It has been a while since I put pen to paper to write my column and I am glad to be back at it. To say that I was glad to see an end to 2020 would be an understatement, as it was a year full of challenges, both personally and in the world at large.
As difficult as this past year has been, it has served as a reminder about the important role that friends, family and fun play in our lives. I know that once we are through these challenging times I plan to never again take those things for granted.
Whenever I kick off my column in a new year I like to look back to certain anniversaries and milestones that will occur throughout the year. When I wrote this column last year I was exalting the fact that 2020 was gearing up to be a memorable year due to the fact that the City of Thunder Bay would be celebrating its 50th anniversary. Little could I have ever imagined what lay ahead as instead of celebrating birthdays we would be deep into the throes of a worldwide pandemic and the only celebrating that was being done was the news of the arrival of a vaccine to help in the eradication of COVID-19.
As we kick off 2021, I am maintaining my optimism and sticking to my tradition of acknowledging some of the anniversaries that will occur this year from the pages of our local sports history. After reviewing the impressive list of teams that have been inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame I discovered that there are a number of victories that are worthy of mention.
First up on my list takes us back 95 years to 1926 when the members of the Port Arthur Senior Hockey Team claimed our region’s second Allan Cup, establishing a record of success that would continue for many more decades to come.
It was 85 years ago that hockey players and coaches from our region left their mark on the Olympic hockey world with eight players, a coach, manager and trainer winning silver as members of the Canadian Olympic hockey team. Also, two players and a coach from our region won gold as members of the British Hockey team at the 1936 Olympic Winter Games.
Our region has had a rich history of involvement in the sport of rowing and in 1951 the members of the Fort William Rowing Club Junior 4s claimed victory at the prestigious Henley Regatta with Jack McDonald, Emil Charban, Len Lundberg and Bill Stavert rowing their way into the history books 60 years ago.
Our women left their mark on the waterways 40 years ago with Helen (Fleming) Livingstone (stroke) and Barbara Kukko (bow) entering the history books as national champions by winning the women’s lightweight Doubles event at the Canadian championships held in Montreal. One week later they claimed gold in the same event at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in St. Catharines. Ten years later, another victory was earned on the water with skipper Jim Cameron, Charlie Spence and Janice Allard-Cameron winning the 1991 Canadian Open Lightning Class Championship title.
Another sport that has put our region on the map has been Little League Baseball. Fifty-five years ago, the members of the 1966 Fort William Americans Senior Little League squad claimed the second of what would be many national little league titles won by teams from our region. They went on to represent Canada at the Little League Senior World Series held in Des Moines, Iowa.
A number of our curlers will be celebrating special anniversaries this year. Forty years ago, a rink headed up by a young skip named Rick Lang, which included his future wife Lorraine Edwards, and the husband-wife team of Bert and Anne Provo, won Thunder Bay’s first Canadian mixed championship. In 1991, Eila Brown skipped her rink of Arline Wilson, Eileen Chivers-Wilson and Bette Toskovichto our first Canadian senior women’s crown.
That same year the Jason Repay rink of Aaron Skillen, Scott McCallum, Trevor Clifford and Darryl Cambly and their coach Jim Glena claimed the Canadian junior curling title. In 1996 Jeff Currie skipped his Port Arthur Curling Club rink to a junior title alongside Greg Given (third) Andrew Mikkelsen (second), Tyler Oinonen (lead) and their coach Don Main.
In 2006 the dynamic duo of skip Al Hackner and third Rick Lang were joined by Al Laine (second) and Brian Adams Sr. (lead) to claim the city’s first senior men’s Canadian championship, going on to earn a silver medal at the 2007 worlds.
We had hoped to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our hosting of our nation’s top women curlers at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which we did back in 1996. Hopefully we will be able to do so in 2022 when, fingers crossed, we are able to once again host large sporting events.
Speaking of hosting events, it is hard to believe that this summer will mark 40 years since the 1981 Canada Summer Games were held in Thunder Bay.
What is also hard to believe is that this June will mark 35 years since I started working at the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. My career in sports heritage has given me the opportunity, and the challenge, to ensure that the great moments from our sporting past are remembered for this and future generations to learn from and take pride in, and for that I am truly grateful.
Speaking of our proud sports heritage, if you know of some athletes, builders or teams that you feel are worthy of consideration for induction into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame now is the time to submit their nomination for consideration by our selection committee. To find out more about the induction process and how you can make a nomination, contact the Hall of Fame at 622-2852 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With my renewed sense of optimism, I am looking forward to better days ahead. If all goes according to plan, I will soon be able to spend my time cheering on my favourite athletes and teams as the various sport governing bodies do their best to try to get things up and running again. Although they will be in different formats, it will be nice to have something to cheer about.
Until next time keep that sports heritage pride alive and stay safe.
Diane Imrie is the executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.