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June 30, 2000

Arena named after one of Mattawa’s famous sons

Mike Rodden at Iroquois Falls in 1913. From Anent Michael J.

Mattawa's Mike Rodden Arena and Community Centre is named after one of Ontario's most remarkable sports figures. Mike (1891-1978) is the third unique Mattawa personality, along with Gertrude Bernard (1906-1986) and Gordon Dufoe (1891-1975), that I will profile before moving on to other heritage perspectives (Gordon Dufoe was born the same year as Mike and lived near him).

Mike Rodden was born in Mattawa and lived there at Fifth and Bridges St. until he left to attend Ottawa University at age 15, and later attended Queen's University.

Mike and his wife Millie returned to Mattawa regularly and usually stayed at the Moose Head Lodge, the former home of Henry Timmins Jr.

Mike had a great affection for Mattawa and an incredible memory for stories about his home town.

The stories he told did not suffer in the telling. When he retired, he wrote a five hundred page book on his remarkable career as an athlete, coach, referee and sports writer.

Peter Handley, the sports writer and sports caster from North Bay, worked and corresponded with Mike, and in the early 1990s tracked down the unpublished manuscript.

Handley acquired the sections of the book on Mattawa and Northern Ontario, which he edited and added various appendices and photos.

The Rodden grandchildren co-operated with the project, and provided some pictures.
The Lacrosse Gang - Porcupine 1913. Mike Rodden is third from fight front row. Photo courtesy Dana Rodden, from the book Arnet Michael J., edited by Peter Handley

Handley’s son designed and produced the book, and the Highway Bookshop in Cobalt published it in 1993. The book is called Anent Micheal J: The Life and Times of Michael J Rodden in Northern Ontario. It is available in bookstores and museums, including the Highway Bookshop and the Mattawa Museum.

The book includes considerable material on other aspects of Rodden's incredible life later in his career.

For example:
-He played hockey, football lacrosse and was an outstanding boxer, canoeist and ten pin bowler.
-While at Queen's University he was an all-star several times and had an all-time record of fifteen sports letters.
-He coached various football teams and won 27 titles, including 2 Grey Cups. n He refereed 2,864 hockey games, including 1,187 NHL games in a 13 year period. 
-While doing his coaching and refereeing, he worked full-time as a sports editor for the Toronto Globe for 18 years and for the Kingston Whig Standard for 15 years. 
-He was the only person elected to 2 sports Halls of Fame, in hockey (1962) and football (1964).

In his autobiography you can see the things that characterize his life-his intelligence, his writing ability, his self-confidence and his energy. He was the second of four children of Irish Catholic parents.

In the book, he describes how most of Mattawa, which he calls "Mattewan" was on the south side of the Mattawa River, and how Rosedale on the north side had the Catholic church, school and hospital, etc. He lived in the area beyond Rosedale, which at the time was called "Squaw Valley" because of the high Native population there.

He went to St. Anne's School at age 5 and recalls numerous fights, adventures and incidents there and elsewhere in the community. His stories about every aspect of life in Mattawa, up to the end of the First World War, make that era in Mattawa come alive like nothing else I have read.

His stories about early logging companies and the running of the logs down the Mattawa River, under the bridge and into the Ottawa River, were especially lively. For example, he says: "the running of the logs became a challenge to me, and there was no dare I would not accept." The stories of his bobsledding, local forest fires, medical emergencies, the judiciary, politics, fishing and the coming of electricity, etc. are fascinating.

He notes that he and his wife Millie made "many holiday trips to Mattawa." 

On one occasion, the owner of the old Timmins store, Ike Tongue-who mike called "a landmark in a town of landmarks"-was to pick them up after a fishing trip on the Ottawa River. There was a huge thunderstorm and they were not picked up. Later they found that Ike had a good excuse-a tree had fallen on his car and wrecked it, and when he went to look at the damage, his store was hit by lightning and started on fire.

The museum and the arena/community centre are working on separate Mike Rodden displays. The book itself is an outstanding record of his life and of life in Mattawa during that era.

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