Benny Grant: The First Great Owen Sound Goalie

Benny Grant: Memorial Cup Champ grew up in Owen Sound and enjoyed a hockey career, which included a surprising turn of events that led to a stint in the NHL.

"Local fans were delighted to see “Benny” Grant make good in the Owen Sound nets in the third period of the game with University of Toronto Schools on Wednesday night. He is only a little fellow but he handles himself like a real guardian and he certainly stopped some sizzlers in the twenty minutes he was on the ice. (" Sporting Notes”; Owen Sound Sun Times, January 16, 1925)

This twenty minutes of action marked the first time that Benny Grant had played goal for the Owen Sound Greys. But it would not be the last. Over the course of the next two seasons Grant established himself as the number one netminder in Owen Sound and in 1927 his puck stopping prowess helped lead the Greys to their second Canadian championship in three years. Four seasons later Owen Sound’s Benny Grant had achieved the dream of most Canadian boys. He played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League! 

If there ever was a hockey player with deep roots in Owen Sound, it was Benny Grant. His grandfather, John McCardy Grant, arrived here in the late 1850s when the community was little more than a small wilderness clearing. A stone mason by trade he quickly realized that all of the materials necessary for a successful career lay close by his new home. After a careful scrutinizing of the region he found and established quarries to meet his every need.

The young Scot did not remain a bachelor long in his new community. He married Sophia Sutton, who had arrived in this pioneering outpost a few years earlier with her parents from Lincolnshire, England. Together the young couple built a stone house half-way up the Union Street hill (8th St. East) above Boyd Street (5th Ave. East). Here they raised a family of three boys, Thomas, Alexander “Sandy” and John.

(John James “Jimmy” Grant became one of Canada’s most well-known tight-rope walkers and bicyclists, as well as a high diver.)

Sandy Grant, Benny’s father, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a skilled stone mason. However, he achieved recognition in another area. In 1900, he began working at the Boyd Street Arena, located just around the corner from his parents’ home. Young Benny must have been the envy of his friends. After all, his dad managed the arena, which probably meant that he had a lot of opportunities to hone his hockey and skating skills.

Benny Grant was the Owen Sound Greys’ substitute goaltender, behind Hedley Smith during the 1924-25 and 1925-26 seasons. Although he saw limited ice time, one game the first season and three the next, he gained a lot of experience. In practice he faced sharpshooters like Cooney Weiland and Butch Keeling. Therefore, he was ready for the 1926-27 season when he assumed number one goaltender status with the club.  

In his first season as number one goalie, Benny led the Greys to a Memorial Cup championship. His regular league performance was outstanding, winning 12 games (2 shutouts), losing 3 with one tie and recording a 2.19 goals-against average.

His trip to the Memorial Cup championship was not an easy route. At one point, in the championship final, Benny received a penalty. His father, who was getting up-to-the-minute information at the Sun Times office was so disheartened by the penalty, convinced that his son’s penalty had cost the team the game and the championship.  However, the Greys killed the penalty and went on to victory! Once again the streets of Owen Sound were the scene of wild jubilation!

In an era where teams used only one goaltender Grant found himself in a unique position. His rights were owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they could not use him on their top team. However, instead of trading Benny, Leaf owner Conn Smythe preferred to keep him rather than have a rival team reap the benefit of his abilities. Grant played some games with Toronto. In 1930-31 he recorded two shutouts in seven games with the Leafs. In order to keep Grant sharp for the day he might be needed to tend the Leafs’ net, Toronto loaned him to many different teams during the course of his career. Consequently, Grant played for many teams in various professional leagues. His feats in goal led to many all-star awards and in 1931-32 he was named the Most Valuable Player for the Syracuse Stars. During the Second World War Grant came out of retirement to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But the story of how Benny came out of retirement is certainly an interesting one!

According to Grant's son, Bob, Benny was working for Imperial Oil (Esso) in Owen Sound. The Toronto Maple Leafs held their training camp in Owen Sound before the 1943-44 hockey season. Benny dropped in to the Owen Sound arena to see how the training camp was going.

Owen Sound native, and Leaf coach, "Hap" Day asked Grant if he would come out of retirement and play for Toronto as they were short of goalies due to military enlistments. Benny refused, saying that he had a good job with Imperial Oil. Coach Day persisted and Benny said he would check with his boss about a leave of absence for the hockey season. The manager of Owen Sound's Imperial Oil office refused Benny's request, saying that he would have to quit his job. Not wanting to lose his job, Grant told Day that he could not play because of what his boss had told him.

A couple of days later, Benny got quite a surprise when he arrived at work. The secretary told him that he had been transferred to the company's Toronto office and he needed to report that day.

A surprised Benny, went home got some clothes and quickly headed to Toronto. When he arrived at the Esso offices in Toronto, he was told that his transfer was to the Carlton Street office. This location turned out to be Maple Leaf Gardens!

Esso was the premier sponsor of the radio broadcasts of Leaf hockey games and when they were told that the team needed Grant, head office overruled the decision of the Benny's boss in Owen Sound. Benny suited up for 20 games with the Leafs that season before retiring once again and returning to his old job in his home town. 

A version of this story originally appeared in my Local History column of the Owen Sound Sun Times. A more complete story about Benny Grant's career can be found in my book, the Hockey Scrapbook: Hockey Memories of the Bruce County & Owen Sound Region.

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