Southampton Hockey History: The Early Years

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

A common phrase used in hockey refers to a player or players as being "a pillar on defense." It is a phrase that had a different connotation for players in the Southampton arena prior to World War One. 

The arena, which was located at the corner of Huron and Palmerston Streets, had four pillars which helped support the roof. These four structures were located right on the ice surface. This meant players had to elude more than the opposition as they skated. 

The idea of the columns impeding the smooth flow of play also conjures an image of a player with the puck using a pillar as a shield from an opposition player. As the defensive player skated one way around the column, the puck carrier skated in the other direction, always keeping his inanimate teammate between him and his foe! 

In 1913, a windstorm tore the roof from the arena. A new arched roof was erected, and the four pillars were removed from the ice surface. 

In the early decades of the 1900s, there were no formal minor hockey leagues in Southampton. Instead there was a sort of unwritten code as to where one learned hockey skills. The tradition involved three steps. The first venture into the world of hockey in Southampton took place on the frozen swamp near the present location of G.C. Huston School. 

As the skating and hockey skills progressed, the player next played in shinny games on frozen Fairy Lake. 

On crisp winter evenings the reflection of a fire could be seen in the sky over Southampton. The source of the light was seven or eight bonfires burning on the shores of the frozen lake. The bonfires served not only as a source of heat for the players and fans, but also to illuminate the playing surface to enable the skaters to see the puck. 

The next step in the evolution of the careers of Southampton hockey players was the Town League, which played its games in the arena. There were many different teams, however, there seems to have been four teams which were consistent in the annals of Southampton hockey history. 

The River Rats were a team of local fishermen. Local businessmen iced a team called the Till Pickers. The area located behind the furniture factory, known as Dutch Town, and the region above the tannery, which was known as Little Stratford, also had teams. 

Southampton hockey teams also competed against teams representing other area communities. On game days, horse-drawn sleighs carrying fans and players dotted the Bruce County landscape as they headed to do battle with teams from towns such Chesley, Paisley, Kincardine, and Lion's Head. 

The trip to Lion's Head was a particularly arduous affair. The trek took two days and the horses which pulled the sleighs had to be rested in Wiarton. A new team continued the rest of the journey. 

The most important games involving the Southampton hockey team were the ones when they faced off against their arch-foes from nearby Port Elgin. 

Stories from those who recall these years of Southampton's hockey history detail that on the morning of the game between these two communities would find many of the citizens of Southampton walking towards Port Elgin. The games were fiercely contested and, when a fight broke out on the ice, the melee often spread to the stands. 

It was not uncommon for fans to jump the boards and enter the battles between players. Nor was it rare to have the players climb over the boards in the opposite direction and join the fights among the fans. 

The team which was victorious in the Bruce County Hockey League was awarded the Charlie M. Bowman Trophy. Bowman owned the tannery which was located on Clarendon Street in Southampton. 

In 1919, the Southampton hockey team captured the championship for the Northern Hockey League, a league consisting of teams representing communities from Stratford north to Wiarton. 

For travel to games in this league horse-drawn sleighs do not seem to have been a necessary mode of transportation as most of the competing communities were on the rail line. 

Consequently, train excursions carrying fans and players across the landscape of Western Ontario became as common a sight as the caravans of sleighs which had been used during the earlier era of Southampton's hockey history. 

A version of "Southampton Hockey History: The Early Years" originally appeared in my Local History column in the April 14, 1997 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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