Peter Gzowski spins out the story that may have inspired this 1944 W.A. Winter masterpiece in The Game of Our Lives (1981) and Trent Frayne had a rendition, too, in a 1953 feature, “How They Broke the Heart of Howie Morenz.” But Gzowski’s facts are off, slightly, and Frayne’s accounts may err on the side of romanticism, so best, probably, to go back to Morenz biographer Dean Robinson, who was born, like his subject, in Mitchell, Ontario, and can point out, if you go there with him as I did in 2017, the place where this all happened near where Whirl Creek joins the Thames River.
Here’s the pertinent passage from Robinson’s Howie Morenz: Hockey’s First Superstar, originally published in 1982, updated in 2016:
James Boyd, a retired dentist living in Kitchener, Ont., was a year older than Howie when the two were growing up in Mitchell. “We used to go down to the river on Saturday morning and scrape off a rink with scrapers we’d made at home,” recalled Boyd. “There’d be about six or eight of us, and by the time we’d finish, the snow would be about two feet high, and it would act as boards. We’d stay down there all day long. We might go home for some lunch, but we’d come right back again. We changed down at the river. At times we did build some benches, some roughshod benches, but mostly we just sat in the snow. Practically all of us wore magazines for shinpads. We’d pull our socks over them to hold them up.”
Darkness determined when the games would end, and for Howie there just weren’t enough hours in a winter day. His mom didn’t help matters by scheduling him for piano lessons. On those days, Howie would stash his skates under the bridge, and after school, instead of reporting to the home of Ida Hotham, his piano teacher, he would race down to the pond. It wasn’t the greatest of schemes, but it worked until his mother found it necessary to ask Miss Hotham why Howie seemed to be stalled at “One-Fingered Joe.” The teacher told Rose Morenz that her son had been getting along fine, but she hadn’t seen him in weeks. Howie never did learn how to play the piano, which in later years he said he regretted, but eventually he mastered the ukulele.