CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hockey Night in Canada Snake Creek Style

A Little History

 The World knows that Canadians love hockey ('ice' hockey for those who don't realize that there is only one kind that counts). So much so that before TV and radio were invented , the third period of the 1896 Stanley Cup final was telegraphed as play by play messaging from a rink in Winnipeg to Toronto . The CPR had pushed through telegraph along with the railway which carried the results of games back and forth across the country in the fastest time ever . Special lines were put into the game site so the telegraph operator was at the actual game . Most definitely , hockey fans of the period would have stopped asking for the final score and wanted more...What is the score at this moment ? Who got the goal ? How are the crowds responding ? Some of those telegrams must have been exciting moments for fans crowded around the telegraph office in Toronto ...
holding their breath until the clicking stopped and the message posted on the public bulletin board outside the office ...children ready with each message to run the streets as town criers .

 Later at the invention of radio , hockey accelerated the push to create small networks of those first private radio stations to carry local games . General Motors sponsored all Toronto Maple Leaf games to be broadcast in 1931 to 100 000 listeners in the Toronto area .

 The following NHL season , General Motors set up broadcast in Quebec where all Montreal Canadian games were covered in French . General Motors was innundated with pressure from their dealerships across Canada to connect them to the network . Hockey fans and potential GM cars/truck owners demanded it .

 By 1934 , a half million people were listening to 'General Motors Hockey Broadcast News' on Saturday nights . GM conducted a phone survey that year during one game and found that 74% of radio listeners were tuned in to radio stations that carried the hockey game . A coast to coast network was becoming a necessity .

Knowing the expense to get radio to everyone in Canada , GM wanted to get back to the business of selling cars/trucks . Imperial Oil jumped at the opportunity to reach this vast consumer market and 'Imperial Esso Hockey Broadcast' was born ...still on Saturday night .

 In 1936 , after the Canadian Government put licencing into hands of the newly formed Canadian Broadcasting Commission , radio stations joined their network  knowing this is what the people , hockey-loving Canadians demanded... a connection to the game , and news of the stirrings of war in Europe . The network covered the whole country . Every radio in Canada could tune in at exactly 8:00pm every Saturday night to listen to 'Hockey Night in Canada' in both French and English .

 The Peace Tower clock chimed the hour at 1:00 pm EST everyday over the air waves and the employees of the CPR set their official clocks and pocket watches to the bell ...the official start to the afternoon work period . Today , that custom continues on the CBC except it is the Atomic Clock of Canada that calls the hour . Accuracy of time was absolutely necessary for the daily business of the Railroad and the Game on Saturday evening .

Saturday Night at Snake Creek

 Once my parents had moved to Snake Creek , Dad took the opportunity to buy a combination battery-operated radio and hand crank 78rpm record player from Bell's in Mattawa . The radio was always tuned in to the CBC who offered about 48 hours of news and related programming , some classical music per week . Two hours on Saturday night were dedicated to hockey . That CBC signal came out of Montreal and was a French broadcast .

The baby was placed in a nest of pillows on the livingroom chair , the tea was set on the homemade lamptable and the radio was turned on to warm up the tubes before the broadcast . Dad sat next to the radio while Mum took up knitting at the other end of the couch for the Saturday night ritual . ' Le joue d'hockey'.

The 1947-48 season was the last year for Hector 'Toe' Blake after 13 yrs with the Montreal Habitant Canadiennes . 'Butch Bouchard , rookie Tom Johnson and Elmer Lach out of Nokomis , Saskatchewan played in those years as well . But by far the most feisty , hero on the team was Maurice 'The Rocket' Richard . Anyone from that time could talk of Richard as if they were actually at the game .

Hockey was a new game to British Mum , and so was the French language . Since coming to Snake Creek ,PQ she had been picking a little up here and there from business at the store and hesitant communications with other locals and listening to the CBC . She asked Dad often to speak French at home so the my sister would begin to pick it up . He refused other than little love expressions such as 'Ma chere d'amour' and 'Mon petit chou' . When she persisted , he said absolutely not since his French was not good enough . Mum couldn't understand because she had heard him speaking French and everyone else around seemed to understand him well enough . " I don't speak the right kind of French", he said ...by his tone and face Mum knew not to push it further .

Mum listened carefully to the game each Saturday trying to pick out recognizable words . Soon she was able to distinguish individual words easily in sentences and was proud of this accomplishment . 'Richard...la rondelle...Richard...la rondelle ...il lance...MARQUE' and the roar of the fans and announcers thundered through the radio . Dad would jump up and cheer along with the radio . One Saturday , Mum observed " He's a good player isn't he?!"
" Richard's the best on the team !' answered Dad .
"No, not him . The other one he's always with." Dad continued to name off the lineup to identify of whom she was thinking. " No, LaRondelle...he seems always to be in the action ."

Dad guffawed at her remarks and puzzled face . " Of course ! La rondelle is the puck ", he roared . ...another story for the boys .

Not that long ago , I heard a French comedian using the same scenario in a routine on TV. I thought to myself . He's too young to remember radio , and the story could only work for radio. Then , I smiled to myself at the thought of how many English speaking Canadians must have thought the same thing as my Mum had in 1947-48 ...and of how much pleasure the common story gave to French-speaking Canadians as it got told over and over by oldtimers , until it reached the ears of this comedian more than 60 years later .

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