Historians find Kingston Cup

PATRICK KENNEDY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

KINGSTON — Persistence, as it often does on fact-finding forays, paid off for hockey historians Bill Fitsell and Ed Grenda in neighbouring Manitoba.

On a recent visit to Brandon for the annual general meeting of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR), the tireless shinny sleuths took a side trip to Shilo, Man. There, they locked eyeballs on a bauble that is as much a part of our city’s hockey heritage as the square puck — namely the Kingston Cup.

Never heard of it? Join the club.

But worry not, for the trophy is safe and sound and as shiny as the day it was first hoisted in triumph on Kingston’s frozen inner harbour 83 years ago. It is the focal point in a display case at the Royal Canadian Artillery Museum, CFB Shilo.

It took more than a decade, “but we scored this time,” quipped Fitsell over a morning brew, his good friend and colleague Grenda beside him in the booth.

The two had long suspected the Manitoba military base as the trophy’s hideout but could never authenticate same. Fitsell wrote a letter to the base in 1997 inquiring about the cup. He also included some background material. In a reply, the retired newspaperman was politely thanked for his interest and given a Polaroid snapshot of the unpolished cup — but no indication as to where, how or even if the piece was on display inside the sprawling museum. On past trips to Western Canada, Grenda twice popped into the museum only to ‘cup’ away empty each time.

“This time Ed had some advance information,” Fitsell said. “The woman on duty took us right to it.”

The silver trophy, with curving twin handles, a round wooden base and a bowl deep enough for a six-pack, came out of the Limestone quarter in 1927.

It was commissioned by Kingston businessman Wallie Cusick and initially awarded to the champion of the city’s Inter Battery Hockey League. Eventually it was presented to the winner of an annual game between Royal Canadian Artillery batteries A and B, a rivalry that pre-dates the 20th century. Unless the batteries are deployed, the game is played each year to celebrate St. Barbara, patron saint of gunners.

Cusick owned a sporting goods store and was a steadfast supporter of local sports, the forerunner, Fitsell remarked, to another up-and-coming Wally of the day, the energetic Mr. Elmer.

Initially called the Wallie Cusick trophy, in time it became known as the Kingston Cup.

Following the inaugural game in 1927, the yearly custom continued until the late 1930s, when A and B batteries were again readied for war and shipped to Europe for combat.

With the end of the Second World War, the on-ice challenge resumed and continues to this day at CFB Shilo.

With the cup’s whereabouts confirmed, our intrepid shinny scholars ventured further west across the border and into the sleepy Saskatchewan hamlet of Fleming (pop. 78), birthplace of Clarence Sutherland Campbell, longest-serving leader of any major professional sport.

The man who ruled the National Hockey League for 31 years was born in a two-storey clapboard house.

He moved as a young boy with his family to Battleford and then to Edmonton, where he graduated law school and enrolled at Oxford University as aa Rhodes Scholar. (After WWII, Campbell was also a prosecutor at the trials of Nazis charged with war crimes).

Curiously there is no plaque or picture or statue of Fleming’s famous son, no building or road named after him, nothing to remind a passerby that this dusty speck of real estate off the Trans Canada Highway is the hometown of the NHL president who banished Maurice Richard from the 1955 NHL playoffs and thus inadvertently touched off the Quiet Revolution.

However Campbell’s anonymity could be in jeopardy, what with SIHR reps and Fleming politicians batting around the idea of a commemorative plaque. “It would fill a void,” said Grenda.

Such fuss and sentiment over someone who died more than a quarter-century ago — he wasn’t exactly popular when he was on this side of the sod — puzzles run-of-the-mill fans.

But for passionate patrons like Fitsell and Grenda and their hockey-breathing brethren at SIHR, a plaque is a vital link to an historic past.

When they were not out roaming the countryside and dropping in on unsuspecting folks, Messrs. Grenda and Fitsell stayed put in Brandon, where the Memorial Cup saw-off was in full swing.

They are founding members of SIHR and honourary presidents. Fitsell, 87 next month, and his pal, a mere sprig of 68, have proudly watched SIHR membership mushroom from the original 17 (1991) to 440 current members in 17 countries.

The keynote speaker at this year’s general meeting was Don (Bones) Raleigh, a rawhide-tough forward with the New York Rangers. Bones joined the Rangers at age 17, the youngest player in team history. He holds the league mark for overtime goals in a final (two).

He also holds a soft spot for Brandon, having played junior, university and professional hockey in the Wheat City. A Winnipeg resident, Raleigh supports Brandon University with two yearly academic scholarships.

One of the more interesting nuggets unearthed by SIHR over the past 12 months showed the kind of company hall of fame centreman Sigurour Franklin Fredrickson kept during his stint as Princeton University hockey coach.

The story goes that ‘Frankie’ liked to fiddle with the violin in his spare time and soon befriended another wannabe-musician, a wild-haired, moustachioed math junkie by the name of Albert Einstein.

Such tidbits are the grail that keep shinny sleuths on the trail.


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