When the call came to submit letters and stories to support Dundas, Ontario's bid for Kraft Hockeyville 2010, Jennifer Wilson felt bound to write about her father George Graham's love of hockey and his involvement in officiating.
"Dundas has always been in my heart and knowing how much my Dad gave for the Dundas Officials Association, which he created, and knowing how much he gave to Dundas as a whole," Wilson wrote. "He loved Dundas. He had such a love for it that I felt almost compelled to write about him."
Wilson's letter stood out and was so moving that in combination with the passion and efforts of the community, Dundas was named as a top-12 contender, and ultimately was voted as Kraft Hockeyville 2010.
Downtown Dundas (Courtesy: Barry Forth)
Graham passed away of pancreatic cancer in August 2009. While he had moved to Sarnia, Ont., after retirement, his impact on the community of Dundas never was forgotten. Hamilton city council member Russ Powers, who represents Dundas, remembered him fondly.
"George had always been a passionate Dundas citizen," Powers said. "He always was out no matter what the weather, and he, like virtually all of us who probably call ourselves Dundasians, George was the epitome of that. To have her recollection of her father and her inspiration of writing the letter is very appropriate."
While Graham indeed had a love of Dundas and of hockey, it was officiating that got to the best of who he was.
"My father, George Graham, is what my brother and I have termed a crusader for the black and white," Wilson said. "He was passionate about hockey. He truly, truly loved the game, but he always said in any hockey game there are three teams on the ice, and of course there are the referees, the officials."
While at first Graham did play and coach hockey, he quickly took to officiating after an invitation to a Level 1 officiating clinic.
"My father always had a very strong sense of fairness and he liked rules," Wilson said. "The rules of hockey are black and white. This is the rule and you follow it."
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Graham soon started blowing his whistle in the Ontario Hockey Association and even did one year working the lines in the Ontario Hockey League. While he could have progressed further with the OHL, he chose to devote more time to his family and stay with the OHA, where he was equally as happy.
His family says he was happy no matter what level he officiated.
"He could have been in Toronto running the lines on the weekend for a Marlies game and then a couple of days later he could be refereeing in Dundas doing a novice game," recalled his son, Darren Graham. "I can't say he favored semi-pro over the kids, because he didn't. It was in his heart. That's what he loved to do."
In time, the senior Graham took to supervising in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and created the Dundas Officials Association and a mentor program for aspiring officials coming up the ranks.
"He'd be at the arena Saturday morning first thing when the little guys start. They might have a game at 6 a.m. -- well, Dad would be there to watch his referees," said Darren. "He'd spend his entire morning there watching the guys, and after the game was done he'd go down and give them some advice, kind of mentor them."
In Wilson's Kraft Hockeyville letter she quoted a line her father would often use with his young officials: "To you it may be just a minor novice game, but to these kids it's like Hockey Night in Canada, so look sharp and hustle!!"
Graham was an early advocate of fair play and toning down over-aggressive hockey parents.
"He was always there for his officials," Darren said. "If a parent got on their case, he'd walk over and say, 'What makes you say that you can yell at these guys? They're learning, just like your sons or daughters are learning out there to play.'"
Darren Graham learned first-hand what his father was like as an official and mentor when he officiated as a teenager.
"It was great. What we really liked to do, was Dad and I liked to run the lines together," Darren said. "He loved it. It was great. I'll never forget the first game we did together, too -- that was in Dundas. That was a pretty proud day for him when we did our first game together. You could tell it was tugging on his heartstrings. That’s for sure."
The Saturdays he spent at the Market Street Arena, usually with his two kids in toe, Graham referred to as furthering the game of hockey.
"He did further the game of hockey," Wilson said. "All the young officials that he helped to develop, all the work, the time and the patience that it takes to build good officials. And if you don't have good officials, then you can't have a good game and that adds to the element of hockey. So furthering the game, absolutely, he accomplished his mission."
His mission of helping the third team on the ice will be carried on next week during Kraft Hockeyville when a new generation of Dundasians will gather for the George Graham Memorial Officials Clinic. While they may not know Graham, they will work on their skills learning from others, in honor of one of Dundas' best.
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