By Bruce Huff
What’s this? A Londoner in the Hockey Hall of Fame? Well, not really. But his prized childhood scrapbooks and a stick signed by the 1948-49 Montreal Canadians are now enshrined in the mecca of hockey in downtown Toronto. Credit Hockey Hall of Fame resource centre curator Phil Pritchard for engineering the collection of scrapbooks and memorabilia that London’s Mac Haig put together while growing up in his native Belleville.
Haig, a retired London Free Press reporter, could hardly wait for the Belleville Intelligencer to arrive every day so he could clip the activities of the Original Six NHL teams and paste them into his scrapbooks.Articles and pictures of anything hockey from other publications such as the Toronto Star and its iconic Star Weekly magazine also made their way into Haig’s scrapbooks. Of particular interest to the Hockey Hall were the bulging scrapbooks that chronicled the career of the Canadiens’ colourful and often explosive Maurice (Rocket) Richard whom Haig idolized.
And then there were the scrapbooks filled with clippings relating to Haig’s hometown Belleville McFarlands of Allan Cup and World championship fame during the late 1950s. It was at the “Celebration of Senior Hockey” last August at ex-New York Ranger Walt Tkaczuk’s River Valley Golf Club near St. Marys where the Haig collection caught Pritchard’s eye. Pritchard had brought the Allan Cup, awarded to the winner of the national senior hockey championship, and many of yesterday’s heroes were on hand to relive senior hockey’s golden era of the 1950s through the ‘80s. There were scores of artifacts and other scrapbooks, but it was the Haig collection that grabbed Pritchard’s attention. Then he learned of Haig’s post-war clippings of the Rocket and the Original Six. Haig, along with colleague and pal George Hutchison, a retired newspaper and political correspondent who at one time toiled for the Free Press, was a guest of Pritchard back in the fall. Hutch recorded the visit with his trusty camera and some of the photos accompany this epistle.
“There are gems between the tattered Haig scrapbook covers,” Hutchison wrote. “One is a glossy photograph of a young goalie, Gordie Bell, in a Maple Leaf sweater, later to backstop the McFarlands to international fame. There is the full statement by then-NHL president Clarence Campbell on the suspension of the Rocket that triggered the famed St. Patrick’s Day riot in 1955 and almost caused Campbell grievous harm.” Hutchison continued:“The Rocket was Haig’s idol and on a sports celebrity swing through London, the retired Habs star was introduced to the scrapbooks. Haig and Richard pored over the yellowing clippings that marked some of the high points of a career unlike any other in hockey history. “The Rocket pulled out a pen and autographed a number of photographs, which were taken when he was one of the most feared forwards on ice. The signatures are a further enhancement of the collection.”
“It was a labour of love,” Haig said of his scrapbook project. It spanned 12 years, from the 1946-47 season to 1957-58, the heydays of the likes of Richard and Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “And then – just as I was out-growing my extensive scrapbooks – up popped the Belleville McFarlands. Two more years and another two scrapbooks ensured as the proceeded to win the Allan Cup in 1958 and the World Hockey Championship a year later.” “I’m thrilled that these old treasures of mine have a home in perpetuity and may well serve some useful purpose,” said Haig.
Along with other scrapbooks and artifacts within the archives of the Hall of Fame, they will help sports historians and descendents of former greats relive the excitement of the forties and fifties hockey. Pritchard said the collection offers a special perspective for researchers. “Mac’s scrapbooks on the McFarlands and the NHL add to the story of hockey in the ‘50s,” he said. “I think what is the unique about it, is you get a fans’ perspective on the games and tournaments. Anybody can read the stats, but with scrapbooks you truly get a feel of how the game was played.” The aforementioned Gordie Bell was a journeyman minor league goalie who played eight games with Toronto in 1945-46 and two with the New York Rangers in 1955-56. Born in Portage la Prairie on March 13, 1925, he died in Belleville on Nov. 3, 1980. He is a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.
As an aside, it was a Londoner, the late Ray Getliffe who gave Richard his nickname Rocket. Getliffe, inducted into the London Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, was a teammate of Richard when the Habs won the Stanley Cup in 1944. It was at a practice when Getliffe and linemates Murph Chamberlain and Phil Watson were getting ready to replace the Punch Line of Toe Blake, Elmer Lach and Richard on the ice. Getliffe happened to remark, as Richard sped past the bench: “Geez, look at that Richard. Just like a rocket!” Some enterprising writers were sitting within earshot and the next day’s editions bore the headlines “Le Comet” and “the Rocket.” Of course, there are conflicting stories of who wrote the story first.
Hutchison put a nice finishing touch on the Hall of Fame saga by saying it might have been the extensive cutting and pasting of newspaper and magazine clippings as a youth that drew Haig into the news game. Now in retirement in London, he was a senior reporter and editorial writer with the Free Press for 32 years.
1 – Mac Haig’s chronicled exploits of hometown Belleville MacFarlands. (George Hutchison photo).
2 – Gordie Bell backstopped Belleville title drives. (Maple Leaf archives)
3 – Mac Haig, left, and Hall of Fame curator Phil Pritchard with Rocket Richard jersey. (George Hutchison photo)