The upcoming 2010-11 season marks the Vancouver Canucks’ fortieth NHL campaign and promises to be a rather enjoyable, leisurely jaunt down memory lane.
No doubt many former fan favourites will be trotted out and bathed in applause from an adoring fanbase thirsty for every last drop of ‘Nuck nostalgia. Already announced is the retirement of Markus Naslund’s #19 jersey and the creation of the Ring of Honour whose first honouree is original Canucks captain Orland Kurtenbach, a 1997 BC Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
The 2010-11 season also marks another less celebrated, yet no less important milestone: the sixty-fifth anniversary of the formation of the Vancouver Canucks Hockey Club way back in August 1945.
As thousands of war-weary Canadian men and women returned home from the front and support lines of World War Two, many were starving for something good, to feel better about the world after the war. People wanted diversions, a return to some semblance of ‘normal.’ War rationing days now over, many had the money and time for leisure and entertainment pursuits halted for years.
Not surprisingly, one of the first to return was hockey. Vancouver had been without a true out-and-out fully professional team since the 1926 departure of the Patrick brothers’ Vancouver Maroons (latter incarnation of the 1915 Stanley Cup champion Millionaires, Vancouver’s lone claim to hockey’s Holy Grail). Even the semi-pro Vancouver Lions hadn’t touched the ice since 1941 when war intervened.
Coley Hall, shrewd Vancouver hotel owner and a former notable local athlete known for his ferocity and physicality on the ball diamond, quickly identified the gaping hole in the city’s hockey heart and sought to remedy that with a new team in the newly reformed Pacific Coast Hockey League. Legend has it Hall actually won the right for the PCHL franchise in a poker game at a downtown Vancouver hotel. Partnering with Paul Thompson, former NHLer with the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks and younger brother of Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Tiny Thompson, Hall would serve as manager, while Thompson would coach. Hall would buy out Thompson’s share the following year taking sole ownership. The team would play out of the drafty 5000-seat PNE Forum, still standing today at the corner of Hastings and Renfrew. All they needed was a name, something to appeal to the patriotism still pumping in the veins of Vancouverites.
According to long-time Vancouver Sun columnist and 2009 BC Sports Hall of Fame inductee Archie McDonald, it was while out for a summer stroll on a Vancouver street that Hall stumbled on the name that would come to symbolize hockey in this city for over six decades. No stranger to the shadier characters of the Vancouver sports milieu, Hall ran into his bookie, Arthur Rennison. Mentioning to Rennison that he was about to buy a hockey team, conversation shifted to the team’s name. Rennison suggested “Canuck,” as in the nickname often used for brave and plucky Canadian soldiers overseas.
Hall immediately liked the name’s potential to appeal to Canadian patriotism on multiple levels. The Canuck name would also be identified with a comic book character popular with Canadian soldiers: ‘Johnny Canuck’, a flight jacket and goggles-clad GI Joe-esque hero who singlehandedly defeated Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
(Interesting sidenote: although universally understood in Canada, the ‘Canuck’ nickname would confuse more than a few casual American hockey fans over the years. According to legendary Canucks broadcaster and 2000 BC Sports Hall of Fame inductee Jim Robson, in Maine the term ‘Canuck’ is actually a derogatory name used for French Canadians who ventured south into the US and stole American jobs.)
Later the Canucks would adapt another Johnny Canuck incarnation—a lumberjack on skates—as their sweater logo in the early 1960s and recently brought back an updated version on the shoulders of their current third jerseys.
Speaking of jerseys, the original design and colours bear little resemblance to those of today. First off, the 1945 originals truly were sweaters, not the light, breathable, micro-fibre, sweat-wicking garments today’s Canucks enjoy. Made from a heavy cotton wool, the fabric sopped up moisture and easily tripled or quadrupled in weight over the course of a game.
Employing the principle colours of royal blue with red and white trim the team would wear until joining the NHL in 1970 when the familiar blue-green-white combination was adopted, a simple white “V” stood out proudly on the chest. Each thick felt V was hand stitched into place by the mother of team mascot and stickboy, Marvin Storrow, today one of Canada’s most respected lawyers based out of Vancouver.
None of the inaugural Canuck sweaters are thought to exist today. Hardly surprising considering tales of Hall instructing long-time trainer Eddie Shamlock to immediately gather all sweaters as players left the ice at the conclusion of each season’s final game to be reused and repaired until badly tattered and tossed. The last remaining 1945-46 sweater was thought to have belonged to Vancouver’s Ernie Dougherty, a nineteen-year-old rookie in 1945 who filled in occasionally for injuries. Now one of the oldest living members of the Canucks alumi at a spry eighty-five, Dougherty wore his frayed sweater for years while gardening and painting around the house until it literally fell apart at the seams.
Using archival photos and the recollections of remaining living players Dougherty, Andy Clovechok in Kamloops, and Alex Pringle in Coquitlam to get colour and style details just right, the BC Sports Hall of Fame succeeded in resurrecting this lost artifact. Commissioning local vintage sweater manufacturer Vintage Leagues to recreate a 1945-46 Canucks sweater in all its’ royal blue and crimson glory, the replica was featured in the Hall’s Go Canucks Go Gallery in early 2010.
Jason Beck is curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame