Newspaper accounts of Leo Bourgault from his days as an NHL defenceman sometimes — often, even — spelled his name Bourgeault, and called the town he came from Spurgeon Falls. Bourgault, who was born on this day in 1903 in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, near North Bay, died in 1978 at the age of 75.
He started his professional career with Newsy Lalonde’s Saskatoon Crescents in the old WHL in 1924-25 before leaping to the NHL, where he spent most of his eight-year career as a New York Ranger, he helping them win a Stanley Cup in 1928. He had stints, too, in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. As a Canadien, he was a close friend of Howie Morenz’s, and may well have been one of the Habs who wore a sweater numbered 99 during the 1934-35 season.
They said he had the heart of a forward. Harold Burr did, hockey correspondent for the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “He’s forever breaking loose from a tangle of players and streaking away on running runners,” he wrote in 1929. “It irks him to just defend.”
“The wide-spreading stocky little youth” is a string of epithets referring to Bourgault you might come cross, if you go searching: another is “stocky little blue-shirted meteor.” The damage he suffered as a hockey player included a 1929 lump on the face (courtesy of the Montreal Maroons) that Burr described as “the size of an Easter egg as vari-colored.” In 1927, a collision with Reg Noble of the Detroit Cougars broke his nose doubly, which is say two nose-bones fractured, and needed surgery.
In New York, he shared an apartment with goaltender John Ross Roach. Sometimes when he talked to a local reporter he said, “In the fall at home I go after moose — just another fellow and myself. We head in for a lumber camp in the heart of the wilderness, where they cut pulp wood, with just a blanket, paddle, and tent.”
“It’s a great way to keep in physical trim,” he told Burr — hunting, that is. The newspaperman lapped it up, filling a column with Bourgault’s off-season exploits “around his home in the far Canadian country,” where he enjoyed his “mother’s home cooking of juicy steaks, wild ducks, and big fat trout.”
Some other summers Bourgault spent at Jasper Park Lodge, in Alberta, where he had a job as manager of the transportation desk. I don’t know whether he did any hunting out west, but he was working out, certainly, and golfing. That’s him on the course here, negotiating a porcupine hazard in 1927. A year later, he met a black bear. Good to see that Bourgault was wearing his Rangers’ sweater.
The 1923 Banff Winter Carnival featured — well, where to start? The program for the Alberta mountain festival in February and March included a 100-mile dog-sled race with a purse of $1,000 for the leading musher, along with snowshoeing, trap-shooting, curling, ski-jumping and “ski-running,” tobogganing, and displays of “fancy and art skating.” Also in the cards: a buffalo barbecue and “swimming in the hot sulfur springs of the government baths.”
The buffalo barbecue was competitive, it turns out, with 77-year-old Colonel James Walker, famous Calgary rancher, soldier, and veteran of the North-West Mounted Police, meat-eating his way to victory ahead of 1500-odd participants. Fifteen teams started the dog-sled Grand Prix, though only four finished, in a blizzard. First across the line in a time of 13 hours and 16 minutes: Shorty Russick and his seven “wolfhounds” from The Pas, Manitoba.
And (of course) there was hockey.
The women’s tournament brought together four teams to compete for the Alpine Cup, the winner of which (said Carnival organizers) would be declared women’s world champions. The holders were on hand, the Vancouver Amazons, along with the Edmonton Monarchs and the Calgary Regents. It was the Fernie Swastikas who triumphed — that’s them here, above, in the dark and (and not yet Nazified) swastika’d sweaters. The team went undefeated that entire winter and were, in Banff, the best of the bunch, by all reports, though the tournament there does seem to have ended with a bit of a whimper.
After beating Vancouver, Fernie played Calgary twice. The first encounter ended in a tie, 0-0. The second game was 1-1 after three periods and remained that way through two ten-minute overtimes. In a third overtime, both teams scored, leaving it at 2-2.
This was on a Saturday night, and organizers declared that the deciding game would go on Monday morning. Over the weekend, after two Calgary players went home, the rest of the Regents declared that they had to leave, too. Despite a flurry of negotiations, Fernie, as the only team to take the Monday ice, was presented with the Alpine Cup.
It didn’t end there. Later the same day, the Swastikas agreed to play an exhibition game in Calgary against the Regents to raise money for the home team’s coffers. That was another 0-0.
None of this dampened the pride with which Fernie welcomed its champions. Thursday morning, when the Swastikas rolled into town on Train 67 from Alberta, much of the town was out to greet them. The mayor had asked all business to close up in honour of the victors, and everybody flocked to the station. A correspondent from The Lethbridge Herald saw it all:
The train was met by a crowd numbering up in the thousands and when the girls stepped from the train they were given three hearty cheers to which the girls replied with their club yell.
A parade wound through town, headed by the RCMP on horseback and the Fernie Pipe Band, “who kept things lively.” The Swastikas were conveyed in a sleigh decorated with their team colours, red and white. They were followed by floats crowded with schoolchildren; Mayor Henderson rode with the Swastika’s mascot, “an effigy dressed in hockey togs, red sweater and Swastika on the end of a hockey stick.”
(Image: National Parks Branch / Library and Archives Canada / PA-058059)