Some century-old Nelson sports memorabilia will return to the city next week as part of the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame’s travelling exhibit. On display will be the skates that belonged to hockey legend Lester Patrick while he lived and played here.
“They were absolutely worn in Nelson,” says staff member Michael Markowsky. “We have a letter from him when he donated them to the museum specifically stating they were used in Nelson. They’re some of the oldest artifacts in our collection.”
He says they had “a long debate” whether to bring the skates because of their “incredible fragility.”
“In the end we agreed that any exhibit of artifacts in Nelson just wouldn’t be complete without them, though this will likely be the first and last time these skates travel,” Markowsky says.
Lester Patrick was already a hockey star back east when he reluctantly moved here in 1907 and took a job with his father’s sawmill at Crescent Valley. He joined a strong Nelson senior club that with the help of his brother Frank, steamrolled to a provincial championship within two years.
The Patricks also made noise about challenging for the Stanley Cup and spearheaded the campaign to build an arena on Hall Mines Road that stood until the Civic Centre replaced it.
In 1911, the family sold the sawmill and used the proceeds to start Western Canada’s first pro hockey league, with teams in Vancouver, Victoria, and New Westminster. The Patricks were simultaneously players, coaches, owners, and officials.
In the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, they introduced such innovations as the blue line, forward pass, penalty shot, and playoff system. They also gave B.C. its only two Stanley Cup victories — the Vancouver Millionaires in 1915 and Victoria Cougars in 1925.
Later, the Patricks coached in the NHL — Frank with the Boston Bruins and Lester with the New York Rangers.
Lester returned to Nelson but once, in 1948, at the invitation of old friend Roy Sharp to referee a hockey game during Midsummer Bonspiel festivities.
His example is used in the Hall of Fame’s school presentations.
“We talk about the Patrick family and vision,” Markowsky says.
“They brought hockey to British Columbia and specifically the Lower Mainland. People didn’t play hockey there — they played baseball and cricket. The Patricks decided they would create hockey where there had been none, and left quite a legacy.”
The school program, titled The Hero in You, will visit Trafalgar Middle School and St. Joseph’s Elementary on Tuesday, with special guest and Hall of Fame inductee Norm Lenardon, who scored the winning goal for the Trail Smoke Eaters at the 1961 world hockey championship.
“He’s got an incredible story,” Markowsky says. “I think the kids are going to be really excited.”
Markowsky says the program teaches them about setting goals, and uses athletes’ stories to reinforce values like teamwork, perseverance, determination, and courage.
The Hall of Fame provides free lesson plans for teachers, downloadable from their website.
“When you see kids holding gold medals — and passing them around — their jaws just drop to the floor,” Markowsky says.
“That’s what the Hall of Fame is all about: inspiring kids.”
He adds the program is best supplemented with a field trip to the museum at BC Place, but since last May that hasn’t been possible, since they are temporarily homeless while the stadium undergoes renovations. They expect to reopen in November, with a new exhibit on the 2010 Olympics. In the meantime, the touring show lets them connect with the public.
“We’ve ended up reaching more people in the last year than in a long time,” Markowsky says.
“We represent not just Vancouver, but the entire province.”
The exhibits are tailored to the region they’re presented in, so there are many other Nelson and Kootenay-specific artifacts in addition to Patrick’s skates — including some rarely seen.
“It might not be on display in the museum all the time but would cause quite a stir in Nelson because it relates specifically to the people there,” Markowsky says. “It’s a chance for us to bring it out and show it.”
The exhibit runs at the concourse level of the Nelson and District Community Complex on Tuesday from 1 to 8 p.m. and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.