The letter, with a Thorburn address on the upper left-hand corner, arrived the old-fashioned way — in my mailbox. Scrawled on the outside: “Remember East Pictou 1959.”
I knew what was coming.
Sure enough, the reader wondered why I hadn’t written something about the 1958-59 East Pictou Rural High School hockey team.
“I know you were at New Glasgow Stadium that night because everybody was there,” the writer said. “I remember your stories about it. I enjoy your articles about the anniversaries of team and player accomplishments. Did you forget this was the 60th anniversary of that great East Pictou team led by Lowell MacDonald and all those MacDonalds?”
No, I sure didn’t forget.
I was a journalism student at the University of King’s College in Halifax that year, but I remember the game was on a Saturday night and nothing was going to keep me from getting home that weekend.
It was March 14, 1959 — almost St. Patrick’s Day.
The biggest crowd in the history of the Stadium packed into the rink that night. There were probably very few people at home in places like Thorburn, Sutherlands River, Pictou Landing, Merigomish and Barneys River Station. Why?
This was the season the East Pictou school came of age in Nova Scotia Headmasters hockey.
This was the season Thorburn’s own Lowell MacDonald, who everyone in the county felt would be in the NHL someday, was playing his final “home game.”
This was the season, if your last name was MacDonald, you probably had a relative or two on the East Pictou roster.
This was the season, for those of us lucky enough to be in the Stadium for the finale, would never forget the game, never forget the excitement.
Can you remember?
First, though, consider what it was all about — East Pictou’s dominance of Pictou County rivals, the team’s continuing power against every team they faced.
In the past, New Glasgow and Stellarton high schools usually topped that level of hockey, winning local titles and, sometimes, provincial crowns.
Not in 1958-59.
East Pictou was coached by, yes, a MacDonald. Nobody else could have fit in properly. John Harris MacDonald, just two years earlier, was bench boss when Stellarton High won the Nova Scotia championship.
The East Pictou players?
There was Lowell MacDonald, of course, the 17-year-old who, indeed, would be a National Hockey League player for more than a decade. There were his two linemates, Clarence (Cuddy) MacDonald and Frank MacDonald, completing what was always referred to as the MacDonald Line. There were also Allister MacDonald, Gerard MacDonald, Irving MacDonald and Barry MacDonald
You didn’t have to be a MacDonald to make the team, however. There were also Grant Forbes, Barry Carruthers, Sandy MacKay, Billy Munro, Nyles Cameron, John Boyd and goalies Bill Chisholm and Cam MacKay.
Picking up the story on the playoff trail, several weeks of total domination occurred.
First, East Pictou and the remarkable MacDonald Line met New Glasgow in a best-of-three series. The rurals won the opener 11-3, the big unit getting seven goals. They took the second outing 9-5, six goals coming from the threesome.
Next, Stellarton was the opponent in a best-of-five round. East Pictou took the opener 9-6 with the three leaders getting all nine goals. The second win was 10-4 and, yes, the Big Three had the entire 10 markers. In a 13-5 wrap-up, it was another 10-goal performance by the line.
The East Pictou boys were county champs.
The first provincial opposition was Springhill High in a two-game assignment. The opener was won 13-2 with the MacDonald unit getting 12 scores. In the second match, a 10-4 performance, the line had an off day — only five goals.
The provincial semi-final was against Halifax’s St. Patrick’s High. The two-game, total-goal affair saw an 8-2 East Pictou verdict with — guess who — getting all eight scores. In the second game in Halifax, Lowell had both goals in a 2-1 decision.
That created the showdown in New Glasgow on that March 14 evening — East Pictou and Thompson High of North Sydney in a one-game sudden-death battle.
No wonder the Stadium was filled to the rafters.
The suspense didn’t last long. Just 94 seconds — yes, seconds — into the action, East Pictou was ahead 3-0.
When it ended, the locals had a 14-5 triumph. And get this — the MacDonald Line had 11 goals.
East Pictou had its first Nova Scotia championship.
It’s easy to keep the arithmetic coming. The winners had a 10-0 sweep in the playoffs, outscoring their overwhelmed opponents by a ridiculous 99-37 count.
And I must add the numbers for the big unit. Through the 10 games, Lowell had 30 goals, Clarence added 28, while Frank fired 21. That’s 79 of the 99 goals.
The East Pictou boys were together again for two memorable events.
Shortly after their final victory, they were feted with a municipal school board banquet at the Norfolk Hotel in New Glasgow.
Then, in 2006, they were inducted into the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame at ceremonies that were appropriately held at the New Glasgow rink where they had captured the highest honours in high school hockey.
End of story, but I must point out one other thing about Lowell and all his goal scoring. You see, his enormous figures in that championship season wasn’t the first time the Thorburn native opened my eyes to his outstanding talents.
Six years earlier, when Lowell was 11 years of age and I was a 15-year-old writing sports for the Evening News, I covered a grammar school game at the Stadium one Saturday morning between East Pictou and St. John’s Academy.
East Pictou produced a 14-1 laugher. And why can I still remember that 65 years later? Easy. Lowell MacDonald scored every one of those 14 goals.
Yes, even then, he was headed for a career in the NHL.