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February 19, 2010

Hockey Violence in Perspective

Hockey violence, especially concussions are in the news again with the recent incident with Patrice Cormier the Quebec Junior player who, as Roy MacGregor said in the Globe & Mail “attempted to behead his opponent with his elbow”. All hockey fans remember some of the particularly vicious hits of McSorley, Bertuzzi and others. In reality when you look at the amount of hockey played the violence is minimal but none the less questionable and problematic.

MacGregor’s headline “Badly bruised good-old game needs all the help it can get” makes a good point but not the one I want to get into here. Today as an historian I want to draw attention to some local history of the good-old game with the emphasis on old.

My attention was recently drawn to North Bay’s early hockey history when I was shown a 1912 copy of the North Bay Times one of North Bay’s newspapers at the time along with the Nugget which survived it. It is clear that hockey violence was around a hundred years ago.

Article in the North Bay Times March 14, 1912, North Bay Public Library

Ken and Bruce Craig in their remarkable 1997 book Blades on the Bay profiles hockey’s start in North Bay. Before the turn of the century curlers had a couple of crude rinks that were used by people for skating as well. Hockey eventually became organized. In the early days the players had almost no padding, there were no forward passes and there were 2, 30 minute periods.

Businessmen Fee & Mackey built a domed rink with an entrance on Ferguson Street and extending east along Worthington where the Post Office is now. North Bay’s first formal hockey team began in 1897.

Other teams followed and competition with other communities in all directions began. There were eventually trophies for winning teams. One of the trophies was the Mackie Cup. The 1912 article in the North Bay Times profiled a game between North Bay and Sturgeon Falls in North Bay for the Mackie Cup.

The article noted that the game ended “in a most unfortunate manner to say the least.” The referee James Lillie from North Bay was apparently taunted and had stuff thrown at him. The bell the referee used to signal time was used by him on the face of North Bay’s Eddie Bunyan breaking his nose and “changing his face generally”.

North Bay refused to go on with the game which was 5-4 for Sturgeon Falls. When the crowd got on the street “considerable fighting took place and one North Bay man was smashed with a bottle, breaking his nose.”

Photo of the domed Fee & Mackey Rink in North Bay from Blades on the Bay 1997.

The referee was arrested and charged with assault causing grievous bodily harm. In court it was argued that things had been thrown at the referee and that a Sturgeon Falls player had put a North Bay player “down for the count”. The referee had been punched in the face. The charges were reduced and he paid a one dollar fine. By the way, price on the newspaper was $1.00 per year in advance. There was no indication how the series ended but a neutral referee was promised.

As everyone knows North Bay went on to be a remarkable hockey town and remains so today. Check the Craig book out at the library to read about some of that history and get out and watch the game as it is played today.

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