The Re-Birth of the Ottawa Senators

20 December 1991

Major league sports franchises have not always thrived in Ottawa, a relatively small market sandwiched between Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two sporting giants. The city’s football team failed twice in recent decades, the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1996 and the Ottawa Renegades in 2002. The Red Blacks now take the field to uphold the Capital’s football honour in the Canadian Football League. Hockey too has had its challenges. After winning multiple Stanley Cups during the 1920s, the storied Ottawa Senators, collapsed in 1934. Barely profitable during good times, the team simply could not survive the ravages of the Great Depression. Decades later, a WHA franchise, the Ottawa Nationals, appeared and disappeared in a matter of months during the early 1970s.

Imagine the excitement, and the scepticism, when news broke in June 1989 that an Ottawa development company was not only attempting to restore NHL hockey to the nation’s capital after a break of close to 60 years, but it also planned to revive the old Ottawa Senators club, an honoured name that still resonated in Canadian hockey lore.

Ottawa senators original logo

Initial pre-launch Ottawa Senators logo used to fire up fan interest in 1989-90. This emblem was never official. Reportedly, the logo was rejected by the NHL for being too local. Team officials said that it was “the official logo of the campaign to bring back the Senators.” Fans who had bought Senators’ merchandise with this logo were not pleased when it was replaced by a Roman centurion. Sensnation.

That company was Terrace Investments Ltd, under the direction of its young president and chief executive officer, Bruce Firestone. Terrace Investments was no fly-by-night operation. The family-owned firm, established in 1956 by Bruce Firestone’s father, Jack Firestone, was well known, the developer of a number of commercial properties in the Ottawa region. However, bringing an NHL franchise to the city was a huge undertaking for the company, one that would require outside investors to bring it off as well as a lot of hard work and much good fortune. The price of admission was steep, a cool $US50 million. And that was before paying for players, building an arena, and covering all the ancillary costs associated with starting a hockey club from scratch, including putting together a convincing bid to the NHL’s board of governors.

A bid for an NHL franchise was not a wacky idea, however. The NHL was in the mood to expand after a decade of stability; it had previously added four new teams in 1979—Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and the Winnipeg Jets—former members of the World Hockey Association. Reportedly as many as thirty cities had expressed an interest in obtaining a hockey franchise. In addition to Terrace Investments’ bid for an Ottawa team, investors were interested in bringing major league teams to Halifax, Hamilton, Saskatoon and Kitchener-Waterloo. A number of US cities were also keen, including Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Seattle. As well, there was talk of European cities obtaining franchises in what would become a global hockey league. Cities like, Moscow, Leningrad (today’s St. Petersburg), Stockholm and Helsinki were mentioned as likely contenders. But did little Ottawa stand a chance? Many doubted it. The senior Firestone was sceptical of the idea. Ottawa Mayor Jim Durrell, while wishing Bruce Firestone well, thought his bid for an NHL franchise had little chance of success. Alan Eagleson, the former director of the NHL’s Players’ Association, said that Ottawa was a “long shot.”

Ottawa senators second logo

The first official emblem of the re-born Ottawa Senators (1991-1997). People criticized it for being “generic, derivative and unoriginal.” Some likened it to the Amex logo or the logo of the University of Southern California Trojans football team. Logopedia.

Firestone’s bold game plan was to build a 20,000-seat arena on agricultural land that Terrace Investments had purchased in West Carleton and Kanata. Around the arena would be constructed a mini-city of 9,000 residents to be called Terrace West. An adjacent, upscale hotel was also planned for the site. The cost of the franchise would be covered, at least in part, by Terrace reselling land for development, assuming the site was rezoned for commercial and residential use. This was a big assumption.

Firestone officially kicked off his bid for an NHL franchise at a news conference in early September 1989 with Frank “Finny” Finnegan at his side. Finnegan had been a member of the Ottawa Senators’ team that had won the club’s last Stanley Cup in 1927. Firestone also announced that plans for the new arena, to be called the “Palladium,” would be forthcoming shortly. Simultaneously, he launched a campaign for reservations for season tickets.

The words had hardly left his mouth when Firestone’s bid for a franchise hit the first of the many stumbling blocks that were to come. The Ottawa Senators of the Central Junior A Hockey League (CJHL) had launched a law suit over use of the name “Ottawa Senators.”

For the next fifteen months, Firestone worked hard to put together a package that would convince John Zeigler, the president of the NHL, and the NHL’s Board of Governors that his Ottawa Senators bid was genuine, and that he had the financial backing to bring it off.  Things initially moved smoothly according to Firestone’s game plan. In January 1990, Terrance Investments came to an agreement with the CJHL Senators over the name as well as members of the Thomas P. Gorman family who also had a claim on the name. In March, Terrace put up an initial non-refundable US$5 payment, a down payment on the $50 million franchise fee. Three months later, Regional Council and the Kanata City Council agreed to rezone the agricultural land for the construction of the Palladium. In October, Milwaukee, a front-running city in the bidding for an NHL franchise, pulled out, improving Ottawa’ chances. Subsequently, Ottawa Mayor Durrell urged supporters of the Ottawa Senators to swamp Premier Bob Rae with letters demanding provincial support for Firestone’s bid. The Premier complied sending a letter of support to the NHL governors on behalf of Ottawa, but also for Hamilton whose bid was backed by Tim Horton’s Donuts. Kanata residents were urged to support Operation Blackout in which they were to turn off their electricity on one day in November in support of the team. An estimated 134,000 people took part.

In early December 1989, the NHL’s Board of Governors met in conclave at the tony Breakers resort in Palm Springs, Florida to consider competing bids for NHL franchises. Firestone provided them with an impressive black, leather bound bid book with gold trim. Outside in the street in front of the hotel, the Ottawa Fire Brigade band and enthusiastic, placard-waving Senators supporters did their best to sway governors’ opinions.

Two years of lobbying and US$3.5 million in bid preparation costs paid off. Just before noon on 6 December 1989, President Zeigler announced that Ottawa, along with Tampa Bay, had been awarded conditional franchises.

From that point, the really hard slogging began. It was not obvious that Firestone and Terrace Investments would be able to meet all of the NHL’s conditions. Most importantly, there was the matter of finding US$45 million of the franchise fee to be paid in two tranches, the first by June 1991 and the second by December 1991. Second, the NHL insisted that by December 1991, Terrace had to have a binding financial agreement for the construction of the Palladium.

Both conditions were problematic. Terrace did not have the cash to make the payments; it needed outside investors. But Canada was experiencing a deep recession in 1991, and money was not easy to find. As well, much of Terrace’s financial plan hinged on the rezoning of prime agricultural land on the outskirts of Kanata for the construction of the arena and surrounding hotel, retail and residential development. But a Carp farmer, later joined by others, had protested the rezoning to the Ontario Municipal Board, setting in motion a hearing into the rezoning decisions made by Kanata and the regional government.

One condition that was easily met was the number of season tickets sold. In a ten-day selling “blitz” late December 1990, 9,355 season tickets were reserved for the Senators’ first season in the Ottawa Civic Centre, their temporary home before the Palladium was built. This was essentially all the seats in the arena. Following a renovation in 1991, capacity was increased to 9,793 seats by reducing the width of seats to a standard 16 inches.

Through 1991, Firestone worked on both the financing and zoning issues. To help him, Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Durrell, now a convert to the Senators’ cause, became President of the club in late 1990. Shortly afterwards, he resigned from the mayor’s chair after there were complaints of his “moonlighting.”

Terrace Investments began selling limited partnerships in the new franchise, which were divided into Class A, B, and C units. Buyers did come in, but it was slow going. And it looked touch and go whether the June US$22.6 million payment could be met. In the event, Terrace placed the funds in escrow on the due date (which had been extended a week for both Ottawa and Tampa Bay). Reportedly, Terrace borrowed the necessary funds. Funding prospects improved with news that Paul Anka, the crooner from the 1950s and 1960s who had roots in Ottawa, had stepped forward and bought a significant interest in the team and the Palladium project. A television deal with Baton Broadcasting for CTV affiliates CJOH in Ottawa and CHRO in Pembroke also brought in much needed cash.

The Ontario Municipal Board hearing, held over an eleven-week period through the summer of 1991, was a close call. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food as well as twelve individuals opposed the rezoning of prime agricultural land for other purposes. If there was no rezoning, the Firestone’s NHL’s franchise bid would fail. The opposition of the Minister of Agriculture incensed Firestone. Firestone thought that the NDP government’s hostility to the rezoning reflected its preference for Hamilton to receive an NHL franchise as Hamilton was an NDP stronghold.

The decision of the three-person Board hinged on six points. These comprised: the appropriateness of using agricultural land for commercial purposes, specifically a hockey area; whether Terrace Investments had made an adequate search for alternate sites; the size of the economic benefits to the project; the need for commercial development around the proposed arena, i.e. the proposed hotel and the homes and retail spaces; traffic congestion in the area; and the integrity of the municipal planning process.

While critical of Firestone’s approach to the rezoning issue, the Board agreed that 220 acres of land could be rezoned to permit the building of the Palladium arena. However, it required Terrace Investments to pay for all the required infrastructure, including the interchange linking road access to the arena to the Queensway. Moreover, the Board denied permission to rezone additional agricultural land for a hotel and the Terrace West “mini-city.”

It was enough. Construction on an NHL-size arena to house the re-born Ottawa Senators could begin. A key condition of the franchise had been met. Now that this major hurdle had been crossed, investor money was easier to raise. Terrace Investments paid the second US$22.5 million installment into the escrow account in mid-December 1991. On 20 December 1991, following the completion of the necessary paperwork, an excited Bruce Firestone held up a framed NHL franchise certificate. The Ottawa Senators had been reborn. Firestone said “The Senators will never leave town again.”

The re-born Sens were back in action at the start of the 1992-93 season. Bruce Firestone, however, didn’t stay around beyond that first year. In August 1993, he sold his and his family’s interest in Terrace Investments to his partner, Rod Bryden. The financial and emotional toll of bringing an NHL franchise to Ottawa had been too great.

Sources:

NHL, 2016. From six teams to 31: History of NHL Expansion, https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-expansion-history/c-281005106

Ottawa Citizen, “20,000 seat arena, hotel part of NHL franchise bid,” 23 June.

——————, 1989. “Inside Bruce Firestone,” 5 December.

——————, 1990. “The Rocky Road To An NHL Franchise,” 7 December.

——————, 1991. “SRO for Senators’ seats, 2 January.

——————, 1991. “The Opposition Mounts,” 4 January.

——————, 1991. “It’s pay day: NHL to receive $5m down payment,” 14 January.

——————, 1991. “Hockey controversy hurting city hall, says O’Neil,” 15 January.

——————, 1991. “The Last Act,” 7 February.

——————, 1991. “Terrace looking for investors,” 28 February.

——————, 1991. “Terrae’s brilliant selling job,” 2 March.

——————, 1991. “Firestone’s vision remains true despite the many questions,” 7 March.

——————, 1991. “Citizen’s (sic) group shows support for Senators,” 19 March.

——————, 1991. “Anka wants quick return on Senators,” 23 March.

——————, 1991. CJOH, CHRO win TV deal with Senators,” 27 April.

——————, 1991. “Anka to be Senators’ landlord,” 14 May.

——————, 1991. “The logo they love to hate,” 18 May.

——————, 1991. “Arena site crucial, hearing told,” 22 May.

——————, 1991. “Bring back the Peace Tower,” 23 May.

——————, 1991. “Arena would defy city plan,” 28 May.

——————, 1991. “Developer gains Kanata approval for town centre shopping mall,” 30 May.

—————–, 1991. “Senators in a ‘war’ to survive,” 15 June.

—————–, 1991. “All is rosy for Senators on pay day,” 16 June.

—————–, 1991. “NDP’s obstinate opposition,” 24 June.

—————–, 1991. “Crunch time for the Senators,” 20 July.

—————–, 1991. Race against time at Civic Centre,” 1 August.

—————–, 1991. “Finding himself: Anka’s deal is oh so sweet,” 23 August.

—————–, 1991. “Major victory for the team,” 27 August.

—————–, 1991. “Now for the cash…” 29 August.

—————–, 1991. “Senators have sold $37m in shares.

—————–, 1991. “NHL says Senators financing in place,” 17 December.

—————-, 1991. “Its Official,” 21 December.

Red Deer Advocate, 1989. “Pro hockey on way to Saskatoon: report,” 24 November.

Star-Phoenix, 1989. “NHL expansion plan outlined by Shenkarow,” 11 November.

Lord Stanley’S Cup

18 March 1892

Each spring as winter’s snows begin to recede, the thoughts of Canadians turn to the Stanley Cup. One of the oldest sporting trophies in the world, the Cup is the symbol of hockey supremacy in North America. Its provenance is well known; it was purchased and given to the hockey community by Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada’s Governor General, in 1892. What is less well known is that Ottawa featured prominently in the Cup’s story. It was in Ottawa that Stanley let it be known his intention to provide a championship trophy. As well, during his vice-regal tenure in the nation’s capital, the Governor General, an avid hockey fan, and his equally hockey-mad children, did much to make hockey Canada’s national game. The Ottawa Hockey Club also played in the first Stanley Cup championship game.

The sport of ice hockey has a long history. It probably originated in “ball and stick” games played by both Europeans and natives peoples in North America. Shinny, an early form of ice hockey, was played on rivers or ponds in Nova Scotia during the early nineteenth century. Shinny could involve scores of players on each team, using a wooden puck, one-piece hockey sticks and hockey skates. Modern ice hockey dates from early 1875 when Halifax native James Creighton organized an indoor game at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal. Given the constrained skating surface, teams were limited to nine per side (reduced to seven in 1880). Played with a flat wooden disk using hockey sticks made by Mi’kmaq carvers from Nova Scotia, the game used “Halifax Rules” that included a prohibition on the puck leaving the ice and no shift changes. The match was an overwhelming success for both its participants and its appreciative audience.

In response to growing interest in the sport in central Canada, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) was formed in 1886 with five teams, four from Montreal (the Victorias, the Crystals, the Montreal Hockey Club, and McGill College) and one from Ottawa, the Ottawa Hockey Club, known as the Ottawas.  The Ottawas were established in 1883 and were a frequent participant in hockey games held during the Montreal Winter Carnival during the 1880s.

Lord Stanley Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-027166

Lord Stanley of Preston, 1889, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA/027166.

Lord Stanley of Preston arrived in Canada in 1888 to take up his position as the Dominion’s sixth Governor General. An avid sportsman, he was introduced to the game of ice hockey in February 1889 when he and members of his family, including his eldest son Edward and daughter Isobel, visited the Montreal Winter Carnival. Arriving while a hockey game was in progress—play was temporarily halted on his arrival—the Governor General, his family and friends watched the Montreal Victorias defeat the Montreal Hockey Club.

Lord Stanley was instantly hooked on the game. He quickly built an outdoor rink at Rideau Hall, his Ottawa residence, for the use of his family and staff. He took to the ice himself, though he apparently got into some trouble for skating on the Sabbath. In March 1889, his Rideau Hall rink was the site of what is believed to be the first woman’s hockey match between a Government House team on which Isobel Stanley played, and a Rideau ladies team. Her brothers, Edward, Arthur, Victor and Algernon, were also keen hockey players. They played with various official aides, MPs and senators on a team dubbed the “Rideau Rebels,” but more formally known as the Vice-Regal and Parliamentary Hockey Club. The Rebels played exhibition games throughout eastern Ontario including Kingston and Toronto that helped to popularize the game. The fact that Lord Stanley had placed his vice-regal stamp of approval on the game was another important factor in hockey’s rapid acceptance as Canada’s national winter sport.

In 1890, Lord Stanley’s son, Arthur, along with two team mates from the Rideau Rebels, helped create the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), composed of thirteen teams from Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa, later joined by a team from Lindsay. Today, the OHA oversees junior hockey in Ontario. During the late nineteenth century, long before there was a National Hockey League and professional players, OHA teams represented the cream of Ontario hockey. The Ottawa Hockey Club team played in both the OHA and the AHAC centred in Montreal.

The Stanley Cup dates from 18 March 1892. That night, a celebratory dinner for members of the Ottawa Hockey Club was held at the Russell House Hotel. The Russell House was Ottawa’s top watering hole at the time, standing at the north-eastern corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets, roughly between today’s National War Memorial and the National Arts Centre. The Ottawas had just finished a championship year, winning the Cosby Cup of the OHA and holding the AHAC championship from January to early March before losing it to the Montreal Hockey Club. The Ottawa Evening Journal noted that the back of the dinner’s menu cards recorded the achievements of the team: nine championship matches won to only a single defeat, during which the team scored 53 goals “against the best teams in Canada,” allowing only 19 goals the other way.

Accounts differ on the number of people at the dinner. The Journal reported that there were between 70 and 80 present, while the Montreal Gazette said that about 200 admirers attended. The latter, larger number probably reflected the addition of the ladies who joined the men after the dinner for “ices.” Mr J.W. McRae, president of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association, the senior umbrella sporting association to which the Ottawa Hockey Club was affiliated, presided over the soirée, while the band of Governor General’s Foot Guards provided suitable musical entertainment.

At about 10pm, after the loyal toast to Queen Victoria, followed by another toast to the health of the Governor General, Lord Kilcoursie, an aide to Lord Stanley, rose to reply on behalf of the Governor General who had been unable to attend the evening’s event. After thanking the gathering, Kilcoursie read out a letter from Stanley. Dated 18 March 1892, it said:

I have for some time past been thinking 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. There does not appear to be any such outward and visible sign of a championship at present, and considering the general interest which matches now elicit, and in the importance of having the game played fairly and under rules generally recognized, I am willing to give a cup, which shall be held from year to year by the winning team.

I am not quite certain that the present regulations governing the arrangement of matches give entire satisfaction, and it would be worth considering whether they could not be arranged so that each team would play once at home and once at the place where their opponents hail.

The letter was enthusiastically received by the partisan hockey crowd.

Kilcoursie also revealed that the Governor General had commissioned his former military secretary, Captain Charles Colville of the Grenadier Guards, who had recently returned to Britain, to purchase an appropriate trophy on Stanley’s behalf.

After a series of more toasts, including one to the Ottawa Hockey team as well as others to members of the league, the Press and the Ladies, the dinner broke up at about midnight, though not before many songs were sung. In particular, Lord Kilcoursie entertained the party goers by singing a “ditty” titled The Hockey Men that he had personally composed to honour the members of the Ottawa Hockey Club. The first two verses went:

There is a game called hockey
There is no finer game
For though some call it ‘knockey’
Yet we love it all the same.

This played in His Dominion
Well played both near and far
There’s only one opinion
How ’tis played in Ottawa.

At the end, the crowd gave “a rousing chorus, rendered in stentorian style” according to the Journal, repeating the third verse of the eighteen-verse poem:

Then give three cheers for Russell
The captain of the boys.
However tough the tussle
His position he enjoys.

And then for all the others
Let’s shout as loud we may
O-T-T-A-W-A!

Over in England, Captain Colville purchased Stanley’s Cup from the London silversmiths G.R. Collis of Regent Street for the sum of 10 guineas (ten pounds, ten shillings). As one pound was worth $4.8666 in Canadian money, this was the equivalent to $51.10, a considerable sum in 1892.  On one side of the silver bowl with a gilt interior was engraved “Dominion Hockey Challenge Trophy,” while the inscription “From Stanley of Preston” with his family coat of arms was on the other. The Cup arrived in Ottawa the end of April 1893 and was entrusted to two trustees, Sheriff John Sweetland and Philip D. Ross.

Stanley Cup Library and Archives Canada

The original Stanley Cup. The silver bowl stands 19 centimetres (7 1/2 inches) high, and has a diameter of 28.5 centimetres (11 1/4 inches), and a circumference of 89 centimetres (35 inches), Library and Archives Canada.

The trustees announced that the Cup would henceforth be called the “Stanley Cup” in honour of its donor and, as specified by Lord Stanley, it would be a “challenge” cup. In other words, the Cup would be open for all. Any team could challenge the holder of the Cup for the championship title though the two trustees had the final say on whether a challenge would be accepted. Other conditions included the requirements that a winning team keep the trophy “in good order,” that each winning team (except for the first winner) would engrave its name on a silver ring fixed to the trophy at its own cost, that the Cup was not the property of any one team, and that in case of doubt over who was rightly the champion team in the Dominion, the trustees’ decision was final.

Unfortunately, the presentation of the first Stanley Cup in May 1893 was mired in controversy. The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA) was awarded the trophy by virtue of the 7-1 victory of its affiliated hockey team, the Montreal Hockey Club, over the Ottawa Hockey Club, the OHA champions. The trustees duly engraved Montreal AAA on the Cup, and arranged for Sheriff Sweetland to present the trophy at the Association’s Annual General Meeting. The president of the Montreal Hockey Club, James Stewart, who was also a player on the team, was asked to attend the Annual General Meeting to receive the Cup. However, Stewart refused to accept the trophy until the terms and conditions related to holding the Cup were clarified. Enraged by this decision, and not willing to embarrass the Governor General’s emissary, Stewart accepted the Cup from Sweetland on behalf of the MAAA.

The spat between the MAAA and the Montreal Hockey Club went on for some months. After a number of letters between the two organizations and between Sweetland and Ross, a reconciliation was achieved, and the Stanley Cup was finally transferred to the Montreal Hockey Club in time for the 1894 championship game.  Held in late March of that year with the Ottawa Hockey Club, their long-time rivals, the match attracted some five thousand cheering fans to the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal.  After Ottawa took a one-goal lead, the Montreal team stormed back with three unanswered goals to win the game 3-1 and the Cup. Later, the neutral words “Montreal 1894” were engraved on the Cup to avoid any hard feelings between the parent Montreal Association and its related Montreal Hockey Club.

Sadly, Lord Stanley, the man behind the Cup, was not there to witness the first challenge match for his trophy. He had returned home the previous summer to take up the duties as the 16th Earl of Derby following the death of his elder brother.

 

Sources:

Batten, Jack, Hornby Lance, Johnson, George, Milton Steve, 2001. Quest for the Cup, A History of the Stanley Cup Finals 1893-2001, Jack Falla, Genera Editor, Thunder Bay Press: San Diego.

Hockey Hall Of Fame, 2016. Stanley Cup Journal, http://www.hhof.com/htmlstcjournal/exSCJ06_02.shtml.

Jenish, D’Arcy, 1992. The Stanley Cup: A Hundred Years of Hockey At Its Best, McClelland & Stewart Inc.: Toronto.

McKinley, Michael. 2000. Putting A Roof On Winter, Greystone Books: Vancouver.

Montreal, Gazette (The), 1892. “Lord Stanley Promises To Give A Championship Cup,” 19 March.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1892. “Stars of the Ice.” 19 March.

————————————, 1893. “The Stanley Cup.” 1 May.

Shea, Kevin & Wilson, John J., 2006. Lord Stanley: The Man Behind The Cup, Fenn Publishing Company Ltd: Bolton, Ontario.

Vaughan, Garth, 1999. The Birthplace of Hockey, http://www.birthplaceofhockey.com/origin/overview/.

Wikipedia, 1891-92, 2014. Ottawa Hockey Club Season, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1891%E2%80%9392_Ottawa_Hockey_Club_season.

Images:

Lord Stanley of Preston, 1889. Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-027166.

The Stanley Cup, Library and Archives Canada, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Cup#/media/File:Premiere_Coupe_Stanley_1893.jpg.

 

Dawson City Challenge

16 January 1905

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the rules of ice hockey were considerably different than they are today. For one thing, a team had seven players on the ice instead of the modern six. The extra player was known as the “rover.” The game itself was divided into two, thirty-minute halves, instead of three, twenty-minute periods. Forward passes were illegal. Similar to rugby, the puck-handler who found his progress blocked was forbidden to pass the puck forward to an open team mate. Pity the poor goalie too.  He was virtually indistinguishable from other players, wearing little or no padding. At best, his shins were protected by cricket pads. The other team members didn’t have it easy though; line changes were a thing of the future.

Who could compete for the Stanley Cup was also very different. Instead of the Eastern and Western Conference champions of the National Hockey League playing in a best-of-seven series, the Cup was a “challenge” cup for amateur play. A hockey club, usually the winner of some league play, challenged the Cup holder for the trophy, typically in a best of three game series, or a two-game, total goals series. The winning team also got to take home the Cup, and only relinquished the trophy upon its defeat by a challenger.

In the fall of 1904, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, Ottawa’s Silver Seven, the forerunners of the Ottawa Senators, were challenged by an upstart team from Dawson City, Yukon called the Dawson City Nuggets, or sometimes the Dawson City Klondikers. The Cup challenge was organized by Colonel Joe Boyle, Dawson City’s number one citizen. Boyle, a larger-than-life character, had made a fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 through mining concessions and other businesses. His nickname was “King of the Klondike.”

By 1904, however, Dawson City was in decline, the gold largely played out. Its population, which had topped 40,000 at the peak of the gold rush in 1898, had fallen to less than 5,000, though there were more settlers in the surrounding hinterland. Boyle, a one-time boxing promoter with a passion for hockey, put together a four-team league consisting of miners, prospectors, police and civil servants. The small league played at a newly-built, indoor rink that amazingly boasted an attached clubhouse, dressing rooms, showers, lounges and a dining room. The Dawson City Nuggets, an “all-star” team, were drawn from this ragtag bunch. Confident of their abilities, however, somebody came up with the idea, reputedly at a “knees up” in a local saloon, of challenging the Ottawa Hockey Club’s Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup.

This wasn’t as wacky an idea as it sounds. A number of good hockey players had come to the Klondike to seek their fortunes. As one press report of the time noted, the men “continued to play hockey when they were not ‘plucking gold nuggets.’” Coincidently, many of the players were from the Ottawa area. The team’s captain, Weldy Young, was a legitimate star who had played for the Ottawa Hockey Club during the 1890s. The team’s rover, Dr Randy McLennan, also had considerable hockey experience, having played for Queen’s University in Kingston when it challenged the Montreal AAA team in a losing cause for the Stanley Cup in 1895. However, the Ottawa team was a formidable opponent. It had defeated the Montreal Wanderers for the Stanley Cup in March 1903, and had successfully defended it against five challengers over the following year.

Dawson City Nuggets outside Dey Arena, 1905, Yukon Archives 88.25.1

The Dawson City Nuggets in front of Dey’s Rink, Ottawa, 1905. In rear, left to right: Hector Smith, George Kennedy, Lorne Hannay, James Johnston, and Norman Watt. In front, left to right: Albert Forrest, Joseph Boyle, and Dr Randy McLellan, Yukon Archives, 88.25.1.

 

For reasons that are unclear, the Ottawa Club accepted the cheeky challenge from the northerners to a best of three series to be held in January 1905 in Ottawa. Col. Boyle bankrolled the Nuggets, covering their travel and other expenses of $6,000, equivalent to about $125,000 in today’s money. With the team’s likely share of the box office from the Stanley Cup games expected to be only $2,000, he also organized a series of post-Cup exhibition games in eastern Canada and the United States to help re-coup his expenses. The Dawson City Nuggets became an instant media sensation throughout North America. The Montreal Gazette called their trek out east “the most gigantic trip every undertaken by a hockey team.” Ottawa’s Evening Journal said it was “the pluckiest challenge in the history of the Stanley Cup.”

Most of the team set out from Dawson City on 19 December 1904. They were originally supposed to leave several days earlier, but their departure was delayed by a federal election in the Yukon. As it was, the team left without Weldy Young. Employed by the government, he had to work over the election period and couldn’t get the time off. He later caught up with the rest of the players, too late, however, to play in the Stanley Cup series in Ottawa. The team’s number two player, Lionel Bennett, was also a no-show. He didn’t want to leave his wife’s bedside who had been injured in a sleigh accident.

Undeterred, the team set out on the 4,300 mile (6,900 kilometre) trek to Ottawa. The first leg of their voyage was to Whitehorse, a 330-mile slog through the wilderness, on bicycle, foot, and by sled. Despite the cold and overcoming frostbite, the men made good time. They covered 46 miles on their first day alone. But it took them nine days to get to Whitehorse, sheltering at night in cabins owned by the North West Mounted Police. From Whitehorse, they caught a train to Skagway, Alaska. Delayed two days by snow storms in the White Pass, the team missed their boat and had to wait an additional three days before catching a steamer to Seattle. They then backpacked to Vancouver. At Vancouver, they boarded the transcontinental Canadian Pacific train for Ottawa. Before leaving, Boyle sent a telegram to the Ottawa Hockey Club asking for the series to be postponed to allow the Nuggets to recover from their odyssey; the request was denied.

The Nuggets arrived in Ottawa on 11 January 1905, two days before their opening game at Dey’s Rink located at Gladstone and Bay Streets. The team was warmly greeted in Ottawa. The Ottawa Journal called the Dawson players “hardy Norsemen,” and opined that the “Yukon team was a sturdy lot” and would “bear themselves bravely.” The team took some light practice at the arena before the series began, as well as visited the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Club to watch boxing matches and an endurance contest.

The first game of the series was held on 13 January at 8.30pm. In goal for Dawson City was 17-year old Albert Forrest, originally from Trois Rivières, Quebec. Replacing the absent Weldy Young as team captain was Dr Randy McLennan (rover). The other players included Jim Johnstone (point), Lorne Hannay (cover point), Hector Smith (centre), George Kennedy (right wing) and Norman Watt (left wing). Joe Boyle acted as the team’s manager.  At the other end of the ice, Dave Finnie was in goal for Ottawa. The other Silver Seven players included Arthur “Bones” Allan (point), Art Moore (cover point), Harry “Rat” Westwick (rover), Frank McGee (centre), Alf Smith (right wing) and Fred White (left wing). Bob Shillington was the team’s general manager.

The game was played to a capacity crowd of roughly 2,500 spectators. The Governor General, Lord Grey, dropped the puck to start play. Through the first half, the Nuggets, dressed in black sweaters with gold trim, were competitive, holding the Silver Seven, wearing their red, black and white jerseys, to only three goals to their one. But the Nuggets began to flag in the second half, the effects of their trip becoming apparent. Penalties didn’t help either. A punch-up in the first half sent Norman Watt of the Nuggets and Ottawa’s Alf Smith off for ten minutes each for fighting. Tempers deteriorated further during the second half. When Art Moore, Ottawa’s cover point, tripped Watt, Watt retaliated. After he picked himself off the ice, Watt skated over to Moore and smashed him over his head with his stick, knocking him out cold for ten minutes. Two quick Ottawa goals followed. The final score was a lopsided 9-2 decision in Ottawa’s favour; Alf Smith tallied for four goals, Rat Westwick and Fred White each got two, while Frank McGee scored once. For Dawson City, Randy McLennan and George Kennedy retaliated.

Notwithstanding Watt’s brutal assault on Moore and the other fights, the Ottawa Evening Journal admired the sportsmanship displayed by both teams. In the newspaper’s description of the game, the reporter commented: “It was rather a novelty to the Ottawa public to see such a wholesome, even-tempered exhibition and it went down very well with the audience. More power to you boys!” One wonders what rough games were like during that era.

The second game of the series took place two days later on 16 January 1905. Both teams made modest changes to their line-ups. For the Nuggets, Dave Fairburn replaced Randy McLennan as rover. Harvey Pulford, the Silver Seven captain took over on point from “Bones” Allan. The national press didn’t rate the Nuggets chances very highly. The St John Daily Sun commented that the Stanley Cup would likely stay east. The newspaper commented that although the Klondikers had demonstrated they could handle the puck during the first game, the team had been “outskated, out-generalled, out-pointed in very department” by the Ottawa club. Still, the Dawson City newspaper, Yukon World, remained optimistic saying that the Klondike team had “a good chance.” The paper was wrong. Ottawa destroyed the Nuggets in the most lop-sided victory in the history of the Stanley Cup, defeating the northerners 23-2 in front of another capacity crowd at Dey’s Rink. Reports were pretty unanimous that Ottawa would have run the score up even higher if it hadn’t been for the strong goal-tending of young Albert Forrest.

Frank McGee, Ottawa’s centre, scored fourteen times, another record that still stands today. Eight of those goals were scored consecutively in less than nine minutes in the second half. McGee, an Ottawa native, was the nephew of D’Arcy McGee, the father of Confederation who was assassinated in 1868. McGee was a well-rounded athlete who had played football for the Ottawa Rough Riders during the 1890s. He had only one eye; he lost the other one in 1900 to a high stick. With a full time job as a public servant, he retired from hockey in 1906 at the tender age of 23 years. Despite his handicap, he enlisted during World War I after cheating on his vision test. He died in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.

The evening after the blow-out, second game, the Ottawa Hockey Club hosted a party for the visiting Nuggets at the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Club, with George Murphy, president of the Ottawa Club acting as toastmaster. It must have been quite an event. The Stanley Cup, filled with champagne, was passed around the table repeatedly. Later, somebody drop-kicked the trophy onto the frozen Rideau Canal.

The team from the Klondike left Ottawa for their tour of eastern Canada and the United States. With the return of Weldy Young to the team, the Nuggets had a modicum of success, though not enough to mitigate their overwhelming defeat in Ottawa. The team then disappeared from history, though not before getting its name engraved on the Stanley Cup for all time.

In 1997 a Dawson City team took on an Ottawa Senators Alumni team in a re-enactment of the 1905 game at the Corel Centre (now the Canadian Tire Centre) in Ottawa. Retracing the steps of their predecessors, the Dawson team travelled by dog sled and snowmobile from Dawson City, to Whitehorse, to Skagway and then by ferry to Seattle, before heading to Vancouver, and finally Ottawa. Before a crowd of 6,000 the visitors were once again thumped, this time 18-0. The proceeds of the charity event, split between the two teams, went to the Ottawa Heart Institute, the Yukon Special Olympics, and Yukon Minor Hockey.

Sources:

Story suggested by André Laflamme, Ottawa Free Tours, http://www.ottawafreetour.com/home.html.

Gaffin Jane, 2006. Joe Boyle: The SuperHero of the Klondike Gold Rush, http://www.diarmani.com/Articles/Gaffin/Joe%20Boyle%20–%20SuperHero%20of%20the%20Klondike%20Goldfields.htm.

Gates, Michael, 2010. “The game that almost brought the Stanley Cup to Dawson,” Yukon News, 22 January.

Globe, (The), 1904. “Coming of the Gold-Diggers,” 29 November.

—————-, 1905. “Ottawa Outclassed Dawson.” 17 January.

Levett, Bruce. 1989. “2-game Series took month’s trek.” Ottawa Citizen, 27 August.

McKinley, Michael, 2000. Putting A Roof On Winter, Greystone Books: Vancouver, Toronto, New York.

Montreal Gazette (The), 1904 “The Stanley Cup Dates,” 23 November.

—————————-, 1905. “Story of the Stanley Cup,” 18 January.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1905. “Overcame All Hardships,” 13 January.

————————————, 1905. “Ottawas Victorious In the First Stanley Cup Match,” 14 January.

———————————–, 1905. “The Stanley Cup Will Not Be Going To The Klondike,” 17 January.

———————————-, 1905. “J.P. Dickson Threw Down Gauntlet To The C.A.A.U. 18 January.

Pelletier, Joe, 2014. “Great Moments in Hockey History: Stanley Cup Challenge from the Yukon,” Greatest Hockey Legends.com,  9 May, http://www.greatesthockeylegends.com/2007/04/stanley-cup-challenge-from-yukon.html.

Pittsburgh Press (The), 1905. “Hockey Flashes,” 13 January.

Rodgers, Andrew, 2011. “Dawson City Nuggets and the Ottawa Senators Alumni: Interview with Award-Winning Author Don Reddick,” TVOS, 16 March, http://www.thevoiceofsport.com/2011/03/dawson-city-nuggets-and-ottawa-senators.html

St John Daily Sun, 1905. “Stanley Cup Will Probably Stay East,” 14 January.

Yukon World, 1904. “Dawson’s Champions And The Cup,” 18 December.

—————-, 1905. “Klondike Hockey Team Creates Great Interest In Ottawa,” 13 January.

—————, 1905. “Klondike Hockey Team Defeated In Extremely Rough Game In the Presence Of Thousands Of People,” 14 January.

—————, 1905. “Klondike Team Has Good Chance In The Game Monday Night,” 15 January.

————–, 1905, “Klondike Hockey Meet An Overwhelming Defeat At The Capital,” 17 January.

 

The Cup

13 April 1927

The Ottawa Senators’ Cy Denneny, the “Cornwall Colt,” streaks down the left wing side, with Frank “Finny” Finnegan keeping pace along the right-hand boards. Swinging towards centre ice, Denneny fakes a pass to Finnegan. Lionel Hitchman, the Boston defenceman, moves out of position to make the interception.  Putting on the breaks, Denneny drills the puck at the Bruin goaltender, Hal Winkler. The puck bounces off his chest but deflects into the net. The fans go wild. It’s Denneny’s second mark of the night. The time is 11:25 of the third period of the fourth and what turns out to be deciding game of the series. While a late goal helps to keep Boston in the game, it’s too little, too late.  In front of a jubulent home crowd, the Ottawa Senators win 3-1 over the visiting Boston Bruins, and take 1926-27 edition of the Stanley Cup. This is the fourth time in seven years that the Ottawa Senators have hoisted the Stanley Cup, and the last…so far.

Winning the Stanley Cup capped a stupendous year for the Ottawa Senators. The team, under manager Dave Gill and Captain “Buck” Boucher, started the season at a blistering pace, losing only one match of their first fifteen of the 44-game regular season. When the season ended, the team had racked up a 30-10-4 record, with a division leading 64 points, six up on the second place Montreal Canadiens.  The Sens took on the Habs for the Canadian Division crown in a two-game, total-goal, playoff series. Ottawa downed Montreal 4-1 in the first game. In the second, Montreal could only manage a 1-1 tie, leaving the Senators the divisional champions, five goals to one.

The NHL champion series between Ottawa and the Boston Bruins, the American Division champions, opened on 7 April 1927 at the Boston Arena.  Although the “Beantowners” had the edge in play in Game 1, they failed to get past Senator goalie, Alec Connell. But neither could Ottawa find the Boston net. After twenty minutes of overtime, the game ended in a scoreless draw when the referees called the game owing to deteriorating ice conditions. Earlier in the first period, it had appeared that Ottawa had gone in front on a goal by Cy Denneny. But the goal was disallowed as Denneny had received the puck on a forward pass from teammate Frank Nighbor; forward passes were not allowed in the NHL until 1929. In overtime, Boston’s Percy Galbraith managed to get past Connell, but that goal too was disallowed.

Game two, held on 9 April at the Boston Arena, was a distinctly different affair. Both teams abandoned the defensive style of the previous game. The Sens quickly jumped to a two-goal lead in the early minutes of the opening period, on power-play marks from “King” Clancy and Finnegan. Boston narrowed the lead to one goal in the second period when Harry Oliver scored in a scramble in front of the Ottawa net. At the end of a thrilling third period which saw Boston battling desperately to tie the game, Cy Denneny struck again five seconds before the final buzzer, bringing the final score to 3-1 for the visiting Senators.

 

1926-27 Ottawa Senators

1926-27 Ottawa Senators

With the series moving to Ottawa, Game 3 was held on 11 April in the Auditorium, located on the corner of Argyle and O’Connor Streets, today’s site of Ottawa’s YMCA. The arena, built in 1923 as the home of the Ottawa Senators, had a seating capacity of 7,500, with standing room for another 1,500. Like the first game in Boston, Game 3 ended in tie; this time 1-1in another goaltenders’ duel in front of a boisterous capacity crowd of 9,000. Boston took an early first period lead when Jimmy Herberts, the “Collingwood Sailor,” picked up a pass from Harry Oliver in front of the Ottawa goal and batted it past Sens’ goalie, Alec Connell. The Sens got the equalizer late in the second period. In a brilliant play that got the crowd cheering on their feet, defenceman King Clancy picked up the puck close to his own net, raced to centre ice, eluding the Boston defencemen in the process, before making a brilliant pass to Cy Denneny on left wing who drilled the puck past Hal Winkler. During overtime, Ottawa’s goalie saved the game by coming out of his net to smother the puck, robbing Frank Frederickson, the Boston centre, of an all but certain goal.

Game 4, played on 13 April in the Auditorium, was a hard-fought match in front of a crowd of more than 8,000. With no scoring in the first period, Ottawa struck at the five minute mark of the second period when Finnegan picked up the puck “like a hawk after a hen” and fired it at close range into the upper corner of the Boston net. Less than three minutes later, Denneny scored his first of the night on a blistering shot from the Boston blue line. Denneny’s second goal midway in third period effectively put the game out of Boston’s reach. Connell lost his bid for a third shutout of the series when Harry Oliver, the Boston right winger, got past him in the dying minutes of the game.

The game turned ugly late in the third period. A feud between Boston’s Lionel Hitchman, an Ottawa native, and Hooley Smith, Ottawa’s centreman, led to a fight five minutes before the end of the game. The two slashed at each other near the left-side boards close to the Ottawa net before dropping their gloves. Ottawa Captain “Buck” Boucher raced in, and he and Hitchman came to blows. Both were sent off of the ice, Hitchman bleeding from the mouth. Seconds later, Hooley Smith jabbed Boston’s Harry Oliver in the head, knocking him out. Coming to his team mate’s rescue, Eddie Shore took on Hooley Smith; both were sent off for the rest of the game. Worse was yet to come. As referees Jerry Laflamme and Billy Bell made their way to the dressing room at the conclusion of the game, Laflamme was assaulted by Boston relief defenceman, Billy Coutu. Fortunately, Laflamme was unhurt in the altercation. The next day, NHL President, Frank Calder, fined Coutu $100 and expelled him from the league.  Several other Ottawa and Boston players were also fined or suspended for their roles in the third period fights.

With the victory over the Bruins, the Senators won the O’Brien Cup as NHL champions, as well as the Stanley Cup, still at that time a “challenge cup.” The victory meant a bonus of $1,200 for each Ottawa player, equivalent to about $16,500 in today’s money. The Senators Hockey Club also eked out a small profit owing to the revenues from the playoff series. With the smallest catchment area of any NHL franchise, the team’s revenue stream, shaky even in good times, shrank drastically during the Great Depression. After the team’s management sold off the best players in a bid to survive, the franchise was moved to Saint Louis in 1934 where it lingered as the St. Louis Eagles for another year. Revived in 1991, the Ottawa Senators made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007 but fell short, losing to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in five games.

 

Sources:

Lewiston Evening Journal, “Bruins Licked, 3-1 Victory to Senators,” 11 April 1927.

The Globe,” Brilliant Attack Wins for Ottawa,” 11 April, 1927.

The Ottawa Evening Citizen, “Third Game of N.H.L. Titular Series Ends a Tie,” 12 April 1927.

————————, “Senators Score Decisive Win for Championship,” 14 April, 1927.

———————–, “Pres. Calder Takes Action Against Five Players,” 15 April, 1927.

The Saskatoon Phoenix, “Boston Bruins Battle To Tie With Ottawans,” 8 April, 1927.

Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ottawa_Hockey_Club_Champions_1927.jpg, Pitway Studios, Ottawa.