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.

Benny GrantBenny Grant - Paul White Sports Photograph Collection

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The Great Lakes Raconteur

"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. 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 future NHL 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, Journey Through Owen Sound's Hockey History.

More Great Information Pages
About Owen Sound Hockey History

The 1920s Owen Sound Hockey Stars made there mark in amateur ranks and then many of them went on to careers in the NHL and other professional hockey leagues.

The 1927 Owen Sound Greys with a priest serving as coach named Jack Spratt and not one experienced defenseman were an unlikely Canadian National Hockey Championship team.

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.

"Buck" Jones, like most Canadian boys, dreamed of playing in the NHL. Little did he realize that one day he would wear the sweater of an NHL club and would be the idol of youngsters like himself!

The Chin Brothers dominated in their hockey league which drew attention from the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ralph "Cooney" Weiland skated from a Memorial Cup championship in Owen Sound, to a Stanley Cup in Boston to fame as a U.S. college hockey coach.

The Crescent Club has a long history of sponsoring sports teams and leagues in Owen Sound providing consistent management and financial assistance to athletics.

"Cyclone" Taylor was hockey's first superstar. Born in Tara Ontario, he was involved in a controversy in Ottawa which still has not been resolved.

Doug Brindley: From Maple Draft Choice to a role in Slap Shot: a Memorial Cup champ; coached by Don Cherry; and he played in the WHA; what more could a Walkerton Ontario native ask for in a hockey career?

The Durham Yellowjackets hockey team was a force to be reckoned with in Ontario Intermediate hockey in the 1930s.

Goalie "Red" Henry: An All-Star Netminder: Another great Owen Sound goalie who played for the love of the game.

"Hap" Day was a Hall of Fame hockey player, coach and general manager as well as a life-long Toronto Maple Leaf.

Norm Locking Chicago Black Hawks & Former Owen Sound Grey was known for his hard and deadly shot in Al Capone's Chicago.

Harry Lumley spent his Hall of Fame hockey career tending the nets for four NHL clubs and he spent one period of a hockey game goaltending for a fifth NHL team.

Henry Kelso: Owen Sound Sports Legend not only contributed to the sporting life of his students, he also had a significant influence on the rest of their lives.

Junior Hockey Commentary: Should there be controversy about the use of non-local hockey players? This article was written in 1998 in response to a letter to the editor in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

Meaford Knights Hockey: The 1953-54 Championship Knights' line-up had of several pairs of brothers. Many felt that the brothers made a winning difference.

Newspaper Sports: Owen Sound Hockey History was detailed in the pages of the Owen Sound Sun Times in detail in the days before the radio and television eras.

Owen Sound Hockey's early history some references suggest started in the 1880s. However there are records of organized hockey teams beginning in the early 1900s.

Owen Sound was a Hockey Hotbed in 1950-51: Their fans were hockey crazy during this OHA Senior A Championship season as their star-studded team marched to an Allan Cup victory.

The 1959-60 Owen Sound Greys: A Tough Act to Follow: Tragedy struck this hockey team of young men, yet they persevered.

The 1960s Owen Sound Greys Stars who went on to NHL action including Brian Perry, Doug Brindley, Jim Schoenfeld, and Jack Lynch brought Owen Sound a reputation as a hockey hotbed!

Owen Sound Attack: The arrival of this new OHL team is the latest chapter in the Owen Sound region's rich hockey history.

Owen Sound Goalies: Why does Owen Sound produce so many fine goaltenders? There must be something in the water! 

Some Great Owen Sound Greys. The history of this hockey team is a story of players who were not only local boys, but came from many locations to hone their skills.

Owen Sound Hockey Heritage stretches from rural farmhouses on Saturday night to backyard rinks to cheering for local hockey successes and hockey heroes.

Owen Sound Junior Hockey History began almost one hundred and twenty years ago and is rich with championship teams, great players, and dedicated fans. 

Owen Sound's New Arena in 1938 opened a new era in Grey and Bruce counties with the first artificial ice making machine in western Ontario north of Kitchener.

Owen Sound Platers: Ray McKelvie the quiet and knowledgeable leader behind the success of the 1999 hockey team.

Pat McReavy enjoyed a long hockey career which brought him three championships, the Stanley Cup, the Allan Cup and a World Hockey Title.

Paul MacDermid, born in Chesley Ontario, through hard work and determination enjoyed a 12 year NHL career, before keeping junior hockey alive in Owen Sound by working with a group citizens to purchase the Attack OHL franchise.

"Red" Armstrong, a fiery spirited hockey player, known more for his fierce checking than his scoring prowess surprised even himself on his first NHL shift.

Red Leckie was more than a good hockey player. He played for the team, not for himself. Outside hockey, he responded when he saw a need in his community.

Southampton hockey history in the early years featured a distinct line of defense in the local arena, and stories of interesting "road" trips.

Tommy Burlington: the Greatest North American Never to Play in the NHL captured scoring titles in every league that he played, bringing comparisons to NHL greats.

Owen Sound Hockey History is rich with stories of championship teams, star hockey players, and community support.

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