Canadians just missed Maple Leaf Gardens

We were still chasing the Allan Cup in 1951 when I first met Colin Russell in Owen Sound. Now there’s a man right out of our local Atlantis lore!
Our Canadians had, by now, broken hockey fans’ hearts all the way to the Pacific, but here we were in the east for the first time and the rink awaiting us was no better than the barn we left behind in Fort Frances.
This is natural ice again, and softened by the May warmth while the smelt teem into downtown ditches.
Colin shook hands in his front door and inquired about his Fort Frances friends. He had been away since early in the war, building his steel boats on Georgian Bay—bigger than those he started with on our upper riverfront where Cyril Maffey and Art Busch later followed him.
Our old industrialist immediately wanted to do what he could to help in our playoff series ahead. Right off, he suggested moving the series to good ice in Maple Leaf Gardens.
Toronto is a distance south, but Colin probably had the clout to bring the Dominion finals into the NHL rink at that—except we were two days late. The Gardens were now booked for a circus.
Eventually, I got to visit Colin’s Russell-Hipwell plant north of the city and meet some of our former citizens working there, including the O’Learys, Bill and Frank, and Eric Oliver, once my next-door neighbour here, and two of their wives who were well-known locally by their maiden name of Farmer.
So our sports quest was turning into a fine reunion!
Then there was Gorden Frazer, the first coach for our Canadians right after the war when the local recreational council had consented to help operate a senior hockey team. Gordon, as well as others later, came from down east.
He happened to be seated next to me in the first game, where he caught my attention by yelling at our players by name (I had arrived home from college too late to meet him).
This was before I found the press box in that rink. I dug in for the full seven-game duration, while typing the stories during and after the games for four area newspapers back here,
In those days, I was still a freelance reporter, something our Mayor Bert Holmes knew when I urged him to take in this prestigious series himself. Bert said he and other town councillors were too busy right then but he would have Earl Calder, the town treasurer, make out a cheque for my expenses on the trip, and so here I was after a train ride.
Our mayor wanted me to say hello to Colin Russell, as well as Eddy Sargent, the popular Owen Sound mayor and later MP who had just saved a child’s life there from fire. Bert also would like me to remind our boat builders they could always come home, too.
So I took a room in boarding house, paid some kids a quarter for a grape basket full of shrimp for the grateful landlady, accepted a lacrosse stick as a gift from the local rec director, and drove a borrowed car 20 miles out to Hepworth.
There, our Canadians occupied a hotel which sold beer—Owen Sound having been voted officially dry sometime earlier.
Incidentally, the Owen Sound Mercurys had just won the lacrosse championship of all Canada after a B.C. series the fall before, only nobody had bothered telling us that earlier.
One of their lacrosse stars also was a sensational hockey player, just about the fastest skater ever seen anywhere.
Tommy Burlington was so fast there was no player on his team who could stay with him, and the Mercurys merely put two youngsters on his wings for decoys while they let him zip around.
You see, he probably would not be a line player any more, having lost one eye before retiring from Toronto, but give him the puck and forget it!
And he could club a defenceman unconscious from behind—as Sambo Fedoruk could recall.
The upshot of that seven-game series was a total one-goal deficit for our Canadians in their first Allan Cup finals, but they would be on deck next year also—and then look out
But Owen Sound and our transplanted neighbours, including Colin, gave us a never-to-be-forgotten reception. Although just maybe, Maple Leaf Gardens would have been more to our liking.
• • •
Buck Riley, now 87, the sports storekeeper across the river, was in the Falls hospital where he got company from a pair of the old Canadians. Walter Christiansen and Gord Calder discovered their old referee was on the mend after a bad time.
Riley, once an Olympic official, too, is always included in Allan Cup reunions.
• • •
Calder has accepted promotional duties for the team’s 50th anniversary event, probably in June. There also was planning underway for March at a junior game between two native-sponsored teams, but that is not yet definite.
Something to worry about is the location of the Allan Cup, which is supposed to arrive for a second presentation here.

Posted in Uncategorized