bill fitsell, 1923—2020

Cold Comfort: Bill Fitsell, left,  in the blues of his beloved Maple Leaf, hands on knees à la Charlie Conacher, out on the ice in Lindsay, Ontario, in the early 1930s.

So very saddened, still, by the news that came on Thursday of my friend Bill Fitsell’s death in Kingston, Ontario, at the age of 97. His career was in newspapers, as a reporter, editor, and columnist, and it spanned 55 years. His passion was hockey history: that he pursued in his books and in dozens of other projects that were dear to his heart. One of the latter was the community of fellow travellers that he dreamed up and made real, the Society of International Hockey Research. Last month, writing about the first NHL hockey game that Bill ever attended — that piece is here — I tried to translate his contribution in all that endeavoured into hockey terms. “His calibre,” I ventured, “might be best expressed in a Lady Byng Trophy context: his proficiency at what he does is only exceeded by his good grace and gentlemanly conduct.”

Up today at the SIHR website — here — is a retrospective I wrote of Bill’s life and times.

Working on that, I found a page in my notebook from the fall of 2018 that I’d filled on the train from Kingston back to Toronto after sharing a coffee with Bill.

He’d told me about his dad and the rink he made for his boys in the 1930s in the lot beside the family’s home in Lindsay. As I write in the SIHR piece, there was no minor hockey program there, then, other than what Bill and his friends concocted. “You organized your own teams in those days,” he told. “And of course my team was called the Maple Leafs. I went down and registered us, and we’d play Saturday mornings.”

“We all had different Leaf sweaters,” he remembered. His own version is the one that’s pictured here above, with an authentic Maple Leaf stitched on the front. The stripes, though, at the waist? They weren’t correct, he said, and the collar was a roll-neck, not at all what the genuine Leafs wore — though altogether warmer, Bill told me with a smile, out on the cold January ice.

Incoming: A drawing of Bill’s, Leafs and Rangers, that decorated the cover of one of his childhood scrapbooks.

my first hockey game: bill fitsell

Big Bomber Command: Bill Fitsell still has the notebooks he kept as a boy in the 1930s to celebrate his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Open on his desk at home in Kingston, Ontario, is his record of the first NHL game he ever attended, when he was 12, in 1936.

Bill Fitsell’s importance as a hockey historian isn’t easy to measure, so let’s just say this: it’s immense. He’s far too modest to elaborate on that himself, so I’ll step in, if I may, to mention the trails he’s blazed in researching hockey’s origins and geographies; his books, including Hockey’s Captains, Colonels & Kings (1987) and How Hockey Happened (2006); his leadership at Kingston’s International Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum; also that The Society for International Hockey Research got its start as a notion of his, and when it launched in 1991, he stepped up to serve as its inaugural president.

Fitsell, who turned 97 this past July, is also a legendary newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist, a veteran of the Kingston Whig-Standard, which is where I first met him, years ago, and got to know just how good and generous a soul he is. In hockey terms, his calibre might be best expressed in a Lady Byng Trophy context: his proficiency at what he does is only exceeded by his good grace and gentlemanly conduct.

With word this week that Bill is under care at a Kingston hospital, I’m sending best wishes, and doing my best to infuse these paragraphs with hopes for his speedy recovery.

I’ve visited Bill in Kingston several times over the past few years, when I’ve been in from Toronto, back when there was still such a thing as dropping by to say hello. Bill has been working for a while on a new book collecting and commemorating hockey poetry and lyrics and doggerel, and we’d talk about that, and about the Maple Leafs.

Bill has been backing Toronto’s team for all the years going back to his childhood in the 1930s, which is when Toronto’s superstar right winger Charlie Conacher ensconced himself as his all-time favourite player.

Born in Barrie in 1923, Bill had moved east with his family to Lindsay in 1927. In 1942, at the age of 19, he joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve and was on active service through 1946. In 1945, he’d met and married the former Barbara Robson — the couple celebrated their 75thanniversary earlier this fall — and when Bill was discharged from the Navy, the couple settled in Lindsay.

That’s where Bill got his first newspaper job, at the Lindsay Post. He joined the Whig-Standard in Kingston in 1962, and he continued there until 1993.

One winter’s afternoon last year, over coffee near Bill’s lakeshore home, with the modern-day edition of the Leafs lurching a little, finding new ways to lose games they’d been winning, upsetting the faithful, we turned again from the future to the past.

That’s when I asked: did he remember the first NHL game he attended?

Yes. Yes, he did. 1936. He was 12 years old. With his dad, he drove a couple of hours to Toronto from Lindsay with … some others: they were a party of five in all. At Maple Leaf Gardens, they were close to the ice, in five seats on the rail, at $2.50 apiece — “where later Harold Ballard would jam in seven paying customers,” Fitsell laughed.

I eventually tracked down the facts of the matter, but that afternoon I was happy for the gleams and textures of Bill’s decades-old memories. The Boston Bruins were in town; the Leafs won. Turk Broda, he recalled, was in the Toronto net; Conacher, he thought, was out with an injury. There was a fight … he paused to picture it. Probably … Toronto’s turbulent Red Horner and Boston’s Eddie Shore? Fans all around the Fitsell faction began to toss their programs towards the melee on the ice; Bill braved the bombardment to run down rinkside to retrieve one. “I guess,” he told me, “that’s when I became a collector.”

Back in his office at home, Bill retrieved the notebook in which he’d memorialized that and other Leaf games in the ’30s. January 18, 1936, a Saturday. When all was said and done, the Leafs had beaten the Bruins 5-2. “One of those wild, free-clouting brawls beloved of the hockey customer,” was how Andy Lytle assessed the evening’s proceedings in the Toronto Daily Star.

Actually, it was George Hainsworth in the Toronto net that night, with Tiny Thompson guarding the Boston goal. The Leafs, who’d been Stanley Cup finalists in 1935, had hit a post-Christmas skid: heading into their meeting with the Bruins they were winless in five games. Charlie Conacher’s injury was to his shoulder, and he was expected to be off skates for as much as two weeks; Joe Primeau, his Lindsay-born centreman, was out with a cold. The Leafs were trying to keep pace with the Montreal Maroons atop the NHL’s Canadian Section of the standings; the Bruins were sunken down at the bottom of the American side of the ledger.

Sew It Is: Leaf physician Dr. J.W. Rush stitches King Clancy on the Saturday night in ’36 that Bill Fitsell saw his first NHL game.

Also on hand from the Star was Sports Editor Lou Marsh (also a sometime NHL referee). “A brawl,” Marsh called it, and “a game of hurley on ice.” Oh, and “a bitter struggle which fostered gales of lusty roaring from the drop of the rubber tart to the final gong.”

The first period ended without a goal. The fight that Bill recalled got going in the early minutes, involving defenceman Hap Day of the Leafs and Boston’s Red Beattie, both of whom incurred major penalties, though Lou Marsh classified it as “blowless.” Red Horner earned himself a 10-minute misconduct in the same sequence for saying something nasty to referee Mike Rodden — none of the contemporary accounts specify, of course, what it might have been.

By the end of the second, the Leafs were up 3-1, getting goals from Art Jackson, Pep Kelly, and Andy Blair, with Boston’s goal going to Cooney Weiland.

Toronto’s King Clancy got an early goal in the third. “By this time the Toronto audience was as excited as a roomful of children with the chimney corner hung with filled stockings,” Andy Lytle gushed.

Boston dimmed the mood a little after Day used his hand to smother the puck near enough the Toronto goal that Boston was awarded a penalty shot. Babe Siebert stepped up to beat Hainsworth. Another Bruin defenceman scored the final goal, Eddie Shore, though he would have wished it away, if he could have. He was trying to bat away a rebound from his own goaltender, Thompson, but instead batted the puck into the net for an own goal; Toronto’s Bill Thoms got the credit.

“Most fans,” Lou Marsh further enthused, “went home chirping cheerily that they had seen the best game of a couple of seasons.”

“The crowd was in a continual surging, screaming uproar as the squadrons charged relentlessly, ceaselessly up and down, floundering, thudding, crashing, skidding, as they chased each other and the flying bootheel. The attacks beat upon the defences like white-fanged waves upon the sullen rocks of a storm-threshed coast.”

“In other words … it was a great game!”

For all the excitement of Bill’s first foray to Maple Leaf Gardens, another slightly earlier encounter with his beloved Maple Leafs is bright in his memory, too. A year before the Fitsells made their way to Toronto, the Leafs had paid a visit to Lindsay.

January of 1935, this was. “The Leafs came in and played a blue-and-white game,” Bill recalled on another visit of mine. “And that was a big thrill.”

Lindsay’s Pioneer Rink had burned down several years before that, in 1931 or so. For a few winters afterwards, Bill told me, all the hockey that he and his friends were playing — as in the photograph here — was on outdoor rinks around town. Under the sponsorship of the local Kiwanis Club, a community fundraising drive eventually raised $17,000 to pay for a new arena, and when it was built and ready to open, the Leafs were invited to aid in the opening gala. Thanks to the Joe Primeau connection, they’d accepted.

The president of the OHA was in town, along with the secretary, W.A. Hewitt, Foster’s father. Three bands were on hand, too. Along with the anthems and speeches the schedules featured displays of fancy skating, including one by a quartet of maiden sisters named Dunsford, the youngest of whom was 66. An all-star Lindsay team was slated to play an exhibition game against a line-up of players drawn from the local county. But it was the Leafs’ abridged scrimmage at 5 o’clock in the afternoon that was the star attraction.

“The admission was $1,” Bill remembered.

Fourteen Leafs had made the bus trip from Toronto along with coach Dick Irvin. Two days earlier, they’d dropped a 1-0 game to the Detroit Red Wings; two days later, they’d return to the Gardens to beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1. In Lindsay, Benny Grant anchored one side in goal, with Hap Day and Flash Hollett on defence. Skating up front was Baldy Cotton along with the Kid Line: Primeau, Busher Jackson, and Bill’s idol, Charlie Conacher. At the other end of the ice, George Hainsworth took the net along with Red Horner, Buzz Boll, King Clancy, Hec Kilrea, Andy Blair, and Bill Thoms. They scored plenty of goals in they played, with Grant’s team prevailing 7-6.

Earlier in the day, 11-year-old Bill and his buddies had spent the afternoon waiting for the Leafs to arrive. “When they get off the bus from Toronto, I introduced them to all my team — we were called the Maple Leafs.”

Later, he cornered the coach. “I had my sister’s autograph book, and I saw Dick Irvin in the waiting room, all alone. So I got his attention and he signed it, Dick Irvin, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the date. A full page. And on the other side was where my sister had written Roses are red, violets are blue.”

Later, a friendly go-between took the book into the hall where the players were eating their suppers. When Bill got it back again, the whole team had signed their names.

“It really was a great thrill,” he said, 84 years later.

Hockey Captain, Colonel, & King: With the Leafs’ famous Kid Line over his shoulder, Bill Fitsell at home in Kingston in 2019.

Updated, 12/5/2020: An earlier version of this post misstated the date of that first game of Bill’s: it was played on Saturday, January 18, 1936, when Bill was 12. 

righteous on the rideau: ottawa shocked, lord stanley denounced

Never On A Sunday: In 1890, MP John Charlton joined some of Ottawa’s clergy in condemning Lord Stanley and his vice-regal family and friends for desecrating the Sabbath with their Rideau Hall hockey games. Charlton, seen here in winter warms in 1884, didn’t just rail: he introduced a bill in Parliament to shut down Canadian Sundays entirely. (Image: Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada)

Nothing against the Vegas Golden Knights or Washington’s own Capitals, who’ll meet tonight to decide who gets to claim the Stanley Cup and brandish it aloft.

If we’re a little quiet up here in Canada when the time of your triumph comes in a week or two, sorry: it’s not you, it’s us. It’s painful, for us, that yet again none of our true-north teams is in the mix. Even after all these years of yielding the former Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup to foreign powers, we’re still not quite used to the idea. Best not to remind us, either, that the trophy we covet so dearly was mostly an offshore affair from the start. It’s not just that the original Stanley Cup was bought and smithed overseas, in London. As much as it has occupied the imaginations of Canadians since then, this sacred cup of ours was first dreamed of by a 51-year-old Englishman who’d come here for work.

We’re still a little raw about that, too.

Not that we don’t revere Baron Stanley of Preston and that foundational gesture of his. If he’s not exactly the reason for the (hockey) season, Lord Stanley is written indelibly into Canada’s hockey story as a founder of the feast. Apart from anything else, he and his family remind us of how alluring our winter game is, and that it’s actually okay for foreigners to learn and love it — good things can happen.

Strange ones, too. With time to spare ahead of tonight’s game, can we dwell on an episode that’s got a little lost in the annals of our sixth governor-general’s association with the game we like to claim as our own? Is it possible that there was a time when Canadians actually rebuked Lord Stanley and his hockey-adoring family for their very enthusiasm?

It is, and we did, some of us, back in 1890, two years before Lord Stanley got around to commissioning his famous trophy. The whole affair roiled Ottawa, briefly, and made international headlines — small ones, it’s true, but pithy enough. With all that’s been written about the Stanleys and the cup that goes by their name, this is a bit of a missing chapter. It’s not a long one, and it vanished from the newspapers as quickly as it had appeared. It could, I suppose, have soured Lord Stanley on hockey for good, thereby endangering the entire future of hockey history — except, of course, that it didn’t.

First, some background. Baron Stanley of Preston arrived at Rideau Hall in June of 1888, he and his wife, Constance, were accompanied by four of their ten children. Much of the family embraced hockey enthusiastically during their first Canadian winter, including 13-year-old Isobel, a great hockey-playing story in her own right.

Vice-Regal Roster: The Rebels of Rideau Hall, circa 1889. From left, they are Captain Wingfield, one of Lord Stanley’s ADCs; Arthur Stanley; James Creighton, hockey pioneer and Senate law clerk; (standing behind) Nova Scotia Senator Lawrence Power; (sitting in front) Lieutenant Aubrey McMahon, ADC; Ontario Liberal MP John Barron; Ontario Liberal MP Henry Ward; J. de St. Lemoine; Edward Stanley; (seated, far right) H.B. Hawkes. (Image: Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-204250)

She was skating, stick in hands, in February of 1889. That same month, her brother Arthur (19) organized the Government-House team that would become known as the Rideau Rebels. At least two other Stanley brothers were in on this: Edward (24) and Victor (22). In their original alignment, the Rebels also featured a pair of vice-regal military aides, including Lieutenant Aubrey McMahon, who’s in the photograph here. The team’s earliest opposition was a five-man team made up of (mostly opposition Liberal) members of Parliament.

Much of this has been carefully documented, notably by Kevin Shea and John Jason Wilson in their 2006 biography, Lord Stanley: The Man Behind The Cup, where you’ll find a detailed account of what happened when the Stanley boys got serious about the Rebels during their second Ottawa winter, organizing a busy exhibition schedule for the team both on home ice, at Rideau Hall, and out and about across Ontario.

Arthur Stanley seems to have been the driving force in this, abetted by Ontario Liberal M.P. and keen hockeyist John Barron. The team sported crimson sweaters and white trousers and caps, and seems to have travelled in style, possibly by way of the Governor-General’s vice-regal railway car.

In the first week of February of 1890, the team travelled west from Ottawa to play in Lindsay, Ontario, where Barron had his legal practice. From there, they carried on to Toronto, playing a pair of games on Saturday, February 8. In the afternoon, the Rebels beat the team from the Granite Club, 5-4, before falling 1-4 to St. Georges in the evening. High sticks and fights featured in both games, “to the point,” as Shea and Wilson note, “that hockey received its first appreciable coverage in Toronto, albeit through editorials denouncing the violence of the game.”

Back in Ottawa, meanwhile, a different and mostly, now, forgotten scandal was brewing.

The first of the fuss appeared in the press just as the Rebels were embarking on their road trip. Before their departure, the team would seem to have been preparing, as teams do, with practices. Were they out scrimmaging on the Rideau Hall rink on Sunday, February 2? Seems so. There’s no indication that Lord Stanley himself was skating — indeed, I don’t know that we know if he ever got up on blades, or tried a vice-regal wrist-shot. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t about to be excoriated for desecrating the Sabbath.

It wasn’t only local Ottawa papers that took up the cry: The New York World was on it quickly, too, and within days, the news had carried to the pages of papers in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Lawrence, Kansas. Before long, the English press was taking note as well.

The scandalous word was out: the fact that Lord Stanley and members of his household and “some leaders of Ottawa’s upper society circle” were said to have been playing hockey on Sundays was said to roiling the city’s “religious circles.”

Naming Names: News of Lord Stanley’s turpitude reaches a Sheffield paper in England in February of 1890.

The World’s report was the one that spread widest, and it promised further fall-out: “His Excellency will probably be rebuked from one or more of the city church pulpits next Sunday.”

And so it was. I don’t know about the more, but here’sone:at the Congregationalist Church that in those years occupied the corner of Elgin and Albert streets, Reverend John Wood set aside his usual lesson from the Old Testament to orate on the law of God in regard to the Sabbath and (as was reported next day) “the example of the Saviour of His apostles in respect to its observance.”

Shame: Word reaches Philadelphia.

Reverend Wood said the hockey was only hearsay, but even that was bad enough: he “exceedingly regretted” having heard it. He wasn’t inclined to believe the rumour, he went on, except that one of the players involved had been so bold as to write a letter that Reverend Wood had seen. It didn’t just confirm that there washockey being played at Rideau Hall on Sundays, this letter — the writer was positively glorying in the shame of it.

Would Her Majesty Queen Victoria allow such a thing on the grounds of Windsor Castle? No. Why, then, should it permitted on the grounds of the vice-regal residence in Canada? It was bad enough when the poor violated the Sabbath, Reverend Wood continued; it was, if possible, even lesspardonable for the rich.

“Mr. Wood’s remarks met with the decided approval of the congregation,” The St. Louis Dispatchreported.

We don’t know what Queen Victoria was thinking about all this — chances are that she wasn’t. Lord Stanley? He must have been — we just don’t have any record of the shape or temperature of whatever was on his mind that week. The Advertiserin Montgomery, Alabama, did inform its readers that an unnamed member of the Rideau Hall staff was wondering why the people of Canada should be interfering at all in what was so clearly a private matter. According to anonymous him, regular people back home in England “did not regard a game of hockey on Sunday as so very criminal.”

Beloved as his name may be to generations of hockey fans over whom he never reigned, Lord Stanley was not, in February of 1890, having a banner month in the press. That much we do know. In fact, the very same day that readers in Missouri were learning what Reverend Wood thought in Ottawa, the headline front-and-centre on page one of The New York Times read “Lord Stanley Denounced.”

The Times hadn’t registered (or didn’t care about) the outrage of Sabbath hockey. Instead, their correspondent had his eye on the indignation fermenting among members of the Canadian Parliament that was threatening to make Lord Stanley “one of the most unpopular Governor Generals Canada has ever had.”

The cause? Lord Stanley, it seems, had cancelled the annual Rideau Hall state ball. The reason given was that Lady Stanley was “indisposed,” but everybody knew better, according to the Times: “in reality his Excellency and the vice-regal household are averse to having the vulgar crowd of common people invade the privileged precincts of the vice-regal residence.”

Lord Stanley had, subsequently, relented. Somewhat, anyway: invitations had gone out for a pair of dances to be celebrated at Rideau Hall that very February week.

The storm abated, if only until Ottawa discovered who hadn’tbeen invited to twirl: many members of Parliament and the Senate, along with most of the city’s business and merchant elites. The word was that much of the guest list was taken up by civil servants who happened to have English blood and a good family name in their favour. “It is enough,” an editorial in Toronto’s Globe raged, “that Rideau Hall is a rat hole for many thousands of public money without becoming a nursery for snobbishness.”

Other papers were reporting that Lord Stanley was to be recalled to England imminently. His successor? The Vancouver Daily World said that the Duke of Fife had already been appointed — “a very popular and sensible nobleman.” The Winnipeg Tribune was hearing that the prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, would take the job himself.

Not everybody was willing to drop the matter of the Sabbath having been defiled. In light of what was happening at Rideau Hall, MP John Charlton announced that he would be introducing a bill in Parliament to outlaw Sunday hockey.

Charlton was not, so far as I can determine, a hockey player. Even if he had been, I’m not sure that he would have ever allowed himself to chase a puck past midnight on a Saturday. The fact that he was a colleague of the Rebels’ John Barron in the Liberal caucus doesn’t seem to have moderated his view, either.

American-born, Charlton had migrated to Canada as a young man. Now 61, he had a pre-politics background in farming and the lumber business. He’d been a town councillor in southwestern Ontario before seeking and winning election to Parliament as the member for Norfolk North in 1872.

Forestry and the lumber trade with the United States took up most of his attention as a politician, but as Thomas Ferns and Robert Craig Brown make clear in The Dictionary of Canadian Biography,

his religious beliefs and strong convictions about moral reform also found frequent expression, both commercially and politically. A member of the Presbyterian Church from the 1850s and a confirmed Sabbatarian, he did not permit labour in his lumber camps on the Sabbath and he managed to confine his business travels to the other six days of the week, returning home … by Sunday. For Charlton public morality and national strength were most definitely connected.

By 1890, Charlton had been lobbying for a stricter national policy on slowing down the nation’s Sundays for more than a decade. When the Lord’s Day Alliance of the Dominion of Canada was established in 1888, Charlton was elected vice-president.

Now, he clearly saw that an opportunity was at hand: with Sunday hockey at Rideau Hall as his wedge, Charlton had his bill ready to introduce to Parliament by early March. “It is a physical necessity that man should have a day of rest at regular intervals,” he told the House of Commons ahead of the bill’s first reading, “and experience teaches that one day in seven is the natural period, the observance of which is for both his physical and moral well-being.”

This 1890 bill of Charlton’s packed its no-fun agenda into 11 sections stipulating all that Canadians wouldn’t be able to do when they woke up of a Sunday morning. Forbidden under Charlton’s law would working at any job, or compelling anyone else to work; selling and buying anything; tippling in any inn, anywhere; promoting or causing any horse or foot race, or cock-fight; revelling; swearing; hunting, shooting, or pursuing any game; going out fishing, or catching or killing even the tiniest fish; printing or delivering any newspaper; opening any canal in Canada, or post office, or railway station; running any train, freight or passenger (with a few exceptions); allowing any steamboat to embark on — that’s right — any excursion.

Nowhere in the bill did the word hockey appear. I guess Charlton must have felt that the ban in Section 3 was strong enough without it, specifically the part that prohibited “any noisy public game whereby the peace and quiet of the Lord’s Day is disturbed.”

For Sunday outlaws, the bill proposed fines ranging from $50 to $400. The New York Times took note of this in reporting the news of Charlton’s proposals in another page-one column. The fact that the new law would not apply to Canada’s Indigenous peoples caught the Times’ interest, as did the opposition of Quebec MPs, which was said to be near universal — the bill, to them, smacked of Puritanism.

This new Times dispatch duly mentioned how Lord Stanley and his family and their Sunday hockey had “shocked the strict Christians of the Dominion” before reaching their own New York conclusion: “If the bill passes, which is unlikely, Canada will be indeed a dead country on Sunday.”

The bill didn’t go anywhere — not in 1890, anyway. By the time Parliament did enact its Lord’s Day Act in 1906, John Charlton was out of politics and Lord Stanley and his hockey-mad family had long since decamped for England. The new law, which took effect in March of 1907, still didn’t mention hockey specifically, though the old injunction against noisy games still stood. Most commerce was prohibited, along with sports and amusements, though there were nuances now, and exemptions than in Charlton’s day — you were free to fight a fire or flood, for instance, and also to make maple syrup, so long as you did so in the woods.

Back in 1890, the crisis as it affected the vice-regal hockey rink seems to have passed promptly enough. Towards the end of February — on a Saturday — the Rebels hosted the Lindsay team they’d visited earlier in the month. Arthur Stanley refereed the first game and played in the second; the Rebels won both. In between, Lord Stanley gave the hockey players lunch at Government House.

If there was more outrage in Ottawa that winter for any other hockey turpitude, it doesn’t seem to have filtered out into the world’s press — like the hockey season and the natural ice it relied on, the commotion melted away with the coming of spring. I don’t know whether the Stanleys learned their lesson and ended up curtailing Sunday shinny on the rink at Rideau Hall to placate Ottawa’s disapproving pulpits. I kind of hope not — I’m hoping that they just got stealthier, and that somehow all their secret skating and furtive shooting made those Rebels better, craftier hockey players.

What I can say is that Lord Stanley wasn’t recalled in 1890, and didn’t turn his back on hockey, such that in March of 1892 a letter he wrote ended up at a banquet celebrating the successful season the Ottawa Hockey Club had just finished.

The venue that night was Ottawa’s Russell House Hotel, at the corner of Sparks and Elgin — just two blocks north, as it happened, of Reverend Woods’ Congregational Church.

Supper was over by ten o’clock; there were toasts, then, to Queen Victoria and her Governor-General, who wasn’t in attendance. The Earl of Cavan, Lord Kilcoursie, was, and he rose to make a reply. A 52-year-old Irishman, Kilcoursie served Lord Stanley as an aide-de-camp. Before coming to Canada, he’d distinguished himself as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy during the Crimean and Second Opium wars. Later, he’d been elected as an MP to the English Parliament.

In Ottawa, he was known to skate with the Rebels, which made him the right man to be reading out the letter with which Lord Stanley had entrusted him.

“I have for some time past been thinking,” it began, “that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion.”

Say It Ain’t So: The news lands in Lawrence, Kansas.