winterspiele 1936: wolverines, royals, and bearcats

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Wolverine-free: (Back, left to right) Gus Saxberg, Bill Thomson, Pud Kitchen, Herman Murray, Dave Neville, Hugh Farquharson, Ralph St. Germain, Num Friday, Ray Milton, (inset) Kenny Farmer (Front, left to right) Dinty Moore, Arnold Deacon, coach Albert Pudas, manager Malcolm Cochrane, CAHA secretary Fred Marples, trainer Scotty Stewart, Alex Sinclair, Jakie Nash.

It should have been Wolverines at the Olympics in 1936 playing for Canada, winning gold on the national behalf, but when the time came to sail for Europe, no, instead of Wolverines it was Bearcats.

Mostly Bearcats. The story of how that happened has its vivid moments that may be briefly superseded by this pressing question: when was the last time anyone in Ontario actually saw an actual bearcat and knew it?

April of 1935 is where we’ll start here, nearly a year before the Olympics got going, in Halifax. The best teams from Canada’s amateur senior hockey leagues were gathered there to decide the season’s national championship, vying for the venerable Allan Cup. By surprise, the local Halifax Wolverines had made the final, and by further surprise, on the efforts of Mickey McGlashen, Owen Lennon, Chummie Lawlor, Daddy Bubar, and the rest of the Wolverines, they defeated the team from Port Arthur, Ontario, the Bearcats.

The final game ended with a 4-3 Halifax win. Five thousand fans cheered as E.A. Gilroy, president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, handed the old silver trophy and the Dominion senior title to Wolverine captain Ernie Mosher. The team’s further (delayed) reward was on locals minds that evening, too: as Allan Cup champions, the Wolverines had booked themselves a ticket to represent Canada at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.

So that was exciting.

Then, next — well, a lot of the drama that saw the Wolverines shoved aside was administrative, hard to enliven for the page. Decisions were made in offices and (possibly) southbound trains, behind closed doors, under clouded brows, far from rinks. The background featured a dispute over just how amateur the senior hockey was in the Maritimes. This had been brewing for months. A CAHA ruling on player eligibility had torn apart the eastern Big Four League before the Wolverines lifted their Allan Cup.

When the cheering stopped and the team looked ahead to the fall of 1935, they found themselves with a league to play in. Players did what they had to do: for six of them, that meant signing for other teams, elsewhere. The coach left, too, exchanging the Wolverines of Halifax for the Wolves of Sudbury. As early as July, there was a rumour that the CAHA was considering options beyond sending a diminished Halifax team to the Olympics. Though W.A. Hewitt, CAHA registrar, denied it: “Unless the club itself refuses the trip,” he said, “the Wolverines will go to Germany.”

November. With no league to play in, no coach, little cash, and not enough players, Wolverines manager Jack Conn was doing his best to keep the team’s Olympic project alive. Maybe other senior teams could lend him players, and if someone with a generous heart, and/or the Canadian Olympic Committee, could spot him $5,000, he could launch a tour of Canada and the U.S. to get the team ready for competition.

That money didn’t materialize, and there was no such tour. There were meetings, finally, in Halifax. Port Arthur had made it known that they were willing to step in, and that seemed to be the answer that the CAHA’s E.A. Gilroy and P.J. Mulqueen of the COC were banking on. Gilroy had handed the Allan Cup to the Wolverines but now he was the one revoking their trip to Germany. Unless — there was also a late report that all the Wolverines who’d left were returning to the roost and the team would go.

Wrong. Maritimers thought it was treachery, but Jack Conn conceded that he couldn’t get his team together. Out went the invitation to Port Arthur, who wired back a quick acceptance. There was some small solace for Halifax fans: four Wolverines would go along to boost the Bearcats.

Beyond the upset in the east, there was some hue, too, from Quebec, where it was thought that the Montreal Royals should be the ones to go. They’d been the favourites, after all, going into the ’35 Allan Cup playoffs and had actually come closer to beating Halifax than Port Arthur had. Maybe the right thing to do would to organize a further playoff, let the best team prevail.

But Gilroy and the CAHA weren’t having any of that. Also, when in early December, Jack Conn told Gilroy that because Halifax was willing to contribute just as many players as Port Arthur to the “all-star” team, it should be called the Halifax Wolverines and he, Conn, should be the man to manage it, Gilroy sent a sharp reply back to the effect that, no, it wasn’t an all-star team, and if the Halifax players that Port Arthur was accommodating didn’t want to join in the fun, well, fine, they could stay home.

Conn backed off. The team, then, would be coached by Port Arthur’s Albert Pudas, with Malcolm Cochrane as the manager. They’d have 13 players in their charge: seven Bearcats, four Wolverines and two Royals — a fast, experienced squad, as the papers were soon reporting, that Pudas would have a month-and-a-half to build into a machine.

Heading into the new year, the component parts were these:

Daddy Bubar (Halifax); Jakie Nash (Port Arthur)

Ray Milton (Port Arthur); Herman Murray (Montreal)

Ernie Mosher, Vince Ferguson (Halifax); Alex Sinclair (Port Arthur)

Right Wing
Bill Thomson, Arnold Deacon (Port Arthur); Dave Neville (Montreal)

Left Wing
Chummie Lawlor, (Halifax); Num Friday, Gus Saxberg (Port Arthur)

The team started practicing in Port Arthur on December 20. Scrimmaging, Pudas had Sinclair, Thompson, and Friday playing on a line against Neville, Lawlor, and Deacon. Murray and Milton were one pair on defence, Mosher and Ferguson another. The coach wasn’t worried that he only had two regular defencemen: the problem, he said, would adjust itself. Another day, he ran three lines: Saxberg/Sinclair/Thompson; Deacon/Mosher/Lawlor; Ferguson/Lawlor/Neville.

On Christmas Day, they left for Winnipeg, where they played their exhibition, beating the local senior team 1-0 at the Amphitheatre. Smart second-period combination work by Neville and Sinclair got the puck to Lawlor, who scored on the powerplay. In goal, Daddy Bubar’s goaltending was superlative. Dignified patrons, said a local paper, cheered themselves hoarse. When the referee disallowed what would have been the tying goal, they littered the ice with programs and paper bags. Dunc Cheyne and Cam Shewan played well for the home team. High-stick sparring with the Winnipeg rearguard sent both Milton and Murray, Olympic defencemen, to the dressing room for stitches.

The Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association gave the team a banquet at the Fort Garry Hotel while they were in Winnipeg. Members of the 1932 Olympic team were on hand to wish them well, conveying sincere Good Luck greetings and urging the talented Canadians to bring back the flag.

The Winnipegs played a second game with the Olympics the following night, beating them this time, 5-4. High in the stands, protesters unfurled a 30-foot banner

Fair Play Demands Removal of Olympics From Fascist Berlin

that few in the rink noticed before policemen took it down.

The Bearcats played a pair of games against Fort William next, losing the first, 2-1, following up with a 5-1 win. They’d added another forward from Montreal, Ralph St. Germain. Bill Thomson scored a pair of goals, with Gus Saxberg, Vince Ferguson, and Dave Neville notching the others. One free-for-all showed the sincerity of the effort on the part of both teams but no one was hurt although Murray played most of the game with a big patch over his right eye, result of a collision with Konderka of Fort William, who was also hurt when the two heads bumped.

I’d be pleased to keep on writing the name Daddy Bubar indefinitely, but it’s here — which is to say, there, in Toronto, early January — that he departs — departed — the scene. Just what happened isn’t easy to decipher. Al Pudas was telling the papers that the team was rounding into top form, while Gilroy enthused that it was powerful in every position. There was nothing to the rumour, said manager Malcolm Cochrane, that they’d be adding a former Bearcat now playing in England, centre Jimmy Haggerty, to the mix: this was the team that was going to Germany.

“The squad is fifty per cent more powerful than the Bearcats of last season,” Cochrane was saying. “The added players have bolstered us defensively and offensively. Murray has fitted in like a charm with Milton on the defence while up front we have two lines who can go both ways with plenty of speed and scoring punch.” Bubar, he said, was one of the finest goaltenders he’d ever seen in amateur hockey. A man from The Toronto Daily Star watched the team practice at Maple Leaf Gardens as they prepared for a game against the Toronto Dukes: “Goals scored against this combination are going to be well and truly earned.”

And yet by the time the team skated out to play, it was without its four Halifax players: they’d been summarily excised from the roster.

Out with Daddy Bubar went Vince Ferguson, Ernie Mosher, and Chummie Lawlor. Their crime? They’d had the gall to ask for financial support for their wives and families while they were playing at the Olympics. Lou Marsh at the Star reported that they’d each been seeking $150 a month for three months. The CAHA said it was impossible: payments of any kind were (of course) contrary to both amateur rules and Olympic regulations.

E.A. Gilroy had heard them out on the train down from Port Arthur. That’s how he was framing it. “Two of them said definitely they would not go to the Olympic games unless provision was made for their families. So that was that. They stuck to their demands to the last. At least one of the others now wants to go regardless of whether he gets any money. But he won’t go.”

So that was that. Lou Marsh was already reporting on prospective replacements. Just like that, Jimmy Haggarty was back in the conversation, along with defenceman Pud Kitchen (Toronto Dukes), Hugh Farquharson, Ken Farmer, Ken Murray (Montreal Victorias), Bobby McCranor (Fort William Wanderers), Paul Arcand (Verdun Maple Leafs), and the goaltender Dinty Moore (Port Colborne Sailors).

The Wolverines, meanwhile, felt like they’d been ambushed. Ernie Mosher said it was a dirty deal. He was the one who’d tried to change his mind, but Gilroy told him no. “The invitation is cancelled,” he said. “You’re out.”

The players’ version of what had happened didn’t jibe with the CAHA’s. It took longer to emerge, and didn’t get them back on the team, but the Halifax four insisted that they’d never asked for money, and that Gilroy was the one who’d raised the subject of the welfare of their families in the first place.

“I’m going to fight,” Mosher vowed. “I was invited to play on the Olympic team and I still want to play on it. All I want is my expenses. I told Mr. Gilroy that tonight. And I know something, too. When I get home you will hear something. Certain arrangements were made and now somebody is backing down. Don’t be surprised if we show him up before the team ever sails for Europe, because I’ve got proof.”

If Mosher was irked, Daddy Bubar was downhearted. “I’ve been playing hockey in the Maritimes for 16 years,” he said. “This was my chance after all these years. And now they’ve booted us out. You know what bothers me more than anything? Well, it’s this. Down in New Glasgow, where I come from, they’ll be pointing me out on the streets when I get home. What a time I’m in for. Boy, I don’t relish the prospect.”

Money had already been raised to support the Bubar family, as it turned out, $200 by public subscription back in New Glasgow. It wasn’t any different in Port Arthur, where local civic authorities and businesses were seeing to it that none of the hockey players’ families would suffer while they were chasing off to Germany. In Montreal, newspapers reported that Dave Neville and Herman Murray were both being paid full salaries at their day-jobs during their Olympic absence.

Nova Scotian hockey officials demanded answers. “This thing,” said one of them, “has got to be sifted to the bottom.”

I don’t know that it ever was. The CAHA does seem to have acted hastily, clumsily, shabbily. Is it possible that the management simply decided that the squad they’d assembled wasn’t strong enough and that the easiest way to remix the chemistry was to replace the Maritimers wholesale? I think that’s the likeliest scenario. If their plan was hasty, and executed without tact — cruelly, even, for the players in question — I guess there was a calculation that it was a necessary evil. If it looked bad, that would pass, and any wound to the morale of the team would heal quickly.

Vince Ferguson wired his wife that he was headed home. “Frozen out without a chance,” he wrote. “Glad to get clear of this bunch.”

With the Wolverines gone, before the Olympics got in any reinforcements, the remaining bunch of them played the Dukes with a ten-man line-up, losing 4-3.

While the papers argued the finer points of the team’s scandalous shake-up, the players continued to work out in Toronto. The Port Arthur Old-Timers’ Association threw them a banquet. In response to speeches by transplanted Lakeheaders expressing their pride in the Bearcats, CAHA registrar W.A. Hewitt, who’d managed all four previous Canadian Olympic hockey teams, expressed his confidence that the team would not fail to win in Germany.

Hamilton was a different story: their failure there, next day, was by 6-3 to the Hamilton Tigers. Again it was an undermanned team. Dave Neville was out with a hand injury, Arnold Deacon with a bad cold. Hugh Farquharson, Pud Kitchen, and Dinty Moore had accepted invitations to join the Olympics, but only the goaltender played in Hamilton. George Wade from Port Colborne and Bill Hunter from Niagara Falls filled in as emergency replacements. The next night it was a couple of Ottawa players making cameos in Brockville as the Olympics won 3-2 over the local Magedomas.

They played a third game in three nights that Saturday in Kingston. The opposition was a combined team, Queen’s University and Kingston players, and the weary Olympians lost 2-0. Can I just mention that Winky Wilson and Johnny Wing put in outstanding performances for the home team?

“Just wait until we get all our players together and get playing together for a while.” That was Dinty Moore talking, in Barrie, Ontario, where he was visiting his parents. The Olympics added another forward, meanwhile, left winger Kenny Farmer from the Montreal Victorias, and announced that Jimmy Haggerty would join the roster in England.

Farmer starred in the team’s Montreal exhibition, by all accounts, scoring a pair of goals as the Olympics beat the Royals 4-0 at the Forum. Another banner went up —

Canadians want fair play, no Olympics for Nazi Germany

— at the start of the second period, in the northwest stands. The Gazette:

A terrific boo arose from the crowd and continued until two fans from the northend section rushed over and grabbed the banner from its two bearers and tore it to shreds. This act was wildly cheered by a large proportion of the house. Ushers put an end to the disturbance.

After the game, in the Royals’ dressing room, the home team presented Hugh Farquharson with a suitcase. Ralph St. Germain got a wrist-watch.

By Wednesday they were in Moncton, where they prevailed over an anthology of New Brunswick all-stars by 8-5. The last of their Canadian exhibitions was in Halifax. They won there, 5-2, amid jeers and broken glass.

The Communist Party of Canada demanded that Haligonians snub the game, by way of circulars handed out in the streets:

Boycott the team that boycotts the Maritimes for a 100 per cent.
Dominion team in Olympics outside of Fascist Germany.
Don’t go to the game.
Your money will send a non-representative team to a non-representative country.
Germany persecutes labour and religion — the way Toronto persecutes the Maritimes.
Move the Olympics to a free country!
Then we will send a 100 per cent team.
No Olympics in a fascist country.

This was the first time, it was reported, that the Communists had ever made public demands in this city. Would angry hordes mass at the pier when the Olympic team tried to embark for Europe? There were fears.

Inside the rink, the protests were more concerned with hockey executives than with German Nazis. Cries of “Where’s Gilroy?” echoed, and the game was twice held up for clean-up crews as bottles crashed down on the ice in front of Dinty Moore’s goal. When the puck was in play, Gus Saxberg scored a couple of goals, with Bill Thomson, Dave Neville, and Pud Kitchen scoring one each.

Otherwise, the team kept a low profile in Halifax. There was supposed to be a meeting between CAHA and Nova Scotia hockey officials but it to be postponed because E.A. Gilroy was still in Montreal, in hospital, resting up after an attack of pleurisy. While he did recover and arrive to make the rescheduled meeting, it didn’t go so well. Dissatisfied with Gilroy’s explanation of why the Halifax players had been uninvited, the executive of the Maritime Amateur Hockey Association resigned en masse — only to reverse themselves almost immediately, in light of the disruption that their action would mean to east coast hockey.

The dissatisfaction stuck, for what it was worth. For their part, the Wolverines were still talking, too. Well, three of the four — Daddy Bubar had gone home to New Glasgow to be pointed at in the streets. Mosher, Ferguson, and Lawlor swore affidavits reiterating that never, ever had they asked for money.

The story they told was that manager Malcolm Cochrane had approached them in Winnipeg to ask what arrangements had been made to provide for their families while they were chasing medals at the Olympics. None, they told him. He said that since the Port Arthur boys were being looked after, so would the Wolverines. Would $150 a month be enough? The hockey players said they didn’t reply to that, but that Cochrane said he’d talk to Gilroy, which he did. The meeting on the train to Toronto followed that, wherein Gilroy said maybe wouldn’t $100 be more manageable, how about that? Whatever worked for the CAHA would be fine with them, the players said. That was the last they heard until the next day, at their Toronto hotel when Gilroy called them in and, as they recalled it, had this to say: “I’m sorry, boys, but we cannot pay the expenses of four families. We have decided to drop you from the team.”

Through it all, with bottles and affidavits flying, the Olympics went about the business of preparing for the tournament at hand. One of the Montrealers, Herman Murray, was named captain: “a clean athlete and real gentleman,” vouched manager Malcolm Cochrane.

“The team is leaving Canada with a quiet feeling of confidence and good fellowship,” he wanted everyone to know. And he was only to happy to pass on what his predecessor with Canada’s 1932 Olympic team had assured him: that this team was 35 per cent stronger than the golden Lake Placid group.

With a little practice, Coach Pudas added, the club would be the best in the world.

The thing now was to get to Europe, leave all the strife behind. A Canadian Pacific steamship, The Duchess of Atholl, waited in Halifax’s harbour. The players could see her from the windows of their downtown hotel. A correspondent sent word as they prepared to take ship:

Corridors presenting a formidable pile of more than 100 hockey sticks and other gear. … Players busily taping the sticks before they get packed away for the ship’s hold. … Laughter. … Singing. … A banjo. … Good fellowship. … Day dreams of the future ahead. … Determination of each to give his best for his country.

Next day, Saturday, January 18, Canada’s 1936 Olympic hockey team were aboard and bound away for Europe. At the pier, the only demonstration was weatherly. As The Ottawa Citizen reported the departure, “a heavy snowstorm beat down on the ship as she sailed slowly out of Halifax early today.”

port arthur 1936

Before The Purge: 1. Num Friday 2. Bill Thomson 3. Daddy Bubar 4. Ernie Mosher 5. Vince Ferguson 6. Gus Saxberg 7. Herman Murray 8. Ralph St. Germain 9. Ray Milton 10. Dave Neville 11. Trainer Scotty Stewart 12. Alex Sinclair 13. Jakie Nash 14. Chummie Lawlor 15. Arnold Deacon.