CHRONICLES OF LOCAL FRONTIER HOCKEY

By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society

Our look back at frontier hockey conditions in the Pincher Creek area takes us back over a century, to the frontier era of 1912. Our ranching and farming history already dated back over thirty years and the outdoor nature of the agricultural industry encouraged pioneers to enjoy traditional Canadian sports such as hockey. Here are a few of those highlights.

A Pincher Creek – Crowsnest Pass Hockey League was in place the winter of 1911 – 1912. Competitive teams came from Pincher Creek, Frank, Blairmore and Coleman. The Pincher Creek hockey team had played and won six games as of Thursday, January 11th, placing our local effort in first place at that point.

One game between Pincher Creek and Frank was played up at Frank on Friday, 05th January, starting at 3:30 in the afternoon. Our hockey team brought with them a crowd of supporters which, although small in number, were boisterous in their enthusiasm.

PIONEER HOCKEY PLAYERS
Pincher Creek hockey team members featured several local pioneers. Our adept goal tender was A. B. McCullough, a long time hockey player who ranched southwest of town, raising race horses. James J. Gillespie (1879 – 1930) who was a medical doctor was one of the team’s point players. The Gillespie residence was the former Schofield two-storey dwelling on the north side of the creek.

He was assisted by Gordon Tucker, a businessman with Jackson Bros. Hardware Store on Main Street. Gordon and Jean Tucker resided in a house on the west side of Albert Avenue, just below the Mill Hill. Also a businessman, hockey right winger Harry Purkis (1878 – 1972) worked for William Foote’s Garage and Blacksmith Shop and in 1929 established his own implement shop. Harry and Florence Purkis’ place of residence was just down the street from the Tuckers. Other players, who we know less about, included a Mr. Waugh as a rover, a Mr. White who played centre and a Mr. Dapper who was a left winger.

Of interest for both teams in this hockey match was the referee: Mel Rhynas. He was a homesteader in the Beaver Mines area who served overseas during the First World War. Rhynas settled in Blairmore following the war and played for some of the Pass hockey teams during the 1920s.

COMPETITIVE HOCKEY MATCHES ON OUTDOOR RINKS
Press reports from the Pincher Creek Echo noted that the match was very competitive and hard hitting. “The game was fast and exciting, but on account of the close, hard checking, was not a good exhibition of our national winter game” claimed the paper. With a favourable bias towards its home town team, the Echo asserted that the Frank hockey players were too aggressive on the ice. The Echo did concede that the Frank goal keeper, a Mr. McIntyre, did a great job for his team in preventing the Pincher Creek team from scoring too many goals. Gillespie and his colleagues out skated the Pass team for most of the three twenty minute periods. Pincher Creek came out on top by the end of the match with a score of three to two.

A match later that day between Pincher Creek and Coleman, scheduled to start at 7:45 in the evening, was cancelled due to a League disagreement over the eligibility of some of the players. The Echo lamented that the game could not go ahead as planned.

A third match took place the afternoon of Wednesday, January 10th. This was played between Pincher Creek and Blairmore on our home ice. Folklore indicates that ice conditions were fast and this was supplemented by strong skating by both teams. In spite of a valiant effort by the Blairmore team, the game went in Pincher Creek’s favour by an impressive score of eight to zero. The Echo complimented the Pass team for offering their Pincher Creek competitors a good work out.

LIVELY HOCKEY MATCHES BETWEEN PINCHER CREEK AND TABER

In early February of that year there were two very competitive games played between the Pincher Creek and Taber teams. The first was the afternoon of Friday, February 9th on Taber home ice. The Pincher Creek hockey players brought with them a large cheering squad of 125 supporters. Thanks to the Crowsnest Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway constructed a decade and a half earlier, such sporting and transportation ventures in southern Alberta were possible.

The game was fast and competitive and by the end of the second period, Pincher Creek had a two to zero lead. The Echo reported that our team skated at a “lightning pace”. However, the situation caught up with our team. Ice conditions were very poor with the warm weather making the rink surface very slushy. Poor visibility also was an issue. The result was that the visiting team tired in the third period and Taber came back to win the game by a score of four to two. Disappointed, the Pincher Creek hockey team still was pleased with its effort on the ice.

A second match took place after the weekend, the afternoon of Monday the 12th. This game was played on Pincher Creek’s home ice and the Taber visitors reciprocated from the previous match by bringing in a train car of supporters. Our hockey team still was hurting from the previous game and while putting up a good fight was out maneuvered. Taber won this game seven to three. An Echo analysis of the games noted that this was excellent sportsmanship with no rough play. Our local team was very competitive but the opponents were much faster skaters. Our local weekly complimented the Taber team on a couple of good hockey games.

HOCKEY GAME HOSTED BY FISHBURN PIONEERS
On Friday, February 16th a hockey match between two local teams took place. Teams from the farming communities of Fishburn and Ewelme east of Pincher Creek gathered for a friendly game. Hosted at Fishburn, it was won by the home team by a score of one to zero. The warm winter temperature resulted in the ice being very soft. This made the hockey game very difficult for the players as there were several inches of slush covering the open rink. “The puck had to be worked at foot at a time” resulting in the skating very slow. However, the enthusiasm of the hockey players and the cheering spectators made up for the poor winter conditions. Fishburn district pioneer George Marcellus provided the only hockey score of the game. He was one of several children born to J. P. (John Plummer) and Maria Marcellus who settled here as farmers back in 1888.

After the hockey game, refreshments were served in the old 1894 Fishburn School, now on exhibit at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. During after school hours the building often served as the area’s community hall. A dance followed with both hockey teams and their families enjoying the live music. A great hockey game and social time were appreciated by all in attendance in spite of the less than cooperative weather.

Research sources for these two hockey history articles include back issues of the Pincher Creek Echo. that are reposited in the archives of the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.

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