George Benwell and Tom Marshall at the Fairview Athletic Club reunion

Slim Porter’s kids return to Nelson

Somewhere, Slim Porter is smiling. His former Fairview Athletic Club charges converged in Nelson this week, coming from far and wide.



Somewhere, Slim Porter is smiling.

His former Fairview Athletic Club charges converged in Nelson this week, coming from as far away as Oregon and Ontario to remember old times. They ranged in age from early 70s to early 90s, and included writers, educators, businessmen, and politicians.

What tied them together was their participation in a group that dominated the city’s minor sports scene for four decades — and their universal admiration for its manager.

“Slim Porter was always encouraging you,” said Allan Deschamps, 86, who joined the junior baseball club in 1940 at age 14. “One time I was really depressed because we lost a couple of games. Slim said ‘Allan, don’t worry about that. You’re improving your baseball skills every day. That’s what you should worry about.’“

Now retired after a long career with the Calgary board of education, Deschamps was among about 45 FAC alumni and spouses participating in the reunion.

For George Benwell, the event had double meaning: the banquet was in the Hume Hotel, which his namesake grandfather bought in 1912. Benwell spent his first dozen years growing up there while his father was manager.

Although he left Nelson in 1963 and became a forest ranger in Revelstoke, he has returned many times, and always tries to stay at the Hume.

“It’s very nostalgic for me,” Benwell said.

He joined the FAC in 1946 at age 11 and played pee wee baseball. On Monday night, he wore a shirt with the team crest.

Former Revelstoke-Slocan MLA Bill King, 81, now of Fruitvale, wasn’t directly involved in the club, but went to school in Nelson and shared political views with Porter, a longtime New Democrat.

“I always liked and admired him a great deal,” King said. “He did an awful lot for the kids of Nelson. We were lucky to have a guy like him.”

Porter ensured everyone was able to play sports, regardless of financial standing: if a child couldn’t afford equipment, he’d find some.

King, who played lacrosse and soccer and still golfs and curls, said he used Porter’s example when he started a boxing club in Revelstoke and became president of minor hockey there.

“I tried to give back to the community the same way I had seen Slim do,” he said. “Guys like Slim influence people. They leave a great legacy.”

Porter, who died in 1989, was remembered as a generous benefactor — but also a bit of a mystery.

“He was obscure to say the least,” said Guil Brett, who centred an outstanding hockey line with the Duffy brothers in the 1940s before going on to a long career in mineral exploration. “Nobody knew where he came from or why he arrived here, but his life was dedicated to coaching.”

He recalled Porter showing up Saturdays at 5 a.m. to light the fire before hockey practice.

“Adjectives escape me other than he was unassuming and he was Slim Porter. There was nobody on earth like him before or since.”

ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME EVENT

The eldest attendee, Horace (Bucko) Lapointe, 91, remembered growing up next door to the Ringrose family, key club members.

“They were always great for us kids,” he said. “We’d be out on Chatham Street playing catch and they’d come out and show us how to pitch.”

Lapointe played baseball for the Bogustown Wranglers and learned lacrosse in the old Hall Mines rink before the Civic Centre opened. (The Fairview club was a year or two behind their Uphill rivals, but soon made up for lost time.)

During a slideshow at the banquet, Lapointe was seen in a team photo of the 1937 junior lacrosse champions along with Ian Dingwall, 92, a fellow resident of Mountain Lake seniors community.

Lapointe’s daughter Bev noted when it came time to clean out her father’s house, “up in the basement rafters, out of reach of us kids, was Dad’s lacrosse stick and ball. The mesh on the stick had a hole in it. It so characterized his love of the game.”

The items are now in the Nelson sports museum.

Fellow nonagenarian and lacrosse standout Ev Kuhn was thrilled with the reunion.

“It’s great to see people you haven’t seen for years and to see them with smiles and so glad to visit their hometown,” he said, praising organizers Al Dawson, Lionel Kearns, Frank Elsener, and Gordon Halsey.

Jim Sawada, who played a couple of years of baseball with the FAC in the mid-1950s, agreed.

“It’s once in a lifetime. It’s so nice for everybody to get together,” he said.

Sawada recalled thinking he was good enough for the team because of his high school ball experience in Japan. “But I wasn’t. I was only 5’4″ — still am — and 130 lbs. Our team had three or four bats, all too heavy for me. I would choke up, but the ball came so fast, I struck out all the time. Embarrassing. I could bunt, run, and field, but not hit.”

At night’s end, Al Dawson announced the creation of a Slim Porter memorial foundation. Working with the Osprey Foundation and local branch of KidSport, it will provide annual funding for Nelson-area kids who can’t afford to participate in organized sports.

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