“Cream of NHL proves rich treat for Okanagan” says the front-page headline of the May 1, 1947 edition of the Vernon News.
Vernon’s Civic Arena played host on April 30 and May 1, 1947, to some of the National Hockey League’s top players, as two exhibition games were held between the 1946 Stanley Cup champion and 1947 Cup finalist Montreal Canadiens, and the NHL All-Stars, a roster made up of players from the other five Original Six teams.
A total of 16 future Hockey Hall of Famers took part, including nine for the all-stars: goalie Turk Broda of the 1947 Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs; Bill Quackenbush (Detroit Red Wings); Jack Stewart (Detroit); Doug Bentley (Chicago Blackhawks); Max Bentley (Chicago); Bill Mosienko (Chicago, who would score three goals in 21 seconds in a 1952 game, an NHL record that still stands); Ted Lindsay (Detroit); Sid Abel (Detroit); Jack Adams (coach, Detroit).
Future Hall of Famers for the Habs included goalie Bill Durnan, forwards Toe Blake and Maurice (Rocket) Richard, defencemen Ken Reardon and Emile (Butch) Bouchard – who was on his honeymoon during the exhibition tour – forward Buddy O’Connor, and Coach Dick Irvin.
The April 10, 1947 Vernon News on Page 2, This Week’s Sports, first mentioned the exhibition game, though it was supposed to be the Canadiens against the Boston Bruins. The two teams were to barnstorm B.C. and the Pacific Northwest, starting in Calgary, playing two games in Vernon, three in New Westminster, one in Nanaimo, then heading down the Pacific Coast Highway.
The next mention of the game in the local paper comes two weeks later – the Vernon News was a weekly publication, coming out on Thursdays – on April 24, again on Page 2, This Week’s Sports: “Valley comes to Vernon to see NHL exhibition” reads the headline. A two-game exhibition is announced between the Habs and NHL All-Stars (no mention of the Bruins), an evening game on Wednesday, April 30, and an afternoon contest Thursday, May 1.
The City of Kelowna requested 600 tickets (the Vernon Civic Arena sat 3,200). Kamloops wanted 180, Lumby asked for 175, and Armstrong asked for 125, all for the evening game. The afternoon contest was designed to be played in front of school children.
Reserved seats for the evening game were $2.25 plus 20 per cent federal tax. Rush seats were $1.25 plus tax. Prices for the afternoon game: Adults $1.50 plus tax; all rush tickets for children were 50 cents plus tax.
Frank Becker was the vice-president of the BC Amateur Hockey Association (BCAHA), and he told the Vernon News: “We are fortunate to have these NHL players here. Vernon is known as the home of intermediate hockey for Western Canada and I believe Vernon will always have that consideration.”
Representing the New York Rangers in the game was Grant Warwick, who would later move to Penticton, become player-coach of the Vees, guiding the team to the 1954 Allan Cup Canadian title and winning the 1955 World Championship for Canada the following year, clinching the title in West Germany with a 5-0 shutout of the Soviet Union.
Back to the May 1 headline: The Habs won the evening game 7-4. The Vernon News reported there were 3,000 fans at the game. Billy Reay of Montreal – who went on to become a head coach with the Chicago Blackhawks – was named player of the game. Becker presented winning coach Dick Irvin with the Okanagan Apple Trophy, made from the trunk of an apple tree planted at Coldstream Ranch orchards 50 years ago.
All-Stars coach Jack Adams was presented a painting of Ogopogo.
“The teams gave the spectators a scintillating exhibition of big league calibre play,” reported the Vernon News (none of the stories or papers had any photos from either contest). “The players pulled the throttle wide open and made artistic passes that were a treat to watch.
“All-Stars included Jack Stewart, one of the all-time great defencemen; the Bentleys, who dazzled with their speed and fancy stickhandling; Toronto goalie Turk Broda, ‘the fabulous, irrepressible, pudgy netminder of the world champion Toronto Maple Leafs.’
“All-Star players who gave grand performances included Max McNab, Ted Lindsay and Jimmy Conacher.”
Reay and Murph Chamberlain scored twice for Montreal, with Blake, Richard and Glen Harmon “lighting the lamp for singletons.” Max McNab (Detroit) had a hat trick for the all-stars while Bill Mosienko had the other.
The summary of the afternoon game came a week later in the May 8 Thursday edition, Page 2, This Week’s Sports, “Autographs and thrills for kids at hockey game.”
The afternoon game drew 1,500 school kids from “all valley points.” The All-Stars won the game 6-3 with the line of the Bentleys and Mosienko combining for five goals.
“From every member of the visiting party there was nothing but praise and appreciation for the treatment they received from Vernon fans,” the Vernon News reads.
Said Jack Adams: “We have really enjoyed our stay in this town.” He expressed his enjoyment at the way the crowds received the teams and he was greatly enthused over the beauty of the city and surrounding district.
While in Vernon, E.G. Sherwood and Stuart Martin arranged entertainment for the two teams. They visited the school (Beairsto?) to meet the kids, stopped at Coldstream Ranch; a grand banquet was held at the National Hotel where the teams, players’ wives and civic dignitaries gathered.
The teams also enjoyed beautiful Okanagan weather. Reports from 1947 show the temperature on April 30 as reaching a high of 18.3 Celsius, and an overnight low of 4.4C. On May 1, the temperature was 16.1C during the day, and the overnight low was 8.3C.
The two-game exhibition stop in Vernon came to light in late August when Calgary IT worker Stu Fast, 38, posted a picture of the games’ souvenir program on the social media site Reddit, and was asking if anybody knew anything about the games.
There were more than 50 replies to the post.
“I got the program from my mom a few months ago,” said Fast. “The program belonged to my grandmother, Aileen Farmer. She grew up in Enderby and spent a number of years there. She would have been 18 in 1947, and was living in Vernon taking a stenographer course.
“She went to the game with her dad, my great-grandfather, and some of her siblings may have have went.”
Of particular interest is the fact Farmer – who died in 2006 – got a number of autographs from the players (coach Dick Irvin’s signature is the only one on the program’s front). The Vernon News said the players happily signed autographs between periods of the games.
Autographs inside the program Farmer received were from Broda, Jimmy Conacher (Detroit), Pete Horeck (Chicago), Doug McCaig (Detroit), McNab, Lindsay, Quackenbush, Max Bentley, and Warwick of the All-Stars. Durnan, Blake, Reardon, Leo Gravelle, Jimmy Peters, Leo Lamoureux, and Bob Fillion signed from the Habs.
“Sadly, no Maurice Richard, which probably irked my grandma to no end,” said Fast.
The 12-page program also included ads from well-known Vernon businesses. NOCA Dairy had two ads including one on the front of the program, saying “For Good Eyesight…Winners head,” and there was a black arrow pointing to a NOCA milk bottle. NOCA’s three-digit phone number, 172, was also included.
Others businesses noted included Chevron Supreme Gasoline; Bloom and Sigalet; Jacques and Son; Okanagan Electric; National Hotel; Okanagan Equipment; MacKenzie’s Men’s Wear; Douglas Pharmacy; Neil and Neil Ltd.; Mc and Mc (sporting goods, general hardware, furniture, plumbing and heating, Beatty Pumps, case farm machinery); National Café; Hayhurst and Woodhouse Limited (coal, wood, flower and feed); Capitol Taxi (phone 476); Pioneer Sash and Door Co. Ltd.