The Belleville McFarlands were already the most popular thing Belleville had ever produced but after winning the Allan Cup, their fame grew to new heights in the Quinte area.
Many of the players now called the city home and they said that the hospitality that they received as adopted sons to the community gave them a sense of team spirit that many of them had never felt before.
Macs captain Floyd Crawford was a typical rink rat that moved from team-to-team looking for a paycheque and a place to fit in the lineup.
Have skates, will travel…
In Belleville, Crawford said that he felt like he was home. He was one of many players that stayed in Belleville after his playing days were over and after a lengthy coaching career in the junior ranks, Crawford and his large family settled in Belleville permanently.
“The fans and the citizens of Belleville really, really gave us a great feeling that we maybe were somebody,” Crawford said.
“A lot of us guys were ‘have skates will travel’. We were on the rebound and all of a sudden we come to Belleville and we started to believe in ourselves. It was because the fans would rush into that arena at nine o’clock at night to see us play that had a lot of affect on us, as far as putting it all together.
“That’s my perception of it, maybe why we were good.”
Friday nights at the Memorial Arena were special for the city. Fans lined up early to get in and squeezed in to watch the Macs at work.
The standing room frequently reached four deep on the North end of the rink.
The side door of the Memorial was exactly 99 steps from the Queen’s Hotel across from City Hall and fans made a beeline there for a quick pint between periods.
It’s no doubt that had something to do with the rambunctious nature of the home fans.
“The atmosphere in there, it was just like a powder keg.
“That crowd was ready to give their lives for us. Our big opposition was the Whitby Dunlops and those games used to be classics.”
Floyd Crawford, Team Captain
Crawford had some memorable fights in his career with the McFarlands but one with Harry Sinden from the Dunlops stood out in his memory.
“Well I got along good with Harry,” Crawford said of the Dunlops blueliner that went on to win the Stanley Cup as the coach of the Boston Bruins.
“After the games were over you’d see those guys and they were like your brother. It was over, the game was over, and they’d come in and have a beer with you or whatever, and the next night you played them, they’d be right back to defend their team. That was good, I liked that philosophy how guys thought.
There was only one penalty box at the Memorial so opponents would be forced to serve their time in close proximity to each other. Naturally, that made it difficult for guys to cool off during their break.
“Guys would get in here and they’d be heated up from the fight and whatnot, and tempers a little flared still and whatever,” Crawford said. “And one word would lead to another and a fight would erupt again in the penalty box.
“As I recall, the Whitby Dunlops bench was right there beside our penalty box. Our bench was across the road. Harry wasn’t a great fighter and I certainly wasn’t a great fighter, so I’m going to say that we probably drew. The thing that sticks out with me is the old police gentleman by the name of Bill Evans, who was just about ready for retirement, was down in the hallway when the fights commenced after leaving the bench.
He kept telling us in high English accent ‘Now chappies, that’s enough of that. Now please be gentlemen!’ And we’re fighting for our lives down in the hallway. It was kind of funny.”
The McFarlands were as much about entertainment as hockey for the people of Belleville. Keith MacDonald was one of few McFarlands that grew up in the area and he said that the community was transformed when the Macs hit the ice.
“People were hungry for hockey.
“The arena – I don’t know exactly how many it held but it was packed to no end. I mean it had a good crowd there during a season, let alone the playoffs.
Keith MacDonald, Belleville McFarlands
“Coming from The County I can remember two or three nights prior to a playoff game that telephone would ring. ‘Keith can you get me a seat?’ There was a lot of interest, not only here in Belleville I would imagine, but in the County in general there was a lot of interest for that club.”
The interest peaked early in the Macs third season when they were tuning up to play in the World Championships.
The eyes of the nation’s hockey fans would soon turn to the small community on the banks of the Bay of Quinte and expect the men that played for the mighty McFarlands would successfully defend the world title the Whitby Dunlops won for Canada months earlier in Oslo.
“I am not worried about the club,” player/coach Ike Hildebrand told The Intelligencer early in the season.
“The Whitby Dunlops were subjected to the same criticism a year ago and look what happened to them. It seems Allan Cup winners are supposed to be supermen, and clean up everything in sight when they pull on their gear the following season.
“Mark this. They can say what they like about this club, but by mid-January or thereabouts they will be just as strong if not better than the Dunnies were a year ago this time.
“We fully realize that the club that won the Allan Cup will not be strong enough to compete in the World Championships. Some players will be cut entirely. Positional changes will be made. Competent players will be added to the club.”
Before the season opened, Gerry Goyer and Russ Kowalchuk moved west to join the Kelowna Packers, who were gearing up for a mid-season trip to Russia to play an exhibition set of games behind the Iron Curtain.
Manager Drury Denyes had some tough decisions ahead of him. He allowed Goyer and Kowalchuk to head west knowing that they wouldn’t likely play as big a role on the team as they did the previous season.
He also let “Bep” Guidolin go to Kingston instead of re-signing him again. It must have been a difficult decision after Guidolin helped build the team from scratch two years earlier, but Guidolin and Hildebrand didn’t always see eye to eye and Denyes couldn’t afford to let any personal differences get in the way of this team.
Denyes made a couple of early season signings that made bold statements that the Macs were planning to follow in the Dunlops’ footsteps and retain the national title for Canada.
He inked smooth-skating defenceman Fiori Goegan, who played for the North Bay Trappers and was one of the most sought-after defenders in senior hockey.
He also landed big defender Al Dewsbury, who played nine seasons in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. He played the previous season with Buffalo in the American League and Denyes had to clear some red tape before finally getting his release in October.
Denyes also added some depth up front. He brought in former American League scoring star John McLellan and skilled forward Lou Smrke, who played with Crawford in Chicoutimi in the Quebec League.
Smrke came at the glowing recommendation of Crawford.
“Lou was a very productive forward,” Crawford said years after naming one of his sons after his long-time friend. “He was a good finisher. Pound for pound he was a fiery individual and he wouldn’t give you any room on the ice. He was very aggressive.”
The club also thought that they had Frank Bathgate in the lineup but his transfer from Windsor was turned down by the Ontario Hockey Association.
Despite the bolstered lineup, the Macs had a sluggish start to the season and were the target of arrows from some sports writers that didn’t think they were up to the task of representing Canada.
Frank Orr had a piece on the front page of The Hockey News in November that claimed “Canada’s World Tourney Reps Too Weak.”
Orr went on to write: “The Macs are not good enough to win in their own league, Hildebrand is on the way out and the defence and goaltending are poor. Apparently, the players aren’t giving their best for Hildebrand and as one Eastern manager puts it, “they have a lot of old pros and you cannot teach an old dog new tricks’.”
Denyes responded to The Intelligencer: “There is nothing farther from the truth. Where Orr gets these pipe dreams from I cannot imagine. Nothing has been done, nor dreamed of about letting Ike go. I personally have never spoken a word to Orr on the matter, nor for that matter on the club.”
Unlike the Dunlops from the previous season, the Macs elected to play their complete Eastern and have it wrapped up by the end of January before embarking on a European warm-up before the World Championships started in March. That meant that they had to squeeze 50 games in 98 days from the end of October through the end of January. It was an ambitious schedule, but one that Hildebrand felt would best prepare his troops for their overseas adventure.
“This season, as the national champions and Canada’s representatives, we have a lot to uphold. Every team will try to beat us. We have to prove we are championship caliber. The boys have got to play hockey all the time. I had faith in the Macs last year and I have faith in them again this season.
“I believe the team, with the necessary added strength, can go on to bring Canada her second consecutive World Championship.”
Ike Hildebrand,, Belleville McFarlands
Under enormous pressure…
The Macs were struggling early on and Denyes fined each player $25 after a humiliating 7-1 loss to Whitby in early November.
They were under enormous pressure to come together quickly and look like they could compete on the world stage. Wren Blair had guided the Dunlops to the championship the previous year and could empathize with the pressure that Denyes felt to get the team turned around.
“There is only one headache like it,” Blair told George Carver in November. “And only two people that I know of know what it’s like. They are Drury and I.
“All people think you have to do, is get the fellows into shape, pick up a few players to strengthen the club and presto, you’re on your way to Europe with nary a worry but winning.
“Shucks, that ain’t the half of it. You have got a public to please and if you get off on the wrong foot like Whitby did and the McFarlands are doing, you will find there is fan and public relations hostility. Last year the Toronto papers and radio people blasted the Dunnies nearly off the map because we were not the supermen we were supposed to be after winning the Allan Cup. You will find the same thing will happen if you fellows hit a losing skein.
“After a while when the club is complete you will find Canada and Canadians are solidly behind you. Then all you do is pray the boys are up for the tournament and leave the rest to the gods.”
Like Blair predicted, the Macs started getting used to their new teammates and new roles and started picking up steam in November. They appointed Billy Reay as assistant manager in January and he was charged with scouring all reaches of Ontario for help.
Reay, a 40-year-old from Winnipeg, played 10 seasons in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings and was recognized as the first player to celebrate a goal by raising his arms in the air.
Earlier in the season had been dismissed as the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs when they won five of their first 20 games of the season and brought a considerable amount of hockey knowledge to his new position with the Macs.
Reay helped bring in Billy Graham from the Kitchener Dutchmen and Dennis Boucher from the Quebec League. The Macs cruised to a 4-2 win over Kingston in mid-January that ran their winning streak to eight in a row and moved them into a tie with Whitby for first place.
If the Macs struggled to start the season, they were rolling by the time it was over. They posted a 20-4-4 record in the final 28 games and finished off the regular season in first place.
Despite their success, the Macs were still the subject of media speculation from around the country. But now, they appeared to have won over their critics and writers were taking up the cause of helping the Macs pick up players to fill in the final pieces of the puzzle.
“The fact remains that Canada should at all times send the best possible team to compete in world competition,” wrote Toronto Globe and Mail Sports Editor Jim Vipond, who suggested that the Canadian hockey regulators didn’t care much about the events held in Europe.
Vipond’s biggest beef was that the Buffalo Bisons of the American League wouldn’t grant a release for Peter Conacher to play for the Macs despite the fact that he hadn’t played professional hockey all season.
“It does not sit well that Buffalo and/or New York, should be able to prevent Pete Conacher from joining the McFarlands for the duration of the tournament. Conacher gave up professional hockey for a business career and was immediately suspended by his hockey bosses.
He has permission from his business firm to play for Belleville but the leech-like tentacles of professional sport prevent his participation. It’s a dog-in-the-manager attitude. ‘If we can’t have him, they can’t have him’, even though there is a national issue involved.”
Conacher got his release at the last minute and was in Belleville for the Macs final game of the season. He dressed for the game, but wasn’t yet in game shape and didn’t see much ice time.
“I had kind of retired,” Conacher reflected. “I’d played six years pro and then I decided I was going to stay. I had a job in Toronto and I was going to stick with it. So they had to get me re-instated as an amateur because pros weren’t allowed to play in those days.”
Hotshot Montreal Canadiens’ prospect Gordon “Red” Berenson also joined the team before they headed to Europe.
Berenson had played in a pair of Memorial Cups with the Regina Pats and scored a pair of goals and added an assist in the Macs 12-1 whomping of the Cornwall Chevies in their final game in Belleville the day before leaving for Toronto to depart for Europe.
Conacher said that he knew that joining the team meant that someone that was already playing in Belleville would get bumped from the roster.
He looked forward to the opportunity to play in the World Championships but was nervous about meeting some of his new teammates.
“I knew some of the guys. I had played with Dewsbury, I’d played with George Gosselin and I’d played junior against Wayne Brown so I did know some of the guys a little bit. I can honestly say I didn’t feel that comfortable about bumping somebody because they had earned the right to go and that was a big thing, a big accomplishment.
“To win the Allan Cup and then have parachuted a few of us in, I’m not sure. But anyway it worked out, and the guys, I think they were really great about it.”
Peter Conacher, Belleville McFarlands
Growing Booster Club…
The Macs’ Booster Club had grown dramatically under the guidance of president Dick Beare. Armand Duffy took over that role at the start of the 1958-59 season and immediately pledged to help the group raise $10,000 to help the Macs with the cost of traveling overseas for the World Championships.
The Booster Club had grown from a couple of hundred fans in the Macs first season to well over 1,000 by the time they won the Allan Cup in 1958.
Their main purpose was to raise funds to help support the costs of operating the hockey team but they also hosted social events for the players and their wives and naturally were the team’s most vocal supporters at home and for many to away games as well.
The Macs’ Boosters donned Scottish Tam hats that made them easily identifiable at home and on the road.
The Booster Club was in full force all season raising money for the overseas fund. They hosted events, signed up new pledges at one dollar each and put on community events like Bingo games to stash away as much money as they could for the team.
The Belle Theatre also pledged money from the opening night of the new feature “Around the World in Eighty Days” and the Islam Caravan, Order of the Alhambra sponsored the Cliff MacKay Holiday Ranch variety show to support the cause.
Despite playing in a relatively small town with the expectation of representing the entire country at the World Championships, the Macs were on the hook for their own expenses to travel to Europe to participate in the tournament.
The funds raised in the community helped pay the freight overseas and the Macs had a 15-game barnstorming tour lined up when they got there to cover the rest of the charges.
Vipond and others in the media criticized this practice.
“Would not our Federal Government be making a valuable contribution to international competition if it took on the responsibility of flying our representatives to world tournaments or the Olympics or British Empire Games,” Vipond asked in The Globe and Mail.
“Meanwhile the Belleville club struggles for players and money. National encouragement being lacking, it behooves the rank and file of the sports world to get behind this club that it may make the trip under the most favorable conditions.”
Canadian Amateur Hockey Association President Bob Lebel responded to the criticism to The Canadian Press.
“We have heard letters have been circulated asking contributions toward an amount as high as $50,000,” Lebel stated.
“The CAHA has nothing to do with this campaign. When Belleville applied to the CAHA, as the amateur hockey governing body, to represent Canada the Belleville representatives told us they had all the financial support they needed through local organizations and the team management.
“I don’t want to imply that the CAHA doesn’t want to help. We are supplying uniforms, as well as trying to lend a hand in getting reinforcements. But we have no part in a subscription campaign.”
In other words, the Macs were on their own.
“Sir: Again, Canada gets ready to send a hockey team to Europe, the Belleville McFarlands, to defend the world amateur championship won by Whitby at Oslo last year. So, Canada gets behind the team with the usual fight the good fight, uphold the Canadian traditions, play the game for the game’s sake, etc. Now, this is great, and the players who are chosen hope to accomplish all this and a little more. They will not let Canada down. Yet, even before the team leaves, Canada lets them down. Just why is every Canadian hockey team that goes to Europe treated like an orphan or poor relation? I’m surprised these boys are not called on to go by raft. This is not meant to be funny. The facts must make other countries wonder just what’s wrong, why a championship team that’s expected by everyone to win championships has to operate on a shoestring budget. Every year, when the team should leave Canada with the feeling that Canada stands behind them, there is the problem of financing. These players have their own responsibilities and obligations to meet, and we just can’t picture them canvassing, selling tickets, beating drums like some medicine show. Looking at it as a worth-while venture, why doesn’t the government sponsor the team? The RCAF has planes going overseas and who else could represent our country better ass good-will ambassadors? If “Dief” can do it, so can Belleville McFarlands. Wake up, Canada. This is our team.
A.J. James, Keele -St., Toronto
Letter to the Editor – Toronto Daily Star in January 1959:
Excerpt from More Macs More (Bell, Aaron 2009)
Intelligencer photo courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County
When the Belleville McFarlands gathered in the fall of 1957 for their second season, it would have been understandable if some of the players needed a program to be able to tell who their teammates were.
While some stayed in Belleville to work during the off-season, it was clear in training camp that manager Drury Denyes was the busiest person on the team during the summer.
Denyes had experienced a taste of success the previous season when the Macs had an upset win over the Cornwall Chevies in the first round of the playoffs and like their new booster club slogan, Denyes wanted “More Macs, More.”
A Bolstered Lineup for the McFarlands
Denyes bolstered the lineup with players like Barton Bradley, who won the Memorial Cup as a junior, Wayne “Weiner” Brown, Ed Marineau and Russ Kowalchuk. Local skater Gerry Goyer joined the team after a successful junior season with the Guelph Biltmores.
With the Whitby Dunlops playing an abbreviated season before heading overseas to play in the World Championships, Denyes believed that the McFarlands could follow suit and play for the Allan Cup.
The Dunlops were going to play regular season games in the Eastern Sr. A loop but manager/coach Wren Blair said that they wouldn’t play in the OHA playoffs after returning from the World Championships.
“Win or lose, the Dunlops won’t feel like playing hockey in Canada after the strenuous trip to Europe, the tension and struggle of the tournament and the heavy drain of exhibition games,” Blair said at an Eastern league meeting that fall.
“Besides, Whitby would like to see another team in the Eastern League not only to win the group title but to go on and win the Allan Cup for the second season in a row.”
Blair had been a tutor to Denyes in the building stages of the team the previous season and Denyes took his speech to heart.
Barton Bradley had played a season in the American League with the Hershey Bears before five years in the Western league. The swift skater had a hard, accurate shot and fit the McFarlands offensive system like a glove.
Brown played with Bradley and against Hildebrand in the Western League and said that their reunion in Belleville would be a comfortable fit.
“We all came together at the same time – that was the difference,” Brown said. “They brought Bradley in – he had been my centerman out west so Gerry (Goyer) wanted to know if we should bring him in. I said ‘sure, he’s my centre man’ and the next thing I know, Ike was here – I played against Ike in Vancouver – and we formed a line.”
Kowalchuk was another sought-after skater after racking up 23 goals and 208 penalty minutes the previous season with Sault Ste. Marie in the Northern League.
Kowalchuk was set to sign with Sudbury but they sent a contract with the name “Joe” Kowalchuk on it. While they were sorting out the error, Denyes swooped in and brought Kowalchuk south to play for the Macs.
“I Want These Fellas in Shape…”
“Bep” Guidolin decided not to return and started the season with the Windsor Bulldogs so Denyes tabbed Hildebrand to take over the player/coach role after he held the same title for the first half of the previous season in Pembroke.
Hildebrand helped his hometown Peterborough Timbermen win the provincial lacrosse title and when he got to Belleville in September, he was in fantastic shape. But he didn’t think his players could say the same and drove them hard as soon as they got back together.
“We’ll practice twice daily until a week before schedule opening,” Hildebrand told The Intelligencer when training camp opened. “Then we’ll taper down to one grind a day. I want these fellas in shape and that’s the way I hope they will be when the first whistle blows.”
If Denyes was excited about the second-year McFarlands, he wasn’t alone. The team’s booster club had swelled from 25 members the previous season to 400 in early September. By the end of October, the Macs were playing an exciting game and the booster club’s membership jumped to 850 by the end of October.
President Dick Beare prompted The Intelligencer to run a slogan contest and the anonymous woman who suggested “More Macs, More” received a pair of season tickets.
The Macs were still getting to know each other when the season opened and struggled through a tough stretch in January that included a loss to Whitby and then a 4-0 loss to Kingston, their first shutout of the season.
But the line of Brown, Bradley and Hildebrand was clicking and Brown scored three times in a 9-2 pasting of Cornwall in late January that moved the Macs into first place.
An 8-0 win over Cornwall a couple of weeks later clinched the regular season title.
Bradley finished the season with a team-high 30 goals and 64 points and was among the league scoring leaders in both categories.
He endeared himself to the fans and prompted scribe George Carver to describe him as “the smooth centre who uncoils himself in, out and around the centre spot with all the ease of an eel slithering through a pond of oil and is lamp-lighting poison when in front of an empty net.”
The Macs streaked into the playoffs on a high but came crashing back to earth in their opening round playoff series against the Kingston CKLC’s.
After winning the first game on home ice, the Macs dropped the next two and trailed in the series before roaring back for a 6-1 win that knotted the series at two games each. The Macs won game five but Kingston forced a seventh and deciding game with a 2-1 win on home ice.
Bradley With the Overtime Marker
The Macs learned their lesson and claimed the series with a game seven win on home ice that set up their second straight spot in the Eastern league finals.
This time they were up against Pembroke who hadn’t won or tied a game in Belleville in two seasons in the league.
The OHA wanted the finals to be a best-of-five affair but when both teams refused, the league forced them to rush through their series in seven days to make sure that they had enough time to play the Northern champs before heading to the Ontario final.
Bradley scored the overtime marker that clinched the series for Belleville in six games. Pembroke’s lack of success on Belleville ice continued in the post-sea-son and that turned out to be the difference in the series.
After the hurry-up series, the Macs swept the Northern League champion South Porcupine Porkies in three straight, including a 6-5 overtime win in the series clincher.
The Macs arrived back in Belleville by train to 1,000 cheering fans holding signs that read “Welcome Home” and “Well Done.”
The series win also gave them an all OHA final against the Kitchener Dutchmen, the top team in the Western loop that season.
Not Much Chance Against the Dutchmen…
The Macs weren’t given much of a chance to win the series against the Dutchmen, who had won Allan Cup championships in 1953 and 1955 and things didn’t look favorable when Kitchener jumped out to a two-goal lead early in the first period.
But after having a goal waved off late in the third period, “Weiner” Brown scored in overtime to give the Macs the lead in the series.
“When we got in the playoffs we had to go to Kingston, seven games, they whooped us,” Brown said.
“They gave us all we could handle at that time. Then we got playing better and then we got against Kitchener and they, we were told they were going to beat us in five (games) so that made us a little madder and we played very, very well against Kitchener. They didn’t have a chance. They didn’t have a prayer.”
The Whitby Dunlops were back in Canada after winning the World Championships and Wren Blair and player/coach “Bus” Gagnon stopped by the Memorial Arena to wish the Macs luck against Kitchener.
“Go get ‘em gang, we’re all behind you,” Gagnon trumpeted.
“I would rather have won this one than the Stanley Cup…”
The Macs sprinted to a 5-1 lead that gave them their third straight win in the se-ries and prompted one Toronto writer to dub them the “Eastern League Tornado.” Kitchener finally claimed a win on home ice before the Macs cruised to a 4-1 win on home ice that clinched the Ontario championship and the John Ross Robertson Cup.
“I have been in many battles for the title but this is my first (championship),” said Guidolin, who returned to the Macs lineup late in the season.
“I would rather have won this one than the Stanley Cup when I was with the National League. They called us a senior “B” club, and I made up my mind to show them how wrong they were, and that we were better.”
After taking several jabs that the Eastern League wouldn’t be able to compete against the more established Western and Northern Leagues, the Macs were the second straight Eastern League team to win the OHA championships and were one step away from playing for the Allan Cup.
That step proved to be the easiest. They clubbed the squad from Levis, Quebec 12-3 and 6-0 before officials from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association ruled the series over and that Belleville would be the Eastern Canada representative in the Allan Cup.
“Why is it that all of a sudden we start to play rather entertaining hockey? Some people say maybe even great,” captain Floyd Crawford reflected. “We were playing much better than what we had been in the past. And, oh I sat by the hour by myself figuring what precipitated that? What precipitated it? You know, a small town’s a small town and if we were somewhere else why not, why couldn’t they have received us like they did in Belleville? And that’s what it was.
“It was the people. They believed in us. And they started to make us believe in ourselves. We started to believe in ourselves because the Memorial used to be jam-packed. You couldn’t get in. You couldn’t get another body in there. And so, we kind of thought, ‘hey I guess we must have some-thing to offer them’.”
After cruising through the all-Ontario series, the Macs knew that they were in for a long road ahead – literally and figuratively. The Allan Cup championships would be played in British Columbia against the Kelowna Packers, the top team in Western Canada.
Hildebrand drove his charges through a relentless practice the day before they boarded a train to make the cross-country trip to the Okanagan Valley.
“I can remember it was a little bit different,” MacDonald said.
“It was kind of like the pro teams, we went out by train and had a car to ourselves and again a lot of harmony, a lot of chats and good times on the way out. We got to the hotel in Kelowna and I remember I walked in my room and there was a nice drink and a nice basket and a nice welcoming card. Something that I wasn’t used to.
“The pros had likely seen that over the years but I was just a farm boy coming from Prince Edward County and it really touched me very much. In fact, I remember I went to the phone and phoned home and said ‘you have no idea how these people out here have treated us’.”
The three-day trip gave the Macs some time to rest their assorted bumps and bruises from the playoff grind but it didn’t do much for their conditioning.
The Packers were insistent that the series would start the day the Macs arrived – presumably to take advantage of a bad case of train legs – but Denyes was steadfast that the team would have a day to practice before the puck dropped for real.
Denyes argued his point and then insisted on a closed practice that would conceal their strategies.
The plan worked because the Macs cruised to a 4-1 win in the opener. “Weiner” Brown and Moe Benoit scored in the first period and “Minnie” Menard staked the visitors to a three-goal lead before Kelowna finally got on the board midway through the second. Guidolin scored in the third period to ice the McFarlands’ series-open-ing win.
“It was a bruising, smashing, tough game with the Packers starting out to soften up the Macs,” Claude Tice wrote in The Intelligencer.
“They did not reckon with the McFarland’s ability along the same lines. When the teams settled away the Easterners showed a superior-ity in all departments.”
But despite the early win, Carver predicted that the series was far from over.
“The Kelowna Packers, it seems, are a big, tough, rugged crew who know how to throw their torsos around, and you can bet your hopes of the hereafter they’re not going to give up without a terrific struggle, especially since they are in their own bailiwick playing in front of the home town fans.”
He was right.
The Packers stormed out to a 6-0 win in the second game that was remembered more for its hostility than the score.
The Macs’ Keith MacDonald and Kelowna forward Andy McCallum had a violent open ice collision that left both men unconscious. MacDonald left with a concussion and a sore arm that was later diagnosed as a break that kept him out of the rest of the series. McCallum suffered a broken jaw but returned to play in the series.
“I’ll never forget it,” MacDonald reflected. “I was playing on my wrong wing and Davey Jones was playing centre and I passed to him with a backhand pass. And I remember I just took my eyes off what was ahead of me and looked to him to see if he picked the puck up, and hey this guy got me good.”
Packers’ defender Harry Smith got flagged with an attempt to injure match penalty when he swung his stick wildy at Bradley, who deflected the shot from his head but took the brunt of the force in his arm.
Unfortunately for the Macs, they received the majority of the penalties and Kelowna scored five times on the powerplay.
The game prompted Kelowna Courier Sports Editor George Inglis to write: “The Belleville Macs proved conclusively that their glitter was not gold, but tarnished brass. Riding on a one-game streak, they went into last night’s game all fuss and feathers. They came out plucked.”
“Last night, the Packers showed an ability which made the Macs look tawdry by comparison. They outplayed the Macs, they outshot them, out-scored them, and gave them one of the severest trimmings a club has taken in Allan Cup play, making the Eastern champs look like chumps.”
If the criticism fired the Macs up, it didn’t show in the next game. The teams made the 75 mile trip north to Kamloops where the Packers skated to a 3-0 win. Kelowna goaltender Dave Gatherun was a standout and pushed his shutout streak to 139 minutes against the Macs.
George Agar, who joined the Packers for the playoffs from their rival Vernon Canadians, scored twice in the win. MacDonald was out with his wrist injury and Hildebrand benched Russ Kowalchuk.
Knowing that they desperately needed a win to get back into the series, the Macs streaked out to a 3-1 lead early in Game 4 but Bill “Bug” Jones scored the tying goal in the third period and then potted the game-winner with 17 seconds left in the third.
Gordie Bell was sensational in the Macs net but couldn’t keep the Packers from skating to within one game of the national title.
“It is the first team the Macs have met this season that can skate with them and on two occasions on Saturday night they beat our best skaters to the rubber when the player was nearly into the clear and knocked the rubber from their sticks,” Tice described in the paper the following day.
Jones Suffers a Broken Neck
The injury parade continued for both teams. Jones suffered a hair-line fracture in his neck and spent the next couple of days in the Kelowna hospital. He missed the rest of the series and returned to Belleville with a cast that covered most of his upper body.
“I was standing in front of the net and looking to score a goal,” Jones remembered. “I couldn’t even tell who, somebody cross-checked me from behind on the neck and down I went.
“There was a big pile-up and when everybody got off I couldn’t move my head. Now I didn’t know what was wrong. I just, couldn’t move my head at all and they wheeled me off, took me to the hospital and x-rayed and said ‘you have a broken neck.’ That was scary.”
Guidolin was benched for game four and when the puck dropped for game five, he was determined to make a difference. His line with Brown and Bradley set the tone early according to Tice.
“They immediately gave the impression of things to come. They hammered the Packers in their own end, outskated them and checked them to death.”
The Macs led 2-1 after the first period and added another goal to their lead in the second. Ed Marineau and Bob Montgomery were both in the penalty box late in the third period for the Macs but defenders Lionel Botly and Moe Benoit performed “heroic service in the backfield” to kill off the penalties.
Steady defender Joe Lepine was knocked out of the game and rushed to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder and then Menard took a five minute boarding call when he rammed McCallum in the defensive zone causing Packers’ goalie Gatherun to charge out of his net waving his stick like a mad man.
Gatherun got two minutes for leaving his crease and the Macs killed off the three minute penalty to preserve the lead before Guidolin scored late in the period to ice the win and extend the series.
When the Packers scored three straight goals in the second period of Game 6, it looked like the Macs’ remarkable season had finally come crashing to a halt.
Kelowna sniper Mike Durbin looked like he was going to be knocked out of the series when he suffered a torn hip muscle courtesy of a hip check from Moe Benoit in Game 1, but Durbin didn’t miss a beat and exacted his revenge by setting up all three goals.
Withstood a Furious Charge
The Macs came back with a goal and Botly tied the game with a marker in the opening minute of the third period. Menard put the Macs ahead midway through the period and the Macs withstood a furious charge in the closing minutes to steal the win and force a seventh and deciding game.
Bell got hit in the face with the puck late in the third period but it didn’t break the skin and after a quick breather, he was back in the cage turning aside everything the Packers could throw at him.
“He has been the rock on which has hanged this series,” Tice commented on the play of the goaltender.
“At times he has been sensational and he has broken the hearts of the Packers on more than one occasion in this series. The boys have never had to worry about Gordie. He makes the key saves, smothers the rebounds and many of the goals that have eluded him have been of the fluky nature.”
If the thought of traveling all the way to Kelowna to lose the series wasn’t enough motivation for the Macs to win Game 6, some fallen teammates made sure.
“Determined to Win For Them…”
Jones, MacDonald and Lepine were out of the infirmary and went to the dressing room before the game. They were nearly smothered by their teammates who left the room “fighting mad and determined to win one for them.”
Claude Tice: “They feel they can beat the Packers at any type of game. Last night they outskated and outhustled the Packers and got the markers when they needed them. It was a fine thing to have a good bench and that is just what the McFarlands have. When a player gets hurt there is one waiting to take up the slack.”
After going down three games to one on the road, the Macs had staged a valiant comeback but to a man, they agreed that they wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than winning the national championship and bringing the Allan Cup back to Belleville.
They needed one more win to cap the season and after playing 87 games, they thought they had enough left in them for one more win.
“Normally it was quiet in the dressing room but I remember that I talked it up quite a bit and the goal for me was to go to Europe,” Botly said.
“I think I played every game to win but when you had a trip to Europe for two months at the end of the line, it was more than winning the Allan Cup. It was a chance of a lifetime that you’d probably never get again. So to me that was the biggest incentive.”
After skating through most of the first period in a scoreless tie, Bell rushed out of his crease after a loose puck and collided heavily with Jim Moro. Both players crashed to the ice and Bell needed a short break to get back to his senses.
“We’ll Call Him Allan and Win the Cup For Him”
Minutes later, Bob Dawes opened the scoring for the home team. Kelowna sensed that they were playing a beaten team and stormed out of the gate in the second period with a pair of quick goals that put the visitors on the ropes.
Ike Hildebrand received a good news call from home before taking the ice in Game 7. He was the proud father of a bouncing baby boy.
“We’ll call him Allan, and win the Cup for him,” Hildebrand said. Ike scored a pair of goals sandwiched around one by Kowalchuk and the McFarlands had life once again.
Durbin ruined the party when he scored eight seconds later to give the home team a marginal lead heading into the final period of the classic series.that energized the Macs.
Kowalchuk scored two more to complete the hat trick and Menard added another to put the game out of reach.
Gordon “Moe” Young replied for the shocked Packers but Menard ended any thoughts of a late game miracle by counting with 13 sec-onds left on the clock.
The fairy tale comeback was complete.
The Belleville McFarlands were the Allan Cup champions.
“50 some odd years we’ve had that to ponder with,” Crawford said. “I don’t know if it was a culmination of the excitement of what we had accomplished to that period. You know, there are flat periods in a season and I like to think to simplify it, that we hit a flat period for three or four games then found ourself, thank God, before it was too late. We didn’t roll over and play dead.
“Read All About It…”
“We came to attention I think and said ‘hey, we’ve gone through an awful lot of experiences in the last year or two years, we’re going to throw it away like this?’ We knew deep down in our hearts that we possibly had every bit as good a team as Kelowna and Kelowna had a very good club. And I think it was just that, the guys getting together realistically and saying ‘hey, enough of this playing around. Let’s get down to the facts.’
“And one thing led to another. We won a game; made it 3-2, and then we tied the series up, and went to a seventh game and…read all about it.”
The Macs knew that what they accomplished was rare – especially winning a championship away from home in such dramatic fashion.
“I think that a team has got to be at least a third better to make a trip like that across Canada and win that in their building,” MacDonald said.
“You’ve got to be that much better to do that, I feel. A lot of the guys that were on the bench at that time didn’t start the series, they came on and really made things happen for us. Russ Kowalchuk, Gerry Goyer – people like that.”
MacDonald said that it would have been easy for the guys to quit on each other. They felt like they were a million miles from home and down three games to one on the road. But he admitted that quitting never entered their mind. They cared too much for each other to be willing to let their teammates down.
“I never had a feeling of a family like there was with that McFarland club,” MacDonald said.
“What it was, I can’t really tell you. Again, I’ve got to emphasize fellas like Floyd Crawford. This man was captain of that team, well-respected, a chap that really didn’t put his own person ahead; he always looked after the players first. They came first. If there was a problem with the team and management, Floyd Crawford was there. In a very sensible, not-domineering way, he was able to deal with management, City of Belleville, and the players. Just a super guy.”
A Hero’s Welcome Home
The Macs returned home to a hero’s welcome that hadn’t been seen on the shores of the Bay of Quinte since the end of World War II.
Belleville Mayor Gerald B. Hyde declared their homecoming day to be Civic Allan Cup Day and the City hosted a ticker tape parade down Front Street.
The players rode in convertibles and wore white cowboy hats that they had received as congratulatory gifts in Calgary on their three-day journey home. The next day, the headline on the front page of The Intelligencer read “Fifty Thousand Welcome Macs Home.”
“Never in the history of this city has Front Street rocked and rolled to the acclaim of thou-sands,” the story read. “People stood in some places ten deep, cheering and waving as the motorcade slowly passed by.”
“I think this is the most wonderful reception I have ever experienced,” Bell said. “I am very glad we won because I would hate to lose and have to come back and face such a swell bunch of people.”
“This is the proudest moment of my life,” said Harvey McFarland, who also declared the Civic holiday in Picton so that people could travel to Belleville to welcome the Macs home.
“The Macs are a wonderful bunch of guys who showed true championship merit when it was needed.”
Fifty years later, the memories of that reception have stuck with the members of the team.
“Everybody here had their radios on in the middle of the night listening to that big comeback so it was a huge thing,” Botly said.
“Only a few days later, we’re having the parade. So most of the pictures that you see, especially if you see ones where the players were wearing ten-gallon hats, you know those were Kelowna pictures on Main Street.”
Denny Boyd of TheVancouver Sun was in Kelowna for the championship game.
“In the Belleville McFarlands dressing room there was a crumpled champagne-soaked banner in a garbage can. It read “Roll Packers Roll.”
“The picture told a sad but true story.
“The drive of the Kelowna Packers toward an Allan Cup champi-onship has died, smothered by one of the most iron-skinned acres-of-heart hockey teams in the history of the game – the Belleville Macs.
“Those Macs, a rag-tagged Senior “B” team two years ago used courage for a crutch as they plodded up what seemed an insurmount-able hill to become the senior amateur hockey champions of Canada. Thursday night they reached the summit.
“They defeated the Packers 8-5 with a defeat-defying rally that shook the blossoms off fruit trees for miles around.”
Excerpt from More Macs More (Bell, Aaron 2009)
Intelligencer photo courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County
When Floyd Crawford took the call from Drury Denyes, he more or less realized that his hockey career was pretty much finished.
Crawford was a former Montreal Canadiens prospect that – like everyone else who played on his senior team in Northern Quebec – still nursed the dream of playing in the National Hockey League. He figured that the NHL had already passed him by, but couldn’t shake the feeling that he still had something left for the game that had consumed his life.
Crawford worked in the salt mines in Val-d’Or to put food on the table but his passion was still playing hockey. But after a few dead-end years with Chicoutimi in the Quebec Senior Hockey League and his 30th birthday quickly approaching, Crawford was nearly ready to hang up his skates for good.
He wanted a better life for his wife and young daughter Suzanne and the call from Denyes offered a slim chance that a better life was ahead.
Denyes was putting together a team of the best amateur players that he could find to play in the newly formed but very competitive Eastern Senior “A” loop.
It was a group of teams east of Toronto that would compete for the chance to play for the Allan Cup – Canada’s national senior championship.
And Crawford – a rock solid defenceman that was as tough as nails – fit the bill for his new club perfectly.
Hockey in the 1950’s was considerably different than it is today. Old-timers pine for the simpler way that the game was played but the reality of the time was that there just weren’t many jobs available for a professional hockey player.
The National Hockey League still comprised of the Original Six teams and was a decade away from expansion. The American League didn’t offer a lot more opportunity. There were only six more teams there, as well as six in the International League; all of which were in the United States.
It was simply a tough club to get into.
Senior hockey’s heyday
But with the lack of professional and even minor professional teams, senior hockey became the choice of players and fans alike across small-town Canada.
Belleville had played in the Senior “B” loop for seven years but to be considered for competition for the Allan Cup, they had to step up to the Senior “A” game.
Denyes recruited Armand “Bep” Guidolin from the North Bay Trappers in the Northern League to assemble his team quickly and be the player/coach.
“Belleville wants a good hockey club – a contending team that will hold its own with the rest of the league,” Guidolin told The Intelligencer during the first couple of weeks that the team was together. “It is my job to provide it – and I’m going to do it, if it is humanly possible.”
Guidolin played for Ottawa in the Quebec Senior League against Crawford and knew that the blueliner would fit the mould of his new club perfectly.
Crawford had grown up in a working-class west Toronto neighborhood during the Depression. He spent a lot of his time outside of school at the Kiwanis Club at Trinity Park and that’s where he first started to play hockey after being mesmerized by watching the game as a child.
Crawford excelled at the game and by the time he was 15, he was playing against military men that were stationed in the area and he caught the eye of the Montreal Canadiens’ area scout.
The Canadiens signed Crawford to a C-Form that came with a $100 signing bonus and for the first time, he started to understand that he could make a career in the game.
Following his lifelong passion
After kicking around a couple of training camps, Crawford signed with the Montreal Royals at 19 and toiled in the Quebec Senior League until the phone call from Denyes. Crawford moved to Belleville and planted roots there that were evident half a century later when he reflected on the move.
“That’s the trials and tribulations of following your passion,” Crawford said. “Every one of the guys on the Belleville McFarlands has a similar story in regards to how they got here in Belleville. It was just a passion of the sport that drove you because, believe me, we weren’t making big money at all, enough to be honest with our kids that we could put them in school and buy them the odd pair of pants, things like that.
“We don’t regret it, naturally, we used to have a phrase ‘have skates, will travel’ because we knocked around.”
Denyes and Guidolin assembled the team quickly. Most of the players came from other senior leagues – several from Quebec including imposing blueliner Maurice “Moe” Benoit. They were determined to suit up a competitive team and Denyes took exception to a snide comment from a team owner in the Western Ontario group who expressed concern at a pre-season league meeting that the new division wouldn’t play at the same level as the rest of the league.
“We’ll be no doormats for your club or any other club in the league this season,” Denyes retorted.
The McFarlands assumed the personality of Guidolin. They had a mix of skill and toughness and showed both frequently.
“We had a team that could play it any way you wanted to play it,” said Keith MacDonald, a forward who had played Senior “B” in Belleville the previous season.
“If you wanted to stick strictly by the book and at a common game good, but if you wanted to get a little bit nasty we had a lot of guys that could do that.”
Forward Hillary “Minnie” Menard was the Mac’s offensive star in their first season. Menard tied the league record with his 50th goal in the last game of the season and led the team with 78 points.
The 22-year-old from Timmins had experienced a good junior career with a season in Barrie and one in Galt and then played in his one and only NHL game with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1954.
But if Menard was the salt for the new team, Benoit was definitely the vinegar.
Benoit showed early in the Mac’s first season that he was going to be an imposing opponent – and an entertainer for the fans.
The Mac’s played Whitby in their third home game and it approached riot status. The Mac’s took 101 penalty minutes with Benoit right in the middle of the fray. He took one fight into the penalty box and issued an apology to “The Hockey Public of Belleville and the Officials” for his actions the next day.
Benoit could also play it clean and when he did, he was a marvel to watch. He was a master at throwing hip checks that kept all but the most ambitious forward from entering the Mac’s zone at full speed.
He also had a booming shot that he loved to unload from the blueline.
Benoit and Whitby player coach Charles “Bus” Gagnon, who joined the Macs after their world championship win, had some spirited battles when the arch-rivals hooked up.
Ontario Intelligencer Sports Editor George Carver covered the team and reflected on one early season meeting between the heavyweights.
“Gagnon, it appears, also made the unfortunate mistake of selecting Moe Benoit as target bait,” Carver wrote.
“Moe was right in his element and politely pulled the sweater over Gagnon’s head and proceeded to pummel what was underneath it. ‘Two minutes for fighting,’ but Moe had ten dollars worth of fun and it took two minutes for Gagnon to get his hair back in place.”
Denyes also helped to recruit local businessman Harvey McFarland to sponsor the team.
McFarland was a larger-than-life figure in the community and was the Mayor of Picton for more than two decades.
He didn’t play the game at a high level but was a passionate Boston Bruins fan and was anxious to see Belleville have a team of its own to cheer for.
He put up $3,000 for the first two seasons to help the city finance the team and the club assumed his name and in a lot of ways, his temperament.
McFarland came into the business world as an admitted underdog. He was from a modest upbringing in Roblin, near Napanee, and dropped out of school just before reaching his teens. But he was a hard worker and showed a fierce determination at an early age to reach goals.
McFarland literally built his construction business from the ground up and become one of the most wealthy – and generous – people in the area.
His son Malcolm said that Harvey’s personality was a determining factor in what Harvey’s hockey club went on to achieve.
“He really loved the hockey players,” Malcolm McFarland reflected. “He always called them his boys, and I think he would do anything for them and I think they returned it. They would do anything for him. And I think they played over their heads. I think there were other, better quality teams out there with better hockey players. But they had the determination and the will to win.”
Guidolin was the perfect guy to lead the newly formed team on and off the ice. He came to the team with nine National League seasons under his belt and was coveted by some of the other new teams in the league.
Intelligencer sports editor George Carver watched the birth of the McFarlands as close as anyone and had a quick assessment of Guidolin during the team’s first training camp.
“To this observer at least, Guidolin gave plenty of evidence…that he knows what this coaching business is all about,” Carver wrote. “He is not content to merely skate up and down, blasting on a whistle and dropping pucks.”
The players had instant respect for Guidolin’s ability and appreciated the fact that he was willing to put himself through whatever the expected of the other players.
“He was a marvelous skater,” right winger Dave Jones said. “We’d practice for an hour and maybe he’d pick on six or seven of us. We’re skating for half an hour and he’d skate the whole time – he’d out-skate us – all of us. He didn’t stand around and watch; he did it. I’d call him names underneath my breath at times but he was all right.”
The McFarlands skated out to a pair of wins over the Cornwall Chevies in their first weekend of play. They dropped Cornwall 4-3 in their first ever game at Memorial Arena and then doubled them 4-2 on the road two nights later.
Their success in their opening weekend didn’t keep Guidolin from cracking the whip in practice the following week. He put his players through up-tempo 90 minute skates that left them winded and anxious to get back into the weekend games so they could have a bit of a break.
“There will be no fooling on this hockey club,” Guidolin stated. “They can’t play hockey if they are not physically fit – and unless they are, they won’t play.”
The early games drew a lot of local attention, including crowds of more than 2,000 spectators, but Guidolin took some flak from some fans early in their first season.
Despite their success, a pocket of fans were vocal about Guidolin’s use of the players from the area. They thought the Belleville boys should get some preferential treatment but of course, Guidolin didn’t see it that way.
He sent a message through Carver that spelled out his priorities.
“I want you to tell the people of Belleville that I am hired to do a certain job here,” the coach explained. “I am going to do what I’m paid for regardless of whose feelings I may hurt. Hockey is a serious business anymore…I like this town. My wife and my three kiddies like it. If it is possible I want to stay here.
“The Belleville people with whom I have come in contact thus far are wonderful. We like them and we like this city. But when it comes to my job it is different. I was hired to come here and do a certain thing – to provide a good hockey club for Belleville. I brought a lot of good players I know. You know them now. Belleville fandom knows them now – and likes them. However if any of those chaps which I brought here from other places do not fit the bill – the one that I demand – he’s through.
“The same goes for the Belleville boys or any other player. There is no sentiment in this hockey business as far as I am concerned.”
They clearly weren’t going to be pushed around. Guidolin led the loop with 156 penalty minutes followed closely by Menard with 134 and Crawford with 122. “Bus” Gagnon from Whitby kept the McFarlands from sweeping the top five leaders. Benoit and MacDonald finished fifth and sixth.
“I can’t defend the way we played or chastise the way we played,” Crawford admitted. “Versus today and how they play, I know it was very physical. I also know it was very entertaining hockey, we played three zones and you were going to see some beautiful plays.”
A helping hand from the Whitby Dunlops
The McFarlands were assembled by Denyes and Guidolin but if it wasn’t for the vision of Wren Blair, the team likely would never have existed.
Blair was the driving force to upgrade the Eastern loop to the Senior “A” circuit and Carver wrote that Belleville was the lone holdout clinging to the Senior “B” title.
Blair enthusiastically argued that the Eastern group would hold their own against any in the country and would produce an Allan Cup champion.
He may have been the only one at the table who believed the claim but he was right.
He was the architect of the Whitby Dunlops team that marched through the seemingly superior teams from Western and Northern Ontario before disposing of Spokane to claim the national championship the following season.
They also went on to win the World Championship the next year in Oslo, Norway, and Blair was quickly vindicated.
But if Blair had some allies among his fellow teams after successfully arguing his case for playing Senior “A”, he quickly lost them once the puck dropped on the first season.
He penned a weekly column for an Oshawa paper and used the opportunity to take jabs at the other teams – mostly about signing players that Blair himself had his eye on. He raised the ire of pretty much every team at one point or another but seemed to take great delight in goading Pembroke and Kingston.
“Wren Blair was the prime mover,” Crawford said. “He’s quite a hockey man. He had a vision that he wanted to turn this league into a Senior “A” because he had tried to go for an Allan Cup and they said ‘well you’re only Senior “B”, (so) you can’t go’ – the powers that be in the hockey world.
“So he said ‘well, I guess the thing to do is get together with these people in the Eastern part of the province, and tell them how good they are and then we’ll go Senior “A” and compete for it.’ Which they did. And the rest is history.”
Dave Jones said that the Dunlops were the class of the circuit that first season. Bob Attersley was one of the premiere players in the league and later went on to become the Mayor of Whitby and a part owner of the Kingston Frontenacs in the Ontario Hockey League. The team also boasted long-time Boston Bruins’ GM Harry Sinden on the blueline.
“Whitby of course was probably the top team, but they brought in an awful lot of players, particularly the year they won the world championship,” Jones said.
“They had “Bus” Gagnon and Sid Smith from Toronto and Bobby Attersley who probably should’ve been playing in the NHL then. He was a marvelous hockey player. (They) had a good defense and good goaltending.”
Whitby jumped out of the gate with a great start and held down first place the entire season.
“You had guys like Bobby Attersley for instance,” Crawford said. “All the pro clubs wanted him so badly they would have almost given him the rink to sign up. But he chose to stay in Whitby and go into business for himself.
“So that was the calibre of hockey player we had. It was high-calibre hockey.”
The Senior “A” circuit was a big step up from the Senior “B” squads that Belleville fans had enjoyed for years. Keith MacDonald and Dave Jones were the only players that made the jump up from the “B” team the previous season.
“Keith MacDonald is fitting into the Senior “A” hockey picture like a hand in an old glove,” Carver wrote early in the season.
“The Prince Edwarder’s fire, spirit and fearless play rates him plenty of kudos and the fact that he is travelling in the best company of his hockey career has not affected his play or disposition one iota.
“He hits ‘em all and is ‘afeered’ of none. “Gabby” White of Kingston decided to stop him the other night by the rather foolish method of head-on collision. Result? Gabby went down like a pole-axed flounder and remained there until somebody pumped back his breath.”
Even though most of the players came from around the province and several from Quebec, the fans in Belleville adopted the Mac’s as their own team.
They showed early on that they would be competitive and the abrasive style that they played often looked more like the wrestling events that were staged at the Memorial than the hockey they were used to seeing.
Moving to Belleville meant a new start for Crawford and his young family that grew by one when Pauline gave birth to baby Peter during the Crawford’s’ first few weeks in Belleville.
“The people used to almost make you part of their family,” Crawford said. “And you had a sense of purpose when you came out on the ice. You felt very proud and I had never experienced that in other places that I had played hockey.
“You know, you played a game, you left, and no one seemed to care whether you left. And you can ask any of the other guys and I think they’re going to tell you the same thing about the closeness of the Belleville fans to the players, (it) was fantastic.
“They were like a seventh man on the ice. I guess that’s the best way I can describe it. And that gave you a great inspiration to play. So I’m going to say that’s one of the reasons why we achieved maybe more than what we had in other towns or wherever we’d played in.”
Part of the charm was playing in the Memorial Arena. It was laid out like a lot of other rinks that the veteran skaters had played in but the crowd made it something special. The Mac’s regularly drew more than 2,000 fans for their Friday night games and the number approached 3,000 by the time they got to the playoffs.
“It was great,” Jones said. “It was a home rink, a small rink, so you’re close to the fans and they could get on your back pretty good if you didn’t do too well, that’s for sure.”
Cool as a cucumber
Don Larin started the season as the Mac’s netminder but he wasn’t Denyes’ first choice and even though Larin had a good start, the Belleville manager was looking for a star who would give the Macs an edge in the crease.
In November, Denyes announced that he had signed former American League standout Gordie Bell.
The move turned a good team into a championship contender. Bell was very good in a 6-4 win over Pembroke in his debut and prompted Carver to describe him “…as cool as a cucumber…He also appeared to be a cooling influence on the rare occasions when McFarland tempers threatened to flare.”
Bell started his pro career as a 17 year old with the Buffalo Bisons and made eight starts with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1945-46 season. He kicked around the minor pros for the next decade before coming to Belleville in 1956.
Bell helped the McFarlands run a nine game undefeated streak in his first few weeks with the team, hinting at the performance that was to come in the playoffs.
Denyes had pulled off another coup when he signed Ike Hildebrand just after Christmas. Hildebrand was the player/coach in Pembroke but had resigned just before Christmas. While he was home in Peterborough, he was courted by several teams including Sudbury – and of course, Whitby.
The diminutive right winger had NHL experience with the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks and in today’s terms, would have been the hottest free agent on the market.
Denyes was making a name for himself by landing many of the big fish.
The results with Hildebrand were immediately apparent. He skated on a line with Menard and Paul Payette and assisted on the first two goals of the game – both scored by Menard – to help the Macs to a 6-4 win over Whitby in front of a then-record crowd of 2,657 at the Memorial.
The win pulled Belleville to within three points of the first place Dunlops.
The Macs tailed off a bit during the final weeks of the regular season and finished their inaugural year with a 23-24-5 record.
They finished in third place behind Whitby and the Cornwall Chevies which set up a first round matchup against Cornwall.
On to the playoffs
If Menard and Benoit were the standouts of the regular season, goalie Gordie Bell stole that title in the playoffs.
Bell was no stranger to winning. As a 16 year old in 1942, he backstopped the Portage la Prairie Terriers to a Memorial Cup win over Guidolin and the Oshawa Generals in 1942.
The Canadian Press estimated that he made 50 saves in one of the wins. He also posted a remarkable record of nine shutouts on the way to helping Buffalo win the Calder Cup the next year.
The playoff series opened in Cornwall with the home team skating to a 4-1 win that almost didn’t count. The McFarlands nearly won the game by forfeit when the local fans stormed the ice after an altercation with an elderly fan and a police officer.
Order was restored before the referees announced a premature end to the game.
The Macs stormed back in the next game, winning 6-0 at home with Bell stopping all 20 shots he faced.
Bell was the star again in Game 3 which Belleville won 3-1 on the road and then posted another shutout to back Belleville to a 5-0 victory that left them one game from a final series matchup against Whitby.
They dropped a 7-3 loss in Cornwall before romping to a 4-1 win in front of 2,748 fevered fans on home ice to score the playoff upset.
Unfortunately the Dunlops proved to be more than Belleville could handle in the finals.
The Macs gave up four goals early in the first game and came back with a pair in the second period, but were outclassed and didn’t have enough to compete with the Dunlops.
Whitby grabbed back-to-back wins in Belleville and then finished the series with a 4-1 win on home ice.
It was revealed afterwards that Benoit played the series with an injured foot after taking a slash in the opening game of the series. Guidolin dropped back to fill in on defence but it wasn’t enough to topple the regular season champs.
Despite the loss, Bell was sensational again in the Belleville net and hinted at better things to come for the McFarlands.
“The entire Belleville team gave its best but the outstanding man on the ice for either team was Gordie Bell,” Garry Alexander wrote in The Intelligencer. “The ex-NHL custodian put on one of the most magnificent displays of netminding for ten minutes in the second period that this reporter has ever witnessed.”
Excerpt from More Macs More (Bell, Aaron 2009)
Intelligencer photo courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County
In 1959, the Belleville McFarlands won the World Championship of Hockey in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
The team had won the Allan Cup in 1958 in Kelowna, British Columbia. As Canadian champions, they were entitled to represent Canada on the World stage. Following their triumph in B. C., plans were immediately initiated to get the team overseas to play in the World Championship.
At that time, all of the players at the tournament had to be amateurs. There were serious doubts about many of the European players, particularly those from Russia. All of the Canadian players had to have amateur status.
Some had experience in the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, which were both professional leagues at that time; however, by the time that the team was assembled to leave Canada, all of the players were deemed eligible.
The team was assembled by a Bellevillian named Drury Denyes. Denyes was the City Manager at that time, and he had an uncanny hockey sense to put together a winning group of players.
His work began with local players, like David Jones and Keith Macdonald, and he added others as time went on. There is no doubt that he was a good listener, and was able to make great decisions about the player personnel from all of his sources.
Team captain Floyd Crawford had arrived in the city from the Quebec League, along with a couple of other outstanding players.
Crawford was a Torontonian, and therefore had information about players from many different sources. Mostly by word of mouth, he and Denyes were able to find talented players to play in the city.
Teams would arrive at the Memorial Arena in Belleville expecting great nights of hockey. The rink was usually jammed to the rafters. At that time, it also had some wonderful idiosyncrasies. There was only one penalty box for both teams. Seriously.
Quite often the penalty time keeper, Don Dolan, would have to sit between combatants serving five minute majors for fighting. Others who were penalized would sit in the same box. Occasionally, penalized players sat with the fans when the box became overcrowded.
The Whitby Dunlops also played in the league, and were one of the McFarlands’ finest opponents. Many players at that time had played for both teams.
The rivalries ran deep, and there were great battles on Friday nights in downtown Belleville.
Harry Sinden was the object of much venom from the loyal Belleville fans, and occasionally would mix it up with one of the Macs. On one occasion, he and Crawford spilled out of the penalty box to the aisle below-about an eight foot drop.
They continued their tussle until a local cop, one of Belleville’s finest, of British extraction, asked them to stop: “Now, now, chappies,” he said, “that’s quite enough”.
The Queen’s Hotel was on Front Street, and it was calculated, several times, that it was ninety-nine steps from the arena. Many fans made the trek to the Hotel between periods, to put down a couple of draughts. Some made it back to the arena for the second and third periods.
The arena was noted for the large steel beams which held the roof in place. I was most grateful for those beams because I weighed less than one hundred pounds at that time, and I neatly squeezed into one of them. It was a great vantage point to watch the game, never interfering with the sightlines of any other fan.
It was the only game in town. With the rink packed, with great rivalries, with wonderful players representing the home town Macs, it was a very special time.
There were more than two thousand members of the team’s booster club. Armin Duffy was the president of the club. The Mercier brothers, Andre and Paul, along with Snipe Matthews and “Senator” Harry Rollins led the cheering from their rink-side seats.
The boards were low, and there was no glass to protect the fans. They could easily reach out and touch the players, and remind the referee to make the correct calls.
All week long the locals primed themselves for the Friday night tilts. In the barbershops, in the pool halls, in the court rooms and the dentists’ offices, hockey dominated the conversations.
There was a young star from the Belleville area named Bobby Hull making his way in the National Hockey League, soon to be followed by his brother Dennis.
We followed the Hulls on the radio broadcasts, in the early television programs, and in the newspapers. That was all well and good, but for real life adventure, we had the Macs.
More than forty thousand people lined the streets of Belleville when they returned home from Prague. The team’s victory in Europe was a significant event in terms of the country’s hockey history.
When Floyd Crawford first moved to Belleville in 1957, he had a feeling it was going to be a good fit for him. More than six decades later, Crawford and his family’s legacy are part of the history of our community.
Those championship wins helped to define his family tree and Crawford’s nine children all took that legacy seriously. The Crawfords have likely won more hockey championship trophies that any other family in the world.
The Memorial Cup, Robertson Cup, Turner Cup, Stanley Cup, Allen Cup, Sutherland Cup and Calder Cup. These trophies symbolize hockey champions at virtually every level of the game across North America.
“Living in Belleville under what Floyd had accomplished as a hockey player was something that we really didn’t take notice of at the beginning,” said Lou, who won the Memorial Cup as a player with the Kitchener Rangers and then coached the Belleville Bulls to their only OHL championship in 1999.
“More we appreciated it as we grew up and when we ventured off into our different fields.”
The children all inherited Floyd’s never-back-down competitiveness but they also point to their mother Pauline’s athletic ability and determination as an important part of their development as athletes and people.
Right from the start, the Crawford kids learned how to play to win.
“There were always lessons about sports, but life too,” said Danielle Yohn, the second youngest of the Crawford children. “Through sport you learn a lot about life. Teamwork, defeat and camaraderie. We learned that sitting at the kitchen table every night for dinner.”
While Marc is chasing the Stanley Cup with the Ottawa Senators, youngest sibling Eric is doing his best to help build the Montreal Canadiens into a championship contender. Lou is also still in the game, working as a scout with the Vancouver Canucks. Eric and Lou are still based in Belleville.
Bob is sharing his hockey knowledge in a different way, helping thousands of youngsters learn the game in his rinks in the Hartford, CT area.
They all bring the lessons that Floyd and Pauline gave them in their youth.
“There wasn’t a game that he didn’t think he couldn’t win,” said Bob, who played parts of seven season in the National Hockey League and scored a career-high 36 goals and 61 points with the Hartford Whalers in 1983-84. “There wasn’t a level that he didn’t think that kids were able to reach.”
Todd Crawford is a teacher at Moira Secondary School and coached Canada’s team when Belleville hosted the World Under-19 Floorball championships in 2016.
Crawford and his team were fantastic ambassadors for the City of Belleville to the 15 visiting teams from around the world.
He saw the same qualities in his parents during his childhood.
“My parents were fantastic ambassadors in the city,” Todd said.
“My mother especially was always making sure we were towing the line and going to school and going to church. We always managed to not embarrass my mother too much.”
The Crawford name has become synonymous with the City of Belleville. While many of the Crawfords are spread out across North America – and Italy in oldest sibling Susan’s case – they all carry a bit of Belleville with them wherever they go.
“My dad and mom have always said that Belleville is a great place to raise kids and it really is,” said Marc, whose son Dylan is a video coach for the Belleville Senators and recently moved to Belleville.
“You think about how many advantages there are to being in a community like Belleville. It’s got a great hometown feel yet it’s close enough to all the amenities of bigger cities whether it’s Kingston down the road, Ottawa is not too far away or certainly Toronto. I think it’s perfectly situated and it’s a beautiful spot.”