Canadians bask in night of memories

Arthur “Doc” Johnson, the unofficial spokesperson for the 1952 Allan Cup-winning Fort Frances Canadians, took the crowd of nearly 100 people attending the inaugural town sports banquet here Friday night back to a spring a half-century ago.
And as the 78-year-old led off his speech by reciting a letter he and the organizing committee had written to invite former team members, the words, “I was wondering if we could meet one more time,” seemed to be the theme of the evening—which was brimming with memories.
Johnson went on to share some of the team’s best stories and thank his teammates for the ride they went on 50 years ago—one that ended with the Canadians capturing the Allan Cup with a 4-1 win over the Stratton Indians in Game Six of the best-of-seven final here May 3, 1952.
“We were brought up on the old rinks together,” he said. “There’s a bond there even after all these years.”
“It’s just a little more than I can handle,” an emotional Bill Cleavely, the former goalie who made the trip here from Sudbury, said afterwards. “[The organizers] did a terrific job.
“Doc’s always been good at saying the right things. I really feel glad to be here,” he added.
“It’s really wonderful. It’s just great that so many people came,” echoed Walter “Whitey” Chris-tiansen.
Twelve of the 13 surviving members of the team attended the banquet at La Place Rendez-Vous, including Alex Kurceba of Winni-peg and Gordon Gosselin from Phoenix.
After introducing them to the crowd, banquet organizer Mayor Glenn Witherspoon held a moment of silence for the team’s deceased members and family.
While the old hockey stories were flying left and right between the opening toast and dessert, former Canadian Rick Ricard recalled the night this team found themselves down 3-0 in their first-round series against Fort William—a series they eventually won in seven games.
“We really figured we were finished,” he admitted. “We were on the road so we just had a real party that night. The next game was in the afternoon and we won that game while a little hungover.
“But that’s the only time we did something like that,” he added. “Once we won that game, we figured we had a chance. After that, we went straight through.”
It was that free-wheeling attitude mixed with skill that gave the Canadians so much success, said Christiansen.
“Fun came first, winning second. And I think that’s why we won because we had a lot of fun,” he stressed.
The banquet was hosted by CFOB’s Bill Toffan and featured guest speaker Neil McQuarrie, who surprised the crowd with a case Molson Canadian beer altered to honour the Canadians.
“Be sure to get the whole collection,” joked McQuarrie, who wrote “On the trail of the Allan Cup” back in 2000.
Cleavely said it’s been this kind of relationship between the team and the town which makes that championship season one he’ll always remember.
“It was a great experience for me. I’m indebted to the Fort Frances Canadians,” he said.
“I had a wonderful time. I love that I’ll always be tied to it.”