Monday, January 26, 2009


The Victory of the Belleville McFarlands

The Belleville McFarlands returned home to Canada in 1959 as the World Hockey Champions. They had defeated the best hockey teams in the world in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and returned home in early April.

The team had left Belleville three months earlier to embark on an exhausting exhibition schedule prior to the championships. Many fans lined the roof of the Malton Airport in Toronto to bid farewell to the team. They were flying to New York, then on to Scotland.

Everyone, that is, except Lou Smrke. Lou was born in Yugoslavia. At that time, Yugoslavia was behind the Iron Curtain, an imaginary line drawn across Europe dividing the continent into two sections-communist and the free world.

The Championships in 1959 were the first to be held behind the Iron Curtain. Only three years beforehand, the significance of the communist influence was brought to bear on the people of Hungary. They had arisen, as a people, and were demanding rights and freedoms. Within minutes, the strength of the Soviet Union came to bear on the nation. Tanks rolled into Budapest, and the Hungarian Revolution ended violently and abruptly.

The lines were drawn following the Second World War. The Axis Powers, which included Germany, Japan, and Italy had been defeated in 1945, and the victors were left with the daunting task of cleaning up the mess left behind. The Americans, the British, the Russians, the Canadians-in fact, most of the rest of the world was expected to take charge. The United Nations was established to help keep peace, similar in concept to the League of Nations formed after the First World War.

The smaller nations in northern and eastern European were tired, defeated, and broke. For years, they had been overrun by the Russians and the Germans. The Hun had been defeated, and now they had to deal with the great Russian Bear, and the Soviet occupation.

As children in Canadian schools, we were made aware of the significance of the Cold War-the undeclared war between the east and the west. It was barely ten years since the end of the Second World War. The Americans had ended the war in Japan by dropping atomic bombs on the major cities. An even more powerful explosive had been developed-the hydrogen bomb. All devices were being tested in the Pacific region. The Soviets had attained the secrets. They also had nuclear capability.

Canada’s Prime Minister recognized the nuclear threat. He arranged the construction of an enormous bomb shelter in the Ottawa Valley, near Carp, just in case the Nuclear War would ever come to pass. For several years, the shelter was manned by the Canadian Armed Forces. Today it exists as a museum, well worth the visit. Radio and television studios were established several stories underground, so that we would be able to hear Diefenbaker’s messages to the nation following the nuclear attack.

In almost every Canadian municipality, citizens were encouraged to build bomb shelters, and to stock them with supplies in case of war. Members of the Emergency Measures Organization visited schools in Belleville to teach students how to cope with air raids. We were taught to duck under our desks to avoid falling plaster from the ceilings. Air raid warning sirens were hung on telephone and hydro poles, and were tested monthly. We envisioned crowds of people scurrying for shelter like those in the early British movies during the time of the Battle of Britain in the Second World War.

In was not a time of panic, but a time of preparation, and caution.

In that environment, the American Government decided to refuse to give Lou Smrke permission to land in New York. He was born behind the Iron Curtain. No matter that he had come to Canada as an infant. There was always suspicion. Lou met up with the team in Scotland. He played a prominent role in the team’s success in Prague.

By no means was that the end of it, politically, as far as the Macs and their fans were concerned. Even in 1972, when the Canadians played the “Summit Series” against the Soviets, there were rumours of electronic “Bugs” and spies and subterfuge.

The Belleville McFarlands were followed by the Trail Smoke Eaters who won the World Championship in 1961. They were the last Canadian “teams”, chosen by the Canadian Hockey Association to represent the country following their victories in the Allan Cup finals. After 1961, Canada did not win a World Championship until 1994. By then, Canadian hockey authorities agreed to send our best, an all star squad from the National Hockey League.

James Hurst

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