The Bookshelf: When Dawson Made Hockey History

Klondikers: Dawson City’s Stanley Cup Challenge
Klondikers: Dawson City’s Stanley Cup Challenge And How a Nation Fell in Love With Hockey

Tim Falconer’s new book has a long and unwieldy title, but it probably needs it to cover the contents appropriately.

While Klondikers: Dawson City’s Stanley Cup Challenge provides the hook that will get the book bought by many a Yukoner, a larger part of the story here is given by And How a Nation Fell in Love With Hockey.

The Dawson Challengers do get an early mention in the book. The three-page prologue is all about their trip and their dream to contest for the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup (better known as the Stanley Cup, after the Governor General who donated it).

But Dawson’s history with hockey stays on the back burner until page 89, and part one of the book is about how hockey developed into a craze and how Weldy Young, who was a star player in the early development of the game, back in Central Canada, was probably a key factor in persuading mining superstar Joe Boyle to sponsor a team between 1899, when Young moved here, and 1905, when the trip began.

We complain about violence in the game, but Falconer’s history shows that it has always been there and was always part of the fan attraction.

He doesn’t really clear up where the game began. I went to grade 12 in Windsor, N.S., one of the towns that lays claim to its origins; but Kingston, Ont.; Montreal, PQ (Quebec); and the Indigenous settlement of Déliine, on Great Bear Lake, where Franklin’s crew played it, all get a mention, and similar-sounding games, in various parts of Europe and North America, blur the lines still further.

In our time, professional teams compete all year to get a shot at the cup. Professional was almost a cuss word to the early promoters of the game, which slowly moved out of Ontario and Quebec as the nation expanded westward. It was a challenge cup then, and any place that could mount a team and finance the trip could have a go, maybe after some local playoffs. Once the game moved to indoor arenas, there were costs to be covered and prizes to be won.

That kind of explains why what was essentially a central-Canadian preoccupation would even consider accepting a challenge from someplace as far away as Dawson. Klondike still had its romantic cachet in that first decade after the Gold Rush, and there was some promotional value in linking it to the game.

That Young had been a star in the game’s early days in the East helped, and Boyle’s reputation, though not as legendary as it would become after his adventures in World War I, was persuasive. He was known as a man who could get things done.

There’s a fair amount about Boyle’s early years in this book, though we’re all still waiting for Max Fraser’s film to get the whole story out there.

Part two of the book alternates between Dawson and Outside; and part three (the last 65 pages) concentrates on the actual Klondikers’ trip and the games they played, including the actual contest and a barnstorming tour around Central Canada, the Maritimes and some game in the United States.

Falconer was the Berton House Writer-in-Residence, during the summer of 2012, while he was working on the book that would be called Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music. It’s another long title, but the visiting author, who helmed a radio show at CFYT-FM, while he was here, has been frustrated by this problem for most of his life.

The re-enactment of the original trip, staged in 1996, was long over by the time Falconer arrived here for his return visit (he had worked in a mine here, years earlier), but it was still a tale being told—especially among hockey players, of whom Falconer was one. At that time, only a couple of years had passed since Don Reddick’s book about that trip, called The Trail Less Traveled: The Yukon’s Dawson City-to-Ottawa Stanley Cup Reenactment, had been published, so the tale was still fairly fresh.

Nevertheless, Falconer says it was only several years later that he thought of writing about the game and the event. There was a lot of research involved, but he reserves special thanks for Dawson City Museum staff Angharad Wenz, and former director Alex Somerville.

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