Shootout at the Stampede Corral

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:28 AM ET

In one corner, Habs legend Rocket Richard, white Stetson perched atop his head, fabled glare fixed on an airborne puck, fires a silver six-gun at his target. Across the way, former world heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey and local wrestling legend Stu Hart grapple playfully in a dressing room before a major fight card.

Along another wall, a local hockey team from the 1920s poses proudly outside an arena in full uniform, complete with skates, on the bare asphalt.

If this all sounds like a compilation of strange photos adorning the wing of a sports hall of fame or a treasure trove of snapshots in a fan's dusty attic, it qualifies as both.

The photos are just three of the unusual and sometimes puzzling items seen on the hundreds of pictures in Lloyd Turner's Collection, which graces the concourse walls of Calgary's venerable Stampede Corral.

The items still attract curious fans occasionally drawn to the aging arena, almost rendered obsolete by the Saddledome's opening in 1983.

Many of the attractions covering the walls offer a mysterious mishmash of sports and entertainment, although mostly with a hockey theme, with hundreds of the subjects unidentified or mislabeled.

Some are without a clear connection to Calgary but somehow wound up on the Corral's walls anyway, possibly because of Turner's many friends in the hockey world.

Local historian Howard Mickoski, whose book Hockeyology: Digging Up Hockey's Past documents the game's evolution, is keenly interested in the Corral walls.

"A lot of the photographs in here just don't exist anywhere else," he says.

"I'd bet this is the only place in the world some of these photographs exist."

Turner managed the old Victoria Arena on the Stampede grounds before moving into the Corral, which opened in 1951.

Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1958, Turner created the collection to properly display the photos for the thousands of hockey fans who swarmed the arena every week.

Turner even constructed his own picture frames on site and one wall near the Corral's west entrance is dedicated to the memory of Turner, who died in 1976.

A prominent photo of Toronto Maple Leafs legend Hap Day describes him as having played in the 1950s, although he retired after the 1938 season.

Some of the photos of brightest stars of the day may have been hung in conjunction with hockey barnstorming tours of the West.

The vast majority are hockey photos from the first half of the 20th century and, while many are incorrectly labelled, Mickoski suggests the collection is an unofficial wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"To me, I enjoy the photos in the front part of the building that show the early hockey stars before there even was an NHL," notes Mickoski while scanning over the eye-catching collection. "Other than the Hockey Hall of Fame, you don't see those names or photos anywhere. They are the pioneers of the game.

"I always thought this building could be turned into a museum and you could have guided tours to walk people through here and discuss the history of hockey.

"The Allan Cup and how it was started, arenas and how they were built. There's enough in here you could do that."

Special sections of walls are devoted to one-time tenants such as the dearly departed Calgary Cowboys of the World Hockey Association, a club that folded almost 30 years ago.

The old Calgary Centennials junior hockey club along with Rodeo Royal champions and Stampede winners have also staked a claim to sections of the walls.

Another photo portrays the 1923-24 Tiger Hockey Club, the only Calgary team besides the Flames to reach the Stanley Cup final before losing to a Montreal Canadiens squad featuring legends Georges Vezina and Howie Morenz.

One strange photo features an anonymous local baseball team, apparently from the 1950s, posing beside an old school bus near a dusty ball diamond.

Many of the hockey photos are autographed and personalized to Turner while a large part of the west entrance is a shrine to the man who ran Calgary's two major arenas through most of the 20th century.

The Corral was buzzing with activity in its first 30 years of existence with fans milling about in the corridors before and after events or during intermissions, drawn to the fascinating collection.

The rink was even home to the NHL's Flames through the club's first couple of seasons, offering even more fans an opportunity to peruse the exhibits.

Nowadays, the Corral sits quiet most nights with larger events held at the 'Dome, leaving the massive and precious photo collection largely forgotten.

The hundreds of hockey photos illustrate the game's development, showing changes to equipment and rinks over time, an important window to the game's past.

Many of the photos pre-date television, offering fans their only glimpse of the game's greatest stars.

"It's a chance to show the best you can, hockey from the 1920s and '30s," Mickoski says. "Players then wore wool sweaters and hats and toques.

"The other non-hockey photos are also fascinating to see. The boxing photos show how popular boxing was in the 1920s and '30s."

Turner's connection to the development of senior hockey leagues is a clue to why some of the unique snapshots earned their place along the walls.

"The Drumheller versus Calgary photos of a senior hockey game from the 1930s, that's probably the only photos ever taken of an actual senior hockey game in Alberta, ever," Mickoski points out.

"These are the original prints, the only ones that exist in the entire era, so what happens if they disappear?

"If someone took them or they got burned in a fire, they're gone forever."

To preserve the collection, the Stampede Board and U of C will begin an initiative later this year to digitally copy the photos as part of the 2005 provincial centennial celebrations.

The historic and rare photos will eventually be accessible to everyone on-line, long after the Corral is retired forever.


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