Our Cinderella team went all the way

Before the Fort Frances Canadians could grab their hockey sticks and start swinging, they needed the recreational council behind them and that implied some cash and ownership as well as considerable responsibility.
Our senior hockey players mostly had been good juniors before the war when names like the Jaycees, Kaycees, and Shevlin Pines filled their old wooden rink after the Maple Leafs of Jimmy Angus left off and the Forts managed to carry on very capably against even Winnipeg teams.
So now they are back with the war behind them. Inspired by memories of great fan support, they soon are believing they can make it all happen again.
Eventually, they would do just that but it was an uphill fight with opposition coming mainly from the Iron Range towns of Minnesota—Eveleth, Hibbing, and Duluth—as well as Kenora.
Our northern league foes were full of ex-pros, including famous names from the Chicago Blackhawks, while the Kenora Thistles and then Fort William Beavers and Port Arthur Bearcats with the LaPrades were getting set to walk all over everybody.
I was in my last college year at Ottawa when the Canadians were making their second run through the Western Canada finals at Calgary. They’d been called the Cinderella team for two years already because of their emerging as an unexpected but brilliant threat and frightening Regina the year before.
Padding their starry hometown lineup, they had hired several additional players, including goalie Harry Barefoot and defenceman Alex Kurceba from Winnipeg and Morris Saplywy from the Lakehead.
The Canadians were fast-developing a reputation. And their fans were convinced they would reach the top!
So I wired them notice in early 1949 that I was waiting at Ottawa to report on their first eastern series if they defeated Calgary, but sadly that did not happen. The western winners, heavy with former NHL’ers, filled their blueline with defencemen after Fort Frances had rocked Calgary 11-5 in their fifth game.
The west was aghast by this effrontery!
The Forts seemed bent on heading east. But the sixth game there proved that experience makes all the difference and the Canadians would have to try again next year.
So I met them all later when I returned home, too, to sit in on the recreational council meeting while deliberations, mostly over money, went ahead to send our team back into the fray again.
This was great “next year country.” Some of the rec councillors, including team manager Glen Steele, were war veterans like several of the players.
We had popular Joe Murray as rec director and local hotel inspector Alf Russell or R.C. Procter, the Robert Moore principal, as alternate presidents. Lawyer Tom Callahan, Ted Salchert, later at Stratton, and other members just as committed were attending meetings almost religiously, and there was much to be said about going ahead with the team even if finances ran thin although ambitions never wavered.
This was a crusade going on here and you’d better believe it!
Somehow, it seemed there must be money turning up and then it did in the form of provincial grants for Ontario recreation councils. We learned Fort Frances recreation council would be receiving funds as the first to be formed in this province. Everything was suddenly roses!
Only there was some hesitation over using the grant to sponsor adult hockey teams. This seemed something best not discussed so I don’t know anything more on this angle!
Another financial break came up from the paper mills in sponsoring its players.
Moving along now, it’s into the ’50s with considerable fresh confidence and two Allan Cup final series shaping up, first at Owen Sound in 1951 and then at home for our greatest series year against the Stratford Indians.
This was perfectly timed almost as a christening for our new community Memorial Arena.
So we moved out of the Nelson Street rink where Joe Murray had been a tremendous influence on team management. Eventually, defenceman Alex Kurceba took over as the new recreation director in an upstairs office while everyone made fresh adjustments and curlers took over the old hockey sheet.
Times were changing but not the town’s wholehearted appreciation for its wonderful hockey history.
Next week: We’re here!
• • •
Our weather this past few days has been greatly reminiscent of that in our biggest year that is soon to be celebrated again. We accompanied the Stratford Indians to view Nestor Falls that spring while everyone sat outdoors on the rocks in shirt sleeves and made friends but, to my knowledge, we never met them again.
I’d guess their disappointment ran as strongly as our own would after a big defeat, and we could certainly sympathize!
• • •
I’m advised concerning flowers to seed or set out this spring that one named “shower of violets” is really a winner!
• • •
Last week’s worldwide safety conference at the Memorial Sports Centre has to be an achievement for local planners that won’t soon be challenged here.
There were 33 countries believed represented and we really did it up brown, especially on the last night when our natives took the stage in what must have made our visitors’ eyes pop.
Mind you, Diane Maxey’s singers, our Highlanders, Sea Cadets, and other talent all combined to make an impression not easily matched anywhere else.
• • •
Did you know John and Jessie Bodnarchuk have moved to Rainy River and hope you remember to find them there? John was your popular garden tiller every spring while Jessie managed to fill all orders on ceramics where she was a real artist.
But John once drove refrigerator truck over the border at Detroit for the roughest trip you could imagine— even worse than my being forced to part with $6 before being allowed to return home on the new bridge crossing rates.
Ask John himself about his bad experience that time down east.
• • •
After all the tragedy piled up together in last week’s Times, some of us are still in shock! We all knew all the deceased and I’m sure this community never had a sadder week!
• • •
Then came the message that one of our more popular high school teachers, Jim Terry, who was my football coach, had gone, too, down in Kingston, Ont., where he certainly was busy.
He sent one of his paintings to a high school reunion here and I learned later he was an outdoor writer and youth leader down east.
The message came from a Juanita, whom I take to be his wife or close relative, and she wanted it passed to me, and I was honoured. Jim was 91 so that would indicate he’d been gone from us around 40 years.
• • •
But say, I’m still waiting for that Ralph Gillmore story promised me earlier. I enjoyed all of our old merchants and Ralph, as a partner in hardware to MPP Bill Noden, was as well liked as the rest.
Then, too, there’s Earl Meyers, whom I want to hear from for his knowledge on the prison farm near Barwick. We can’t seem to get in touch but I’m still hopeful!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Posted in Uncategorized