215

215.

It’s a horrifying, heartfreezing number, from a shameful, genocidal Canadian legacy. Last Thursday, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said that a survey of the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia’s southern interior had revealed a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children, some of whom were as young as three when they died. 

“It’s a harsh reality, and it’s our truths. It’s our history, and it’s something … we’ve always had to fight to prove,” Chief Casimir said in a news conference via Zoom on Friday afternoon, as reported by The Globe and Mail. “To me, it’s always been a horrible, horrible history that’s always been, you know, basically denied from government.”

Across the country, Canadians expressed their sorrow and anger, and acknowledged the disgrace of the residential school system by which, for more than a century — until 1996 — the Canadian government made a policy of separating some 150,000 Indigenous children from their families with the express purpose of indoctrinating them into a culture not their own — taking “the Indian out of the child,” in one early insidious formulation of what the schools were all about.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School operated from 1890 to 1969, mostly under the authority of a Roman Catholic order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The lives of the children who died there have been honoured over the course of the past several days with vigils and flags at half-mast. Indigenous leaders are calling for gestures to be followed up with action: on Sunday, Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was one who urged the federal government to undertake to identify the remains, return them to their families, as well as to further investigate undocumented deaths and burials at residential schools across Canada. 

In 2018, in looking at the history Indigenous players in the NHL, I wrote in passing of how hockey is knotted into the story of residential schools. From a New York Times feature I filed that July:   

The government has apologized and compensated survivors. Between 2008 and 2015, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission crossed Canada to hear their stories and investigate abuses. Among the findings in the commission’s final 2015 report is ample evidence of how sports, including hockey, could be a refuge for many children. But the report also explains how, especially in early years, some in authority looked to sports as an instrument of forced assimilation, just another means of “civilizing” students.

The comfort and freedom that hockey offered only went so far. That’s a story told in Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese’s powerful 2012 novel of hockey and residential-school abuse that director Stephen Campanelli and executive producer Clint Eastwood brought to movie screens in the spring of 2018. The pain and the rage deriving from what the central character, Saul, calls the “scorched earth” of his residential-school boyhood — “it corroded everything, even the game.”

Indian Horse is a good place to start — or to revisit — if you want to learn more about the corrosion and hockey’s part in it. 

The memoir that Fred Sasakamoose completed just before his death at 86 in November last year, should also be required reading. Published earlier this month, Call Me Indian is in many ways an inspiring story, of perseverance and dedication — but it is, also, a thoroughly harrowing testament of Canadian racism and the neglect and abuse that Sasakamoose suffered at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School at Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.

All Canadians should educate themselves by reading the TRC report, I’ll also submit. It’s not hard to find — here you go. I went back today to re-read some of the discussion of how sports were integrated into the insidious system: 

The Canadian residential schools were established at the same time as the rules were being standardized for games such as football, baseball, and hockey, and agreement was being reached on what constituted a standard playing field and the length of play. In the late nineteenth century, such sports spread throughout the country. As with band music, the promoters of these games argued that organized sports would help reduce conflict between the classes. And, while manliness and sportsmanship were supposed to reflect the values of the empire, Canadians not only played British games such as cricket, with its associations with the private schools of the elite; they also played sports popular in the United States such as baseball, and uniquely Canadian games such as lacrosse and ice hockey. These games also were played at the residential schools. 

It was hoped that these sports would contribute to “civilizing” residential school students. In his 1889 report, Indian Affairs inspector J. A. Macrae wrote of the Battleford school: 

“A noticeable feature of this school is its games. They are all thoroughly and distinctly ‘white.’ The boys use the boxing gloves with no little science, and excellent temper and play good games of cricket and football with great interest and truly Anglo-Saxon vigor. The girls dress dolls, make fancy articles of dress, and play such games as white children do. From all their recreation Indianism is excluded.”

Macrae seemed to believe that “Indianism” was a static phenomenon and that to play a European game well, a boy became less of an “Indian.” “Indianism” was, by definition, undesirable: an 1895 report on the Middlechurch, Manitoba, school noted approvingly, “The manly games of cricket and football, introduced and practised by the principal, have done much to take ‘the sneak’ out of the boys.” Some school officials also said that the role that sports played in the schools had to be closely controlled. If this were not done, instead of spreading the values of manly Christianity, sports would simply delay the process of assimilation. 

(Image: Students rally around a puck at Washakada Industrial School in Elkhorn, Manitoba, northwest of Brandon, near the Saskatchewan border, circa 1911-15. Established by the Anglican Church in 1888, the Washakada Indian Home originally had room for 16 boarders. Fire destroyed most of the school’s buildings in 1895; the new, relocated Industrial School opened in 1899. At its peak, the residential school had an enrolment of 122. It closed in 1949. Glenbow Archives, NA-4101-40)

decision day

“When we’re skating and shooting the way we can, it doesn’t matter whether they put bulldozers out there against us. We’ll just go around them.” 

That was Montreal captain Henri Richard on another Monday, in another playoffs, as his Canadiens skated at the Forum ahead of a Stanley Cup semi-final against the Philadelphia Flyers to start the week of April 16, 1973. That’s Richard laid out third from the bottom in this team stretch, I think. Alternate captain Yvan Cournoyer is nearest the camera, with Steve Shutt next in line. Goaltender Ken Dryden is sprawled to the right of the night, beside (possibly) Guy Lapointe and one of the back-ups, Michel Plasse or Wayne Thomas. 

“We’ve been too tight so far,” Richard told reporters that day. “We have to loosen up to get going at our best.” Two nights earlier on this same Forum ice, the Canadiens had lost the first game of the series, 5-4 in overtime, with Rick MacLeish scoring the decisive goal for Philadelphia. The day after this practice, on Tuesday, April 17, Larry Robinson scored Montreal’s winner in a 4-3 OT win that tied the series.

Montreal would go on to dismiss the Flyers in five games. In the finals that followed that year, Montreal dispensed with the Chicago Black Hawks in six games to claim their 18th Stanley Cup.  

(Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

l’idole d’un peuple

It was on a Saturday, 21 years ago today, that Maurice Richard died at Montreal’s Hôtel Dieu Hospital at the age of 78. “When he’s worked up,” long-time Canadiens GM Frank Selke once said, “his eyes gleam like headlights. Not a glow, but a piercing intensity. Goalies have said he’s like a motorcar coming on you at night. He is terrifying. He is the greatest hockey player that ever lived. I can contradict myself by saying that 10 or 15 do the mechanics of play better. But it’s results that count. Others play well, build up, eventually get a goal. He is like a flash of lightning. It’s a fine summer day, suddenly.”

(Image: “Maurice Richard et deux jeunes enfants, vers 1957,” Archives de la Ville de Montréal, VM94, Ed-33A)

unglaublich, wir gewinnen mit 3:1 gegen kanada

Stars And Stripes: Berliner SC represented Germany at the 1914 LIHG Championship tournament in Chamonix, France, lining up (from left) Hans Georgii, Nils Molander, Franz Lange, Charles Hartley, Arthur Boak, Johan Ollus, Alfred Steinke, and Bruno Grauel. (Image: Agence Rol, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

“Nobody ever expects Germany to beat Canada,” was what Brad Bergen came to be shouting on an April’s day in Vienna in 1996. “Canada is apparently the motherland of hockey.”

This is what’s called, in hockey and elsewhere, taunting. Bergen, a defenceman who was 30 that year, might be forgiven his fervour, I guess, and maybe his volume, given that the team he was playing for, German’s national team, had just walloped their Canadian rivals 5-1 at the 60th edition of the IIHF World Championships in Austria. The twist: for all his contributions to the German blueline, Bergen was then and remains a son of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, smack in the middle of hockey’s (apparent) motherland. 

Bergen wasn’t wrong in ’96: at that time, the tradition of German hockey teams failing to overcome their Canadian rivals at the World Championships was strong, and long, extending back to 1930. In three incarnations (Germany, West Germany, and East Germany), German teams had beaten the Canadians they faced just once in 34 attempts. The lone victory pre-’96 was in Vienna, too, in 1987, when West Germany upset Canada 6-4 at the 52nd Worlds.  

Kudos, then, to the German team at this year’s tournament, the 84th edition underway in Latvia, who on Monday overturned Canada today by a score of 3-1 in Group B play. 

This week’s German win leaves Canada with an 0-3 record to start this year’s tournament; it also marks a further shift in the hockey firmament that Brad Bergen played under. With Germany beating Canada in the semi-finals at XXIII Olympic Winter Games in South Korea in 2018, expectations may have shifted. Canadians will (of course) cry that the teams at those Olympics and these Worlds are undermanned, not-our-best, just-you-wait-til-we-line-up-our-NHL-frontliners … because that’s what Canadians always say in the face of hockey losses on international ice.    

In 1996, glum Canadian wire reports from Vienna sought solace in noting that the Germans lined up several Canadian-born players when they took on Canada. That’s true — the Germans also had several Czech-born players that year and a Belgian on the roster, along with the talented homegrown likes of Jochen Hecht, Olaf Kolzig, and Marco Sturm. Among the German goalscorers on the day was Peter Draisaitl, Leon’s dad. 

Canada’s roster wasn’t a bad one, either, with Martin Brodeur tending the net and Paul Kariya, Ray Ferraro, and Steve Thomas at forward. From a Canadian perspective, the early loss to Germany wasn’t too much of a problem, in the end: the Canadians made it to the final, yielding gold to a Czech Republic team featuring Roman Turek, Robert Lang, and Robert Reichel. For their part, the Germans finished 8th in the 12-team tournament.

Throwing back further still, would we note that Germany joined the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1909, while Canada didn’t get on board until 1920? Yes, let’s: that gives us license to include the photograph here at the top. 

The organization was called the Ligue International de Hockey sur Glace (LIHG) in those earliest years. For three winters, from 1912 through ’14, there was a LIHG Championship tournament that was as close as hockey came at the time to a world championships. 

Germany won the first one of those, a five-team affair in Brussels in which they beat the Oxford Canadians, who were in attendance as the English champions. The Germans defended their title in 1913 in St. Moritz in Switzerland.

In 1914, at Chamonix in France, Germany was represented by Berliner Schlittschuhclub, featuring the line-up that’s pictured above. Four teams took part that last January before war shattered Europe, with Great Britain prevailing. The Germans finished second, ahead of France and Bohemia, the latter an early (albeit brief) hockey power, then still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but not for long: in 1918, it would be remapped as the core of the Czechoslovak Republic. 

Got that?

Three of the players above were German-born: Fritz Lange, Alfred Steinke, and Bruno Grauel. Hans Georgii and Nils Molander were Swedes, and both of them were picked to play for their country at hockey very first Olympics, in Antwerp in 1920, though only Molander ended up making it there. Johan Ollus was a Finn. The goaltender, Arthur Boak, was Halifax-born, and studied at Queen’s University in Kingston and taught at McGill before making his way to Berlin to further his studies. He would receive a doctorate from Harvard the same year he was stopping pucks in Chamonix, and would go on to become an eminent ancient historian who taught at the University of Michigan.

Next to him in the image here is a true pioneer of international hockey, Dr. Charles Hartley. Born in North Plains, Michigan, he grew up in Brantford, Ontario, and studied dentistry at the University of Toronto. It was as a dentist that he Germany where, naturally, he took to the ice when he wasn’t in the office. 

As Stephen Hardy and Andrew Holman detail in their comprehensive Hockey: A Global History (2018), Hartley was the man who steered Germany’s bandy players over to hockey. In 1906, with the help of a friend in Toronto, he had Canadian sticks and pucks shipped to Germany. “From 1907 to the outbreak of the Great War,” Hardy and Holman write, “Hartley travelled with German club and national teams, playing, teaching, and refereeing the newer game.”

“Unser Meisterlehrer,” Hartley was called by his German teammates: “our master teacher.” He left Germany in 1917 and settled in California. His dentistry practice would seem to have thrived there: his clients would come to include Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, and Fred Astaire. He doesn’t seem to have lost any of his puck-chasing energy or enthusiasm: as a college coach, he would become known (as the Globe and Mail’s Vern DeGeer identified him in 1938) as “the Father of Southern California hockey.”

boulevard of unbroken dreams

Halte là, halte là, halte là, les Canadiens, sont là. Les Canadiens, les Canadiens sont là! Forget all your last-night troubles, Montreal fans, and join me in the streets of 1978 when, on a Friday of this date, another edition of the team was celebrating a 21st Stanley Cup championship with a few hundred thousand of their closest fans. 

“You never get tired of winning,” Canadiens captain Yvan Cournoyer mused on that day. “Especially when you face a reception like the one we’re getting. Each parade is better than the one before.” Cournoyer, incredibly, was processing through the streets of Montreal for the ninth time with the Cup. That’s him here, above, alongside Serge Savard outside the Forum; below, they ride through Montreal with a crew of fans and the coveted Cup.

(Top image: Réjean Martel, Archives de la Ville de Montréal; below, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

locomotive at large

Lionel Conacher played 12 seasons in the NHL, but if you want to know why in 1950 he was voted Canada’s greatest athlete for the first half of the 20th century, I’m going to have to ask that you consider the pre-NHL years of the man they called The Big Train. Born in Toronto on a Thursday of this date in 1900, Conacher was a superlative talent in whichever sport he tried … which was pretty all of them. He was a wrestler and a boxer, starred on the grass at baseball and football and lacrosse, as well as on the ice. He’s in Canada’s Football and Lacrosse halls of fame, and was elected to hockey’s pantheon in 1994.

In December of 1921, after scoring 15 points that helped the football Argonauts win the Grey Cup at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, 21-year-old Conacher headed over to the rink at Arena Gardens to captain the Aura Lee senior hockey team in the title game for the Sportsmen’s Patriotic Association senior trophy. Aura Lee lost that one, though Conacher did score a great goal. Turns out this kind of thing was almost routine for the kid: three years later, in the summer of 1924, he hit a double to win a game for his baseball team, the Hillcrests, before catching a taxi across Toronto to score two goals in a winning effort for the lacrosse Maitlands.

He made his NHL debut in 1925, and was a dominant defensive force there, mostly for teams that don’t exist now: other than a year as a Chicago Black Hawk, he did his skating for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Americans, and Montreal Maroons. His NHL CV includes 82 goals in 527 games, along with two Stanley Cups; twice he finished runner-up in voting for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He also compiled a gruesome catalogue of injuries, including eight breaks of the nose. Charlie and Roy, his younger brothers, are both in the Hall of Fame, too.

After hockey, he went into politics, first in the Ontario legislature and then, in 1949, as a federal MP in Ottawa with Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals. Conacher was just 53 when he died — of coronary thrombosis in the sixth inning of a Parliamentary softball game, after hitting a triple.

A writer for  Ottawa’s Citizen was one of many to write a remembrance that May, in 1954. “It was a strange twist of fate that the game Conacher played least well kept him in public life longest,” Austin Cross wrote of his hockey career. And yet Conacher wasn’t a natural on the ice the way he was on the grass, Cross felt: starting out, he was “poor on skates.” He continued:

I first remember him, not as a football player, but in baseball uniform. He came to Ottawa to play for Hillcrests, and after he had murdered the ball out at Lansdowne Park, I went out with my camera and took a picture of him in his ‘monkey suit.’ I had the print until just recently. It revealed a fair-haired young boy, tall and handsome, and a face without guile. His nose was not broken in those days, and he was a most attractive type of man. Members of parliament who looked at him these last few years, and who studied that beat-up face, and looked at the atrociously pounded-in nose, have remarked more than once that it was hard to get into their heads that this bald-headed man with the comic nose was once Canada’s greatest athlete.

Theme Park: Conacher and his legacy are commemorated in a midtown Toronto park.

(Top image, c. 1937, from the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

gilles lupien, 1954—2021

Saddened to have learned it, sorry to report it: former lofty defenceman Gilles Lupien died of cancer on Tuesday at the age of 67. Born in Lachute in 1954, he was drafted by Montreal in 1974 and joined the AHL’s Nova Scotia Voyageurs. At 6’6” and 210 pounds, he got into policing, and led the league in penalty minutes for two of the three full-time seasons he spent in the A. “I guess you can say they wanted me to be an enforcer,” Lupien said in 2010. “I think I did a good job.” He played three seasons with the Canadiens, collecting a single regular-season goal and 100+ penalty minutes in each one. His colleagues on defence included Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, and Guy Lapointe, which goes a long way to exaplaining why, at the end of both of the first two seasons in Montreal, in 1978 and again in ’79, Lupien hoisted the Stanley Cup with his teammates. He went on to play parts of two more NHL seasons, lining up with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Hartford Whalers before ending his on-ice career with a combative season with the AHL Binghampton Whalers in 1981-82. Gilles Lupien was, in recent years, a popular player agent.   

Montreal’s Cup-winning 1978-79 Canadiens. Back row, left to right: Gilles Lupien, Larry Robinson, Rod Langway, Serge Savard, Brian Engblom, Guy Lapointe, Rick Chartraw. Second tier from the back, that’s Yvon Lamber, Pat Hughes, Mario Tremblay, Bob Gainey, Cam Connor, Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Doug Risebrough. Third tier from the back: trainer Eddie Palchak, Doug Jarvis, Pierre Mondou, Mark Napier, Pierre Larouche, Rejean Houle, Jacques Lemaire, trainer Pierre Meilleur. Front: Michel Larocque, director of player development Claude Ruel, coach Scotty Bowman, captain Yvan Cournoyer, president Jacques Courtois, GM Irving Grundman, vice-president Jean Béliveau, Ken Dryden.

win column

“When the parade was held along the usual route (on Ste-Catherine St., heading east from the Forum), Westmount matrons, wandering hippies, downtown businessmen and fiery separatists were all linked, for one sun-splashed May afternoon, in cheering on their heroes, who were notable for their pallid winter complexions and the welts and bruises visible on their faces, necks and forearms.”

That’s Jack Todd, writing in Montreal’s Gazette earlier this week about the Montreal Canadiens and the unlikely Stanley Cup they won in May of 1971. Do me a favour (and yourself, too), and cast a cursor over to his accounting of how young Ken Dryden and Jean Béliveau, older, rustled up another Cup championship

Canadiens wrapped up the series on May 18, 1971, when they beat the Black Hawks 3-2 at Chicago Stadium to take the Cup in seven games. The following day, another Wednesday of this very date, the happy Habs took to the streets of Montreal to greet some 500,000 of their (also happy) fans. Above, that’s a fine-looking Frank Mahovlich en route that day; below are his fellow wingers John Ferguson and brother Peter. 

(Images: Archives de la Ville de Montréal, VM94-Ed041-071, VM94-Ed041-033)

oilers > jets, 1972: there was nothing going smooth

It’s almost a half-century ago and whole other defunct league distant, but with the Edmonton Oilers set to open their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series tonight against the Winnipeg Jets, is it time to hearken back to when the teams met for the very time? It is. Yes, this is the old upstart WHA we’re talking about, which first took to the ice 49 years ago, in October of 1972, with 12 teams in two divisions, with Winnipeg’s Jets and the Alberta representing the north in the league’s Western Division. 

It was a Sunday night, October 15, when the Jets welcomed the Oilers to the Winnipeg Arena for their home opener. A month earlier, the building had hosted Game Three of the Summit Series, wherein Canadians and Soviets tied 4-4, under the gaze of Canada’s queen. A crowd of close to 10,000 jammed the building that night; the Jets attracted a modest 7,200 for their debut. The Jets had pried Bobby Hull away from the Chicago Black Hawks, but he wouldn’t actually get onto the ice for another month, concentrating on coaching the team for the first few weeks. Still, the Jets were looking good, having won their first two games of the season on the road, while the Oilers had gone 1-2 to begin their season. 

Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Jack McKeag was on hand to drop the inaugural puck that night: that’s him here between Jets’ captain Ab McDonald and Oiler skipper Al Hamilton. (Hull, in civvies, is lurking behind Hamilton.)

And the game, once the puck was in play? Vic Grant from the Winnipeg Tribune was on hand to see it and write it up for Monday morning’s paper. “There was no valid reason why Jets should lose 5-2 to Alberta Oilers,” he advised, “but they did, and the only excuse they can offer is stage fright.”

Coached by Ray Kinasewich, the Oilers jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Roger Cote and Val Fonteyne. The Jets would get goals from Dan Johnson and Christian Bordeleau, but the Oilers kept scoring, too: Ron Walters, Bill Hicke, and Eddie Joyal added to their tally. Ernie Wakely was in the Winnipeg net on the net, with Ken Brown guarding the Albertan goal.

“It was great seeing all those people out,” Hull said afterwards, “it’s just too bad the boys were tight. I can’t think of anything else but saying that they were tight before their first home crowd.”

“I wasn’t concerned when it was 2-0 and then I thought we were off when we scored and it was 2-1, but then we lost a couple of fac-offs and were dragging again. There was nothing going smooth. We couldn’t get anything in motion.”

The Oilers and Jets met again two nights later at the Edmonton Gardens, with the Albertans prevailing again, 3-2, on Walters’ overtime winner in front of a crowd of 3,285 hardy fans.

The Jets did, eventually, find their stride, finishing the season atop the Western Division, and making it to the WHA’s first championship final, which they ceded to the New England Whalers in May of 1973.