruited to play on a newspaper team. It continued when I was at the Chatham Daily News. I ended my career on Beech Street with David McAdam and his buddies in front of the McAdam home after I returned to Chapleau and was teaching at Chapleau High School. I owe my road hockey career to all those many games on Aberdeen Street and outdoor rinks with my friends from those days that Ken Schroeder describes as "WOW!! GREAT!!!" They sure were. Thanks guys.
Eugene Bouillon sent along the following about my column on Rev. John Sanders: "Michael, wow, what a great history, great Canadiana. We have such great people in our History, I can't imagine, the strengh of these men, to travel those distances, the way they did. From the cold of the Winters and the heat and flies of the Summer. We should be proud, of our Heritage. Especially in these days, during the Olympics, where Canadians have found a voice to shout out, how proud they are to be Canadians." And Raoul Lemieux just back from a Mexican vacation commented about the same story, "Great history.