Ever since my life and newspaper career went into extra innings, I’ve been uncovering reasons to be nostalgic. I’m sure you know the stuff I mean — anniversaries, milestones and long-lasting memories of journeys travelled. Well, I’ve got another.
It was a cold December day 60 calendars ago, the time of year when Christmas trees and buildings were being decorated with care and folks were hustling about with their last-minute shopping lists. But, for me, 1959 was different. I was coming home. I had spent the previous three months working at The Chronicle Herald’s news bureau in Truro, learning the ins and outs of running such an office.
I was returning to New Glasgow to open the provincial paper’s first full-time bureau in Pictou County, taking on the responsibilities of covering news in the area, along with photographing all things newsworthy.
The front-office people in Halifax were primarily interested in things like highway crashes, major fires, crime activities and resulting court cases, industrial developments, political and community activities. For the next decade, I’d cover them all.
The sports scene, however, was just something extra to editors and management. I simply ignored their disinterest and jumped into local athletic activities.
In my mind, sports were as vital as everything else. They were easily my favourite part of the job, having written local hockey, baseball, softball and boxing for The Evening News during my high school and university years.
I was on my own — sort of.
A newsroom was assembled in an unused room in our home. The phone guys came and hooked up a teletype — a noisy apparatus in that pre-computer era — so I could file my stories quickly. A darkroom was added in the basement to develop and print photos.
As the 1950s reached their end, though, it wasn’t just my position that was changing. The two most popular sports in the region — senior hockey and senior baseball — were in the midst of replacing the old with the new. Truly, it was a time of change in county sports.
In my growing-up years, the APC Senior Hockey League was the front-runner in the new rinks in Stellarton and New Glasgow, while the Stellarton Albions were the major attraction in the summers, thanks to the import-laden Halifax and District Baseball League. I loved the APC league. I loved the H&D league even more. But, like things in our personal lives, transformation stops for no one. In those late 1950s, the APC and H&D pastimes reached their expiration dates.
APC hockey had been around Pictou, Antigonish and Colchester counties for almost four decades, dating all the way back to the early 1920s. There would be no comeback. Teams like the New Glasgow Bombers, New Glasgow Rangers, Stellarton Royals, Pictou Maripacs, Truro Bearcats and Antigonish Bulldogs were the foundation. The St. Francis Xavier X-Men participated briefly, as did a Thorburn entry in the early years, and the Trenton Scotias in the ’50s.
Meantime, in the summer months, the H&D Albions played their way into our hearts, joining the provincial league in 1950 and hanging around for nine seasons. They caught our attention quickly, winning three consecutive championships in their second, third and fourth years of operation.
The Stellarton team was challenged yearly by the Truro Bearcats, Halifax Capitals, Dartmouth Arrows, Kentville Wildcats and Liverpool Larrupers. Their rosters, filled with young American college kids, some actually on their way to the major leagues, had enough local players to add that important ingredient.
Those of us old enough to have witnessed the APC and H&D leagues still remember them fondly. It’s hard to realize 60 years have passed since those wonderful eras.
The other day, I looked through the rosters of the teams in those two leagues and realized I had come to know literally hundreds of the players. Senior hockey certainly didn’t die with the APC’s departure. It was quickly replaced by a new Nova Scotia Senior Hockey League in 1958-59. The Rangers were there, competing with four clubs from the metro area — the Halifax Wolverines, Dartmouth Chebuctos, Shearwater Flyers and Stadacona Sailors.
I lucked out. I was studying journalism at the University of King’s College in ‘58-59 and, with all of New Glasgow’s road games in Halifax and Dartmouth, the Evening News hired me to cover the away action while sports editor Ricky Fraser looked after the home contests. That league makeup lasted just one winter. Dartmouth, Shearwater and Stadacona all folded.
That opened the door for more appealing rivalries.
The Rangers and Halifax remained aboard as the league regrouped with the Windsor Maple Leafs, Amherst Ramblers and, later, the Moncton Beavers. While the APC league was dominated by locals, the provincial loop imported many of its personnel.
Windsor was first to produce a powerhouse, then Amherst assembled an impressive winner. In the league’s final campaign in 1964-65 — by then using a Maritime designation — it was New Glasgow’s turn to dominate. That was the club led by former NHL star Fleming Mackell that took the league title and advanced to Allan Cup action. Baseball, meantime, went in the opposite direction — from featuring imports to concentrating on local athletes. The Twilight Senior Baseball League saw Stellarton joining with the Westville Miners, New Glasgow Bombers, North End Cardinals, Antigonish Bulldogs and Truro Bearcats. That entertaining product lasted until financial shortcomings killed it.
And the Herald’s Pictou County bureau?
I ran it for 10 years before my transfer to the Halifax office in 1969. And today? There’s no longer a bureau in the region.
Meanwhile, I’ve been writing sports continually through the decades and, despite major assignments like the Olympics, World Series and Stanley Cup playoffs, some of my fondest memories surrounded the hockey and baseball leagues in Pictou County. I guess you just don’t take the Pictonian out of a Pictonian.