Sports history at your fingertips

May is Museum Month and a perfect time to visit the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame to check out displays celebrating the region’s rich and proud sports history.

While some people associate the month of May with flowers, mothers and they Stanley Cup playoffs, those of us that work in the world of heritage look forward to this month for another reason.

At this time each year the Ontario Museum Association carries out an initiative called May is Museum Month which celebrates Ontario’s 700-plus museums, galleries, and heritage sites.

Another important event this month, which can trace its roots back to 1977, is the celebration of International Museum Day which will take place on May 18, and is a worldwide initiative of the International Council of Museums.

Coincidentally it was also in May of 1977, on May 7 to be exact, that the first annual meeting of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame was held at the former Red Oak Inn (now the Victoria Inn).

While some people may not think of sports halls of fame as museums, they are very much just that.

Just as a social history museum tells the story of the life of a community, or an art museum celebrates the artistic life of a person or area, sports halls of fame preserve and honour the important role that sport has played in the lives of individuals, teams and communities.

The Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame collects, preserves, and displays artifacts and images that tell the story of sport and recreation in our neck of the woods.

The facility features an exhibit gallery designed to resemble the various venues of sport including a ski chalet, an arena and an old style stadium, all containing memorabilia and photographs from years past.

The Hall of Fame area celebrates the athletes and builders who have brought pride and honour through their many accomplishments.

In honour of May is Museum Month, I thought I would highlight some of the great artifacts that have made their way into the Sports Hall of Fame collection over the years and which are currently on display.

We strive to feature exhibits that reflect some of the events that are happening in our community, with a current exhibit highlighting the history of midget hockey to coincide with the hosting of the Telus Cup. Included in this exhibit are jerseys and medals from teams that have represented us at the Wrigley, Air Canada, Telus and Esso Cup and trophies and photographs from the 1920s and 30s when our midget hockey teams were first formed.

An important May event is the running of the historic 10-Mile Road Race. The winner of the very first race back in 1910 was John Edwards, who completed the course in 57 minutes.

Promotions for the 1910 race noted that the top three finishers would receive ‘handsome’ trophies which would become the property of the winner following the race. Prior to the race the three trophies were put on display in the window of McGimsie & Martin’s store on Simpson Street.

Today, 109 years later, the first-place trophy won by Edwards, along with his running shirt, and the third place trophy won by Eric Smeaton, are on display at the sports hall of fame.

On exhibit in the soccer-football display are two spectacular trophies. The Cooper Charity Cup was donated in 1909 and is about two feet high with the handles and rim trimmed with maple leafs and beavers.

The Graham trophy, donated by Fort William Mayor George A. Graham in 1913 is equally as tall, and was competed for by teams in the New Ontario Football Association which encompassed the geographic area from White River to the Manitoba boundary.

Some of the other gems from our region’s sporting past that are being proudly displayed in your community sports museum this month include gold and silver medals and a hockey sweater from the 1936 Olympic Winter Games; opening ceremony jackets from the 1964 and 1972 Olympic Games; skis used by Dave Irwin as a member of the Crazy Canucks and by Steve Collins as one of Canada’s top ski-jumpers; curling sweaters worn by world champion skips Hackner and Houston; a bicycle ridden by Olympic cyclist Curt Harnett.

A number of NHL hockey jerseys are also on display along with a celebration of our proud amateur hockey through a display featuring artifacts from our Allan Cup and Memorial Cup history.

The summer stadium gallery is currently dedicated to our rich and proud baseball history including a look back at leagues dedicated to women, Little League, senior, regional and professional players and even includes an autographed Babe Ruth baseball.

In addition to the many artifacts on display, including retired mascots Captain Flyer, Jack and Chimik who sit high above our baseball diamond, are a multitude of photographs capturing moments in time from our proud sporting past.

Visitors also have a chance to test their knowledge on our touch screen Great Northwestern Ontario Sports Trivia Challenge game and check out the amazing stories of the 173 Athletes, 90 Builders and 49 Teams that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame since 1982 in the Honoured Members section.

Educational programs and tours are offered for schools and groups. A sports library and archives full of books, programs and files full of information on a variety of sports and individuals are also available.

The Sports Hall of Fame is located at 219 May Street South, beside City Hall and the exhibit gallery is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday, between the hours of noon and 5 p.m.

Admission is pay as you can with a suggested donation of $3 per person. Special tours for community groups and educational programs for schools can be arranged by calling 622-2852.

Take the time during the month of May, or any time throughout the year, to visit your community museums. The memories await!

Until next time, keep that sports history pride alive.

Diane Imrie is the executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

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