Thanks to Ron Ethier, Bernie Ethier, Bob Watson, Bob Grylls, Cheryl Spotswood and Patti Desjardins and everyone else who generously shared their old photos and their memories and stories of great games. First prepared by Gayle McBride Stewart for inclusion on the westmeathtoday.ca website; it is now updated with new material.
The very first Westmeath open-air rink – Rink # 1 – was back in the late 1800’s. Situated below the only bridge in the middle of town, it was adjacent to the original general store of Fraser and Paterson (now the Canadian Hillbilly’s property). George Tucker had built a water-powered sawmill on the stream to form a sawmill-pond. It was used in conjunction with a sawmill operation in the summer season, in the winter it became the skating rink. This rink was easily flooded. After sweeping off the ice, the dam water level was lowered two inches and the new two-inch ice-surface emerged with a minimum of effort.
In 1901, a boarded rink – Rink #2 – was built on Jessie Street. Its construction was posts in the ground and boarded all around. It had a flat roof and one side was for spectators. Wood burning stoves heated the anterooms. By 1907, the size of the rink (40’ x70’),was insufficient and it was dismantled to make way for a larger one.
A third rink became a reality (66′x 166′)- Rink # 3. Norman Reid, August Carlson and Dr. John Graham formed a committee and provided leadership. Stocks sold to raise money for funding. A mighty community effort of volunteer labour and material made it possible to have the only covered rink in the region, with the exception of one in Pembroke. The rink had a rounded dome roof – built with gin poles. During construction, the raising of the supporting braces was done by hand with ropes and pulleys. There was over two tons of steel used in reinforcement. All the steel work was the responsibility of E.O. Gervais, the village blacksmith. George Howard was the contractor for the project. Later a cement foundation was added for stability.
Turn of the Century Fundraising – Ten Dollar Shares: The first covered rink in Westmeath was opened in 1907 and funded by the sale to the public of $10.00 Share Certificates in the Westmeath Skating and Hockey Rink Company. There were only 400 residents in Westmeath and the construction estimate was $4,000.00. Stocks were sold and the $4,000.00 was raised. On completion of the rink, the Construction Committee found they still owed $1,700 for construction and $22. for lights. But after more fund-raising, the debt was wiped out and the shareholders received a 20% dividend. This structure with improvements would serve the community for 68 years until 1975. This original share certificate is owned by Ron Ethier. Linda Bromley has a copy of a share signed by Wm. F Grylls, Sectretary, and Norman Reid, Chairman, to certify that Sam C. Bromlee (sic) is the holder on One Share. Norman Reid and his brother Alfred came from Portage du Fort and built a large brick store in the lower end of the village of Westmeath in 1884. Reid’s store was a popular gathering place when Saturday night shopping was in vogue. Mr. Reid had 43 shares – one had 8 ½ shares – a few had 5 shares while most had only one share.
Being the only rural covered rink, it had a much longer hockey season. This was the era of seven-man hockey teams. Westmeath played with teams from Renfrew, Pembroke, Fort Coulonge and Shawville, being successful in winning the Reid Cup. William Johnstone went on to play in Seattle. Harry Cameron played here and later became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
People came from miles around, people came from all over on skating nights – even from Waltham and Allumette Island, Quebec. Westmeath always seemed to have a good hockey team always attracting large crowds. Those were the days of the seven-man hockey teams and many great games were played in the rink.
The rink had become unsafe by the spring of 1975. It was taken down. The old faithful had served the community from 1907 to 1975, 68 years in all.
Some of the boys who played for Westmeath were: Harry Cameron, who became a professional; Billy Johnston who went with Seattle; J. Bancroft, Tom Fraser, Horace Ross, Alf Dunn, Alex Ethier, Eric Ross and W. Carlson. Later the old rink turned out such players as Burns Fraser, who later played for Iroquois Falls, Jack Fraser, Donald Ross, Lorne St. Denis, Fred Lacroix and others of like ability.
In the early days they played for and won the Reid Cup. They defended it against teams from Renfrew, Pembroke, Fort Coulonge and Shawville. When the Laurentian League was formed Westmeath participated. They held the Cotnam Shield twice from 1929 to 1934.
In 1929 players included these names; Bert Armstrong, Alex Ethier, Joseph Bourke, Gerard Pappin, Hector St. Louis, Austin Shannon, Wilfred Donnell, Alan Brown, Carl du Manoir, Weldon Graham, Clinton Anderson and Wilfred Ethier. The following is the Laurentian League’s 1929 schedule taken from the Pembroke Observer of Thursday, January 24, 1929:
Following is the schedule of hockey games to be played in the Laurentian League series and the submitted list of players from each team:
Forester’s Falls at Westmeath, Jan. 18; Westmeath at Beachburg, Jan.21; Beachburg at Forester’s Falls, Jan. 25; Forester’s Falls at Westmeath, Jan. 28; Westmeath at Beachburg, Feb.1;Becahburg at Forester’s Falls, Feb.4; Forester’s Falls at Beachburg, Feb.8; Beachurg at Westmeath, Feb.11;Westmeath at Forester’s Falls, Feb. 15.
Forester’s Falls: A. Eady, W. Wate, A. Heron, L. Jack, W.M. Thomson, D. Heron, H. Eady, J. McLaughlin, A. Curry, H. Ditteberner, A. Waite, D. O’Connell.
Beachburg: Earl Johnston, Delbert Pettigrew, R.A. Maclean, Jim Maclean, Eric Weedmark, Fraser Bennie, H.L. Brown, A.R. Davidson, Borden Lyttle, L.D. Cameron, Horace Ross, Delbert Davidson.
Westmeath: Bert Armstrong, Alex Ethier, Joe Bourke, Gerald Pappin, Hector St. Louis, Austin Shannon, W. O’Donnell, Alan Brown, Carl du Manoir, Weldon Graham, Clinton Anderson, Wilfred Ethier.
The official opening of the Westmeath and District arena – Rink # 4 – was on August 15 & 16th, 1975 in conjunction with the inauguration of Westmeath Days. Hundreds of former residents, tourists and locals attended. This fourth rink in the village now provided sports and cultural entertainment all year round. For this celebration, E.O. Gervais cut the ribbon and Dr. Lloyd Reid delivered the main address. Izett McBride outlined all the work and efforts done by so many of our citizens in raising $162,000 for the new arena. The banquet hall, stage and kitchen were a project of the Riverview Seniors of Westmeath.
The groundwork for the rink began about four years earlier when the land was purchased from John Gervais. An intense fundraising drive began and continued over the next few years. A contract was struck with Murray Moore’s company for the Behlen style building. A half dozen citizens signed personal $10,000 notes to ensure delivery of the steel.
The original plan flowed into artificial ice installation the next year, again with the help of more fundraising. Grants were obtained for the building, including one through Ontario Hydro as well as a LIP (Local Initiatives Program) federal grant for employing workers. The workers were supervised by Vilmaire Lacroix to construct the hall and dressing rooms. A Wintario grant was later awarded to the WDRA as well. For more on this, go to The Rink Through the Years.
Tragedy struck on Friday, January 24, 1983 when fire hit the Westmeath Arena causing extensive damage to the hall section, kitchen and anterooms of the Community Centre. It was fortunate it was not more extensive, thanks to the alertness of nearby resident Mrs. Heideman, who called the notice in at 3:30 am and the quick response by a 12-man fire department. They worked valiantly to battle the blaze from 3:30 on.
The inherent pride of the community (who had put in so much effort only 8 years ago), again became evident as citizens once more banded together to help in the reconstruction. ‘It could have been worse’ was a familiar phrase heard. The ice-surface of the arena was able to stay open for the remainder of the season. The WDRA asked for suggestions from the community for ideas of a design. The rebuild added nearly 20 feet to the length, allowing for a more functional hall and a more spacious lower level.
A ramp way for the disabled was also included. There was fire insurance as well as grant money from the Province and Ontario Hydro for the heat pump system, but the fundraising went on. A lighted ballpark, overseen by Ingo Leinen, became a reality. In a way these were exciting times, built around the principle that if it was not done as a community, it would never happen. There was the faith its completion would propel succeeding generations to cherish it and take pride in it as a Community Centre for everyone.
The property was in the name of Westmeath Township (later Whitewater Township) for insurance purposes as well as increasing eligibility for grant structures. While the Township was cooperative, all of the development, funding and subsequent management has come from volunteers — a major accomplishment for a community of this size.
Hockey Teams Through the Years
By Patti Desjardins
Westmeath has a hockey record even Alberta’s Sutter Family can’t match: six Gervais brothers played on the same team in the same year. Added to that headline-grabbing record is the fact that our team won the Fraser Cup from Fort Coulonge who claimed it for 31 years running. Since it was the last year for the trophy, we kept it! (It’s current whereabouts are unknown. Perhaps it was lost in the 1983 fire.)
By all accounts, the team of 1946-47 was a motley crew. Some players were rather rusty due to their service in WWII. Other players such as John Gervais, Frank Ethier, and Emmett Ethier had skated at some time in the past, for
Fort Coulonge in the Pontiac League. Emotions ran pretty high for the big finale. Fort Coulonge and Westmeath beat out the other league teams from Shawville, Campbell’s Bay, and Forrester’s Falls to battle for the championship. In those days, players and fans crossed to games on the Quebec side by the ice road at LaPasse.
As team secretary, Bill Grylls collected admissions for home games. A sponsor provided the big-white-W-on-maroon sweaters and socks, and players supplied their own equipment.
Tony Davis, both a player and owner of the opposing rink, said to John Gervais during the game, “Slow down, you’re going to beat the hell out of us.” John didn’t comply and scored the winning goal instead.
The score is now forgotten and whether or not we had home ice advantage, but everyone remembers the HUGE PARTY afterwards in the old Town Hall.
Over the years, there has rarely been a Westmeath squad without a Gervais or Ethier, but in the winter of 1946-47, those names comprised the whole team except for two players. Cohesion like that outmatched the confidence born of a long, winning streak.
In January 24th, 1983, fire destroyed the front end of the new (opened 1975)Westmeath Arena complex – a devastating blow to the community. An important piece of hockey heritage – the W.H.A. Fraser Cup – was thought to be destroyed in the fire and probably went with the rubble trucked to landfill during the clean-up. This is the local thinking, as the cup was never seen again.
The cup was originally donated by William Henry Alexander Fraser, (known to the locals as W.H.A.) who operated the Fraser Lumber Company, first established by his father Alexander Fraser. Fraser lumbermen had logging operations throughout the area and a tugboat to move the cribs of logs on Lower Allumette Lake near Westmeath called the “Alex Fraser”was working in 1896.
After W.H.A moved from Westmeath to Ottawa he was shrewd enough to establish Fraser’s Farms below Westmeath (now the Bromley Farm and the Reeves Property on Rapid Road), to retain his skilled woodsmen year round by having them farm during the summer months.
The Fraser Trophy was a heavily contested item in the years before WW2 and many on-ice battles were waged here every winter to gain its possession. Teams from throughout this area wanted it for their own. It represented the best of hockey excellence for many in this part of the Valley on both sides of the river.
The most famous battle for this cup was also the last…. In 1946-47 the W.H.A. Fraser Cup was retired after a huge victory that year by the Westmeath Team – a team made famous by having six Gervais brothers all on the same team. It is pictured with the team in the photo accompanying Patti Desjardin’s article earlier in this post.
by Patti Desjardins
Villages and small towns across Canada often make much of links with an NHL player. Westmeath’s pride and joy was Jim Pappin, former Toronto Maple Leaf and Chicago Black Hawk, who scored the winning goal and lead the scoring in the 12-game playoff series in 1967 when the Leafs won their last NHL Championship.
Jim Pappin was not born and raised here, but his father Gerard was a Westmeath lad until he joined the labour exodus to Sudbury’s mines. The Pappin family usually returned to Westmeath each summer to visit relatives, especially Jim’s grandparents Sam and Bridget Pappin who lived at 96 Grace Street and are now buried in our Lady of Grace Cemetery.
Jim had hockey in his blood. His father played for Westmeath teams and he is related through marriages to Ethier and Gervais clans, well-known hockey dynasties. Many of Jim’s relatives and fans still have scrapbooks which track his career and his hockey cards are tucked away in closets and drawers.
Jim was born September 10, 1939 and played for OHA’s Toronto Marlboros and AHL’s Rochester Americans before hitting it big with the Maple Leafs. The 6 ft., 190 lb., right winger played 767 NHL games between 1963 and 1977. He scored 278 goals with 295 assists for 573 points. His best season was as a Black Hawk in 1972-73 when he scored 41 goals and earned 91 points.
Internet hockey chat lines and blogs say that Jim Pappin had loads of talent: speed, fine shot, and competitive attitude. He was really sharp in front of the net, capitalizing on rebounds and tip-ins. He played for coaches such a Don Cherry and Punch Imlach, and played with and against some of the biggest names in hockey: Mahovlich, Hull, Esposito, and Dryden.
Jim Pappin is currently a scout with the Chicago Black Hawks.