Adams, Harnett in the Hall
By Diane Imrie
As you are reading this column, I will be in Calgary attending the Canadian Association for Sport Heritage (CASH) Conference being hosted by Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
I am extremely excited to be attending the conference as I will have the chance to share information with my colleagues from across Canada who will be representing sports museums and halls of fame both large and small.
I will also get the opportunity to see the newly built Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame which opened on July 1, 2011 at Canada Olympic Park, at a cost of $30 million.
The 44,000-square foot facility includes 11 exhibit galleries, a number of interactive displays, over 15,000 artifacts and an honoured members gallery celebrating over 500 inductees.
It is nice to finally see some major government dollars going to support a museum dedicated to our national sports heritage given that for years so much support has been directed to national museums and galleries dedicated to such things as war, transportation, nature, art and civilization.
The history of our nation’s sports shrine actually dates back to the late 1940s when a man by the name of Harry Price, who at that time was the chairman of the sports committee for the Canadian National Exhibition, undertook a cross-country trek to drum up support to build a museum dedicated to honouring and preserving our national sports history.
The drive to develop sports halls of fame and sports museums during that time was no doubt spurred on by the establishment in 1936, of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum which was opened in Cooperstown, N.Y., in June of 1939.
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame first opened its doors on Aug. 24, 1955 at the Stanley Barracks, located on the CNE grounds in Toronto.
The first slate of inductees included over 50 individuals and a boat. Yes, a boat. The racing yacht Bluenose, the one featured on our dime, was the first non-human inductee to join the ranks of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, followed in 1960 by the hydroplane Miss Supertest III and later by horses Northern Dancer and Big Ben.
In terms of representation in the national shrine for athletes and builders from Thunder Bay, I believe only two individuals have made the cut, including hockey player and builder Jack Adams and Olympic cyclist Curt Harnett.
Kenora’s Gary Bergman was honoured along with the members of Canada’s 1972 Summit Series hockey team, one of very few teams to be inducted.
It was also during the 1940s that there was an effort underway to establish a museum and hall of fame dedicated to a game thought by many to be our national sport.
In 1943, the National Hockey League and the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association struck an agreement to try to establish a Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, Ont., considered by some to be the birthplace of the game.
In 1945, the first slate of honoured members, which included 12 players and two builders, was selected.
It was fitting that the inaugural builders were two men that had given their names to the most sought after hockey trophies during that time, Sir Montagu Allan and Lord Stanley of Preston.
Some of the original player inductees are also affiliated with hardware that is presented today, including Hobey Baker, Art Ross and George Vezina.
My column would not be complete without finding some connection to Northwestern Ontario and in this case I found two.
Included amongst the 1945 slate of inducted players was Kenora’s Tommy Phillips who learned the game of hockey in his hometown of Rat Portage before heading to Montreal where he attended university and played hockey for McGill and the Montreal AAA.
Returning home in 1905, he captained the Kenora Thistles, leading them to a Stanley Cup victory in 1907, a team which included his fellow 1945 HHOF inductee Art Ross.
Another connection of our region to the Hockey Hall of Fame’s early development was the fact that when that initial agreement was struck between the NHL and the CAHA in 1943, the president of the CAHA at the time was Frank Sargent of Port Arthur.
With no construction of a facility taking place in Kingston for over a decade, NHL president Clarence Campbell decided to withdraw their support and in 1958 he looked to Toronto for a new site.
Led by Conn Smythe, former manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the NHL set upon establishing a permanent home on the CNE grounds to house the Hockey Hall of Fame, and invited Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame to join them.
On Aug. 26, 1961, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker oversaw the official opening of the facility.
Both halls of fame operated out of that site until 1993 when the Hockey Hall of Fame moved to its present location in the beautifully restored Bank of Montreal building at the corner of Yonge and Front streets.
Given our rich history of hockey it is not surprising that a number of individuals from our region have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame since Tommy Phillips made it in 1945 including Jack Adams, Alex Delvecchio, Silas (Si) Griffis, Tom Hooper, Edgar Laprade, W. G. (Billy) McGimsie, Jack Walker and Gordon (Phat) Wilson who were all inducted as players and Fred Page and Norman (Bud) Poile who made it as builders.
When the Hockey Hall of Fame relocated to downtown Toronto, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame remained at their CNE location for a few more years.
In 1997, it was announced that they had made arrangements with the federal government to move to Ottawa, only to have that offer withdrawn. Eventually closing their doors to make way for BMO Field, home of soccer’s Toronto Football Club, they packed up their collection of national sports treasures and moved back to their old digs in the Stanley Barracks while they looked for a new home, eventually making their way to Calgary in 2011.
Anyone who ever visited the CNE site may recall that the lobby that was shared by both halls of fame featured a large sports themed tile mosaic.
I was pleased to hear that they incorporated some of the old facade and lobby, including the mosaic, into an entrance way to BMO Field, thereby ensuring that an important part of the history of sports halls of fame in Canada has been preserved.
If you are ever in Calgary, be sure to check out our national sports museum.
Until next time, keep that sports history pride alive.
(Diane Imrie is the executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Her column appears every second Thursday.)