As some of you already know, I’m from Orillia, Ont, and years ago my friends and I would sometimes see Bobby Orr and his pals enjoying cold ones at the Atherley Arms Hotel (aka The First) as we also enjoyed our own cold ones.
Apparently Orr wasn’t exactly hands-on with his hockey camp which was near Orillia. I know a guy who went there and he said the only time Orr showed up in the entire week was for a photo session (The guy showed me his photo of him and Bobby).
At one point, Orr and Mike Walton and the gang got together and held a baseball game and donkey race outside the Orillia arena, and my brother, who was about ten at the time, took these photos.
It was a nice summer day at McKinnell Square in Orillia when I put on a little mask that only covered my eyes, and I crouched behind the plate to catch a ball thrown by neighbourhood kid Ricky Ley, who would eventually grow up to play and coach big league hockey.
I had the ball lined up when Rick made the pitch, but the batter ticked it and the ball changed direction and flew into my mouth. And into my hand came my top front tooth, root and all.
It hurt like hell and I scrambled home and I don’t know whether Rick and the guys kept playing or not, but I like to think they felt so bad they just couldn’t carry on. Somehow, though, I feel they carried on.
I learned to live with a plastic upper plate with one tooth on it, but it would come out easily which made me paranoid. I held it in my hand one time while on the roller coaster at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto because I was afraid I’d lose it, and I broke it in about five pieces.
On one dark, fuzzy night several years after I got this tooth, my friends and I were down in the bushes drinking Four Aces sherry (95 cents) with the hobos at their little camp, and I got sick. Four Aces would do that sometimes. Shortly after, we all staggered out, and at some point I realized I’d lost my tooth, so I staggered back into the bushes in pitch-black darkness with an almost impossible chance of finding the thing. But at some point, in the middle of a blackness, in a bush, I reached down and put my hand right on it.
Nowadays I’ve got this fancy permanent tooth in my mouth and it’s way better. I don’t have to worry about losing it.
Losing it, and breaking it, and having gum stick to it. All in all, that false tooth was quite a pain in the ass.
Years ago my dad had this old 1959 Orillia and area telephone book hanging around the house which he was planning on tossing out until I asked him if I could have it because I knew Gordon Lightfoot’s family home is listed in the pages.
There are others too.
Paging through the Orillia section, I see the GM Lightfoot household at 283 Harvey St., and young Gordon, who would be about 20 when this phone book came out, had moved out of the house the year before. I used to have a couple of buddies who also lived on Harvey St, and my dad worked for a while at a dry cleaners in Orillia with Gordon’s father.
On the same page as Lightfoot is Norman Ley at 47 Wyandotte. Norman was the dad of Rick Ley, who went on to fame and fortune in both the NHL and WhA.
The book also has listings of the area surrounding Orillia, which includes Parry Sound, and I found Bobby Orr’s family home which you can see at Doug Orr, (his dad) on 21 Great North Road. Bobby’s grandfather, Robert Orr, is listed at 67 River.
Bobby would be about 11 at the time of the phone book.
Searching further, I went into Sundridge and found Bucko McDonald on Main St. Bucko had not only been a star in the NHL in the 1930s and 40s with Detroit, New York, and Toronto, but also coached Bobby Orr in squirt and peewee in Parry Sound. Bucko decided to make the young fellow a defenceman even though Bobby was small and had great skills up front. When dad Doug questioned Bucko about this odd decision, Bucko told him “Bobby is born to play defence.”
Sundridge is also where my mother came from.
Also listed in the pages of this old phone book is the Roger Crozier household in Bracebridge, writer Paul Rimstead’s dad’s farm outside of Bracebridge, and the family home of another respected Canadian writer, Roy MacGregor in Huntsville (who played minor hockey against Orr and the Parry Sound team).
In the picture below, four Orillia minor hockey players smile for the camera. And the father of one of these young players played 27 games in the NHL, scoring one goal and collecting 31 penalty minutes.
The father was Jack Dyte, one of my coaches when I was a smallish yet shifty right winger for the Byers Bulldozers juveniles. Jack played those 27 games with the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1943-44 campaign.
Jack was a quiet, no-nonsense, tobacco-chewing coach and I think he wasn’t crazy about my lack of focus and my humming of Beatles songs as I skated around the ice. But I guess he liked me enough to drive Ron Clarke and I to Barrie one day to see an exhibition game between the AHL Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Americans, who had a defenceman on the team named Don Cherry.
Ron and I watched the game from the Bisons bench as sort of unofficial stick boys, and we were given autographed sticks afterward.
I’m guessing Jack stayed and partied with his old hockey buddies because Ron and I had to take the bus back to Orillia. And I had forgotten that Jack had driven us there until Ron reminded me a couple of years ago.
The newspaper article also mentions John French, who would eventually play pro in the WHA, and Dennis Cain – me, mispelled, scoring for the Imperials in the squirt division.
And here’s the lineups for the Bisons-Americans game that Ron and I were at.
In the summer of 1967, when I was 16, I told my mother that I was going to Los Angeles. Great things were happening on the Sunset Strip at the time, I wanted to be part of it all, and for some reason she said fine.
I’ve wondered about this last part quite a bit over the years, but I think she knew I’d go anyway. My dad kept out of it.
So with almost no money and a bag of sandwiches, I sat in a seat on a train from Orillia to Vancouver and then caught a bus to the border where the customs guy accused me of running away.
I told him to phone collect to my mother in Orillia and she would confirm that I was simply on my way to LA and not running away, which he did, and shortly after I was on the side of the highway in northern Washington with my thumb stuck out, heading south.
All it took to get to LA was a handful of nights sleeping in ditches, and a bunch of rides, including a long and sleepy one with a farmer bringing potatoes from Idaho to either Watsonville or Salinas. We hardly talked the whole time, which was good. I was tired, and I wasn’t all that interested in potatoes.
Not far from LA I got on a bus and sat beside a nice female college student who felt sorry for me, and at some point when the bus stopped at a restaurant, she called her folks in the city to see if I could stay there for a few days. They said no.
From the downtown L.A. bus station I went directly to the Strip in West Hollywood which was the scene of not only young people everywhere milling about, but also bands like the Doors, the Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield playing at Pandora’s Box, the Whisky, and all the other cool clubs.
There was that night I went to Whisky A Go Go (it’s still going strong), and I saw not only the greatYoungbloods but also the Paupers, a tight and talented Toronto band who would play at the Pav dance hall in my hometown Orillia from time to time.
I also thought that maybe I’d meet a nice California girl at one of these places and possibly get laid.
I was on the Strip for about a week, staying in various dumps far from the good parts of West Hollywood, and being careful not to be out and about after 10 pm because Sunset was under curfew to those under 18 after huge riots had taken place months before. They made some sort of movie about this riot, called, aptly enough, ‘Riots on Sunset Strip’.
But one night, I think after the Youngbloods/Paupers show, I got sloppy, and while walking down the street around midnight, a cop pulled up and asked for ID. He saw that I was only 16, and the next thing I knew, I was in handcuffs that I remember being way too tight, and hauled off to the cop shop.
At the station I asked the cops if they would phone Orillia, just like at the border, and have my folks take care of business. One of them phoned my mother, collect of course, and he told her that I was arrested for breaking curfew and would be sent to a juvenile hall the following morning.
At juvenile hall, with big and impressive penitentiary-style walls, I turned over my clothes and wallet, which was all I had, and put on my new prison clothes. Then I was taken to a dormitory, given a bed and blankets, told the rules, and settled in.
It all kind of sucked of course, mainly because I didn’t know how long I’d be there. It was me and a bunch of guys who were there for better reasons than breaking curfew, playing cards and baseball, and I even had to take classes in a school room where I learned almost nothing about American history.
Then one morning, after about seven days, I was eating breakfast in the big hall when I heard my name called, and an official told me my parents had sent a plane ticket and I was leaving right away. So I left breakfast, got my clothes and wallet back, and was escorted to not only the airport, but right to my seat on the plane. They took curfew breakers seriously back then.
I got to Toronto, grabbed a bus to Orillia, and the first thing my mother said to me was that they weren’t mad, although they probably weren’t thrilled about having to buy a plane ticket because I think they were pretty broke.
I told a friend of mine who’s an LA cop about this a few years ago and he said that nowadays there’s no way they’d put a kid in juvenile for such a minor thing as curfew breaking. There’s way too many real criminals, and I’d just be taking up space.
Which is what I kinda thought at the time.
July 14 1967 – Whisky A Go Go, West Hollywood with The Youngbloods and Paupers. The night I was there.
The first time I went to the Montreal Forum I was about 13 or so, and what really stood out for me, aside from the logos at centre ice and the magical red colour of the players’ sweaters, was the scoreboard that had British Consols cigarettes ads around it.
I’m pretty sure that at some point after I got back to Orillia I got my hands on some British Consols and smoked them. Maybe it was a few years later. But anyway.
If British Consols were good enough for the Montreal Forum, they were good enough for me.
I was already smoking at my CYO dances by then, and sometimes smoked cigars behind my coaches’s backs on my baseball road trips when I was 12.
But I haven’t smoked in years. Maybe because there’s no ads on scoreboards anymore to sway me.
I saw this great photo recently of the Montreal Maroons from the early-’30s and quickly noticed that British Consols went way back with the Forum and hockey in Montreal.
I put this on an Orillia Facebook page this morning and I thought, what the hell, I’ll put it here too.
I got this old Orillia sweater (below) and I’m hoping someone might have any info about the team. It’s wool and a scratchy old thing (really scratchy), probably from the 1940s or 50s, and says ‘Orillia Flyers’ along with the letters ‘WS’.
I’ve come up with a few things and maybe I’m way off, but it’s how detectives work, right?
1. I’m assuming this is a hockey or lacrosse sweater so that eliminates the Orillia Flyers Ladies Softball team from years ago, a team I read about in an old Packet & Times newspaper story. And with this type of scratchy wool, there’s no way in the world this could be a baseball sweater, even though the ‘WS’ could stand for ‘Women’s Softball’.
2. Before there was the Community Centre, Orillia’s arena was located at the corner of West Street and Coldwater Rd. Could it be that the ‘WS’ stands for ‘West Street’? The West Street Flyers?
3. If I turn the ‘WS’ around and make it ‘SW’, maybe it could stand for South Ward. The South Ward Flyers?
4. There’s an Orillia, Iowa but in the ’40s and ’50s the population was about 600 so they probably didn’t have too many hockey or lacrosse teams.
We were sitting on a gold mine and just didn’t know it. Nobody knew it, not even the card makers.
Whenever we got a chance outside school, we’d throw Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe and Mickey Mantle cards against the school’s brick walls to see who would come the closest. All those helmet-less, legendary, magical names of yesterday, bang against the wall.
Winner takes all. Awesome!
In fact, we ruined pretty well every card we owned, because we’d also bend them and put them in our bicycle spokes and wrap tight elastics around them and pick food from our teeth with them.
In Orillia we’d buy our cards at a little kiosk at the corner where the two main streets meet, a place run by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and the man who worked there couldn’t see a thing. I always wondered how he did it – taking money, making change, reaching for the right thing stacked among so many other things.
We could’ve taken anything within reach at that little store and that man would never know, but we didn’t. We were there to spend five cents a pack on cards and try to get our sets completed. And we’d usually get them all, or lose most of them by doing like I said; firing them against hard walls to see who got the closest.
These cards would be worth plenty now. Rookie cards of every name you’ve ever heard of from the NHL and MLB of the 1950s got dinged and bent and mud splattered on them. We loved our cards, but I guess you always hurt the one you love.
I remember when I was about eight years old and I needed only one card to complete my Montreal-Toronto set, and on a winter evening my dad came home from work with about fifty packs for me so I could finally find that one missing card.
I imagine what those fifty packs of unopened 1958 cards would be worth now and my eyes widen.
Of course, my mother and all my friends’ mothers eventually did their spring cleaning and threw our cards out. It’s what mothers did. They fed us, taught us, and threw our cards out. They were born to throw their son’s cards out.
We were just goofy kids throwing cards against walls until girls got interesting, and anyway, we were of a different mindset. For us, keeping Jacques Plante and Tim Horton mint, or even keeping them at all, didn’t really matter. It was the game that counted.
Teammate John French was our best player and went on to play junior with the Toronto Marlies, was drafted by Montreal, and skated with the AHL Montreal Voyageurs where his goalie was Ken Dryden.
After moving to the Baltimore Clippers for one season, John signed with the New England Whalers of the brand new World Hockey Association and became teammates with his old friend from Orillia, Rick Ley. He also played for The San Diego Mariners and Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, and ended his career with the AHL Springfield Indians.
In the late 1970s my first wife and I bought an old desk in a second-hand store in Ottawa, and in the drawer was a John French WHA hockey card.
Ron Clarke, on the left, got smashed so hard into the boards one night in Collingwood they had to remove a kidney. Ron’s one of my oldest friend, we grew up in the same neighbourhood, and we still keep in touch. It’s always a good day when I get to see Ron, who now lives in Kitchener.