The Thistle Hockey Team Wins the Stanley Cup

by Laurie Shaw and Lori Nelson

This is one game that probably has been dearer to the residents of this town than any other. With the old-timers it was almost a religion. A new Bank Manager, unfortunate man, saw no reason why the bank’s business should be utterly disrupted at the end of the month and he told his accountant, Certainly, you can’t get off to go to Brandon and play hockey. You are required here. What was his consternation when a delegation of the leading businessmen waited on him to inform him that he could take his choice of giving the hockey player the time off or losing all their accounts. The accountant left that night with the team.

That short anecdote gives an indication of the importance of hockey in Kenora; and it was through this sport that Rat Portage/Kenora gained its greatest prestige as a sporting town.

It was around 1891 or 1892 that the first Rat Portage hockey team was formed. The first recorded line-up of the team was: T. Hardisty (goal), J. McMahon (point), D. Hardisty (cover point), Cooper, Dulmage, Johnson, and Robertson (forwards).

With the formation of the hockey team came the necessity for the selection of a name. A contest followed and Bill Dunsmore, a local carpenter, submitted the winning entry – the Thistles. With his entry, Mr. Dunsmore submitted a coloured drawing of a thistle. Both the name and the emblem were adopted.

In 1894, the favourite sport of the school children was, naturally, hockey. At this time, the senior Thistles team was having only mediocre success in their games, while a team organized among the youngsters could not find enough competition to keep them satisfied. So in 1895, a challenge was sent to the seniors from the juniors. It was enthusiastically accepted by the senior Thistles and the first meeting of the two teams was played in the Princess Rink. After the resounding win of the juniors, one of them said, We trimmed them that they handed us over their sticks and pads, and I don’t believe they ever laced on a skate afterwards.

The game marked the birth of the future Stanley Cup winners. The line-up for the juniors was: Fred Dulmage (goal), Tuff Bellefeuille, Herman Sharpe, Wellington McCannon, Robert Bearsto, Tom Hooper, Tom Phillips, Billy McGimsie, Matt Brown, Billy Martin, Roxy Beaudro, and Silas Griffis.

The Thistles played in an intermediate league against teams from Brandon, Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, and in 1901 finished the season with 9 wins, 2 losses to win the Western Hockey Association’s Intermediate Championship. 

The first Rat Portage Thistle Hockey Team. From left to right

Back row – Tom Hooper, Billy McGimsie, Jim Fraser, Tom Phillips

Middle row – Matt Brown, J. R. Bunn, T. Bellefuille

Front row – Fred Dulmadge, Billy Archabault (mascot), C. Hilliard

Hockey fans in Rat Portage touted them as the Intermediate Champions of the World, claiming there was certainly little competition in the east which the westerners could not take care of. In fact, many felt that Rat Portage could defeat a lot of the eastern teams who were in the senior league.

In January 1902, a decision was made by the Thistle Hockey Club executive to apply to the council of the Northwest Hockey Association for admission to the senior league. It wasn’t until December of that year that they were allowed to join what, by that time, had become a three-team league, including Rat Portage, Brandon, and Portage la Prairie.

The 1903 season was an exciting one and culminated in the Thistles winning the league championship and challenging the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately the Thistles were not able to secure enough goals to bring the Cup home, but coming so near made the Rat Portage boys only hungrier to have a chance at it again.

At the end of the 1904-05 season, the Manitoba Hockey League (of which the Thistles were members) sent the trustees of the Stanley Cup a challenge on behalf of the ultimate winners of the league. It was apparent by the end of the season that the Rat Portage Thistles were the best in the west and it was they who went to Ottawa in March of 1905 to try and bring the Stanley Cup home.

The players on the team were: Eddie Giroux, Matt Brown, Si Griffis, Tuff Bellefeuille, Billy McGimsie, Tom Hooper, Tom Phillips, and Roxy Beaudro.

The Thistles won the first game easily with a score of 10-2. But the second match was won by Ottawa (4-2) in an exceedingly rough game, in which the ice was so soft that the players were reportedly skating around in an inch of water.

The Miner and News reported: … There was no judge of play and this fact made it easier for the Ottawas to get in their well-known rough tactics. They are not the accomplished hockey players that our local boys are, but are masters of tripping and stick punching. Our fellows have not found it necessary to practice these despicable tricks, for they rely solely on their science of hockey.

The third and fourth games were much the same. Phillips’ face was a pitiful sight, covered in cuts from the rough play of the Ottawa team. Griffis’ nose and lips were cut and his knee was swollen to twice its size.

Despite these misfortunes, the Thistles put on an admirable show, playing hockey that was clean, fast, and clever. Nevertheless, the Ottawa Silver Seven won and retained the Stanley Cup.

In November 1905, new regulations to govern the contests for the Stanley Cup were adopted. In previous years, two out of three games had to be won, but a change was made to have either one or two matches played with the majority of goals to count. Where the challengers were residents within a reasonable distance of where the Cup was held, only one game would be played. In the case of clubs that had to travel quite a distance, two games were to be played. The adoption of these new regulations was done in order to accommodate all the challenges that were issued.

In March of 1906, the Montreal Wanderers won the Stanley Cup from Ottawa and retained it until they met the Thistle hockey team in January of 1907. The Thistles travelled to Montreal and cleanly beat the Wanderers, winning the first game by a score of 4-2, and the second 8-6.

Members of the winning hockey team were : E. Giroux (goal), A.H. Ross (point), Si Griffis (cover point), T. Hooper (rover), W. McGimsie (centre), R. Beaudro (right wing), T. Phillips (captain and left wing). Coach and trainer of the club was J.A. Link, and the manager was Fred Hudson.

Kenora was the smallest town to ever win the Cup.

The Kenora people were ecstatic! People all across the country were awed by the performance of the small-town boys. Interest over the Stanley Cup series was widespread. The following articles are excerpts from various newspapers on their impressions of the series and the Thistles.

Ottawa Citizen…

Twice have these same westerners travelled afar east after the goal. Once they fought Ottawa. One cannot dare to draw comparisons to the extent of saying they are the best that ever came out of the west. They are the finest type of hockey, fast and clean, looking for the puck, not the man aiming at the goal and not with vicious intent to hurt or maim. The visitors are simply great on skates. They do not seem to be trying hard. There isn’t a slow man on the challengers’ team. Every other player in turn showed his ability in skating and stick handling, and the cheers that greeted each effort of the visitors showed that these stirring efforts were being appreciated. Wanderer men seemed speedy in matches in league and against New Glasgow, but last night their speed was not sufficient. Even Pud Glass, thought to be the lively man of the champion’s line was fairly offset. A notable merit of the Thistle playing is their eagerness to get the puck, and to do this there is no slashing, but a snappy poke which is far more effective.

Montreal Star…

Speed won. It wasn’t a question of superior hockey, superior courage, superior combination, but it was simply a question of speed. Rough play, dirty play were unknown factors.

Speed and graceful skating are, as far as could be judged from their performance last night, the two principal talents they possess, but it will be well to make allowance for the possibility that they may display others. In fact, taking everything together there was a good deal in favour of the Wanderers in the first half.

Throughout the second half, Kenora seemed to cover twice the distance of the local men and outskated them at every turn. They were not only at the heels of the Wanderers forwards, but often in advance of them, and the result was that when the Wanderer quartette came down the ice they found a septette of Thistles protecting the goal-keeper, some of whom would either directly steal the puck or bewilder them so by their tactics that they would not know which way to turn.

Phillips was nothing short of magnificent. He seemed in perfect condition and kept Stuart and Kennedy hustling. His shooting was splendid. Beaudro is every bit as fast as Phillips, and won his stars shortly after the start. He was away with every rush, and figured in some dazzling combinations with Phillips. Hooper and McGimsie in the centre of the ice also did grand work, while Ross and Griffis comprised a remarkable strong defence.

Montreal Herald…

The Thistles are the fastest hockeyists seen on local ice for many seasons. Some of the work last night was simply marvelous. The west is noted for its fast hockey teams, but this present aggregation of the Thistles has all previous sensations in that line beaten to a standstill. Team work – at least, real good teamwork – was rather sparse, but the speed of the western bunch is simply marvelous. With such speed, teamwork is almost unnecessary…

Fort William Times-Journal

The unexpected has occurred, and the Stanley Cup comes west to Kenora. Never has a victory been more popular, even in eastern hockey circles, where the loss of the trophy might cause a keen regret. In the west, where the Kenora boys have been acknowledged champions for two years, nothing but enthusiasm will be felt over the fact that they have at last been able to make good. The hard luck which followed them in former years will only add to the joy of victory today.

The town of Kenora has a special right to be proud of her hockey team. They have not been gathered together at great expense from outside and kept for hockey purposes. They are a home-grown bunch; the same gang who have lifted the Stanley Cup used to play shinny together on the streets of old Rat Portage when they all went to school in kneepants. They grew up into sportsmen and gentlemen, and no one has ever accused the whirlwind Kenora team of dirty or unfair play. They win and lose as gentlemen. Kenora may also be proud of their loyalty. Time and again, Phillips, Hooper, and Griffis and all the rest of the bunch could have yielded to the temptation of a princely salary to leave their hometown, but they would never quit. 

The Stanley Cup-winning Thistle Hockey Team. They are, from left to right

Back row – R. Phillips (spare), J.F. McGillvray (secretary, J. Link (trainer), Fred Hudson (manager), J. Hall (spare)

Middle row – Roxy Beaudro (right wing), Tom Hooper (rover), Tom Phillips (left wing), Billy McGimsie (centre)

Front row – Si Griffis (centre point), Eddie Giroux (goal), Art Ross (point)

They had a mission to perform, and like the Knights of the Round Table, had sworn to bring the Cup to Kenora. Having accomplished this they would doubtless stay to defend it.

The whole west will join in the applause for the pluckiest, swiftest, and cleanest hockey team in Canada.

Winnipeg Telegram

Congratulations to the Kenora boys for lifting the Stanley Cup in such splendid style. They not only gain the Championship of Canada, but they give to the noble game of hockey a great impetus in the west, for now that the Cup comes here again, every effort will be made to retain it. Best of all these games have shown that winning hockey can be played without any of that brutality which in times past has considerably weakened the enthusiasm of the public towards what is otherwise the fastest and most exciting of sports. The members of the team will be given a great reception on their return and they deserve it. Such a victory is not won without enormous energy and self sacrifice by the individual players, and the fact that Kenora has been able to bring the coveted trophy so far, will stimulate the clubs still further west in their endeavours to keep it moving towards the Rockies.

Unfortunately, Kenora was not to bask in its glory for long. In late March of 1907, hardly having had time to get off cloud nine, the Kenora Thistles were challenged by the Montreal Wanderers for the Cup. Two games were played. The Montreal team won the first by demonstrating that they were the better team in such an unmistakable manner that they received a rousing ovation as they left the ice. In the second game, in a whirlwind exhibition of hockey, the Thistles succeeded in defeating the Wanderers. However, they were unable to make up the margin of goals necessary to retain the Cup. The Montreal Wanderers returned east with it.

Did you know?

During the Spanish Flu epidemic the Kenora Public Library was converted to an emergency hospital.  In the three months of the epidemic at least 66 people died of the flu.

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