Monday, November 9, 2015

Wartime Hockey, Vancouver Norvan Shipyards


North Vancouver Waterfront Shipyards during WWII

I live in North Vancouver, British Columbia and have for about 16 years now. As much as I still instinctively refer to Toronto and it's surrounding environs as my hometown, North Vancouver really is my adopted hometown now. As well, I love reading and writing about hockey history and in fact, will soon be published for the fifth time in the Society for International Hockey Research Journal. However, for a hockey historian, there really isn't a lot of hockey history in my hometown of North Vancouver.

Sure, there have been 12 players born in North Vancouver to play in the NHL, but only three of them played at least 50 games. There was Todd Simpson, a tough defenceman who played 580 games and the Kariya clan (although Paul was technically born in Vancouver). Martin Jones is the new starting goalie for the San Jose Sharks and Sam and Griffin Reinhart are top prospects just starting their NHL careers. After current Canucks radio colour commentator Dave Tomlinson and WHA star George Lyle, thats about it. Imagine my delight then when I found on the SIHR database a team named Vancouver Norvan Shipyards from 1941/42.

The Shipyards in the team name refers to the Burrard Drydock Company on the North Vancouver waterfront which at it's peak during World War II employed up to 14,000 workers in the shipbuilding industry (photo at top). Across Canada during WWII, senior hockey leagues in most of the large cities included teams made up entirely of military personnel and/or sponsored by civilian companies that contributed to the war efforts. The North Vancouver Shipyards were no exception.

With such a large number of people working and living nearby the Shipyards, the social and athletic club was extremely important. The Burrard Drydock was reputed to have the largest five-pin bowling league in the world at the time. Employees engaged in such past-times as boxing, softball, archery and roller-skating. The Shipyards sponsoring a hockey team falls right in line with the social environment of the busy wartime outfit. There was no hockey rink onsite at Burrard Drydock, so the team played out of the Vancouver Forum a few kilometres across Burrard Inlet, still standing today (pictured at bottom).

The Vancouver Norvan Shipyards squad played in a league named the Pacific Coast Senior Hockey Association along with three other Armed Forces related teams; New Westminster Spitfires, Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Bapcos (sponsored by a Pendrey Paint Company). On November 12, 1941 the Novans faced off in Victoria to kick off the season. It proved to be a tightly contested league as after the 28 game schedule had been completed, the top three teams were separated by only two points. Victoria finished first with 31 points, Norvans and Nanaimo tied with 29 and New Westminster brought up the rear with 23 points.

The Norvans and Nanaimo played a two game, total goal series to determine who claimed second spot. On February 20, 1942 Nanaimo travelled to the Forum at Hastings Park and walloped the Norvan Shipyards by a score of 9-2. The next day, the Clippers swept the two game set with a 4-3 win at home. On the 23rd the same teams began a best-of-three Semi-final in Nanaimo with another victory for the home team, this time 4-2. The Norvans evened it up with a 4-3 win back at the Forum the next day setting up a final match in Nanaimo thanks to their home ice advantage. The last game was no contest as the Clippers blew out Norman Shipyards 7-0 behind a shutout from goaltender Keith Langille. Nanaimo went on to beat Victoria in the final by 3 games to 1 win the PCSHA Championship.

There's no way to know for sure, but it's safe to assume that most of the players on the Vancouver Norvan Shipyards hockey team worked there in some form or another. Many of them as well as others throughout the league had recently or would soon play in the NHL. There are terrific photos of some of the Norvans players on the Vancouver Archives database. First pictured is Jack Riley who had  played two full seasons with the Montreal Canadiens in the early 1930's as a teammate of Hall of Famers Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat. Riley would star in the minor leagues up until joining the Norvans and during this 41/42 season he produced 14 points over 6 games. 
Jack Riley 
Red Beattie was another ex-NHL'er who was 35 years old when he skated for the Norvans. Beattie had played 334 games through the 1930's mainly with the Boston Bruins and all-time great Eddie Shore. His best year was 32 points in 48 games for the 35/36 Bruins. He would score 24 points for the Norvans.
Red Beattie
Jack Kilpatrick, who played for Victoria Bapcos that season was an actual Olympic Gold medalist when Great Britain won hockey Gold in 1936. Kilpatrick played most of his career with the Nelson (BC) Maple Leafs in various senior circuits and would lead the Pacific Coast league in scoring in 41/42 with 43 points in 27games.
Although most of the players in the league were military men stationed in and around the Vancouver area or civilians employed in the war effort, there were a few who would actually go overseas to fight. Doug Martinson of North Battleford, Saskatchewan was a member of the Nanaimo Clippers this 41/42 season and soon after was shipped overseas. As a flying officer in the RCAF, Martinson was killed in Belgium on November 11, 1944.
Doug Martinson
Amazingly, a few of these guys are actually still alive to this day. Cliff Gannon who played for New Westminster Spitfires and later in the Allan Cup with Regina Army Caps turned 97 years old on October 21. Perhaps the oldest living veteran of this league is on Pete Bonneville. He topped the Norvan Shipyards squad in points with 33 and played senior hockey until 1946. Born in Cornwall, Ontario in 1913, Pete Bonneville is alive at 102 years old today.
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4 comments:

scrappy pappy said...

Read it. I am impressed at your knowledge .

scrappy pappy said...

Read it. I am impressed at your knowledge .

Unknown said...

My father was Keith Langille the goalie mentioned in this article. Thank you for the memory shelley

Nitzy said...

So happy to provide a memory in any way.
Chris

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