Remembering Uncle Dave

EARL MCRAE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

She was only three years old when he took his Ottawa Senators to their last Stanley Cup victory 80 years ago, but, oh, does she remember her beloved "Uncle Dave" who, all his adult life until he died, lived as a bachelor in one tiny room on the top floor of a boarding house on Waverley St.

"He had a lady friend for years, right up until he passed away," says his niece Betty Holtby, a widow, sitting at the dining room table of her apartment on Carling Ave.

"Uncle Dave lived in his room, she had a small apartment on Cooper St. They never lived together. Uncle Dave ate out at restaurants. Places like Bowles Lunch and You Want A Lunch. Greasy spoons you'd call them.

IN LOVE

"He and Ada never married. I don't know why. But they were in love. She was a lovely person. She worked for the government. When uncle Dave died, he left everything he had to her. She's long dead now, too. I don't know whatever happened to the things he left her."

A shame. Because what Ada received after her lover's death in 1963, at the age of 72 from a heart condition, might have been precious mementoes from that Stanley Cup win of the 1926-'27 season when the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins and Dave Gill was the team's rookie head coach, appointed by Frank Ahearn, founder and president of Ottawa Electric Railway that owned the club.

"Uncle Dave loved hockey, but he'd never ever played, and he wasn't at all athletic," says Betty Holtby, stretching her cupped arms way out in front of her. "He was a big man." She smiles. "I can still see him in his stiff black bowler hat and his grey spats. He was a stylish dresser."

THRILL TO WIN THE CUP

Dave Gill and his brother Harold -- Betty Holtby's father -- were graduates of Willis Business School in Ottawa, Harold moving on to the lumber business, Dave to Ottawa Electric Railway where he became general manager and, at the same time, coached the Ottawa Senators, the last Stanley Cup champion coach in their history.

"I remember, as a child, him talking about what a thrill it was to win the Cup. He'd tell about the team going by train to New York to play and the players being short of money for meals or whatever else they might need. He'd pay out of his own pocket. But when the team won the Cup, Uncle Dave said Ahearn gave each player $1,200. Can you imagine? That was a lot back then."

She goes to a drawer and comes back with a black-and-white snapshot of her uncle taken in 1943.

"He was a wonderful, caring man. He'd go out of his way to help people. My family had a cottage near Montebello and on some summer Sundays in the '30s, Uncle Dave would arrive in his Cadillac and he'd always bring gallons of strawberry and chocolate ice cream and soft drinks and fresh fruit for all the aunts and uncles and children. As kids, we couldn't wait for Uncle Dave's visits."

Betty Holtby possesses her uncle's love of hockey and the Senators. She and some girlfriends in the building get together to watch the Sens on TV, Betty in her team jersey, madly cheering. "Ottawa over Anaheim in five," she says.

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The old, three-storey, red brick house on Waverley St. has a small, narrow window at the top, looking out onto the street. "Do you ever feel the ghost of Dave Gill?" I ask. He gives me a puzzled look. I explain. His face lights up with incredulity. "He lived here?"

His name is Edward Krul. A psychiatrist. He's 64. The house hasn't been a boarding house for many years. It has been Krul's office since he bought it in 1985. He works on the ground floor. The upper rooms are empty.

Edward Krul goes and gets a key. He takes me up wooden staircases. I ask if he likes hockey. Yes. "When I was a medical student in Czechoslovakia, I played. Left wing." And then, smiling: "I play coronet in a band, the Drew Nelson Blues Band. We're playing tonight and I'm looking for an excuse to get out of it so I can watch the Senators game."

He stops near the top. "These last steps lead to his room. Before I renovated the staircase, it was narrow and creaky. There was no light. You couldn't see. The room was really an attic."

We go up the stairs. He unlocks a door. The room is small, empty, light streaming in the narrow front window.

"This is it. This would have been his room. The door is the original and so is the window. The closet there, it's so small. That would have been his closet."

After a long pause: "You know, I've never felt the ghost of Dave Gill. But this room -- it's always had a warm, special feeling about it. It really has."

We stand for a moment in honoured silence.


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