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Lester Patrick returns to Nelson

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

A previous post looked at surviving West Kootenay landmarks related to the Patrick family, hockey pioneers who lived in Nelson from 1907-11 before founding western Canada’s first professional league.

Lester Patrick, as a member of the 1909 Nelson senior hockey club,

which won a provincial championship.

Their departure — after helping build the Hall Mines arena, guiding the senior men’s team to the 1909 provincial championship, and making noises about challenging for the Stanley Cup — was a significant blow to Nelson’s athletic scene.

Lester Patrick, in particular, was honoured with a special presentation, as reported in the Nelson Daily News of May 8, 1911:

As a mark of their appreciation of his all-around good sportsmanship, his prowess as one of Canada’s premier hockey players and his efforts to promote sport of all kinds in the city the members of the hockey club and a number of his friends presented Lester Patrick on Saturday night with a magnificent cabinet of silverware and cutlery on the occasion of his departure from Nelson for Victoria.
The presentation took place at Thurman’s cigar store and was made by W.A. Thurman and Archie Bishop, who referred in eulogistic terms to Mr. Patrick’s energetic work in connection with the floating of the Nelson Skating Rick company and to his great reputation as a hockey player and as an all-around athlete of unusual ability.
Mr. Patrick has been in Nelson for approaching five years and during that time has been one of the foremost members of the hockey team with the exception of the season of 1909 [sic] when he played for the Wanderers in the great fight for the Stanley cup, receiving a record salary for his services.
With Mrs. Patrick he left last night for the coast, where he will be engaged in floating the new artificial ice rink in connection with the Northwestern Canada Hockey league scheme.

(Lester was a newlywed, having married Grace Victoria Linn in Victoria on March 7 of that year. They met in Nelson, where her uncle, Dr. G.A.B. Hall, was the former MLA.)

Fast forward 25 years. Lester was now general manager of the NHL’s New York Rangers. But he had not forgotten the people he met in the Kootenay, as demonstrated by this anecdote told in the Arrow Lakes News of July 23, 1936 by Pete Pelland, who once worked for the Patrick Lumber Co. in the Little Slocan.

Years ago in the course of a trip to Spokane Pete learned the Montreal Royals were going to play hockey in Seattle and he went there to see the games. So great was the rush for tickets for the first game he was unable to buy one, but just as he was turning away he saw Lester Patrick, and the latter, recognizing him, immediately provided seats.

(There is a narrow window for this to have occurred; the Royals formed in 1932.)

In 1935, Nelson’s Hall Mines rink, once a point of pride, was replaced with the much larger Civic Centre. The Daily News of Jan. 3, 1938 printed Lester’s memories of the old rink as it was torn down:

Looking back close to 30 years, I can assure you that it was quite an event when the citizens of Nelson decided to erect the Hall Mines road rink, which at that time was as modern as anything there was in Canada. I am sorry to learn that the old rink is a thing of the past. I am fully aware that Nelson has again come to the fore as a leader in keeping abreast of the times by having a new, modern and up-to-date sports centre which I understand is a beauty to behold. The people of Nelson are indeed to be highly congratulated on their vision in providing such a marvelous building for all, but particularly for the young people.

When the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1940, Lester was interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada (at the time still a radio broadcast) and said “Hello to my parents in Victoria and a big hello to my old hockey pal, Roy Sharp in Nelson.”

“A thrill for dad,” Sharp’s daughter Dawn Penniket wrote in her Daily News column of Sept. 4, 2000.

In 1948, Lester had a chance to see the Civic Centre for himself in his first and only return to Nelson. He came at the invitation of Sharp, who three years earlier had co-founded the Midsummer Bonspiel.

Lester agreed to referee an exhibition game between the Nelson Maple Leafs — bolstered by the addition of Chicago star Doug Bentley — and Trail Smoke Eaters. According to the Daily News of July 3:

Mr. Patrick arrived in Nelson from his Victoria summer home and will remain here over the weekend. After a hurried change at the Hume he, accompanied by Mr. Sharp and N.C. Stibbs made an appearance at the Civic Arena where he tried out his hockey legs. Mr. Patrick whipped on Red Wassick’s skates after complaining that Gordie Smith’s skates were “too tight for my toes.” Then decked out in a borrowed jacket, Patrick shouted: “Now give me a stick — something to lean on.” When offered a brand new stick, Mr. Patrick slammed it on the floor with the words “I’m a temperamental starter.” It was all good fun and later Mr. Patrick put the stick to good use as [he] tried out the ice — the first time on skates for three years. Mr. Patrick will also take in a bit of practice this morning before the big performance tonight …
Mr. Patrick left the rink about a half an hour after taking a spin on the ice to look over the “old town.”

Dawn Penniket, who died in 2009, told me she remembered meeting Lester when he came to their home.

Although Lester did not return to Nelson after that — he died in 1960 — his skates (seen below, right) made an appearance in January 2011.

“They were absolutely worn in Nelson,” BC Sports Hall of Fame staff member Michael Markowsky told the Nelson Star when a traveling exhibit reached town. “We have a letter from him when he donated them to the museum specifically stating they were used in Nelson. They’re some of the oldest artifacts in our collection.”

He said they had a “long debate” whether to bring the skates because of their “incredible fragility.”

“In the end we agreed that any exhibit of artifacts in Nelson just wouldn’t be complete without them, though this will likely be the first and last time these skates travel.”

Updated on Feb. 11, 2020 to add the image of the midsummer hockey program, with thanks to Rudy Boates.

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