"Cyclone" Taylor: Hockey's First Superstar Was Born in Tara Ontario

"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.

The world of sports is full of controversial moments. Perhaps the most widely known is the legendary home run by Babe Ruth when he supposedly pointed out to the bleachers before the pitcher threw the ball. 

There have been moments of similar controversy in hockey but the first and perhaps the most talked about incident involved Fred "Cyclone" Taylor of Tara. 

When Taylor left the Ottawa hockey team to play for the Renfrew Millionaires, he was vilified in Ottawa. On February 12, 1910, the occasion of his first match against his former club, the brash Taylor responded to the harsh comments by Ottawa fans and media, by saying he would skate through the entire Ottawa club backwards and score a goal! 

He did score on a backhand shot but the evidence as to whether he skated through the entire team backwards is clouded in mystery. 

Taylor, to his dying day, answered questions about the goal in a manner that would make the best politician envious. His response would never clearly confirm, or deny what actually happened. 

Most suggest it never happened. Some propose that a defenseman from Ottawa spun him around and, while he had his back to the goalie, he shot the puck into the net. 

One person claimed she had, in fact, been at the game and had witnessed the backward skating feat. This person was Charlotte Whitton, who later would become the mayor of Ottawa. 

Whether Taylor scored the goal as he had predicted really does not matter. His abilities made him the greatest hockey player of his time. In fact, Milt Dunnell, the legendary Toronto Star sports reporter, wrote that Taylor was the Canadian equivalent of Babe Ruth, Red Grange and Jack Dempsey. 

His salary, $5,250 for 12 games with the Ottawa Senators was more than the Detroit Tigers paid Ty Cobb, the greatest baseball player of the era when Taylor dominated hockey. 

Fred "Cyclone" Taylor was born in Tara, Ontario, on June 23, 1884 (some records show June 24) and controversy began early in his career. When he was five years old, he said, "I pinched my sister's skates. I got the dickens for it afterward, but it was worth it." 

Taylor later credited his swift skating style to Jack Rigg, a barber in Tara, who taught him speed skating.

At age seven, Taylor moved with his family to Listowel, Ontario. This event has led to confusion among some hockey fans as to his birthplace. He played junior hockey in Listowel before turning professional. 

Taylor's mother may have been one of the inventors of hockey pads. 

Because he was smaller than most of the players he played against, his mother sewed layers of felt into his long underwear to provide some protection. Other players followed the example once they found out what he was wearing. 

In 1903 Bill Hewitt, whose son Foster, would become famous for his broadcasts of hockey games, asked Taylor to join the Toronto Marlboroughs. When Taylor refused, Hewitt initiated action which would lead to Taylor being blacklisted from the Ontario Hockey Association. 

In 1904, Taylor turned professional with Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, in the International Hockey League, at that time the only professional hockey league in North America. His first professional contract called for $25 per month in addition to paid room and board. 

When that league folded in the autumn of 1907, Taylor moved to the Ottawa Senators, and then up the Ottawa Valley to Renfrew. In 1912, he moved to the Vancouver Millionaires, a team he led to a Stanley Cup victory over the Ottawa Senators in 1915. 

Throughout his career, Taylor was the fastest skater of his time, "a real whirling dervish on ice." 

Many people have been credited with handing Taylor the nickname “Cyclone.” One story relates how Governor General Earl Grey, after seeing Taylor score five goals in his first game with Ottawa, told an aide, “They should call that man the “Cyclone” his speed blew the other team out of the rink.”

Taylor holds the remarkable record of being named to the first all-star team in every league in which he played. He achieved this feat every year from 1900 to 1918!

To make the best use of his skating and scoring prowess, Taylor played the Rover position. He played nine seasons in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. He scored 213 goals and had 118 assists in 169 games.

He scored more than 500 career points when his seasons with Ottawa and Renfrew are included in his statistics. This number is phenomenal when it is considered that assists were not often recorded in that era of hockey.

As well as winning the Stanley Cup in 1915, he also played in two other Stanley Cup finals with Vancouver, in 1918 against Toronto, and in 1921 against Ottawa.

In 1947, Taylor’s hockey achievements received the ultimate recognition, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Fred “Cyclone” Taylor of Tara, Ontario, died on June 10, 1979 in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

A version of ""Cyclone" Taylor: Hockey's First Superstar Was Born in Tara Ontario," originally appeared in my Local History column in the December 23, 1996 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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