As a former director of the 1961 World Hockey Champion Trail Smoke Eaters, and former editor of the Trail Times for the six years we lived in that beautiful town with its wonderful people, I am so sorry that Gail and I could not have attended the 50th anniversary celebrations earlier this month of that monumental occasion.
We most assuredly would have been there but for the fact we were never informed and thus knew absolutely nothing about this very special event.
John Colbert of Edmonton (whose father was team doctor for that 1961 team) alerted me about the Globe & Mail story on that special anniversary. That was the first time we heard anything about it, thought we thought such a celebration would take place sometime this year.
John Paolone of Christina Lake (who I first met when he played junior hockey with the Medicine Hat Tigers and I was sports editor of the Medicine Hat News) later phoned me with details on this magnificent celebration that we missed. So apologies from Gail and myself for not also being present with the 600 in attendance.
I still proudly have that March 13, 1961, edition of the Times with the front page completely devoted to the Smokies beating Russia 5-1 the previous day in the gold medal game at Geneva.
I also still have a copy of that March 28, 1961, Times souvenir edition which photographer Ted Moore and I produced with stories and pictures on all of the players, team personnel and executive.
My work station at home still has a large picture of the Hogle children (Bill, Randy and Steve) wearing three borrowed Canada sweaters that the ’61 Smoke Eaters wore in a year that will never be forgotten – nor should it.
I recall Frank Selke Sr. of the Montreal Canadiens, prior to the championships, telling CBC TV that the Smoke Eaters were the worst team that Canada had ever sent to the world hockey championships.
When I brought this to the attention of Selke after the championships, he apologized profusely on behalf of his father who obviously did not know of the toughness of Trail and its residents, let alone the ‘61 Trail Smoke Eaters.
I was also delighted during my tenure in Trail that the Times initiated a campaign which saw Trail go five consecutive years without a fatal automobile accident. That achievement was recognized by the Canadian Highway Safety Council and I was honoured to have been made a life member of the Trail Safety Council.
Aside from the Smoke Eaters, who in the Kootenays can ever forget the radical Sons of Freedom Doukhobors.
I vividly recall being phoned one Sunday at 5 a.m. that the Sons of Freedom had burned down the Village of Ootischenia just hours before the phone call. Ted Moore and I arrived before the RCMP arrived, leading to Ted and I being surrounded and pinned to our car by residents of the village who felt we supported the terrorist activities of the Sons of Freedom and leader Stefan Sorokin.
When I mentioned the name of John Verigin of Grand Forks as being a good friend, the tension disappeared at the same time as the arrival of the RCMP.
That act, plus receipt of a letter from Sorokin’s personal body guard, led to the Times exposing Sorokin which, in turn, led to a $100,000 lawsuit against the newspaper. That was a huge amount in those days. Examination for Discovery lasted five years in the old Vancouver Court House before The Times was exonerated.
I still remember courageous publisher Bill Curran who supported that story and would not back down despite what would had to be exorbitant legal and travel costs.
Getting back to the Smoke Eaters, the only regret I have, besides missing the 50th anniversary celebration and the opportunity of mingling with the personnel from that 1961 team, as well as the fine people from Trail, was someone stealing my irreplaceable 1961 Canada sweater that the Smoke Eaters wore that year.
I still, though, maintain some links with Trail through seeing Leo Soligo every once in a while on his holidays in Arizona. John Colbert (whose father was team doctor for the 1961 Smoke Eaters) has also worked closely with me on the fully registered Good Neighbour Fund charity which I started in Edmonton when I retired from CFRN TV. Barrie Miller and I continue working for Shriners Hospitals for Children, with Barrie playing for the Smoke Eaters after we had moved from Trail.
As a former Trail resident, and current Edmonton resident since 1965, I was delighted when the Edmonton Oilers lured Steve Tambellini here as their new general manager. I was equally pleased when our youngest son Steve – who was born in Trail – joined the Katz Group (owners of the Oilers) as their VP of communications and public relations, with his primary task being co-ordinating the many aspects involved in building a downtown arena in Edmonton on what has been described as 12 acres of wasteland.
So while we missed the 50th anniversary salute to the 1961 World Hockey Champions Trail Smoke Eaters, the fond memories will never fade of a great team, a great town and also a great newspaper.
Gail and I have a grandson getting married Aug. 19 in Victoria so we plan on driving out via Trail and hope we might be able to personally – though belatedly – commend all those associated with that 1961 team.
I personally subscribe to the words of Christian Larson, and I feel they epitomize the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters:
“Have pride in how far you have come . . . And have faith in how far you can go !”