Hockey Players on the Railway

                                 HOCKEY ON THE RAILS


Hockey and the Railways have a strong connection and have played an important part in uniting Canada. From the famous locomotive works in Stratford, Kingston and Montreal, to the Railway Hubs in Manitoba and the Maritimes, as well as the numerous small towns that sprouted up along the railway tracks, many railroaders donned their skates to play hockey for their local teams. The first hockey tournament involving teams from two countries occurred on February 26, 1886, during the Burlington Winter Carnival. Two crack Montreal teams, the MAAA and the Crystals, travelled to Vermont to compete in a three team round robin with the local Van Ness House hockey club. The rink was at the Central Vermont Railway slip on Lake Champlain. Moncton was the railway center of the Maritimes and imported railway men from all over the country as early as the 1900’s, as well as for their professional hockey teams around 1910. Inter-provincial travel by competing hockey teams didn’t occur until the Dartmouth Chebuctos traveled the 1,200 miles on the Intercolonial Railway in 1889 to play teams in Montreal and Quebec. Soon it was a regular occurrence for clubs to send their hockey teams thousands of miles to meet their adversaries in a friendly match. Teams from Manitoba and Nova Scotia repeatedly visited Montreal and clubs from the latter place returned the compliment. By 1895 the Shamrocks and Montrealers of Montreal, were delighting audiences in New York, Washington and Baltimore. The Winnipeg Victorias rode the rails east for their Stanley Cup challenge and on February 14, 1896, defeated the Montreal Victorias 2-0, bringing the Stanley Cup to the west for the first time. This was the beginning of a cross-country competition that was to last another 30 years, ending in the 1926 season when the Eastern winner met the West for the last time. This also ended the period when any recognized senior champion in Canada could compete for the prized trophy. From the 1920’s to the 1960’s the Original Six hockey teams traveled by train for their games in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Montreal and Toronto. Train gab-fests were invariably held in the smoker of the special car assigned to hockey teams. There the players would smoke cigars and pipes, partake of sandwiches, soft drinks, apples, oranges and play cards, usually rummy or hearts, occasionally bridge.


Lord Frederick Stanley became highly enthusiastic about the game of hockey following his first exposure to the game at the Montreal Winter Carnival on February 4, 1889. His entire family became very active in ice hockey and 2 of his sons, Arthur and Edward, joined with J.G.A. Creighton and others, to form Ottawa’s Rideau Hall Rebels. Lord Stanley helped out the Rebels by lending his personal railcar for their hockey games in Lindsay, Kingston and Toronto. On July 4, 1886, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and his wife were the CPR’s first famous travelers when they traveled across Canada in Sir John’s private railcar, Jamaica. Photographer J.F. Cooke took the famous photograph of Sir John A. Macdonald and Lady Macdonald on the rear platform of their railcar in Port Arthur’s station. Lady Agnes rode on the front of the train through the mountains and started a trend. In 1889 Canada’s governor general, Lord Stanley of Preston, took a transcontinental train trip. He and Lady Stanley also rode on the front of the train through the mountains. 


On the West coast, the eight-man Dawson City Nuggets hockey team set out on their epic 4,400 mile journey to Ottawa on December 19, 1904. They traveled 350 miles by dog-sled to Skagway, Alaska, steamship to Seattle and then 170 miles north by train to the Canadian-U. S. Border, crossing over to Vancouver. Amid a large crowd of well-wishers, the men boarded an eastbound train for Ottawa and all along the route the Klondikers received expressions of good will from hockey enthusiasts. Delegations met them at various places and cheered them on their way. The Nuggets arrived in the nation’s capital on January 12, 1905, the day before their best-of-three Stanley Cup series opened with the Ottawa Silver Seven.


On the East coast, from 1905-16, the champion Windsor Swastikas hockey team traveled on the “Newfie Bullet” train for their annual road trip to Newfoundland. The notoriously slow train traveled the 547 miles of steep grades and heavy curvature in 27 hours. Along the route the Windsor team stopped to play the best hockey teams available from Port-aux-Basques to St. Johns, Newfoundland. The team disbanded when the men, including star-player Blaine Sexton, joined the Canadian Army and went overseas during World War I.


The Ottawa Senators finished the 1922-23 season in first place and in one of the wildest playoffs in NHL history, went on to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in a two-game total-goal series, 3-2. After eliminating Montreal, Ottawa set off by train for Western Canada in search of the Stanley Cup. The Senators were to meet the winners of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in a playoff series, with the winner going on to meet the champions of the Western Canada Hockey League in the Stanley Cup finals. Ottawa boarded the train to find their Pullman car was like a brewery on rails, with cases of beer stacked everywhere, even in the ladies washroom. The players were in great form by the time they reached Toronto, where somehow, somebody managed to smuggle a piano on board. Eddie Gerard, who was an accomplished pianist, was plopped down on a stool and ordered to start playing. The players liked Eddie’s music so much they wouldn’t let him stop and he banged away on the piano all the way to Sudbury. The next day his fingers were so blistered that it ended the concert for a while. The Senators went on to Vancouver, arriving stiff and tired just a few hours before they were due on the ice and in front of 10,000 fans, Ottawa won the first game 1-0. They went on to eliminate the Vancouver Maroons in four games with scores of 1-4, 3-2, and 5-1. The Stanley Cup final was to be a best-of-three series played in Vancouver and the Edmonton Eskimos had ridden the rails west to await the challenge of either Ottawa or Vancouver. Ottawa won the first game on Cy Denneny’s overtime goal and in the second game Frank “King” Clancy of Ottawa played every position, including goal, as the Senators downed the Eskimos, 1-0, to win the Stanley Cup.


The Winnipeg Hockey Club was selected to represent Canada at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York after winning the 1931 Allan Cup Tournament. With a rousing farewell, the Winnipegs left the Canadian National train depot January 26, 1932 onboard the “Continental Limited” and set out for New York in quest of the Olympic and amateur world hockey championship. In addition to the 15 players, the Olympic party included the coach, 2 trainers and 7 officials of the Winnipeg club. The Winnipegs did not travel directly to Lake Placid, but traveled to eastern Canada where they played exhibition games at Maple Leaf Gardens and Niagara Falls. Following the Olympics they headed home, playing 8 exhibition games along the way with stops in Montreal, Ottawa, Atlantic City, Brooklyn & Bronx, NY, Hamilton, Fort William and Port Arthur. The Winnipeg’s arrived home on March 1st to the biggest parade that city had ever seen. Cheered by more than 50,000 supporters, Winnipeg citizens braved a blizzard to welcome home their Olympic and World Champions of 1932.


Following their Stanley Cup Championship in 1924, the Montreal Canadiens were treated to a train trip to western Canada. In the finals, Montreal won the best-of-three series 2-0 against the Calgary Tigers. Rookie Howie Morenz scored a hat trick in the first game, leading the Canadiens to a 6-1 victory at the Mount Royal Arena. In the second game, Howie Morenz scored a goal before suffering torn ligaments in his left shoulder, on a check from Calgary’s Cully Wilson. Montreal went on to win the game 3-0, which was played at the Ottawa Auditorium. The middle three players in the back row are L to R; Billy Boucher, Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat. The middle four people in the front row are Odie Cleghorn, Leo Dandurand, Sprague Cleghorn and Georges Vezina.


The earliest known hockey movie featured two railway companies. Hockey Match on Ice was made by Thomas Edison on February 24, 1898 and in the 25 second film, skaters dart to and fro, swinging their hockeys and trying to hit the disc toward the goal. The film Hockey Match on Ice can be viewed on You Tube. When Thomas Edison was 12 years old, he was employed as a trainboy on the Grand Trunk Railway, selling newspapers and candy to passengers on the train from Port Huron to Detroit. In 1862, Edison became a telegraph operator at the GTR’s Stratford station, after he saved 3 year old Jimmie MacKenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Jimmie’s father, station agent J.U. Mackenzie, was so grateful that he trained Edison as a telegraph operator. In his later years, Edison said his hearing loss as a youth occurred when trying to jump on to a moving train and a train conductor helped him aboard by pulling his ears.


In their eighth and final season, the 1916-17 NHA consisted of 6 teams; Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bull dogs, Montreal Wanderers, Toronto Arenas and the Toronto 228th Battalion hockey team. Howard “Dennis” McNamara, a player with the 228th, created headlines when he became involved in a fistfight at center ice with referee Cooper Smeaton. The game between Toronto and Quebec was terminated early when a violent brawl broke out and officials were unable to restore order. Quebec fans showered the Toronto players with debris and attacked them as they ran for their waiting train. The Toronto 228th consisted of hockey players who had enlisted for military service in WW I. The recruitment began in March of 1916 in the Sudbury - Nipissing area and the mobilization headquarters was in North Bay, which was the terminus for the Temiscaming and Northern Ontario Railway, Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Toronto 228th, wearing their khaki uniforms, were the NHA’s most popular and highest scoring club until the regiment was ordered overseas at mid-season and the club was forced to suspend operations. The battalion of 31 officers and 756 other ranks, sailed from Canada on February 17, 1917 on the Missanabie, disembarking in England on February 27th and arrived in France on April 2nd and May 2nd. The 228th was re-designated the 6th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops on March 8, 1917. The 228th was converted to a railway construction battalion because of the large proportion of railway men in the unit. The officer cadre of the 228th was drawn from railway civil engineers and managers whose sole purpose was to provide rail service exclusively in the overseas theatres of operation. Although the 6th Battalion CRT was disbanded on November 1, 1920, the majority of the former Toronto 228th only served 1 or 2 years in the military and then returned back home to play hockey in the NHL, PCHA and NOHA. The “Dynamite Twins” were two of the players. Howard McNamara returned to play 12 games with the 1919-20 Montreal Canadiens and George “Andrew” McNamara went on to coach the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the Allan Cup in 1924.


During the 1920’s, the Canadian National Railway developed a radio network with stations in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Moncton and Vancouver. CNR Radio was a marketing idea to promote CNR and attract passengers. Operators rode in the parlour cars and tuned in the nearest stations for the passengers, who could listen to the broadcasts wearing heavy headsets. Its schedule included concerts, school broadcasts, historical dramas and inaugurated programs such as Hockey Night in Canada. In 1924 CNR Radio broadcast the first hockey game to be carried on the network and a year later made the first broadcast from a moving train. One of Canada’s most important radio stations formed in 1924. The CNR opened a radio station, CNRO, on the 7th floor of the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, located across the street from the old train station. CNRA in Moncton opened to much fanfare in November of 1924 and CNRV in Vancouver started in 1925 with studios in the CN station at 1150 Main Street, which today is Pacific Central Station.

Fan enthusiasm ran so high during the early years of Stanley Cup competition that accurate attendance figures were often impossible. Patrons were often reported to have "broken down gates" in the scramble of admission. Newspaper offices away from the locale of the game were frequently jammed with fans seeking the latest reports on the progress of Cup matches. Interest was especially high in Toronto in 1902, when the Toronto Street Railway came up with an effective, if not polished method of reporting the result of a Cup game. If the hometown Toronto Wellingtons were victorious, there would be two long blasts on their powerhouse whistle. If the locals lost, there would be three blasts. The time between the second and third blasts was especially long if you were among the gambling set.


The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were crowned the Canadian Senior Amateur Champions in 1923-24 when they defeated the Winnipeg Selkirks in a two-game total-goal series, 6 - 3. “The Greyhounds hold the Allan Cup, but the Algoma Steel Mills would have it the other way, so they set about modeling a monster mug on a railcar. Now the Soo fans can claim the Allan Cup holds the Greyhounds.”

 Left to right, back row; James “Babe” Donnelly, Trainer Fred Morgan, Coach George McNamara, Stan “Bus” Brown, Johnny Woodruff. Front row; Fred “Bun” Cook, Francis “Dutch” Cain, “Gloomy” Lessard, Art Nichol, Merlyn “Bill” Phillips. James “Flat” Walsh and Garnet Campbell were visiting at their homes in Kingston and Blind River, respectively, when the picture was taken.



The Detroit Falcons arrive at Montreal’s Windsor Station to play the Montreal Maroons during the NHL’s 1931-32 playoff quarter finals. The Maroons went on to win the total goals series 3-1. The first game was played at the Detroit Olympia on March 27th and ended in a 1-1 tie. The Maroons won the second game 2-0 on March 29th at the Montreal Forum. During the summer of 1932 the Falcons were purchased by industrialist James E. Norris and renamed the Detroit Red Wings.