Orillia, City Of Stuff

In looking at the CBC poll that shows Montreal leading as best sports city in Canada, followed by Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto etc, I’m wondering why Orillia isn’t mentioned as a serious player in this regard.

Rick Ley comes from Orillia. So does John French and the legendary Jake Gaudaur, and broadcaster and ex-Leaf executive Bill Watters. The Orillia Terriors won the Allan Cup in 1973, and my peewee baseball team almost won the All-Ontario championship once.

Four Orillia sisters, Bev, Barb, Brenda, and Bette Jean Clarke, were show waterskiers at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, and not only were they great waterskiers but they were also maybe the best-looking chicks in town and I didn’t stand a chance with any of them.

There was this red-headed guy at the Top Hat pool hall, Vern Smith was his name, whom I swear could give Minnesota Fats a run for his money.

Conn Smythe’s university football team lost to Orillia in an important game back in the 1920’s.

I saw Rick Ley hit a home run deep over the right field fence that bounced off the arena roof. And I’ve seen many an Orillian run faster than you can believe when chased by the cops. I personally have jumped fences higher than humanly possible.

I’ve never met Bill Watters but I played ball with his younger brother Rick, and it was either Bill or his dad who delivered the potato chips in the Hostess truck when we were on money-raising drives.

Parry Sound is only 60 miles away from Orillia, which means that Bobby Orr came that close to being an Orillian. But Orr made up for it when he and Mike Walton started a hockey camp there. I posted photos awhile back of Orr and Walton and others riding donkeys up at the arena. Bobby Orr Donkey Rider

Orillia is 90 miles north of Toronto, about 250 miles west of Ottawa, and about 400 from Montreal, which means, because of it’s perfect location, it should be considered for any future NHL expansion. It’d be a great place for Major League baseball too.

Rocket Richard came to Orillia once. He skated around the rink, dropped some faceoff pucks for little kids who buzzed around like whirling dervishes, and people applauded the great man like crazy, even though the majority probably cheered for the Leafs.

I’m not sure if Stephen Leacock, maybe Orillia’s most famous resident, was much of a sports guy. He was originally from England and had somehow managed to move to Orillia where he lived a mansion on the shores of Lake Couchiching. Leacock wrote the classic “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town” which was about life in Orillia around 1910 or so, although he renamed it Mariposa.

But maybe Leacock was very athletic. Maybe he played hockey on the lake in winter, and rowed on it in summer. Maybe he was a real jock who spent his youth spitting tobacco and winning ribbons. I’ve just never heard that.

Orillia, at least when I was there, always had high school football teams, with one school, ODCVI, annually kicking the shit out of Park St. Collegiate. And even though I went to Park Street, I rarely saw one these titanic struggles between the two schools because it was easy to slip away to the pool hall when the games were on.

Glen Drinkle is the only high school athlete that I’m aware of to win the an All Ontario gold metal. He won it in Toronto in the intermediate boys javelin around 1967.

Gordon Lightfoot went to ODCVI and I don’t know if played on the football team or not. He never mentioned it in any of his songs.

All of the above is why I feel Orillia should be in the running in this CBC poll of best sports city.



22 thoughts on “Orillia, City Of Stuff”

  1. Dennis, Mr. Leacock may or may not have been involved in hockey, but he did appreciate it:

    “Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive.”

    ~Stephen Leacock

  2. DK, I played football for the ODCVI jr team. John French & his brother were on the team along with Barry Bush ( he died after high school working for Orillia’s hydro company & was electrocuted ). We beat the shit out of our senior team, & we went undefeated that year & won the OFSSA title by beating Markhan 56-0! They laughed at us hicks with the rag tag uniforms, they were decked out like a CFL team but we got the last laugh!!
    Cheers from the East!!!!

  3. Mike, I remember when that happened with Barry Bush. A summer job and he touches the wrong wire. He was a good football player. I didn’t know you played football at OD. And how well did you know any of the Clark sisters?

  4. For obvious reasons Montreal should be the only city in the running for best sports city.

    After that I give runner up to Hamilton based on overcoming its handicap of being so close to Toronto.

    And Dennis, you forgot to mention the smallish-yet-shifty right winger from Orillia who will soon be the legendary stickboy/owner of the Canadiens. That alone makes Orillia #3 in my list.

  5. Thank you, Chris. Yes indeed, the smallish-yet-shifty right winger. Reminded some of a raw Ralph Backstrom.

  6. Hey Dennis (& Mike Williamson), do you guys remember either of Glenn Drinkle or Randy Swyers?
    They were OD pals of Barry Bush and my brother, Jim Johnstone. I’m trying to reach Glenn and Randy, to pass along the unfortunate news that Jim died a week ago.

    Bill Johnstone
    Victoria, B.C.

  7. Vern Smith was a good friend of my father. I used to go to a little billiard club with my dad in Orillia around the corner from the Orillia Opera House that Vern owned when i was just 8 years old. Vern and my dad tought me how to play pool, a game in which I still enjoy today. Vern gave me my first pool cue as a Christmas gift that he repaired personally as he used to fix cues and billiard tables. I used to hang out in the back of the club where he had a spare table that i played on while my dad and all of the players used to play in the front. I spotted this cue and Vern took notice. To my surprise that cue ended up being for me. I agree with your assessment of Vern’s game. He may very well have been able to beat FATS!

  8. Dennis

    I played for Park Street with Barry Bush and Wayne Hawes and we kicked the shit out of ODCVI for the town championship.
    The next year I played for OD and kicked the shit out of Park for the town championship.


  9. Hi Zeke, how are you? I haven’t seen you in about 50 years. Hope all’s well. Thanks for this.

  10. I was thinking “What the hell ever happened to Dennis Kane” late last July when I came across a picture of you, me, Williamson, Irwin, B Pye and a couple more leaning on a VW bug at the Atlantic City Pop Festival two weeks before Woodstock. No one ever mentions Atlantic City but the weather was awesome, there was camping, food, and, best of all, toilets at the racetrack where the event was held, not to mention half the acts that played at soggy, old Woodstock and a bunch who didn’t who were better than some of the Woodstock acts…..Zappa, JOPLIN!!! (she was incredible), Canned Heat, Buddy Miles Express, Dr John, LIGHT-friggin’-HOUSE with 2 members of the Stitch-In-Tyme, Grant and Pinky (the band had just been formed the year before). ANYHOW….my neice, Kate, Janis’ and Zeke’s daughter, found your little article somehow and flipped when she started reading your nostalgia about our high school days. After reading the piece and the responses from Williamson and Zeke, I had to get in touch and I get the feeling we may all be hearing from a few ex-pat Orillians on this page as time marches on. Just two add-ons I can think of to your story about sports figures in Orillia way back…..Clare Alexander, the milkman, who played defense for the Leafs and the Terriers and, most of all, Bucko McDonald (sp?) who, according to my father, was the most amazing athlete ever seen in Orillia. He played pro hockey, the Red Wings or the Leafs or both, back when it was the original 6…..plus my Dad said, if he’d been born an American, he would have been as good a baseball player as Babe Ruth and he also told me that he was so astounding a lacrosse player that 1,000 people would show up at the Orillia arena just to watch him PRACTICE with his lacrosse team. He did stuff with a lacrosse stick that used to blow the locals minds. Nuff said. Heading back to work in the oil patch next week…..I’ll be in Drayton Valley, west of Edmonton. Keep in touch. B

  11. PS…..don’t forget Ken “Jiggs” MacDonald, no relation to Bucko, who went from a CFOR DJ/Sportscaster to the voice of the LA Kings when they first entered the NHL. The story goes that Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of the new franchise, was driving by Orillia and heard Ken doing a play-by-play of the Terriers on CFOR and contacted him and asked him to submit an audition tape to be considered for the job of play-by-play announcer for the Kings, which led to him being chosen. After broadcasting for the Kings for many years, he went on to work for the Atlanta Flames and then the Islanders when they won their Stanley Cups in the 80’s. He finally got his dream job as announcer for the Leafs for one year some time ago. He’s now retired and living just outside Orillia. Nuff said AGAIN!! Probably more to come though. B

  12. Hi,
    I believe that we played played some CYO hockey together. I remember going to Toronto to play, at the same time as Toronto won the cup in 67!
    I know most of the guys mentioned in the posts.
    I was wondering about Vern Smith..he was the best snooker player I ever saw! He mainly played at top hat billards, at which he also worked.
    I would be interested to know, how be came to be such a good player? I know all the billard halls in Orillia are gone now, I hope Vern is still around?
    Tony Gentile

  13. Hi Tony, I remember you and hope you’re doing great. I only knew Vern from watching him at the Top Hat but I knew nothing about him otherwise. Like you, he was the best I’ve ever seen. If I can ever dig up anything about him, I’ll get back to you. Good to hear from you. It’s been many years.

  14. I also played on the junior ODCVI football team that won the GBSA championship..as did..Murry Brown..Gen Drinkle..Barry Bush…Rick Ion…Joe Watt..Jimmy and John French…Alex Forbs..Joe Matheson..GordineerLawrence Pew…Eggloft…the McNeals…Brownie(quaterback)..Brooks..Andy Rowe….and lots of others that I can’t remember right now!…we also had the best cheerleaders!

  15. yes Chris… I saw this reference to a Vern Smith…I went to the site, but only found a phone Number…which I have not tried…thanks for the help.

  16. Hope you are aware of the OD football reunion happening Thursday Sept. 25, 2014 at OD at 2:45 pm ,watch a game and then tour OD one last time and then after meet at the legion. Over 80 guys have said they are coming representing many years of football.
    Jim Bagley

  17. I heard about it Jim, but I don’t live near Orillia. I also went to Park St. so I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway. But thanks. Hope everyone has a blast.

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