For over 35 years, the Fairview Athletic Club taught young athletes the value of teamwork, perseverance, and sportsmanship. It cultivated character and molded mindsets.
Now, some of those kids — long since grey haired — are getting back together.
“I thought of it because I’m tired of reading obituaries of old buddies,” says Al Dawson, who’s spearheading the reunion, tentatively scheduled for August 27 to coincide with a reunion of the Nelson high school classes of 1952 and ‘53. “We’ve been talking about it for ten years and we better get it done before we don’t have anybody left.”
Dawson has tracked down 28 former club members, and confirmed at least 18 will attend, including four in their 90s. “They’re sharp as a tack and more eager than some of the younger guys,” he says. “They’ll all be treated as special guests.”
Some alumni are still in Nelson, while others are scattered across the continent, including poet Lionel Kearns of Vancouver and Frank Elsener, of Eugene, Oregon, who ended up in the food business and helped turn popcorn king Orville Redenbacher into a household name.
Kearns, Elsener, and Gordon Halsey of Victoria have been working with Dawson to find other old club members and organize the reunion.
Dawson himself pitched for FAC in the early 1950s and says it not only helped him hone his skills, but set him on a steady path for life.
“It kept me out of the bars and maybe jail. Everywhere I went, I joined a ball team. Through sports connections, I had associates and friends.”
SLIM PORTER WAS MR. FAC
Its origins are murky, but we know the Fairview Athletic Club formed in 1920. It was just one of several club teams in Nelson over the years, including the Panthers, Dodgers, and MRKs, who faced each other in inter-city competition, and sometimes took on other cities as well.
Hockey, baseball, and lacrosse were the FAC’s mainstays, although at various times the club dabbled in track and field, and boys and girls softball and basketball.
Things really took off in the 1930s under the guidance of the man most closely associated with the club. So synonymous was Slim Porter with the FAC, he’s sometimes mistaken for its founder.
Porter, a long distance runner, joined the club in 1923. According to one account, he wanted to be a big-league pitcher, but when he realized it wasn’t in the cards, dedicated his life to minor sports instead.
“Slim Porter was a hell of a benefactor,” Dawson says. “I couldn’t even afford a glove when I started. You show up, and there’s a new one for you. He just looked after the kids.”
“He was around all the time,” adds Jim Todd, who from age eight to 17 played bantam, midget, and juvenile hockey with FAC, as well as baseball and lacrosse.
“He took all the equipment back and forth in his truck. He’d be there before the game to make sure the stove was on so it was warm when we got into our uniforms, and would be there afterwards to make sure everything was put away.”
Among other things, Porter was treasurer of Nelson Intermediate Baseball, president of Nelson Minor Hockey, sat on the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada’s track and field executive, and wrote a sports column for the Daily News.
He joined the FAC executive in 1935 and was elected president three years later, but resigned to become “managing director” — which let him devote more time to coaching and mentoring and less to administration.
He quit for a while while working at a mine near Salmo, but was named a life member in 1940, and eventually returned to the fold. In 1947, he coached Nelson’s juvenile reps to a provincial hockey title.
“With unstinting effort he applied himself to coaching, managing, financing and even refereeing,” the Daily News once wrote. “On several occasions, when the FAC might be experiencing dark days, he has hired taxis on his own to take his team out of town.”
While he wasn’t a one-man show — Ross Fleming, Alex Ioanin, Wilf Marquis, and others played key roles — Porter was recognized as the heart of the organization.
At a banquet, he called the club “the best of its kind in Canada,” and told his young charges “winning was good, but losing well was so much the better.”
CLUB HAD OWN RINK
The club had its own facilities, including an outdoor ice rink at the corner of Cottonwood and Second streets, which doubled as a tennis court in summer. Built in 1931, it was abandoned after the Civic Centre opened four years later, and is now the site of the Valhalla apartments.
Ev Kuhn, 89, recalls the FAC also had a clubhouse behind Hume School, which was demolished when the gym was added. His association with the group began not long after he arrived in Nelson from Claresholm, Alta. at age 12.
“I lived a block from the school grounds. I saw everybody playing and went down to see what was going on. They were playing lacrosse. I’d never seen a lacrosse stick in my life.”
But from then on, he was an avid player, going on to juvenile and senior ranks.
Kuhn recently spoke to another FAC alumnus, his former neighbour George Bishop, who lives in California and boasts an impressive athletic pedigree: his father Harry was a key member of Nelson’s championship hockey team of 1909, which was ready to challenge for the Stanley Cup. Still golfing at 92, George is thinking of coming to Nelson in August.
“I’ll all for the reunion,” Kuhn says. “It’s so great to see people you haven’t seen for years.”
While most club members lived in Fairview, as befitting the name, a few didn’t, like Balfour’s Jim Heuston, who boarded on Silica Street while going to high school. Heuston tended goal for the FACs from 1939-43, and was named the club’s most valuable player in 1941.
“I was elected FAC president in February or March 1943,” he says. “But I joined the navy that year, so I was gone before I had much action with them.”
Heuston spent three years overseas, and came back to play senior and semi-pro hockey in Regina, Lethbridge, and Nelson.
Jim Todd, meanwhile, considered himself lucky to live near the Civic Centre.
“I was ten seconds from the baseball diamond and hockey arena,” he says.
At age eight, he was already good enough to play bantam, and eagerly accepted an offer to join the Fairview Athletic Club. “I knew what they were like, so I was thrilled.”
One year he centred a line with Roddy Carmichael and Ron Brown that chalked up 312 points in 16 games. Todd was named the club’s co-MVP in 1945.
He played junior hockey in Lethbridge before becoming a teacher, and credits the FAC for helping set his career direction.
“I thought I might play hockey the rest of my life, but I ended up a phys ed teacher. I think Slim had a lot to do with that. He was so good to me, I thought this was a way I could give back: by being a coach myself.”
END OF AN ERA
Al Dawson joined the FAC baseball club in 1951 and enjoyed travelling with Porter and company to tournaments and league games in Greenwood, Trail, Rossland, and Fruitvale.
“Without him as a benefactor, doing all the arranging in the background, we wouldn’t have been there. What Slim lacked in physical ability he made up for just by being himself.”
(One of Dawson’s favourite Slim stories: “I struck out 23 batters in a nine-inning game and it ended as a 5-5 tie! I was about 16 and pretty proud of myself. I remember Slim saying afterwards ‘Al, we’re going to have to tighten up the defence.’“)
When Dawson left Nelson in 1955, the club was still going strong. By the time he returned seven or eight years later, it was no more. Exactly when and why it folded is hazy, but Todd thinks it might have been a victim of its own success.
“For a number of years we were quite dominant,” he says. “I think they wanted to even things out a little more. The other teams had different sponsors, but didn’t have the continuity the FACs had because of Slim Porter.”
Porter, who died in 1989, was recognized for his contribution to local athletics by the BC Amateur Hockey Association in 1958, and by the community at large three years later with Slim Porter Night at the Civic Centre.
He was also guest of honour at a 1974 high school reunion, and coached an exhibition ball game. This time, Dawson says all the action will be in the Hume Hotel, not on the diamond or rink.