Great War Vets started it all

The Fort William Great War Vets began the Lakehead’s long line of national championship-winning clubs by claiming the Memorial Cup 100 years ago in 1922. Photo: Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

the years, many teams from the Lakehead have won national championships.

Be it Allan Cups, Centennial Cups, or Air Canada and ESSO Cups at the minor hockey level, it was a century ago that saw the Fort William Great War Vets commence this impressive list of titles, by winning the Memorial Cup, emblematic of Canadian junior hockey champions.

Back in the day when the roster featured only seven skaters, this squad was led by captain Walter Adams, and a single goaltender, John Enwright.

Joining Adams on defence was Gerald Bourke, while the forward group was made up of highly-skilled Clark Whyte, Ted D’Arcy, Fred Thornes, John Bates and Alex Phillips.

In the district final on home ice against the Kenora Beavers, the local side found themselves down 4-1 after two periods, but showed their mettle under coach Stan Bliss the rest of the way.

Roaring back in the third, Fort William scored three times to force overtime.

In the 10-minute extra session, it remained without a goal half-way through OT, however the Vets erupted for another trio of tallies in the final five to win 7-4.

That was expected to be it though for the fanfare, felt many observers, as up next was to be a powerful and heavily favoured opponent, an Aura Lee side from Toronto.

The Toronto contingent had defeated Iroquois Falls (4-0) and McGill University (9-4) before making their way west.

Touted to top Fort William and continue on from there to the Memorial Cup, which was to be held in Winnipeg, Aura Lee instead found themselves down 2-0 early in a jam-packed Prince of Wales Arena near the northern shores of Lake Superior.

With Thornes and Bates both scoring just three minutes into the proceedings, Toronto was up against it from the onset.

The two teams traded goals the rest of the way, but in the end, Fort William out-skated and out-checked Aura Lee to pull out a 5-3 triumph and force the opposition to alter their western travel arrangements and return home instead.

Thornes finished with a three-goal, one-assist performance while Bates end with a pair or markers to pace the Vets.

Heading to the Manitoba capital for a neutral site, two-game, total-goal, Memorial Cup final versus the Regina Patricias, the Lakehead started strong by taking a 3-1 lead into the opening intermission on markers by Adams, Whyte and Thornes.

Answering back in the middle stanza, the Pats picked up a natural hat trick from Sil Acaster late in the session to put them up by one, after two.

However, like their rally against Kenora, the War Veterans had another gear to their game, when called upon, seeing Whyte tie it with over 12 minutes to go, then saw him bag the game-winner with just 35 seconds left on the clock.

In the finale, Whyte proved to be an offensive wizard once again, collecting all three of his team’s goals.

Knotted at three heading into the final frame, Regina threw everything they had at the Vets, but stalwart defensive play and brilliant goaltending from Enwright kept the period scoreless and crowned Fort William champions of the Dominion of Canada by a goal-count of 8-7.

Returning home to a heroes welcome and greeted by thousands of well-wishers, the team would be celebrated with a number of civic events and other ceremonies in recognition of their impressive accomplishment.

Others on the club’s staff included trainer Jack Silver, his assistant Walter Jessop, while Fred Edwards was their secretary-treasurer.

It was the efforts of the 1922 Fort William Great War Vets, who set in motion a long and legendary run of great hockey teams from the Lakehead.

They would eventually be joined by the 1947-48 Port Arthur West End Bruins as the two teams from the region that went on to win the Memorial Cup.