For readers of The Boys in the Boat and Against All Odds
Join a ragtag group of misfits from Dawson City as they scrap to become the 1905 Stanley Cup champions and cement hockey as Canada’s national pastime
An underdog hockey team traveled for three and a half weeks from Dawson City to Ottawa to play for the Stanley Cup in 1905. The Klondikers’ eagerness to make the journey, and the public’s enthusiastic response, revealed just how deeply, and how quickly, Canadians had fallen in love with hockey.
After Governor General Stanley donated a championship trophy in 1893, new rinks appeared in big cities and small towns, leading to more players, teams, and leagues. And more fans. When Montreal challenged Winnipeg for the Cup in December 1896, supporters in both cities followed the play-by-play via telegraph updates.
As the country escaped the Victorian era and entered a promising new century, a different nation was emerging. Canadians fell for hockey amid industrialization, urbanization, and shifting social and cultural attitudes. Class and race-based British ideals of amateurism attempted to fend off a more egalitarian professionalism.
Ottawa star Weldy Young moved to the Yukon in 1899, and within a year was talking about a Cup challenge. With the help of Klondike businessman Joe Boyle, it finally happened six years later. Ottawa pounded the exhausted visitors, with “One-Eyed” Frank McGee scoring an astonishing 14 goals in one game. But there was no doubt hockey was now the national pastime.
About the author
TIM FALCONER is an award-winning journalist and author of three books of nonfiction, including Drive: A Road Trip through Our Complicated Affair with the Automobile and That Good Night: Ethicists, Euthanasia, and End-of-Life Care. In 2010, he won a Canadian Institutes of Health Research journalism award to write about music and health, allowing him to produce a well-received 5,500-word piece about amusia that appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Maisonneuve. That piece won a National Magazine Award and was followed by a radio documentary on the same subject on CBC Radio’s Ideas. He teaches magazine journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto and Creative Nonfiction at the University of King’s College in Halifax. He lives in Toronto.
Excerpt: Klondikers: Dawson City’s Stanley Cup Challenge and How a Nation Fell in Love with Hockey (by (author) Tim Falconer)
The Canadian Pacific Railway’s Continental train was nearly three hours late when it pulled up to the station in Winnipeg. Given what the Dawson City hockey club had been through since leaving the Klondike, this barely counted as a complication. After all, inconvenient forces had started conspiring against the players even before they headed out of town. First, one of the team’s stars decided to stay behind with his injured wife. Then the captain and most accomplished player realized he had to stay a little longer for work. He’d try to catch up with others as soon as he could. The team’s luck did not improve once the journey began.
Setting out to, as they put it, “win fame and the Stanley Cup,” the players figured it would be a straightforward eighteen-day trip. Straightforward by Yukon standards, anyway. Three left on foot on December 18, 1904; four others followed on bikes the next day, though they all eventually abandoned their wheels. After travelling 330 miles, the team arrived in Whitehorse two days after Christmas only to watch a blizzard shut down the narrow-gauge trains on the White Pass and Yukon Route railway. When they finally reached Skagway, Alaska, they’d missed their steamer to Vancouver by two hours and had to wait to board a Seattle-bound ship that made many of the players severely seasick.
Since 1893, the reward for being Canada’s best amateur team was the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, a silver bowl donated by Lord Stanley of Preston, the governor general at the time. Known from the beginning as the Stanley Cup, it quickly became the most prestigious trophy in the land. While the trustees wouldn’t allow just any team to contend for the honour, they did approve a challenge from Dawson City’s all-stars. To win the Cup, the Yukoners would have to defeat the formidable Ottawa Hockey Club—a team known in lore as the Silver Seven—and the sport’s original superstar, “One-Eyed” Frank McGee. Few hockey people considered Dawson a serious threat. The team was from a small sub-arctic town and no squad from west of Brandon had yet challenged for—let alone won—the Cup, though none of the Dawson players was originally from anywhere west of Manitoba. When accepting the challenge, Ottawa insisted the Klondikers not play any exhibition matches en route. Rather than attempt to ensure they’d arrive unprepared—it was to avoid any lopsided losses to weaker teams that might discourage ticket sales for the Cup series.
The original plan, as set out by Joe Boyle, the brash businessman managing the tour, was for a layover in Winnipeg to do some training. But the team was so far behind schedule, that was no longer an option. With just a two-hour stop before continuing on to Ottawa, the players didn’t have enough time to do much more than stretch their legs and assure reporters their challenge was no joke. Despite the team’s lack of star power, the cross-country trek charmed Canadians. Though the codified version of the sport was only three decades old, passion for hockey had swept the nation in the decade or so since Lord Stanley had donated the Cup and was only intensifying. But there was more to the enthusiasm for the underdogs from the Yukon than a love of the game. The Klondike Gold Rush was over, but people continued to romanticize the North. And the long journey from “the mining centre of the golden North to the Capital of Canada” fit into that mystique. All along the route, fans had cheered the Yukon team. And it was no different in the home of the champions, where the Citizen reported, “The matches are creating the greatest interest of any Stanley Cup contests yet played in Ottawa.”
At a quarter to five on January 11, 1905, three-and-a-half weeks after leaving Dawson City, the hockey players stepped off the train and onto the platform at Ottawa’s Central Station where a large and appreciative crowd gave them “a right hearty reception.” Bob Shillington, the manager of the Cup-holding team, and other club executives led the players away to the Russell House. A throng overflowed the hotel’s rotunda in hopes of catching a glimpse of the famous visitors. But the cordial welcome didn’t mean the hosts were about to grant Dawson’s request for a one-week postponement before starting the best-of-three series. Meanwhile, the challengers denied a newspaper report that they’d threatened to default the opening game of the series and focus on the second and third ones rather than play unprepared. The first game would go ahead as scheduled, with Earl Grey, the new governor general, “facing the puck” at 8:30 pm on Friday the 13th. After nearly a month on the road, the exhausted and far-from-game-shape Klondikers would take on the reigning Stanley Cup champions before a sell-out crowd of 2,500 fans at Dey’s Rink in just over forty-eight hours.
“Meticulously researched and endlessly fascinating, Klondikers offers a remarkable portrait of the often-overlooked story of hockey’s beginnings in Canada’s North. Falconer has done it again.” — James Mirtle, editor-in-chief, The Athletic Canada
“Somewhere between John Huston and Michael Lewis, this frontier romp through hockey’s earliest days is a delight. We are defined in part by the games they play, which means Tim Falconer is teaching us our own history. If that subject had been this much fun at school, I’d have paid more attention.” — Cathal Kelly, columnist, The Globe and Mail
“His glittering pages are full of such evocative phrases as ‘frozen flapjack for lunch,’ ‘claim-staking’ and ‘perilous journey on ice’ … More than the chronicle of hockey’s early days. It also is the story of how a sometimes rough, occasionally elegant and always engrossing sport completely in sync with the climate and landscape — and here the sophisticates will snicker, the historians will hurruph, the revisionists will rebel — ‘brought Canadians together through a shared love.’” — Globe and Mail