Hockey fans line up outside the old Trail rink on Bay Avenue. Photo: Trail Historical Society

Hockey fans line up outside the old Trail rink on Bay Avenue. Photo: Trail Historical Society

Trail Blazers: When the NHL came to the city for a game

Trail Blazers in a weekly historical feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives

Eighty-seven years ago this week, hockey fans of Trail were in for a very special treat.

On April 18, 1934, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings played a riveting game in Trail’s old rink, the Fruit Fair Building on Bay Avenue, following the wrap up of the 1934 Stanley Cup playoffs.

After the final on April 10 that saw the Chicago Black Hawks beat the Red Wings in game four of the best-of-five series, a western tour of Toronto and Detroit commenced.

The tour initially included stops in Winnipeg and Vancouver in Canada, then south to Seattle and Los Angeles.

Toronto Maple Leafs manager, Conn “Conny” Smythe, whose Trail connections were strong thanks to personalities like Pete McIntyre, made good on a promise to ensure Trail was a stop along the way.

The team line up for the April 1934 NHL game played in the old Trail rink (Fruit Fair Building) Photo: Trail Historical Society

The team line up for the April 1934 NHL game played in the old Trail rink (Fruit Fair Building) Photo: Trail Historical Society

At the time, Trail was proud of the artificial ice it installed for the 1925-26 season, which made a game in Trail by these professional teams possible.

In fact, Trail was the only stop between Winnipeg and Vancouver and plans to play in Regina, Edmonton and Calgary were simply not possible!

Wires were sent between Elliott Crowe, president of the Gyro Club, and Mr. Smythe, who graciously added Trail to the short list of stops.

The Gyro Club managed the event and all proceeds went towards projects on which they were working, specifically the newly-donated land in East Trail which became known as Gyro Park.

The biggest concern at the time was the potential for ticket scalping, as this was by far the biggest hockey event to ever occur in Trail or even the region.

To avoid it, tickets were packaged by section and price were available in intervals and at different locations over the course of two weeks.

The CPR dedicated a special train for Nelson fans, but the organizing committee refused their request to reserve 200 tickets for their residents.

The committee did, however, allot 100 reserved seats at the south end of the rink for Nelson visitors as part of the first batch of reserved ticket sales.

Everything else was on a first-come-first- served basis.

The old Trail rink on Bay Avenue housed the only artificial ice surface between Winnipeg and Vancouver for many years. This photo is dated to the late 1930s. Photo: Trail Historical Society

The old Trail rink on Bay Avenue housed the only artificial ice surface between Winnipeg and Vancouver for many years. This photo is dated to the late 1930s. Photo: Trail Historical Society

The Robson ferry even agreed to run until 4 a.m. on Thursday morning for the benefit of Castlegar residents.

Tickets were sold to fans as far as Oliver, Lethbridge, and Kimberley and meant the local business community benefited from the surge in tourists.

Conny Smythe stated in the Toronto Daily Star: “Trail is a small place, but they have offered us a good guarantee and as it is on our way into Vancouver, or practically, so we have accepted the date there. I think the boys will be interested in the big smelter plant there.”

Between the committee and the managers, it was agreed the winning team would take 10 percent of the gate earnings.

The team arrived on Wednesday, April 18 at 1 p.m., welcomed by the Maple Leaf Band at the Cedar Avenue train station.

The players, wearing straw hats under an unusually warm April sun, were immediately shuttled up Smelter Hill for a tour of the plant.

At 3:45 p.m., the two teams donned their gear and ran a brief practice and an autograph session for the benefit of Trail’s youth.

The game took place at 8 p.m., but the smaller ice surface made it difficult for the stylized plays to occur.

Despite the smaller size, the teams managed to dazzle the crowd.

At the end of the fast-paced game, Toronto outshone the Red Wings by a score of 8 – 5.

The humble arena had never seen a crowd of that size, but was certainly a foretelling of events to come for the city.

The curling and Gyro clubs honoured the teams with a banquet and dance at the Legion hall following the game.

As the sports editor of the day wrote, “The greats of the national game have come and gone, leaving behind a new throng of hero worshippers among the children and a new crowd of critics among the fan-experts.”

The archival collection does not possess any photos of this event, unfortunately.

If you were one of the lucky kids to witness this event, please share with us!

Sarah Benson-Lord manages the Trail Museum and Archives.

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