Pictou Advocate sports

Meeting Morrison for the first time

Sports

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas as I drove into Pictou on a mid-December morning 15 years ago in search of a white bungalow on Dunromin Terrace in the Shiretown’s west end.

I was coming to meet and chat with Allie Morrison for the first time. We had never met, though he was the third member of the best line the Pictou Maripacs ever had. There had been several get-togethers with the iconic Tic Williams, and I began a lifelong friendship with Mark Babineau. Yet Morrison remained an unknown from the past.

It was more than half a century — in the late 1940s and early ’50s — since I watched the threesome in the old APC Senior Hockey League.

The sun was glistening on the snow as I arrived at my destination. Allie’s wife Patsy greeted me at the door and asked me to come on in. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the retired couple were wearing green since both had been born on St. Patrick’s Day.

Allie, not looking his 80 years, seemed pleased that an out-of-town reporter had come to reminisce about the old Maripacs, his Maripacs.

He seemed a bit apprehensive when I placed my tape-recorder on the table in front of him. But he eased quickly when Patsy arrived in the room with coffee and home-made scotch cakes.

I had started writing my weekly columns in The Advocate just a few months earlier. Allie got interested when I mentioned that, among my first five columns for the Pictou paper, I had written about both of his old linemates. He talked about them glowingly, as though he forgot about my recorder nearby.

Most elderly hockey fans in Pictou County would recall Williams and Babineau more than Morrison, perhaps because he and Patsy resided in Ontario for three decades after his hockey career ended.

My conversation with Allie lasted for just over two hours. He warmed up to memories of playing with Tic and Mark. By the time I switched my attention to him, he was in a talkative mood.

It’s true Williams and Babineau had gotten more attention through the years. They were so talented that they were among the original inductees into the newly-formed Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame in 1990. That takes nothing away from the fact Morrison was a fine player, too. He joined his old friends in the hall of fame in 2008.

When Allie and Patsy came back home, he was more than familiar with their choice of neighbourhood. You just had to do out in the backyard and, through the woods, see the house in which he was born. Almost as close was the pond on which he and his buddies initially learned to play hockey.

Not far away was an open-air rink where the young guys played until they reached their teens. That was important because Pictou had no organized minor hockey program.

When he attended Pictou Academy in the early 1940s, Allie played on the school’s hockey and rugby teams for three years.

Then a new indoor rink was built downtown that had natural ice.

It was there that he began playing inside for the first time. It was there that his hockey interest increased by watching Maripacs like Hughie MacDonald, Ernie Jordan, Pop Lawlor, Rollie and Fred English, Max Murdock, Art Dalton, Herbie Wisener and Paddy Cormier.

In 1942-43, Morrison and his pals were on a junior team coached by senior hockey goaltender Sonny MacDonald. It was a memorable time, the club winning the county championship. Sonny was the boys’ first coach.

That winter, too, Morrison took a keen interest in the senior club, on which Williams and Babineau were already stars. It was a Bobby Beaton-coached team with guys like Les Topshee, Kink MacDonald, Ab MacKinnon, Max Murdock and Bert Steele.

When war came, Morrison was too young to enlist. But in 1943, he signed up with the air force. He was stationed in locations from Quebec to Vancouver. Before he was to go overseas, the war ended. Back in Pictou, a 23-year-old got back into hockey.

That’s when the Williams-Babineau-Morrison line was formed. They would be a high-scoring unit for seven years.

In our conversation, Allie seemed more interested in talking about Williams than himself. He believed — like so many of us in the stands — that Tic was the greatest. He marvelled at what the P.E.I. native could do in the sport.

Besides his linemates, Morrison played with such fellows as Frankie Prozenor, Mel Gadd, Chick Charlton, Laurie Burbidge, Normie Walters, Syl Bernard, Tom Mahar and Joe Brown.

Allie agreed that ‘52-53 club was the best Maripacs team ever.

He was well established in that lineup, and I was a 14-year-old watching the club win the APC championship — the franchise’s only title in the old circuit.

When the Maripacs reached the playoff trail, the natural ice in Pictou was gone, so the team’s home games were played in Stellarton Memorial Rink. I don’t think I missed attending a single one.

It was one of the most exciting APC teams of that era.

Finishing second, they eliminated the Antigonish Bulldogs in the semifinals, then knocked off the first-place Truro Bearcats to win the championship. In the best-of-five provincial final, they took a powerful Lunenburg Falcons club to the deciding game before losing in the South Shore arena.

Morrison admitted in our 2004 conversation that losing the Nova Scotia title in that last game 52 years earlier was the biggest disappointment, particularly “for our poor old fans.” I knew what he meant. I was one of them.

When we said our goodbyes on that pre-Christmas morning, I realized how much I enjoyed the two hours talking with a man who had earned his place on that big Maripacs line – even though, way back then, he was just 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds.