Apr 082010

Winnipeg Vics and the Toronto Wellingtons

In the Winnipeg library where I’m doing research for a book,  a front page story in a century old Winnipeg paper catches my eye. It’s a fascinating tale of a Stanley Cup series between the Winnipeg Vics and the Toronto Wellingtons played in the spring of 1902. I’m amazed to discover that hundreds of fans came from miles around to jam into the 3,000 seat. They were there  to witness the first Stanley Cup matches played in Manitoba.

To their surprise, the Winnipeg players skate onto the ice for the warmup wearing long gold dressing gowns over their uniforms. The referee, Mr. McFarlane (no relation), has a little chat with both teams prior to dropping the puck. He says he will tolerate no nonsense from the rivals

Midway through the first game, one of the “lifters”‑‑a player noted for his ability to hoist the puck down the ice‑‑cleverly lofts the puck high above the ice. But it does not come down. It is lodged in the rafters. The fans roar with laughter while the players mill about below. They begin to hurl their sticks upwards and the one who finally dislodges the puck receives a standing ovation.

There’s another long delay when a Newfoundland dog jumps on the ice and a merry chase results.

A recurring phrase in the newspaper account of the event causes me to ponder its meaning. “Gingras of the Vics was sent to the fence by Mr. McFarlane” and later “Once again Gingras was told to sit on the fence.” Finally it dawns on me. There was no penalty box for poor Gingras to sit in. They hadn’t been invented yet.  Penalized players like Gingras  simply sat on the low boards surrounding the rink until the referee told him he could play again.

Then I encountered another oddity. When the puck sailed over the boards into the crowd, the spectator catching it was expected to return it promptly to the ice. There was no whistle and play continued right along. One fan in this series broke with tradition. He pocketed the puck .Despite pleas from players, officials and fans to toss it back, he refused to give it up.

“I’m keeping it,” he stated. “For a souvenir.”

Finally, another puck was sent for and the game continued.

There was more excitement in game two. A Toronto player named Chummy Hill scored a goal with half a puck. When the puck split in two during a scramble, Hill snared one piece with his stick and shot it into the Winnipeg net. Referee McFarlane allowed the goal to stand. Winnipeg won the series and entertained the visitors at a reception following the final game. The Winnipeg paper was filled with game descriptions and quotes from the men involved. There were neat illustrations of the game highlights, including one of Gingras of the Vics sitting on the fence.

Back in Toronto, fans were anxious to hear the results of the games. And this information came from the offices of the Toronto Globe. The Globe received the  final score of each match from a  Winnipeg telegrapher. A Globe employee quickly notified someone at the Street Railway Company and he, in turn, pulled a chain on a high-pitched whistle that could be heard throughout the city. One blast was for a win, two blasts signalled a loss.

When two blasts were heard following the final match, one of the most disappointed youngsters in Toronto was a member of the Wellingtons who had not accompanied the team.  Had he been injured? Was he ill? No, his parents decided he was far too young to be travelling across the country for no other purpose than to play in a series of hockey games.

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