The Peterborough Examiner
50 years of hockey
Sport brings community together through thick and thin
Lakefield celebrates its hockey heritage
Hockey is a binding force in many small communities across Canada and Lakefield is no different.
On Saturday, the village celebrated 50 years of organized hockey recalling many memories of how the sport brought the community together in times of joy, through difficulty and by crossing cultural lines.
Nearly 500 people gathered at the Lakefield-Smith Community Centre to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Lakefield District Minor Hockey Association which two years later spawned the Lakefield Chiefs junior D, later junior C, team that has won three Ontario championships.
While the use of First Nations nicknames and logos is sometimes criticized in North America as disrespectful, the origin of the Chiefs name was not only embraced by the nearby Curve Lake First Nations, it was suggested by then Chief Dalton Jacobs.
Neil Wasson, the only surviving member of the original LDMHA executive, was standing with Jacobs and friend Amos Irons watching minor hockey in the Lakefield arena when Jacobs suggested the nickname.
“I suggested we should have a composite name for all the teams in the organization,” Wasson said. “Dalton Jacobs said 'Call them the Chiefs.' His good friend Amos, who always had a good sense of humour, said 'Then we'd have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.'”
Garry Williams, 53, said growing up in Curve Lake it was a badge of honour to wear a Chiefs sweater. He played all the way from the youngest age group up to junior C.
“I really wanted to play for the Chiefs because we always came to watch the games and guys like Randy Andrew and Tommy Jacobs. We put them up on a pedestal because they played for the Chiefs. There were some good role models,” said Williams.
He says hockey created a bond between Curve Lake and Lakefield children.
“Being an Indian guy playing for the Chiefs you'd go to different communities and you'd hear the Indian slanders but because your teammates saw that I think it made them better people,” said Williams. “It was a unifying thing between the kids and parents. I'd like to think that had some influence on teaching the Lakefield fans how not to act.”
Another unifying moment was also the most devastating when the Lakefield arena's roof and west wall collapsed under heavy snowfall in the early 1970's.
“I was there that night playing in a Little NHL tournament,” said Colin Donaldson, who later coached the Chiefs for 18 years. “I would have been bantam age. We were the last team on the ice, I think we came off about 11:30 (p.m.). The roof came down about 2 o'clock in the morning.”
He and his father were working in their horse barn at 7 a.m. when they heard the news on the radio. The rink was empty at the time so no one was hurt.
“We drove right up here,” said Donaldson.
For the next year, Lakefield teams played in neighbouring communities like Havelock, Warsaw and Apsley as the community rallied to rebuild its arena.
“It was certainly the biggest disaster we faced,” said Wasson. “Prominent people and organizations really responded. Judge Ted Collins, the Grove School and a lot of local businessmen and hockey organizations got behind it. They re-erected it again for the next year.”
Howie Stevenson was the first head coach of the junior D Chiefs and recalled big rivalries in those early years with centres like Bancroft, Bobcaygeon and Haliburton who no longer have teams.
“There was a nucleus of players who had played midget and juvenile,” Stevenson said. “And we drew players from Apsley, Warsaw, Keene, Norwood and Ennismore. In those days you couldn't go into Peterborough. We were always competitive.”
The small confines of the arena, to this day, make it a unique place to play, Stevenson said.
While he was a part of championships and many on-ice highlights, Stevenson said his greatest memories are of people he met in the game. Men like Harold (Kit) Carson who was instrumental in organizing Lakefield hockey and Sam Ferrari who managed the Chiefs in their early days and continues to volunteer.
“Nobody made any money. Everyone was a volunteer putting in countless hours,” said Stevenson.
Terry Dunford was the Chiefs manager for 20 years until a nearly fatal aneurysm forced him to step aside last year. He poured over photos lining the west side of the arena floor seeing many familiar faces.
“Hockey means a lot to this community,” Dunford said, praising organizers for two years of work to put the event together along with a golf tournament at Katchiwano Golf Club. “There are a lot of good minor hockey supporters in this town.”
Selwyn Township Mayor Mary Smith says she's seen the role hockey has played in the community since moving to Lakefield in 1976.
“I've seen many of these people volunteering for a long time and this gives us a chance to thank those volunteers,” said Smith. “What's happened over those 50 years is different generations have been involved in this organization. It's not only been exercise, camaraderie and sportsmanship, it's social for people. In small communities sports give a sense of belonging.”