Sydney’s bid for a Professional Hockey Club

  • Posted on: 26 December 2014
  • By: lrigby

In the fall of 1912, a group of prominent Sydney businessmen began the process towards the acquisition of a professional hockey franchise for Sydney, Nova Scotia.  These Sydney elite were spurred on by the near completion of Sydney’s first indoor arena. This arena located on Inglis street just off of Townsend Street was designed to accommodate nearly three thousand spectators to an event.  A local paper describes the rink as "having great views for the spectators and is one of the finest rinks in the lower provinces. "

An initial set back for a professional team in Sydney was due to the lack of rink management at the new arena.  Many of the cities fans were waiting to see if the rink management would be actively pursuing a professional team and up until the late fall, the owners of the new arena had not yet chosen a manager.  It was looking likely that the arena owners may be managing the rink themselves and they had already made it quite clear that they would not be financing a team. 

A flicker of hope emerged on November 8th, 1912 when news came from Halifax that Sydney will be sending a representative to the season's initial meeting of the Maritime Professional Hockey Association. The initial meeting was to take place in Truro, Nova Scotia on Thursday Nov. 13, 1912. To the residents of Sydney, this was exciting news but the prospect of a competitive professional team was still a faint hope. Prospects improved again early in the week when Chester Greggory co-owner of the New Glasgow Cubs arrived in town. Chester was quoted as saying that “things are looking about right for a good season in hockey and there should be no obstacle in the way of Sydney having a team.” This news was made better by the fact that the men behind the movement were planning the promotion of a joint stock company in the following days.

It was decided by promoters that Toby MacDonald would be sent to Halifax to represent Sydney at this Initial MPHA meeting.  Toby was born and raised in Sydney but spent the previous season playing goal for the Halifax Crescents.  He was most likely chosen as Sydney’s delegate since he was already familiar with many of the representatives from the other teams.  

The November 13th meeting initially dealt with the election of the MPHA executive.  J.C. Lithgow of Halifax was elected as President, A.F. Taylor of Moncton became the VP. and  Gordon B. Isnor of Halifax became the secretary treasurer.  Other executive members included James Cosgrove of Halifax and Chester Greggory of New Glasgow.  This meeting also dealt with an interesting proposal from President Quinn of the NHA.   President Quinn suggested the amalgamation of the NHA and the MPHA.  Quinn was suggesting that the MPHA become a subservient organization to the NHA and allow the NHA the prerogative of drafting three players per season from MPHA teams.  The MPHA representatives at this initial meeting unanimously denied President Quinn’s proposal and declared an open bidding war on the NHA and other leagues for the countries best players.   Another piece of business concluded at this meeting was a decision to adhere to the six man style of play rather than opting for the seven man style currently being used in other leagues.

The leagues opening was set for January 3, 1913 with a thirty six game schedule.  Presently, the league consisted of four teams including the Halifax Socials, the Halifax Crescents, the Moncton Victorias and the New Glasgow Cubs.  Toby Macdonald was given time at the meeting to present Sydney’s bid for a MPHA franchise.    It was decided to delay the decision to the next meeting in order to obtain more information about Sydney's bid.  The MPHA representatives were interested in gaining more information around train schedules and asked Toby to propose a new schedule with the Sydney team added. The major objection to Sydney's bid was the long train ride from New Glasgow, Moncton and Halifax. This was a hurdle that the Sydney fans had hoped would be overcome.

 

In the meantime, the promoters of the new Sydney team set to task raising funds for the new venture.  A few of the local businesses were solicited and within a couple of hours they had pledges in the amount of eight hundred dollars.  At the time it was thought that a thousand dollars was what the team would need to get off the ground.  It was obvious to the promoters that the new product was going to be well supported in Sydney and that there would be enough funds to compete for the best professional players.  One of them was quoted as saying “we have the rink, we’ve got the coin and we’ll get the players too.”  Support was also coming from Sydney politicians; Mayor Gunn was quoted as stating that the city would generously support the organization.  It was in the mayor’s best interest to support a team since it was widely viewed that a professional hockey team would bring interest to the city that no other organization could.

Confidence grew so high about Sydney’s possible acquisition of  a professional team that rumors began to spread around the city about the players that may play for Sydney this year. Some of these rumors seemed plausible; Harvey Richardson, a local boy, was said to be coming home from the leagues in Saskatchewan to play for the new team.  Other rumors seemed much more far fetched.  There was talk that the new Sydney team was in negotiations with Fred “Cyclone” Taylor, one of the stars of the National Hockey Association.  Taylor eventually signed with the Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey League.  Along with the temperance movement, hockey was the talk of the town.  Excitement was again boosted with the second arrival of Chester Greggory on a scouting mission for his New Glasgow Cubs.  Chester again indicated his support of Sydney’s bid saying that he thinks highly of Sydney’s chances of getting into the big leagues and expects that it will be “crowned with Success”.

On Nov 18, the Halifax Herald reported that the MPHA Executive had received the required information for Sydney’s bid.  At that point, it became a waiting game for the fans in Sydney.  It was promised that at the next meeting of the MPHA executive, Sydney’s bid would be reconsidered.  It was reported that the MPHA executive would meet on Friday, November 22nd to decide the fate of the proposed franchise.  In the meantime, Gordon Isnor, the Secretary-treasure of the MPHA and the manager of the Halifax Socials left for Upper Canada on a scouting mission for players.  While in Montreal, Gordon also acted as the representative of the MPHA in meetings with President Quinn of the NHA.  The NHA was currently involved in a bidding war over players with the Pacific Coast Hockey League and was trying to set some agreed upon standards with its rival leagues.  Gordon Isnor’s trip delayed the next meeting of the MPHA and left Sydney’s organizers and fans time to agonize about the fate of their team.  During this period of just a few weeks, many rumors began to circulate the city about Sydney’s bid.  It was reported that the organizing committee had failed to send in the proper information and that the bid was being rejected due to laziness.  This proved to be untrue.  Many also believed that the other teams in the MPHA were delaying Sydney’s acceptance in order to sign the best players before Sydney could begin serious negotiations.  In reality, only the Halifax Socials had signed any players before Sydney was admitted into the league.  Toby MacDonald and the bid committee used this time to rework the already published MPHA schedule to include the Sydney franchise.  They sent the amended schedule to the MPHA executive on November 27th in anticipation of the upcoming vote.

Excitement ramped up again on November 30th when President Lithgow got in touch with Toby MacDonald and called him to Halifax for the second meeting of the MPHA.  Toby made it as far as New Glasgow when word reached him that the meeting had been postponed until Thursday, December 5th.  Toby headed back to Sydney for the time being.

The December 5th meeting was gearing up to be a messy affair.   The Moncton Victorias were upset about Gordon Isnor’s rumored deal with the NHA officials.  They were also worked up by the fact that the Social had signed three players from Moncton’s 1912 championship team.  Tommy Smith, Ras Murphy and Bill Hague were all reported to have signed with the Socials, leaving the Moncton Vics looking for a new crop of stars. Local newspapers reported that Moncton was making a lot of “war talk” for this second meeting.

At the meeting, Moncton claimed that Mr. Isnor had structured the NHA deal to allow his Socials time to sign Upper Canadian players while limiting the amount of time the other MPHA franchises would have.  Moncton believed that Mr. Isnor had done this by setting a date of the first game of the season as the cut off time for signing any player from the rival league and vice versa.  However, since the NHA started a week earlier than the MPHA, it gave them a head start on battening down players.  Moncton’s belief was that Mr. Isnor agreed to those terms because he had already had the opportunity to go to Upper Canada and secure players for his team.

For the most part, the December 5th MPHA meeting lived up to it’s expectation, The Halifax Herald proclaimed in a byline that “The Entire Face of Maritime Hockey Has Been Radically Changed”.  The article goes on to state that the admission of Sydney into the league, the new working agreement and the new penalty rulings will all tend to "make the game bigger and better in these provinces by the sea."  The pact between the MPHA and NHA dealing with the signing players was adopted by the MPHA executive. The agreement basically gave the franchises of the MPHA and the NHA the digression to sign any and all players they wished but after January 15th, the agreement goes into effect and  both leagues are accorded mutual protection of their players and neither league can attempt to sign players under contract of the rival league. The resolution was worded as follows:

 

Resolved that the M.P.H.A. enter into an agreement with the N.H.A., whereby “it is mutually agreed by the parties hereto, no club or member of either of the parties of this agreement shall tamper with or enter into any negotiations with a player under contract to any club, or a member of either of the parties, for or regarding his present or future services, without the written consent of the President of the Club of which said player is a member. It is further mutually agreed by the parties hereto, the right of reserving team players, a list of same to be sent to the Presidents of the before mentioned parties not later than April 15th., who in turn will publish said lists in the Montreal and Halifax papers and all players not reserved are at liberty to sign with whatever club they may decide.

   All clubs must forward by registered letter to each player under reserve, a contract for signature not later than October 15th of each year, to the address last known.  Failure to do this on the part of any club will make any and all such players free agents.

 

  The second resolution that was adopted by the MPHA included penalty rulings conceived of, drafted and submitted by Gordon Isnor of the Halifax Socials.

Sydney’s bid for acceptance into the league caused much more of a stir among the executives than that of the first two propositions.  The issue of distance and extra costs prompted Mr. Cosgrove , manager of the Halifax Crescents and Mr. Isnor, manager of the Halifax Socials to vote against Sydney’s bid for a franchise.  Chester Greggory from New Glasgow and W.H. Price from the Moncton Vics supported Sydney’s bid.  New Glasgow and Moncton had small arenas and it was in their best interest to play in Sydney where they would get some kickback of the gate revenues at a larger arena.  The Halifax teams, having the largest arena in the league, did not see the advantage of having extra away games. The vote was tied and it was up to President Lithgow to cast the deciding vote.  President Lithgow sided with the two Halifax teams and voted to reject Sydney’s bid.

Luckily for Sydney, the New Glasgow and Moncton teams decided to make a stand and jointly declared that their teams would be pulled from the league if Sydney was not accepted.  After a heated discussion, the meeting was adjourned for a lunch break.  Over lunch the team executives of the two Halifax teams met to discuss the situation.  When the league executive reconvened, it was announced that the Socials and the Crescents would withdraw their opposition and accept the Sydney franchise into the league with a unanimous vote.  The Sydney fan base and newspapers were elated to have a professional club coming to Sydney

Even with Sydney’s acceptance, the Moncton Times did take issue with President Lithgow voting with the Halifax teams against Sydney’s bid.  The Moncton paper believed that since Lithgow was a resident of Halifax he was showing favoritism.  President Lithgow felt that he was misrepresented by the Moncton Press.  He stated in an interview with the Halifax press that he was personally in favor of Sydney’s application and preferred not to force the vote one way or another since he was a disinterested party.   The president stated that he delayed his vote for fifteen minutes to give both sides time to try and come to an agreement but when forced to vote, Mr. Lithgow followed the rules of the old N.S. Amateur League and voted Negative.

On Monday December 9th there was a meeting of Sydney’s “subscribers to the hockey fund” and the team was officially named the Sydney Hockey Club.  The group also voted and chose its executive for the upcoming season.  J.S. McLennan was named Honorary President of the hockey club.  McLennan at the time was Sydney’s most prominent citizen.  He had previously run the Dominion Coal Company, was now the owner of Sydney’s two daily newspapers, the Post and The Record and often entertained prominent guest such as Canadian Prime Ministers at his residence in Westmount. It was doubtful that McLennan had any day to day responsibility with the team since he spent the summer months in Cape Breton and traveled the world in the winter.

James J. Curry was elected president of the Sydney Hockey Club.  At thirty-nine years of age, Curry was currently the city clerk of Sydney and was most likely chosen president because of his political and business connections.  Acting as city clerk would also give Curry the needed administrative experience it would take to run a professional hockey club.  Mr. Curry was a resident of Sydney living at 34 Amelia Street in Sydney’s North End.

Harry Grant was elected the Vice President of the new hockey club.  Mr. Grant worked as a manager in one of the cities businesses and resided as a boarder at a rooming house on George Street.

Charlie B. Ross was elected the Secretary-Treasurer of the new club.  Charlie was a prominent business man in the city owning an insurance company located on Charlotte Street. 

The remaining executive was made up of the following members, R.J. MacAdam, the manager of the Casino Theater who had recently taken on the job of managing the new Rink/Arena,  J.F. Miles, a prominent owner of two grocery stores in downtown Sydney and D.J. Buckley, the owner of Buckley’s Drug Store on Charlotte Street.

 

Once the executive was elected, they got into some general discussion in regard to signing a team. After the meeting, President Curry was questioned on the status of the team and he responded by stating that there was nothing to say in regard to the meeting, apart from the fact that they had been formally organized and had discussed the situation.  He also indicated that the executive of the newly organized club had gotten down to business and immediately made offers to several players and he assured the public of Cape Breton that Sydney would aquire a group of players that “will be in a race to the finish”.