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A Capital time: When Victoria was a hockey mecca

The West Coast, and in particular the city of Victoria, was once a hockey mecca, where superstars flourished, multiple Hall of Famers were made and big victories — yes, even the Stanley Cup of 1925 — were won.

For most hockey fans hailing from B.C., the sport’s most coveted prize, the Stanley Cup, has remained frustratingly elusive for nearly a century.

But what many people do not know is that the West Coast, and in particular the city of Victoria, was once a hockey mecca, where superstars flourished, multiple Hall of Famers were made and big victories — yes, even the Stanley Cup of 1925 — were won.

Capitals, Aristocrats, and Cougars: ­Victoria’s Hockey Professionals, 1911-1926, by Alan Livingstone MacLeod (Heritage House Publishing, $26.95), takes a fascinating and in-depth look at the world of professional B.C. hockey in the early 20th century, and the historical context in which Victoria’s newly minted teams played.

On the last day of March in 1925, a headline in inch-and-a-half type stretched across the front page of the Victoria Daily Colonist from one margin to the other: COUGARS WIN STANLEY CUP.

Accompanied by a photograph of a dozen seated and standing men, all facing the camera, the first of four subheadings reported that VICTORIA’S OWN ARE WORLD HOCKEY CHAMPIONS.

The evening before, the Victoria Cougars had defeated the Montreal Canadiens by a margin of 6-1 to win the Stanley Cup. In the Daily Colonist’s view, the Victoria hockey players had thereby upheld the honour of the city in a crucial conflict.

Eleven of the men in the photo wear matching sweatshirts. The twelfth man, standing tall in the middle at the back, is dressed in a suit and tie, looking more formal than the others.

He is Lester Patrick, the owner, operator, manager, and coach of the Cougars—and sometime player too. With his younger brother, Frank, he also founded the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), the major professional hockey league the brothers had established in collaboration with their father, Joe, in 1911 in order to compete with the National Hockey Association (NHA) for recognition as the best hockey league in the world.

The Stanley Cup victory of 1925 was the culmination of the Patricks’ vision and, though no one realized it at the time, a milestone event that still resonates nearly a century later.

Local politicians and the people of the city put together a celebration to honour their hockey heroes. Ordinary people pitched in to pay the cost of striking medals to bestow on the players.

A huge crowd gathered in the Board of Trade auditorium to laud the men who had brought such great glory to the city. Ten of the Victoria players had served as Canadian soldiers during the Great War, either as volunteers or conscripts. Two of these were bona fide war heroes, soldiers awarded medals for gallantry.

Perhaps the most consequential of Lester Patrick’s hockey recruits had been an airman in the Royal Flying Corps who went on to lead the Canadian team to the first Olympic hockey gold medal. In his six years in Victoria, he led his team in scoring every season.

In the fifteen years leading up to the 1925 pinnacle, Lester Patrick had called upon a varied cast to help him get there.

By 1909, Lester Patrick and his younger brother Frank had made the big time as players in the National Hockey Association, the major professional league in its time. The NHA comprised seven teams in 1909–10; three in Montreal, one in the nation’s capital, and three in Ontario communities no longer deemed suitable locations for major professional hockey: Cobalt, Haileybury, and Renfrew.

The Patrick brothers skated with the Renfrew Creamery Kings and led their team to a very good record in 1909-10: eight victories and one tie in the NHA’s twelve-game season — which was good, but not good enough to match the Wanderers, who had turned professional and who finished 11-1 that year.

In an age when tastes in the naming of major league hockey teams run to the likes of “Hurricanes,” “Sharks,” and “Predators,” it may mystify the modern observer that “Creamery Kings” could once have been a hockey moniker of first choice. But it was.

In 1909-10, Lester Patrick had led the NHA’s Renfrew Creamery Kings in scoring, with twenty-three goals in twelve games. Lester’s brother Frank was a teammate on that squad, as were future Hall of Famers “Cyclone” Taylor and Fred Whitcroft.

Having had a taste of professional hockey in the NHA and experience as hockey movers and shakers in the West Kootenays, the brothers were seized by a dream as 1910 passed into 1911. What a good idea it would be, they thought, to establish a new major professional hockey league in the west, one that would produce a brand of hockey every bit as good — or better — than that played in the NHA, a league that would enable them to apply their boundless ideas for improving the game.

The brothers were fortunate because in Joe Patrick they had a father who believed in them, wanted to support them, and most importantly, had the financial means enabling them to realize their dream. Thus was born the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.

Joe Patrick sold his lumber business in Nelson and, with the proceeds of the sale, financed the construction of something never before built in Canada: hockey arenas that had facilities for making artificial ice. Travelling to study artificial ice plants in the U.S., Frank made himself an expert on the subject. Lester took a lead role in the construction of the new arenas.

A Victoria architect, Thomas Hooper, designed both arenas. Located at the corner of present-day Epworth Street and Cadboro Bay Road in Oak Bay, the Victoria arena had room to accommodate four thousand spectators. The Vancouver facility at Denman and Georgia in the downtown core was much larger: it could accommodate 10,500, the biggest hockey arena in Canada at the time.

In addition to teams in Vancouver and Victoria, there would be a third franchise established at New Westminster, a club that for the time being would share the Denman rink as its home base.

Patrick’s Victoria club would eventually become the Cougars, a name consonant with modern hockey sensibility. But in the early years of professional hockey, the Victoria players would come to be known by a name not much more macho than Creamery Kings: Aristocrats.

But not once in 1912 did the Colonist refer to the city’s new hockey team as the Aristocrats. Occasionally the Vancouver squad was called the “Terminals,” never the Millionaires. New Westminster is, of course, “the Royal City,” so that team was sometimes called the Royals. In the beginning, the hockey professionals playing in the B.C. capital were simply the “Victoria team.”

Both buildings were ready on time for the first season of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. To celebrate the imminent arrival of major pro hockey on the west coast, the Patricks opened the doors to both arenas to allow people to admire their new facilities, go for a skate, and fill themselves with anticipation of the hockey soon to arrive in their cities.

Fifteen hundred people participated in the Vancouver opening on December 20, while six hundred shared in the fun on Christmas Day in Victoria.

On the last day of 1911, the sports section of the Daily Colonist featured an item reporting on the first game of the new hockey league two days hence: “All roads will lead to the Victoria Arena on Tuesday night,” the piece began, “when the first hockey match of the Pacific coast league for the Paterson Cup will take place between the fast Victoria team, captained by Mr. Lester Patrick, and the New Westminster septette, under the direction of Jimmy Gardner.”

Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Wilson Paterson would look after the ceremonial opening faceoff, and the arena was expected to be crowded with spectators “keen to see the introduction of the game that for years has held the enthusiasts on their toes in the east.”

The city band would attend and the B.C. Electric Company would put on extra streetcars to accommodate the rush of fans wanting to be in their seats by the 8:30 p.m. start. A separate arena ad informed fans to take the Willows streetcar to see the “fastest men and the fastest game on earth.”

The very first professional hockey game in Victoria took place on January 2, 1912, in the spanking-new Epworth Street arena. And so it begins: an account of Victoria’s hockey professionals in the years 1911 to 1926 and of the tempestuous times in which they played and lived.

Excerpted with permission from Capitals, Aristocrats, and Cougars: Victoria’s Hockey Professionals, 1911–1926, by Alan Livingstone MacLeod (Heritage House Publishing, 2021).