How does an NHL draft pick coming off a superb sophomore season in college hockey spend the summer?
For Isaac MacLeod, the answer is return home to work in the pantheon of local sporting greats whose ranks he hopes to join. MacLeod, 20, who earned an NCAA championship with Boston College this spring, was introduced Friday as the tour guide for the new Nelson Sports Museum during the facility’s grand opening.
“My parents sent me an email with the job description,” he said. “Growing up in Nelson and hearing its sports history, it’s a cool experience to hang around here — especially the Civic Centre, the place I learned to skate.”
MacLeod, a defenceman chosen by the San Jose Sharks two years ago, pointed out his father Al and uncle Wayne Naka in a prominently-displayed photo of the 1969 Nelson bantam team that won the provincials.
Although he knew some of the city’s athletic achievements, “there was definitely a lot from way before my time that Mr. McDonnell had to teach me.”
Bill McDonnell, a former WIHL goalie and longtime coach who is the driving force behind the museum, says MacLeod was hired after interviews with four of ten applicants. He considers it highly appropriate to have one of Nelson’s rising stars tell others about those who came before him.
“It’s beautiful how that worked out,” McDonnell says. “The first time we came through here, I said ‘A lot of it is honouring our past. But we also want to use this to inspire kids. You’re an example of that.’”
McDonnell has been working on the museum ever since Nelson hosted CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada in early 2007. At the time, Touchstones had an exhibit on Nelson’s hockey history, and he created some additional displays for the community complex.
Afterward, two Vancouver visitors — Peter Webster, at one time involved with the BC Sports Hall of Fame, and Peter Quevillon, executive director of Kidsport — challenged him to find a permanent home for the memorabilia.
“They said you cannot allow these materials to go back into basements and boxes. They should be shared with the community.”
Around the same time, the sports council was beginning to upgrade the Civic Centre, and space was set aside along the concourse for historical displays, some of which were ready in time for the rink’s 75th anniversary in 2010.
The museum actually straddles the Civic Centre and neighbouring community complex, which has another nine display cases. They’re devoted to various levels of hockey, figure skating, lacrosse, and baseball, as well as individual athletes, dating from Nelson’s dawn to the present.
McDonnell made some serendipitous discoveries along the way. He was delighted when Bev LaPointe donated her father Horace’s lacrosse stick and ball from the mid-1930s as well as a 1948 jacket crest from the fourth midsummer bonspiel. He was doubly delighted to learn her aunt, Lillian Hickey, played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and created a display on her.
LaPointe, a standout softballer player herself, was at Friday’s opening. So was Mike Laughton, Nelson’s first NHLer; Cathy Gare, matriarch of an entire family of outstanding athletes; and Ev Kuhn, 89, who played hockey and lacrosse in Nelson beginning in the 1930s.
“It’s a great idea. He’s done a great job of it,” Kuhn said of McDonnell and the museum. He loaned his wooden Martin-brand lacrosse sticks, “the best you could buy.”
The collection is laid out in a horseshoe-shape around the west side of the Civic Centre. It’s still a work in progress: there are plans to take a few more seats out below the press box to free up more exhibit space.
The museum is open by appointment Tuesday through Thursday this month and next, and MacLeod will be on hand to greet visitors from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.