Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Macs World Champs!
In 1959, the Belleville McFarlands won the World Championship of Hockey in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The team had won the Allan Cup in 1958 in Kelowna, British Columbia. As Canadian champions, they were entitled to represent Canada on the World stage. Following their triumph in B. C., plans were immediately initiated to get the team overseas to play in the World Championship.
The Belleville Sports Hall of Fame is recognizing the team with a tribute in the city. Peter Lockyer, an independent documentary producer formerly with the CBC, is currently putting the finishing touches to a DVD about the McFarlands. Aaron Bell, who has a couple of hockey books under his belt is writing the history of the team. Both the DVD and the book will be introduced in a gala evening at the Empire Theatre in Belleville on Saturday, April 4, 2009. Tickets are now available.
At that time, all of the players at the tournament had to be amateurs. There were serious doubts about many of the European players, particularly those from Russia. All of the Canadian players had to have amateur status. Some had experience in the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, which were both professional leagues at that time; however, by the time that the team was assembled to leave Canada, all of the players were deemed eligible.
The team was assembled by a Bellevillian named Drury Denyes. Denyes was the City Manager at that time, and he had an uncanny hockey sense to put together a winning group of players. His work began with local players, like David Jones and Keith Macdonald, and he added others as time went on. There is no doubt that he was a good listener, and was able to make great decisions about the player personnel from all of his sources.
Team captain Floyd Crawford had arrived in the city from the Quebec League, along with a couple of other outstanding players. Crawford was a Torontonian, and therefore had information about players from many different sources. Mostly by word of mouth, he and Denyes were able to find talented players to play in the city.
Teams would arrive at the Memorial Arena in Belleville expecting great nights of hockey. The rink was usually jammed to the rafters. At that time, it also had some wonderful idiosyncrasies. There was only one penalty box for both teams. Seriously.
Quite often the penalty time keeper, Don Dolan, would have to sit between combatants serving five minute majors for fighting. Others who were penalized would sit in the same box. Occasionally, penalized players sat with the fans when the box became overcrowded.
The Whitby Dunlops also played in the league, and were one of the McFarlands’ finest opponents. Many players at that time had played for both teams. The rivalries ran deep, and there were great battles on Friday nights in downtown Belleville. Harry Sinden was the object of much venom from the loyal Belleville fans, and occasionally would mix it up with one of the Macs. On one occasion, he and Crawford spilled out of the penalty box to the aisle below-about an eight foot drop. They continued their tussle until a local cop, one of Belleville’s finest, of British extraction, asked them to stop: “Now, now, chappies,” he said, “that’s quite enough”.
The Queen’s Hotel was on Front Street, and it was calculated, several times, that it was ninety-nine steps from the arena. Many fans made the trek to the Hotel between periods, to put down a couple of draughts. Some made it back to the arena for the second and third periods.
The arena was noted for the large steel beams which held the roof in place. I was most grateful for those beams because I weighed less than one hundred pounds at that time, and I neatly squeezed into one of them. It was a great vantage point to watch the game, never interfering with the sightlines of any other fan.
It was the only game in town. With the rink packed, with great rivalries, with wonderful players representing the home town Macs, it was a very special time.
There were more than two thousand members of the team’s booster club. Armin Duffy was the president of the club. The Mercier brothers, Andre and Paul, along with Snipe Matthews and “Senator” Harry Rollins led the cheering from their rink-side seats. The boards were low, and there was no glass to protect the fans. They could easily reach out and touch the players, and remind the referee to make the correct calls.
All week long the locals primed themselves for the Friday night tilts. In the barbershops, in the pool halls, in the court rooms and the dentists’ offices, hockey dominated the conversations.
There was a young star from the Belleville area named Bobby Hull making his way in the National Hockey League, soon to be followed by his brother Dennis. We followed the Hulls on the radio broadcasts, in the early television programs, and in the newspapers. That was all well and good, but for real life adventure, we had the Macs.
More than forty thousand people lined the streets of Belleville when they returned home from Prague. The team’s victory in Europe was a significant event in terms of the country’s hockey history. For Belleville, it was the city’s greatest moment.
Most of the players will be in attendance at the Empire on the fourth of April, sharing memories, signing autographs, renewing acquaintances. A great way to recognize a great team. See you there.