“This one lady came to the spot beside me at the bar one time and she said ‘I don’t know hockey’ and she had me explain who was playing and what was going on,” said Isabel.
“She was a talker and there was nothing I could do, she went on about a wedding or something she went to years ago, older people always going back, and then I heard the Canucks scored and I missed it. She was really something special.”
No Isabel, something special is description much more suited for you.
There are hardcore Canucks fans, those who paint their faces, don blue wigs, own a throng of jerseys, have game day routines and can name every Vancouver player ever, then there are hardcore Canucks fans like Isabel.
At 92-years-old, Isabel’s age immediately separates her from 99 per cent of Vancouver’s fan base, but it’s her tale and longstanding love for the Canucks that warms your heart.
When I met Isabel at Tapestry Retirement Home in the Wesbrook Village at UBC, she immediately reminded me of my grandma June, except that she was in a blue Canucks jersey. Accompanied by her daughter Susan, Isabel greeted me with an ear-to-ear smile and a hug, she was delighted to see me and not because she gets to be on Canucks.com – “In my day, a phone was funny,” she laughed – no, Isabel simply wanted to talk hockey, without interruption, for as long as possible.
I was led down a hallway to a large room filled with 40 some chairs, all of them facing a teaching station at the front of the makeshift classroom. I was told this is a UBC accredited learning centre where classes are conducted; for Isabel the only learning that goes on here is when the Canucks take their opponents to school.
This learning centre also features a gigantic screen and surround sound making it the perfect place for Isabel and her friend Joan to watch Vancouver play now that the Tapestry bar down the hall is no longer an option.
“I want to watch hockey when I watch hockey,” she smiled.
Isabel has seen more hockey in her day that you could ever imagine.
Isabel was born in 1919 in Stayner, Ontario, now known as Clearview, Ontario, following the amalgamation of a town, village and two townships; she was the youngest of three children and with a pair of older brothers, Jack and Bob, she always just wanted to be one of the boys.
A self-described “tomboy,” Isabel skated whenever she could and with Stayner short on entertainment, she laced up the skates often. She developed such a knack for hockey that in 1935, at the age of 16, Isabel helped pioneer one of the first female teams in the area, the Stayner Stingers.
“We had no pads or nothing, it was just fun and that’s what you did,” said the former right-winger.
“We played games when we could, travelling around to Collingwood, Barrie, Owen Sound, those places, in an old car the boys would round up for us. One time on the way to Owen Sound the car broke down so a fire truck was sent out to get us to the hockey game. That was really exciting.”
Isabel and Helen Hanna are the only two remaining players from the Stingers and the lifelong friends still keep in touch.
Isabel played for the Stingers for two seasons before becoming a nurse and joining the army. She worked in military hospitals after she left the army, then in the late 1960s she moved to Victoria to nurse at the Memorial Veterans Hospital until retirement.
Hockey has always been a passion for Isabel, one that blossomed when the Canucks joined the NHL in 1970, and one passed down to both her daughters.
“When I grew up, we watched every hockey game, so I can remember old teams and old players,” said Susan. “At one point we lived in London, Ontario, and I remember going to see Bobby Orr play when he was on a farm team.”
Isabel hasn’t stepped onto the ice in a few years, but if she gave it a whirl, this Senior Olympics lawn bowling gold medalist would likely be right at home.
No, Isabel gets enough hockey cheering on the Canucks that a comeback remains out of the question. Her next venture, based on a lifelong love of flying thanks to her brothers both working as pilots in the air force, is to take up flying.
Next week Isabel will take to the sky for her first lesson and it won’t be long before she’s up, up and away slicing through clouds like her man Ryan Kesler carving up opposing defences.