by Susan Peters, Dundas County Archives
It is this time of year when most locals are normally obsessing on hockey playoffs, wearing their lucky underwear, and donning the ceremonial playoff beards. In a normal year, our thoughts would have turned to hockey. As we know, this is not a normal year. Crowds are not permitted to watch NHL games in person. Most local minor hockey has been on halt this year due to COVID shutdowns. This was not always the case. Many years ago, a local hockey team stole the hearts of the local North Dundas Community.
In 1942, Lloyd Laporte, a schoolteacher in Inkerman, thought that he could make a difference in the lives of his students by starting up a local hockey team. He did so much more than that. After securing permission from the School Trustees, he spoke to the local farmers in the region. Those who were able to commit, contributed $5 each to help pay for equipment. Lloyd was able to secure a whole team’s worth of jerseys from a sports store in Ottawa for a song. Another team had ordered jerseys with a Red letter “R” on them, but bailed on the order. He was able to buy them for a much-reduced rate, and thus, the Team was born. “R” for Rockets, and the team was named. The players got $5 a week and room and board. In the first years, the home ice was the frozen Nation River. Eventually, home games were moved to the rink in Winchester. Getting to games was not without challenges. Players would travel by taking a sleigh in hopes of getting picked up by the bus if they made it to the highway. Fans would get to games by rowboat when the Nation River flooded.
At a time when many junior hockey teams were sponsored as farm teams to the NHL, the Rockets remained independent. The team was funded solely by its share of the admission price of tickets. While they started out as a motley crew of farmers, they eventually became fan favorites. Maybe it was because they were hometown heroes. Their first season was described by most accounts as rough. In looking at all the local papers in the era of the Rockets (1942 – 1952), their games were covered in the newspapers in Morrisburg, Chesterville, Winchester, Iroquois, Matilda. The Rockets won Ottawa and district championships five years in a row. They qualified for Memorial Cup play-offs between 1947 and 1950, and advanced to the quarter finals in 1951. In 1948, when other Ottawa area teams refused to allow Inkerman to play in their league, they just played exhibition games. In 1951, they lost in the play-offs to the Quebec Citadelles, who were aided by the legendary Jean Beliveau.
They had an incredible fan base. In 1947, so many fans attended games in Winchester, that games often had to be stopped to gather up fans who had been hanging from the rafters. Crowd control was a regular issue at these games. Reports state that they attracted over 7,000 fans to games, many of whom had to line up in the cold to get into the building. Games in Smiths Falls were known to have a special CPR train to carry fans. They had scheduled stops in Maxville, Finch, Chesterville, and Winchester. Your train ticket included a ticket to the game in Smiths Falls. Apparently, there were no crowd control measures on the trains, and, on one occasion, one individual was pushed off the train from the car. The players had drive and they had pluck.
The Dundas County Archives has recently received a donation of the personal papers and scrap books of the late Denzil Crowderman, (1947 – 51). His papers record an incredible journey for these players. After the end of the Rockets, he went on to play in Scotland in 1952 – 54. The Duncan Twins, Edwin and Erwin, played for the Rockets in 1945 – 48. They later went on to play in London, England, and in Sweden and Czechoslovakia. Ralph Hurley played in the Scottish league. Leo Boivin played with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Detroit, and St Louis. Floyd Smith played for the New York Islanders. Former Hockey Night in Canada commentator, Brian McFarlane, played for the Rockets for two years. In 1992, the team was inducted into the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame.
While most of the players are now sadly gone, they live on in our memories. In 2011, their memory was acknowledged by the introduction of the North Dundas Junior Rockets. Percy Armstrong and Denzil Crowder were there to drop the ceremonial first puck. Someone dear to my heart was on the team that first season. In 2014, Samantha Armstrong, the daughter of Percy Armstrong, created a labour of love in honour of the Rockets. A veteran film producer and director, she lovingly created a documentary about the team. She has donated remaining copies of this DVD to the Dundas County Archives to sell as a fund raiser. If you are interested in a copy, please email [email protected] My hope is that, once COVID is past us, the archives will be able to host a special event to commemorate the Inkerman Rockets. There are still many stories to be shared about these incredible men and their little hockey team with pluck.