By Chris Mizzoni, Hockey Historian
For the 1941/1942 hockey season, The Vancouver Norvan Shipyards Hockey Team represented the Burrard Drydock Company of North Vancouver. This was the first and last year of the team’s existence.
At its peak during World War II, up to 14,000 workers in the shipbuilding industry were employed on the North Vancouver waterfront. Across Canada during World War 2, senior hockey leagues in most of the large cities featured teams made up of military personnel and/or sponsored by civilian companies that contributed to the war efforts. The team’s home ice was the Vancouver PNE Forum a few kilometres across Burrard Inlet.
The Vancouver Norvan Shipyards squad played in the Pacific Coast Senior Hockey Association (PCSHA) league along with three other Armed Forces related teams: New Westminster Spitfires, Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Bapcos (sponsored by Pendrey Paint Company).
The Norvans were coached by Tip O’Neill who would also skate in 4 games that 1941/1942 season. The previous season he had topped the soon-to-be-extinct Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL) with 33 goals for the Vancouver Lions.
A Morale Boost During Wartime
On November 10, 1941 the Norvans hosted Nanaimo at the Vancouver Forum to kick off the season. They bested the Clippers 5-3 and would beat Victoria by 4-2 the next night. After this impressive start, the Vancouver Norvans Shipyard squad would drop five consecutive games, including a 12-4 loss in New Westminster. On Nov. 30, the Norvans lost their 5th straight game to the Nanaimo Clippers by 10-7. Before the Norvans could even contemplate righting the ship on the ice, history happened.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor threw the entire West Coast of North America into a state of panic and readiness. The Victoria Daily Colonist on December 9, 1941 reported how the situation affected everything, even something as commonplace as a hockey game: “Blackouts to Continue As Long as Threat of Enemy Attack Remains. Coastal Cities Darkened as Japanese Aircraft Are Reported Off California and Near the Aleutians. All radio stations on the Pacific Coast, except one Seattle station, signed off at 9 p.m. The reason for the order, as explained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was that ‘it was reported on good authority that a Japanese flight of planes was coming in on the Pacific Coast; we did not want them to ride in on our beam’.”
As things intensified on the Pacific Coast, the amateur PCHA hockey league attempted to trudge forward in an effort to provide entertainment for the panicked populace. By December 12, the teams were ready to get back in action after all necessary blackout precautions had been implemented, one of which was literally painting black over the arena windows to prevent light escaping.
Wins And Losses
The Norvans and its fans hoped that the unexpected break in league play might do the floundering team some good. Unfortunately, in their first game back, the Norvans lost by 3-1 in Victoria. The losing streak held for an entire month.
In mid-December, the Vancouver Norvans Shipyards suddenly broke their seven-game losing streak with a surprise 4-3 home win over New Westminster with two goals from NHL veteran, Red Beattie. The Edmonton native had played 334 big league games in the 1930’s collecting 147 points mainly for the Boston Bruins. His 15 goals in 41/42 tied for tops on the Norvans.
The following night back in New Westminster, the Norvans continued their turnaround with an identical 4-3 victory that was not without ill feelings. From The Daily Colonist, “With only seconds remaining to play, the players engaged in a free-for-all on the ice… They attempted to continue the fight in the stands and spectators joined in, but police intervened and stopped the fracas.”
By New Year 1942, the Norvans had won 5 of their 6 games, creating a four-way tie with all the teams in the league on January 4. Their record of 7-7-1 matched the 15 points of all other squads, although the Norvans had surrendered 14 more goals than they had scored themselves. At this point, future NHL President, Clarence Campbell makes an appearance in the brief history of the PCSHA, taking over the officiating duties of games in Victoria.
On January 25 in Nanaimo, the Norvans blew a 3-0 lead and lost 7-3. The reason for the stunning downturn of the Norvans’ fortune was perhaps best explained by Joe Delahunty in the Daily Colonist; “Goalie Tommy Horne was going great in the Vancouver net at Nanaimo until a rabid Up-Island fan tossed a lighted cigarette down the back of his sweater. The spectator got lost in the crowd before the police could locate him.”
On January 30, the Norvans’ 6-4 victory over New West was bolstered by the addition of former NHL-er Jack Riley. Riley contributed immediately, with two helpers on goals by Ken Barker. The addition of Jack Riley paid off for the Vancouver Norvans Shipyard squad. By the first week of February, Riley led the Norvans to first place by scoring two in a 7-3 win over Nanaimo. Alas, three nights later in Victoria, the Norvans got a very rude wake-up call. The Daily Colonist exclaimed, “BAPCOS SWAMP CHEEKY NORVAN ICEMEN 15-2. In the Norvans dressing room after the game Norm McQuade said, ‘We shoulda missed the boat,’ Ken Barker came back with, ‘Should of, we did!’”
Finishing The Season
Back home at the Forum on February 9, the Norvans answered for the demolishing they took at the hands of Victoria by administering one of their own. They trounced Mainland rivals New Westminster by a score of 14-3 to jump back into top spot in the Coast league and clinch a playoff spot in the process.
The Norvans finished their pendulum-like season in New West losing to the Spitfires by a score of 8-4. The result concluded Norvans’ regular schedule, having collected 29 points in 28 games. Victoria would finish first place in the final standings, two points ahead of Vancouver Norvans and Nanaimo Clippers. They would play each other in the best-of-three semi-final.
On February 20, in the first match of the total-goal tie-breaker series, Nanaimo trounced the Norvans 9-2 at the Forum. The Norvans now had a seemingly insurmountable hole to climb out of. The next night in Nanaimo, the hole proved too deep, with a 4-3 loss. After deciding home-ice advantage for Nanaimo, the same squads would meet in a best 2-of-3 semi-final for the right to play Victoria in the championship.
On February 23, the Norvans held a 2-1 lead halfway through the 3rd period but Nanaimo potted three markers in the final six minutes of the match to take a one game lead. The next night, back at the Forum, the Norvans extended their playoff life with a 4-3 win before 5,000 fans. “Play opened fast and a bruising pace was set throughout. The rough-house tactics that developed into a near battle-royal in Nanaimo last night appeared on the verge of reoccurring tonight as tempers flared early in the first period, but officials restored peace before and damage was done.”
Three nights later in Nanaimo, the Clippers ended the Norvans’ hopes with a convincing 7-0 victory. That concluded the Norvans’ only season. March 6, 1942, Nanaimo Clippers captured the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association championship with a 3-1 victory, the same margin by which they won the series.
By the next autumn, the PCSHA disbanded with many of the players playing in the BC Mainland Senior Hockey League. The Vancouver Norvan Shipyards hockey team was no more. The Forum would still host hockey, and in fact became the first home of the Vancouver Canucks of the resurrected Pacific Coast Hockey League in 1945. The Forum still stands to this day, although it has been decades since it hosted a hockey game.
Discovery Session: Be Your Own Hero
Did you know North Vancouver had its own senior hockey team during World War Two? The Vancouver Norvan Shipyards represented the Burrard Drydock Shipbuilding Company which employed up to 14,000 workers during the war. The ‘Norvans’ only played for a year between 1941 and 1942. However, their memories live on through stories and images.
As part of Roger’s Hometown Hockey, join us at the Museum of North Vancouver (115 West Esplanade) as we celebrate hockey in North Vancouver, discover more about the Norvans team and other ‘local heroes’ that belong to North Vancouver, and offer a hands-on medal-making activity for kids to take home. Hockey historian Chris Mizzoni will join us both days from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.
Location: MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver, 115 West Esplanade
Time: Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24 from 11:00am to 4:00pm
Audience: All ages.
Originally from Southern Ontario, Chris Mizzoni has been a resident of Lower Lonsdale for over 20 years. Published hockey historian as a member of the Society for International Hockey Research and children’s book author and illustrator, his books include “Clancy With The Puck” and “The Sterling Seven, Hockey’s First Team Ever”. Chris’s hockey history blog is Nitzy’s Hockey Den. Chris can be reached on Twitter at @nitzyshockeyden.
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