Most people know of the rich history of wartime shipbuilding at Shipyards of Lower Lonsdale, especially during the 1940’s. The area and industry was an integral part of the growth of North Vancouver. Few, if any folks know that there happens to be a little-known snippet of hockey history intertwined with these same Shipyards.
Now, the history of hockey in North Vancouver is minimal at best. Sure, there have been 12 players born in North Vancouver to play in the NHL, but only three of them played at least 50 games. There was Todd Simpson, a tough defenceman who played 580 games and the Kariya clan (although Paul was technically born in Vancouver). Martin Jones is the new starting goalie for the San Jose Sharks and Sam and Griffin Reinhart are top prospects just beginning their NHL careers. After current Canucks radio colour commentator Dave Tomlinson and WHA star George Lyle, thats about it for top level professional players produced here. The North Shore and Hollyburn Winter Clubs have for years, and still are graduating talented youngsters to the junior and college ranks. Also, the North Van Wolfpack play Junior B hockey out of Harry Jerome Arena and won the league championship last season. However, if one digs into the hockey history databases a bit, you come across a little-known team named Vancouver Norvan Shipyards from 1941/42.
The Shipyards in the team name refers to the Burrard Drydock Company on the North Vancouver waterfront which at its peak during World War II employed up to 14,000 workers in the shipbuilding industry. Across Canada during WWII, senior hockey leagues in most of the large cities included teams made up entirely of military personnel and/or sponsored by civilian companies that contributed to the war efforts. The North Vancouver Shipyards were no exception.
With such a large number of people working and living nearby the Shipyards, the social and athletic club was extremely important. The Burrard Drydock was reputed to have the largest five-pin bowling league in the world at the time. Employees engaged in such pastimes as boxing, softball, archery and roller-skating. The Shipyards sponsoring a hockey team falls right in line with the social environment of the busy wartime outfit. There was no hockey rink onsite at Burrard Drydock, so the team played out of the Vancouver Forum a few kilometres across Burrard Inlet, still standing today.
The Vancouver Norvan Shipyards squad played in a league named the Pacific Coast Senior Hockey Association along with three other Armed Forces related teams; New Westminster Spitfires, Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Bapcos (sponsored by a Pendrey Paint Company). On November 12, 1941 the Novans faced off in Victoria to kick off the season. It proved to be a tightly contested league, after the 28 game schedule had been completed the top three teams were separated by only two points. Victoria finished first with 31 points, Norvans and Nanaimo tied with 29 and New Westminster brought up the rear with 23 points.
The Norvans and Nanaimo played a two game, total goal series to determine who claimed second spot. On February 20, 1942 Nanaimo travelled to the Forum at Hastings Park and walloped the Norvan Shipyards by a score of 9-2. The next day, the Clippers swept the two game set with a 4-3 win at home. On the 23rd the same teams began a best-of-three Semi-final in Nanaimo with another victory for the home team, this time 4-2. The Norvans evened up the series with a 4-3 win back at the Forum the next day setting up a final match in Nanaimo thanks to their home ice advantage. The last game was no contest as the Clippers blew out Norvan Shipyards 7-0 behind a shutout from goaltender Keith Langille. Nanaimo went on to beat Victoria in the final by 3 games to 1 winning the PCSHA Championship.
1941/42 would be the only season for the Vancouver Norvan Shipyards as the PCSHA would be no more after this year. The other teams, some in different incarnations ended up in either the B.C. Mainland Senior Hockey League or the Vancouver Island Senior Hockey League.
There’s no way to know for sure, but it’s safe to assume that most of the players on the Vancouver Norvan Shipyards hockey team worked there in some form or another. Many of them as well as others throughout the league had recently or would soon play in the NHL. There are some terrific photos of some of the Norvans players to be found on the Vancouver Archives database. Jack Riley who had played two full seasons with the Montreal Canadiens in the early 1930’s was a teammate of Hall of Famers Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat. Riley would star in the minor leagues up until joining the Norvans and during this 41/42 season he produced 14 points over 6 games.
Red Beattie was another ex-NHLer who was 35 years old when he skated for the Norvans. Beattie had played 334 NHL games through the 1930’s mainly with the Boston Bruins alongside all-time great Eddie Shore. His best year was 32 points in 48 games for the 35/36 Bruins. He would score 24 points for the Norvans.
Jack Kilpatrick, who played for Victoria Bapcos that season was an actual Olympic Gold medalist when Great Britain won hockey Gold in 1936. Kilpatrick played most of his career with the Nelson (BC) Maple Leafs in various senior circuits and would lead the Pacific Coast league in scoring in 41/42 with 43 points in 27 games. Although most of the players in the league were military men stationed in and around the Vancouver area or civilians employed in the war effort, there were a few who would actually be mobilized overseas to fight on the frontline. Doug Martinson of North Battleford, Saskatchewan was a member of the Nanaimo Clippers this 41/42 season and soon after was shipped overseas. As a flying officer in the RCAF, Martinson was killed in Belgium on November 11, 1944.
Amazingly, a few of the men who played wartime hockey in these parts during the winter of 1941/42 are still alive to this day. Cliff Gannon who played for New Westminster Spitfires and later in the Allan Cup with Regina Army Caps turned 97 years old on October 21, 2015. Perhaps the oldest living veteran of this league is on Pete Bonneville who led the Norvan Shipyards squad in points with 33 and played senior hockey until 1946. Born in Cornwall, Ontario in 1913, Pete Bonneville is alive at 102 years old today.