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Rich sports history comes alive
Posted By Darcy Cheek, Staff Writer
The names of Percy LeSueur, Bill Cowley, Billy Smith, Don McKenney and Jason York may be familiar to some hockey fans but the fact they all once had a connection to Smiths Falls may not be as apparent.
For the next month and a half, the Smiths Falls Heritage House Museum is trying to change that knowledge of its past and present hockey stars, as well as numerous other sports personalities and clubs, with its current exhibit 'Sensational Smiths Falls Sports History.'
"It's still a work in progress," said museum educational programmer Randy Orr.
A work in progress that has gleaned items from the community and other area museums to illustrate the colourful sports history of Smiths Falls.
Hockey, baseball, lacrosse, curling, golf, figure skating and even canoeing are featured in the museum's exhibit until February 27.
"A lot of them are hockey players," Orr noted, acknowledging that sport as iconic to the area.
Orr said Katimavik volunteer Rielle Hanson was instrumental in putting together a lot of the information for the exhibit when she was with the museum this past summer.
"She did a lot of the research on the hockey and baseball, which is the main focus of the exhibit," said Orr.
Smiths Falls has an undeniable rich and impressive association to professional hockey, including three hall of fame members mentioned above, LeSueur, Cowley and Smith, and two of the three were goaltenders.
LeSueur was inducted for his play in the early 1900s, as well as his contribution to the advancement of goaltenders' equipment, and Smith is famous for his tenure with the multiple Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders of the 1980s. Cowley was a standout for the Boston Bruins in the 1930s and 1940s.
"(Cowley) also helped form the Smiths Falls Golf and Country Club," said Orr.
Other stars of the ice in the museum exhibit include Smiths Falls' curling history, which counts two unique artifacts in the second-floor showroom of the museum at 11 Old Sly's Road.
"We have an early granite rock from the 1920s and we also have a solid iron 'stone.' It's stamped with CPR on it," said Orr, remarking on the long association with the Canadian Pacific Railway and sports in the town.
Figure skating star Jeff Langdon is also featured in the exhibit as are other interesting and obscure pieces of Smiths Falls sporting history that the museum is trying to built on.
"We're still looking into more aspects we can develop," said Orr. "We're trying to displays aspects of the town's history a lot of people don't know about. There is so much history related to sports that people don't know."
Coinciding with the exhibit opening last week was also the launch of part of the town's sporting history almost lost to memory.
Retired Smiths Falls high school history teacher Doug Phillips, 15 years after his original research was conducted, launched a book on a unique part of the town's baseball history: Baseball Summer: The Story of the 1937 Smiths Falls Beavers.
"When I was a kid we played in what was once a wonderful ball field. There was a lot of talk about how big baseball used to be," said Phillips about first hearing of grand baseball bleachers surrounding a field, and the Smiths Falls Beavers.
The Beavers played in the Class C Canadian-American League, which in 1937 included teams from Brockville (Pirates) and Ogdensburg, N.Y. But if you were not here that summer of 1937, or even a decade later, the Beavers may have seemed like a myth.
"They were all American players and they were only here for one year," said Phillips.
Phillips said he was fortunate he started researching the Beavers when he did, back in the '90s, because many of the people he talked to, the players themselves and Smiths Falls residents who knew them, are no longer among the living.
"I couldn't do it today ... they're all gone," he said.
Phillips spent days and countless hours at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., as well as hours trying to track down some of these ball players who called Smiths Falls home for one short summer late in the Depression.
"Most of the players came up from around Syracuse. They were so happy to write about their experiences as young men," said Phillips, adding that to a man every ball player he spoke with said he appreciated his stay in Smiths Falls.
The museum has several artifacts from that 1937 season on display during the sports exhibit, and one local "treasure' also has a place in retelling the history of the Beavers.
"I was very fortunate to meet with a lady who ran a boarding house where the players stayed at that time," said Phillips of Elva Lorimer, who was 98 years old when he spoke with her about the ball players. "She was a jewel. She was the greatest local treasure I encountered."
Other Smiths Falls' local sporting treasures will be on display, as well as copies of Phillips' book, until February 27. The museum is open Monday to Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.