Episode 4

The People's Game

Synopsis
As the Great Depression grips Canada, hockey becomes a welcome diversion, strengthening its hold on the national consciousness.

The previously booming NHL goes bust at the box office as fewer and fewer fans can afford the price of admission, but the voices of Roland Beaudry and Foster Hewitt bring the league's action into the nation's homes as families gather around their radios on Saturday nights. Inspired by the colourful descriptions of their heroes, the stars of tomorrow, including Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and Maurice Richard, take to ponds and streets dreaming of hockey stardom.

Native men and boys find their hockey skills offer a path into Canada's mainstream. The courageous Alec Antoine and the Alkali Lake Braves prove their people can play as well as anyone, winning the B.C. Northern League title in 1931 and earning a date with the powerful Vancouver Commercials. The polished professional team proves too much for Alkali Lake in sweeping a two-game exhibition, but the Braves earn respect for their toughness and sportsmanship. Their efforts help pave the way for future players like Fred Sasakamoose, who will go on to become the first man from a native reserve to appear in the NHL.

As fans flock to see the affordable brand of top-notch hockey offered by amateur clubs, free-falling attendance in the NHL causes the league to lose nearly half its franchises, including the Montreal Maroons and the seven-time Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators. Even the mighty Canadiens find themselves strapped for cash, forcing owner Leo Dandurand to trade fan-favourite Howie Morenz and sell the team to the staunchly English Montreal Arena Company.

The new owners of the Habs reacquire Morenz, but the Stratford Streak soon passes away after suffering a broken leg during a game. Thousands file into the Montreal Forum to pay their final respects to a man many French Canadians considered one of their own. Meanwhile, a new Canadiens star is on the horizon as a fiery young Francophone named Maurice Richard makes his debut.

As women take up hockey in increasing numbers, a pair of siblings from Ontario's industrial belt decide to fight off the Depression doldrums in 1930 by putting together a team of their own. Led by the brilliant Hilda Ranscombe and her sister, Nellie, the Preston Rivulettes dominate the women's game over the next several years, winning numerous championships before a second major conflict overseas summons them away from the rink and back to the factories.

With the Depression making jobs increasingly scarce at home, Canadian men head overseas to play hockey in lucrative European leagues. The Francophone-laden Francais Volants (Flying Frenchmen) take the Continent by storm and even make frequent trips to Great Britain, where English fans eagerly fill arenas to watch Canadian-style hockey.

Trail, B.C. native Mike Buckna travels to Czechoslovakia to teach the Canadian game to the people of his parents' homeland. Under Buckna's leadership, Czechoslovakians become the kings of European hockey before their country is annexed by Nazi Germany in 1939.

Hockey plays a vital role in boosting public morale in Canada during the Second World War, and when soldiers return home they find the country has shaken off the Depression doldrums and now stands on the verge of a prosperous new era. And all is right again on the rink as the NHL appears poised to enter a golden age of its own.

Patrick Family, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum

Hot Stove League, Hockey Hall of Fame


Alkali Braves, Courtesy of Barbara Poirer

Alkali Braves, Courtesy of Barbara Poirer


All Star Program, Hockey Hall Of Fame

All Star Program, Hockey Hall Of Fame


1940-41 Season Ticket, Hockey Hall Of Fame

1940-41 Season Ticket, Hockey Hall Of Fame

Preston Rivulettes, Hockey Hall Of Fame

Preston Rivulettes, Hockey Hall Of Fame

Broadcast Sponsors:
www.ford.cawww.sears.ca