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Syd Desireau: West Kootenay’s first pro hockey player

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

While organized hockey has been played in Nelson since 1897, it took until 1967 for the city to produce its first NHL player.


Several men played for Nelson before and after NHL careers (including Rudy Pilous, Pat Egan, Chuck Rayner, and Connie Madigan) but until Mike Laughton came along, none was actually born in Nelson.


Laughton debuted on Nov. 1, 1967 with the California Seals and went on to play another 188 regular season NHL games over four seasons, scoring 39 goals and adding 48 assists, plus another three goals and three assists in 11 playoff games. However, he wasn’t the first Nelson native to play major league hockey.


That distinction belongs to Syd Desireau, who was in fact the first BC-born professional player and the first to play for the Stanley Cup.


Furthermore, he was the only BC-born player ever to suit up in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The PCHA recruited players almost exclusively from eastern Canada. Some honed their skills in the Boundary league before being called up, but no others were actually born in BC.

Syd Desireau, ca. 1920-22, as a member of the Vancouver Millionaires. Courtesy Desireau family


Desireau (pronounced dih-ZERO) played 24 games for the Vancouver Millionaires over two seasons, plus six playoff games, including two matches in the 1921 Stanley Cup final.


While unquestionably talented, Desireau’s invitation to join the Millionaires was thanks to a personal connection with the Patrick family. He was initially billed as the “Cyclone of the Kootenays,” but no one could live up to Cyclone Taylor, probably the greatest player of his era. Before long, Desireau’s unorthodox style of play earned him another, less flattering nickname: “Wild Man.”


Later he fought a protracted battle for reinstatement as an amateur that pitted the Nelson Amateur Athletic Association against its parent organization. He also faced allegations that he played dirty. In today’s parlance, he would be considered a pest.

Syd’s father John was a prospector, trapper, and hunter from Quebec who came to Nelson around 1897 after spending a few years working in the mines of Butte, Montana. He was also reportedly a champion log roller.


Syd’s mother Philomena was born in Rolla, North Dakota, and lived in Edmonton before coming to Nelson, but it’s not known where or when she married John. A daughter-in-law recalled: “The Desireaus were never people to talk about themselves. Mr. Desireau spoke mostly French and was not very talkative.”


The Desireaus split their time between Nelson and Wynndel, where they raised goats and John worked his own mining claims. He was “a familiar sight … with his wide-brimmed hat, leading his donkey and pack.”

John Desireau is seen in 1926. From Forest to Fields: Duck Creek to Wynndel.


Alsid Aural (Syd) was born in Nelson on March 30, 1898. A brother, Leopold Albert (Leo), followed on March 22, 1902, and the boys grew up playing hockey and baseball.


“I took in everything,” Syd later recalled. “Hockey, baseball, lacrosse. But the game I loved best, and it was the toughest, was knotty.” (In the version of the Scottish sport that Syd played, two pieces of hose were tied together with rawhide. Players with curved sticks grabbed the hose-rawhide and threw it through the air at the goal.)


From the time he learned to skate, Syd “showed encouraging form, developing into a flashy forward” — although he initially played point or coverpoint, what we would today call defence.


His athletic ambition was stoked by serving as mascot — or stick boy — for Nelson’s senior team of 1909, led by his heroes, Lester and Frank Patrick. The club steamrolled its way to a provincial championship and made noises about challenging for the Stanley Cup.


When Edmonton played a series in Nelson that year, Syd demonstrated his industriousness and brazenness when the home team was found short of sticks.


“Go over to the other dressing room and borrow some from Edmonton,” captain Archie Bishop told Syd, who left as instructed and soon returned with an armful of replacements.


“Did you have any trouble getting them?” Bishop asked.


“No trouble at all,” Syd replied. “I helped myself, that’s all. You boys had to have sticks.”


When the Patricks left Nelson in 1911 to start the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, Syd joined the farewell party at the Manhattan saloon, where Lester recited verses in French while a prospector named Irish Mike climbed on top of the bar and began a boozy rendition of the popular song Mother Machree — but fell off in mid-chorus and broke his leg.


No attention seems to have been paid at the time to the fact that Syd was a minor in a saloon. But the same situation a few years later was not so easily overlooked. Then 17, Syd was served alcohol one Saturday night in both the Madden and Silver King hotels and afterward broke an electric barber pole outside the New Grand Hotel. He was fined $20 and ordered to fix the damage. The hotels were also taken to task.


On another occasion, Syd appeared before a police magistrate accused of stealing a horse blanket.


His youthful indiscretions aside, the first record of Syd on skates is with the Nelson Tigers junior club of 1912-13, of whom a photo survives, seen below. He played three seasons with this club.

The 1912-13 Nelson Tigers. Syd Desireau is second from right. Touchstones Nelson 2003-003-003


“The Tiger hockey team worked out last night,” the Nelson Daily News of Dec. 17, 1914 reported. “S. Desireau did some fine blocking and checking and his mate, Dan Stewart, was strong on rushes but both showed a tendency to hold the puck too long.”


In early 1916, Syd was reported as leaving to play in Greenwood, but there is no record of him appearing in any matches there.


On May 28, 1917, at age 19, Syd enlisted at Revelstoke for the First World War. He stood five-foot-eight and a half and weighed 160 pounds. He gave his occupation as lumberjack and was assigned to the Canadian Forestry Corps. He sailed for England in July and was sent to France soon after. His 42-page military file is light on details, but his service lasted almost exactly two years. He was discharged in May 1919.

A page from Syd Desireau’s World War I service record.


Returning to Nelson, he worked in logging camps, in a sawmill, and as a tugboat operator, hauling logs to Nelson from camps on Kootenay Lake. He also suited up for the city’s senior hockey club. Syd was too busy to attend practices — he only showed up on game nights — but claimed that dodging runaway sawlogs helped develop his speed and skill.


The Daily News of Jan. 27, 1920 effused: “Sid Desireau was head and shoulders above the rest throughout the game, and it was his brilliant and effective play that was responsible for at least a couple of Nelson’s goals as well as for holding down the scoring of the Trail boys.”


Desireau finished the season with two goals in seven games. It was a small sample, yet “some Nelson enthusiasts” urged the Vancouver Millionaires to offer him a professional tryout. Team president Frank Patrick probably didn’t need much convincing to give his former mascot a chance.


Syd worked out with the Millionaires for a couple of weeks before finally being mentioned by name in the Vancouver Province of Dec. 17, 1920, when he impressed over 400 fans at a practice.


“Syd Desireau’s playing caught their eye, and they predict a great future for the new centre man,” the newspaper said.


One fan went even further, praising him as “The best player who ever came into the Coast league. He possesses everything and for a youngster just breaking into pro hockey he is a wonder.”


It was at this time that Paddy McDonough of the Vancouver Mintos lacrosse team dubbed him the “Cyclone of the Kootenays,” despite a suggestion the name had previously been used in Nelson. It was a heavy burden to be compared to Cyclone Taylor, who was recently retired, although he would rejoin the lineup before season’s end.

Sid Desireau with the Vancouver Millionaires, ca. 1920-22. Courtesy Desireau family


Desireau, now 22, was slotted in as starting centre for his debut against Seattle. Syd was described as “rangy,” a “husky tow-headed youngster,” and “a good stickhandler chuckful [sic] of ambition.”


Millionaires manager Lloyd Cook felt Desireau would “take some seasoning,” but was impressed with his speed: “He has acquired a tricky little hook check which may prove bothersome to the enemy.” (This move was also described as “the famous scythe check,” which Syd was credited with inventing.)


The novelty of a BC-born player on a BC-based professional team was recognized in the newspapers at the time: “[F]ew good players have been developed in the west and they are all anxious to have a native son make the grade … So far he is the only native son who has broken into the Pacific Coast Hockey League and for that reason, if for no other, he will get plenty of opportunity to show coast fans what he can do …”


His debut quickly dispelled the notion that he could be compared to Cyclone Taylor, but according to The Vancouver Sun, “he did try hard and made a very good showing … At present he is inclined to mix golfing with his checking, some of his swipes being of the wild and woolly order.”


“Wild” being the key word. His new nickname first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on Dec. 29:

Once the fans saw him in action they called him the ‘wild man.’ … [H]e is a great nuisance to an opposing team. He plays any kind of a game. Sometimes he almost crawls on the ice. He keeps his stick and his free hand doing after the fashion of a pair of scissors. He is tireless and uses his body effectively. His actions on the ice are exceedingly funny …

The Times expected fans to heckle Desireau — at least when they weren’t convulsing in laughter. “Some of the Aristocrats say that Desireau had them laughing so much … that they could hardly stand up on their skates …”


Syd’s experience as a mill worker also entertained reporters, who compared him to his log-roller champion father. While he was “no slouch with the cant-hook and the peavey himself,” The Sun said, and “can make a log follow him around in the water like a pet dog, he has not yet managed to make it quite as docile as Desireau pere.”


Lloyd Cook spent extra practice time with the rookie, “sand-papering some of the rough edges off his style.”


Before long, however, the Millionaires could no longer ignore Desireau’s inexperience and he was demoted to a second-string role. Fans who once found his antics amusing now considered him a liability.


He played 13 of the team’s 24 regular season games, notching two goals while picking up 13 penalty minutes.


Vancouver finished first in the three-team league, besting Seattle in the regular season standings by a single point. The two teams then squared off in a two-game total-goal series for the league championship. Desireau was in the line-up for both games, which Vancouver won 7-0 and 6-2 to advance to the Stanley Cup championship.


In these days, the PCHA and NHL alternated hosting the final, and this year Vancouver would welcome the Ottawa Senators for a best-of-five series at the Denman Arena.


The first game of the hard-fought series drew 11,000 people, a new record for a hockey crowd, which was broken later in the series when 12,000 people jammed the arena. Desireau suited up for two games, but didn’t figure in the scoring or otherwise have much impact in the series. Ottawa won three games to two.


A legacy of the series is the only known film of a PCHA team. The Canadian Pictorial newsreel, seen below, doesn’t show any game action, but has 27 seconds of the Millionaires laughing in front of a brick wall (probably the Denman Arena).


Syd is seen for a split second at the end of the footage, on the far left. Until recently, this was the only known image of him in his Millionaires uniform.

When Syd returned home at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup series, he must have wondered whether he would be invited back. He hadn’t lived up to the impossible expectations placed upon him, although he acquitted himself fairly well as a substitute.


Perhaps it was sentimentality, but Frank Patrick renewed his contract. When Syd reported for practice that fall, the Vancouver Province, once bullish on his future, conceded that he “has never impressed the fans very much with his hockey ability but the local management argues that there is many a diamond in the rough in athletics nowadays, and Syd may yet come through.”

Vancouver Daily World, Nov. 26, 1921


Despite some talk that he might be loaned to another league in the east or on the Prairies, Syd stuck with the Millionaires that season. He played 11 games without scoring. In a reversal of the previous season’s standings, Vancouver finished one point back of Seattle. The teams then played a two-game total-goals rematch for the league championship. Seattle won both games 1-0. They were Syd’s final appearances as a pro.


While he might have hoped to return to the Millionaires, at the end of the 1921-22 season, rumour had it that Syd would be released. These rumblings proved correct: in the fall he was declared a free agent, but there were no takers.


Syd went back to Nelson, where on April 3, 1922 he married Myrtle Gillette, the eldest of Jack and Jennie Gillette’s eight children. The Gillettes were from Springhill, Nova Scotia, and family legend had it that when they came west, Nelson wasn’t their destination; it was just where they ran out of money.


Syd hoped to regain his amateur status and play for his hometown again, but the BC Amateur Hockey Association wouldn’t hear of it. It had to do with the distinction between a Class A professional, which the association felt Syd to be, and a Class B professional, which Syd declared himself to be.


Unless Syd played for the Millionaires for free, there didn’t seem to be much doubt, however. Class A professionals were paid for their services while Class B professionals played for professional teams but received no remuneration.


Sportswriters routinely likened the reinstatement process to a religious atonement. Desireau was “sober and sorry” and now “anxious to have a coat of whitewash applied which will transform him from a sinful professional to a lily white amateur.”


Upon forming in October 1923, the Nelson Amateur Athletic Association took up Syd’s cause and pointed out that George Box, a former Victoria Aristocrat, had been allowed to return to amateur ranks without fuss. Sporting officials from Rossland, Trail, and Grand Forks joined Nelson in endorsing Syd’s request.


The matter was serious enough that the Nelson association threatened to withdraw from the BC Amateur Athletic Union after receiving a telegram stating “chances for Desireau’s reinstatement were very slim.”


However, Desireau was not reinstated. Nor did the Nelson group cancel its membership. Instead, an appeal was filed with the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada that went nowhere.


Syd looked at playing in Alberta instead. He applied to the Alberta Athletic Union for an amateur card, which was granted, but the local governor refused to deliver it, apparently hesitant over Syd’s pro experience.

The Vancouver Sun, Dec. 11, 1924


Further entreaties followed, without success. The Nelson Amateur Athletic Association kept bothering the powers that be, but each time the answer was no. Syd had now missed three straight seasons.


Finally, in September 1925, Syd’s case was considered by the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada along with many others. This time, for whatever reason, the plea was successful. Syd was at last reinstated as an amateur in BC hockey, followed a few months later by reinstatement in all of Canada, in all sports.


In the Kootenay, the decision was received “with great gusto.”

Syd’s brother Leo was also an outstanding defenceman. An inch taller and about 20 pounds heavier than Syd, he was nicknamed Bruiser, or Dynamite. Leo played for the Nelson juniors and then won a BC championship with the Nelson intermediates before joining the senior club in 1923.


The 1925-26 season would be the first time the brothers would play on the same team. With Syd’s help, Nelson topped the three-team league with five wins and three losses and in a two-game playoff series versus defending champion Rossland, they won by a single goal to advance to the provincial championship against the Vancouver Towers.


It was the first chance for Vancouver fans to see Syd in action since 1922. The Vancouver Sun called him a “gyrating, heartsome gallivanter” who “could wind himself up in less space and unwind himself in more” than any other player.

Vancouver Province, Feb. 25, 1926. Leo and Syd Desireau flank either end of the top row.


In the first game, played before a crowd of 3,500 and refereed by Cyclone Taylor, the Towers blasted Nelson 5-0. Syd was “checked to a standstill” and aside from a “few bullet-like drives just looked like a very ordinary hockey player.” He was also in the penalty box for the opening goal after kneeing Allan Fellowes. By contrast, Leo, “stocky and fast, was the best of the family … He uncorked the most dangerous shot of the entire team.” Vancouver won the second game 4-1 to clinch the series.


The brothers played together for the next four seasons as well. But in 1926-27, Nelson fell apart. Their one win and 11 losses produced a winning percentage of .083 that would remain the worst in team history. The club rebounded a bit the following season, finishing second with a record of five wins, five losses, and a tie. Leo played 10 of the team’s 11 games while Syd suited up for nine. Each brother had one goal and one assist.


Early in the 1928-29 season, Syd came under fire for his rough play. The Nelson Daily News, on a crusade to stamp out bad on-ice behavior, considered him a poster boy for everything wrong with the league.


“We want clean, sportsmanlike hockey in Kootenays,” a headline declared, and then asked: “Does Syd Desireau play dirty hockey?” It left little doubt that the answer was yes.

For several seasons it has been charged that Sid [sic] Desireau … was largely responsible by foul play for ill-feeling and rumpuses between the teams of the West Kootenay Hockey league. It has been charged not only by Rossland and Trail players but by responsible Nelson hockey fans who believe that good sportsmanship is a primary essential to any worthwhile sport, that Sid Desireau when not near the puck, so that the eyes of the referee, the fans and his fellow players were directed away from him, would take opportunities to slash other players with his stick, to charge them after they lost or passed the puck and to slash at them with his skates.

On the other hand, Desireau’s defenders said he often got back as good as he gave, and was frequently targeted by other teams.


To assess the merits of this debate, the Daily News assigned a reporter to watch Desireau throughout a game against Trail. Perhaps not surprisingly, the correspondent enumerated a litany of overlooked infractions, including slashing, butt-ending, and hooking. However, only Desireau’s slash on Clarence Reddick resulted in a minor penalty. Desireau was also on the receiving end of similar acts from several players who retaliated.


The Daily News insisted it wasn’t attacking Desireau by giving him special attention but simply trying to learn the truth. It pledged to monitor all games that season and keep an eye out for bad behavior, no matter who committed it.


Reaction was mixed. Arthur Perrier, an official with the Nelson club, sent a rambling letter disputing the Daily News’ notion of sportsmanship. He felt Desireau was unfairly singled out: “In my estimation it is a rank injustice to select any one of the present members of the different hockey teams for censure by any person or persons outside of the official staff.”

Leo and Syd Desireau, ca. 1920s. From Forest to Fields: Duck Creek to Wynndel.


Perrier argued that if the league was unduly rough, Desireau could hardly be blamed, since animosity had existed between the region’s sports teams since the 1890s. Further, he asked, had the Kootenay league been a model of civility during the years Syd was in the PCHA?


An anonymous letter writer begged to differ. While he agreed teams ought to discipline offending players, he suggested they were failing to do so, and therefore the Daily News’ stand was justified: “For years we have had arguments for and against a certain player and the way he plays hockey … Hundreds of fans have voiced dislike to his method of play. Has the team management taken any steps to stop this method of play? Apparently not.”


Another anonymous writer felt both sides were wrong. Had the Daily News trained its eye on any other player, it might have found similar problems, he said. But he also felt Perrier’s protest should have been followed by a formal statement from the club. He called on the newspaper to withdraw its attack on Desireau and place it where it really belonged — on the referees!


Desireau’s teammates, meanwhile, were infuriated with the editorial and threatened to quit. But Desireau — who was suffering from a broken rib and injured hand — urged them to go on without him. The Daily News, sounding contrite, applauded Desireau’s show of sportsmanship. In something of a reversal, the newspaper now praised both brothers.

Both Sid [sic] and his brother Leo, no matter what criticisms have been made of them, have always shown themselves to be good sports, in that Sid, while he give hard knocks, accepts them without squealing, and Leo, in a recent season in which he went through the series without a single deserved penalty was presented by a fan with a medal engraved ‘To Leo Desireau. A Good Sport.’

The Daily News reiterated that it wasn’t out to get anyone, only to rid the game of unnecessary roughness.


Syd’s colleagues took his advice and played their next match as scheduled against Trail. And guess what? It was deemed “the cleanest game of the season so far.”


If the players’ behaviour improved thanks to the Daily News’ added scrutiny, old habits resumed the following season, exemplified by a notorious game that Nelson played in Rossland on Jan. 31, 1930.

The first period was rough, but the second and third periods were rougher. The game was tied after regulation time and went to double overtime, whereupon referee Eldred Jewel assessed Syd with a penalty. He refused to go to the box, however, and his team refused to continue.


Syd and Leo got into an argument with some fans on the sidelines. The referee gave up and took off his skates. In the melee that ensued, Syd chased a Rossland fan out of the rink. Police stopped the game and dispersed both players and fans.


Forty-four years later, former Kimberley Dynamiter Jack (Buck) Kavanaugh wrote that many fans still recalled that wild night with amazement.

Syd Desireau with two unidentified players, ca. late 1920s. Courtesy Desireau family


Syd retired from organized hockey after that season, but Leo turned pro with the San Francisco Tigers of the California league. His teammates included former Rossland and Nelson star Buster Huffman while former Vancouver coach Lloyd Cook managed the Tigers’ rivals, the San Francisco Black Hawks.


“Desireau has size and fight and [coach Sammy] Care feels that this apprentice defenseman cannot improve unless he gets action,” wrote the San Francisco Examiner in recapping a loss to the Los Angeles Millionaires. “Desireau checks hard and does not sidestep, but his inexperience proved costly against the Millionaires.”


By this time, other BC natives had turned pro, including Ollie Reinikka, who was the first to make the NHL when he played 16 games for the New York Rangers in 1926-27. But Leo was still the second pro player born in Nelson.


The Tigers franchise was suspended in February 1931 after its owner refused to sign an amended league constitution. Rather than join another California team, Leo negotiated with the Duluth Hornets of the American Hockey Association.


“‘I’ll sign when I see the colour of your money,” he told them. He received the $500 signing bonus he demanded, but before he could report, he was stricken with double pneumonia.


“I was a dead man, they told me,” he recalled. Back in Nelson, a visiting specialist added: “I understand you’re a hockey player. You’re lucky. They should have carried you in here on a stretcher.”


Leo recovered but was unsure about continuing his hockey career. So he flipped a coin to decide. The coin said he was finished. He instead coached Nelson’s junior team and spent a decade as a respected but sometimes controversial referee.


He was also into soccer, curling, and rowing. His foursome went to the Kelowna Regatta each year, where they invariably finished second.

• 

On April 1, 1922, two days before his wedding, Syd went to work for the CPR as a brakeman. He was promoted to conductor in the mid-1930s, and worked the line between Midway and the Crowsnest Pass. He moved around, living variously in Kaslo, Trail, and Grand Forks.


He finished his career working the run between Nelson and Castlegar, finally retiring in February 1963 after almost 41 years of service.

Syd Desireau (right) retires after 41 years with the Canadian Pacific Railway. He’s bid farewell by engineman C. Robertson, left, and W.C. Curran, president of the Nelson local of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (centre). This photo appeared in the Nelson Daily News on Feb. 28, 1963. Courtesy Desireau family


Leo, meanwhile, worked as a truck driver for Nelson Transfer and tugboat operator. He later bought Dill’s Service Station and tire shop at 401 Victoria St. and ran it for 25 years.

Despite his place in Nelson sports history, Syd was no braggart. When Nelson Daily News sports editor John Korobanik interviewed the brothers in 1967, Leo was by far the more talkative; Korobanik wrote separate profiles that appeared side-by-side. Leo’s was twice as long as Syd’s.


Syd barely acknowledged his experience with the Vancouver Millionaires and although his many controversies were recounted, he didn’t have much to say about them either. He was still a hockey fan — “haven’t missed a game in years” — but became more animated talking about fishing.

Syd and Leo Desireau are seen in a portrait by John Korobanik. A similar photo appeared alongside a profile of the brothers in the Nelson Daily News of July 28, 1967. Courtesy Desireau family


Author Eric Whitehead also interviewed Syd in 1979 for his book The Patricks: Hockey’s Royal Family. By then he was the last surviving member of the 1909 championship Nelson hockey team and the only one who could recall the night when Irish Mike’s bar-top performance ended in disaster.


Leo died at Willowhaven Private Hospital on the North Shore on Sept. 2, 1978, age 76. He never married and had no children. In 1954, he had a new house built on the site of the Desireau family home at 1217 Water St., which dated to 1912. Renumbered 1219 Front, he continued to live there until a couple of months before his death.


Syd died in hospital in Trail of bladder cancer on March 23, 1982, a week before his 84th birthday. He was survived by his sons, Alsid Jr., Howie, and Deane, ex-wife Myrtle, 11 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. His obituary correctly noted that he’d played hockey for Vancouver and Nelson but incorrectly added Montreal to the list.

In addition to his various firsts, Syd was the second to last surviving player from the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, which merged with the Western Canada Hockey League in 1924. (Hec Fower, who died in Saskatoon in 1987, age 94, was the last.)

Leo and Syd were buried side-by-side in the Nelson cemetery and have a joint headstone, seen below.

• 

Syd Desireau’s place in hockey history has been previously pointed out.


The Hockey Gods website correctly states that Syd “was the first professional ice hockey player born in British Columbia.”


A history of hockey in the Kootenays on the BC Hockey Hall of Fame’s website also credits Syd as BC’s first pro, but incorrectly says Nelson’s Frank O’Genski played in the PCHA as well; Frank played a few games of senior hockey in Vancouver, but was never a pro.


Of Syd Desireau’s sons, only his youngest, Deane, followed in his footsteps athletically. When he was young, the family moved from Nelson to Trail, where Deane grew up playing hockey and lacrosse. When the local senior lacrosse league folded, Deane joined a team in Salmon Arm.

In 1952, Deane (pictured here) was part of the Kamloops Loggers, who won the Coy Cup, the senior AA provincial hockey championship, by defeating Trail. He also played in the senior B Monashee league, which had teams from Revelstoke, Golden, and Armstrong.


Deane never saw his father play and didn’t hear him talk about it. But the brothers did enjoy his old equipment.


“We had his sweater, gloves, and skates,” Deane says. “The gloves were so big that they covered my whole arm. Moths took care of the sweater.”

• 

One thing I was left curious about: did Mike Laughton, Nelson’s first NHLer, know Syd Desireau, Nelson’s first pro hockey player? It seemed likely, for Laughton was 38 when Desireau died.


Laughton confirms they knew each other — but it wasn’t until his own pro career ended and he returned to Nelson, where in 1975 he bought Tu-Dor Sports. Desireau often came in to chat and Laughton enjoyed hearing his stories. He doesn’t remember exactly what was said; what stands out in his mind is how Syd was “a tough old guy” with a distinctive strut. He was also “pretty humble. If I wasn’t already aware [of his pro hockey career], I never would have known.”


It would have been something to witness those meetings of Nelson hockey greats, separated by generations but united by sticks, skates, and a shared hometown.


With thanks to Susan Clarkston, Deane Desireau, Sandra Desireau, and Mike Laughton

Sid Desireau (left) with teammates Alf Skinner (centre) and Mickey Mackay (right) in a still from a newsreel film about the 1921 Stanley Cup championship series.


Updated on Sept. 27, 2021 to add pictures from Forest to Fields and details from the same book about the family’s time in Wynndel.

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5 Comments


Thanks for the 1926 photo from the Province, the goaltender J. Notman is my grandfather.

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tedburns42
tedburns42
Jul 04, 2020

What a great story and a superb bit of research - indeed!

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Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
Jul 04, 2020

J.S. writes: “I greatly enjoyed your story about Sid. In the early ’60s he was the regular conductor on a freight that ran from Nelson to Grand Forks. At that time I knew him as “Rosie” and he introduced me, in the caboose, to his version of railroad coffee which he brewed with salt and eggshells during the trip. I did not know of his athletic background until many, many years later. And, in one of those strange historical linkages, I played my primitive version of hockey with Mike Laughton on occasion.   His dad constructed a rink in their yard and kids from the area would be welcomed to play.”

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Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
Jul 03, 2020

Nelson played from 1909-35 at the Hall Mines Arena, which is where the Alpine Motel is now. Trail played at the Fruit Fair building from 1911-49, which is on Riverside Avenue where an apartment building now stands. Rossland's old rink was in the same location as its current one.

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Karen McDiarmid
Karen McDiarmid
Jul 03, 2020

Thanks so much for all your research. Where did the teams play hockey back in the early days?

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