Dawson City Seven Killing Frank McGee
Dawson City Seven
"'The match of the century!' Joe Boyle yelled amidst the morning crowd. 'Dawson's here for the grandest Stanley Cup match of them all!'"
On December 19, 1904 the Dawson City Nuggets began their 4,000-mile trek to wrest the Stanley Cup from the Ottawa Silver Seven. Twenty-five days later, the rubber-legged, travel-worn players staggered into Ottawa's Union Station - they had trudged 350 miles behind their dog teams, jolted over the narrow-guage White Pass Railway, lurched and rolled aboard the SS Romano, and whiled away endless days on the CPR. The very next evening, theStanley Cup series began. The feisty Nuggets lost their first game 9-2, but they believed they cold win the second game and then the third, and take the Cup home to Dawson City forever. In victory, they would rechristen themselves the "Dawson City Seven."
The bare outline of this amazing story is well known, but its wondrous details have never before been told. Now, in Dawson City Seven, Don Reddick brings to life the saga of the most adventurous hockey team that efver took the ice. Dawson City Seven is the ideal historical novel: faithful to fact and human nature at the same time. Reddick weaves into the historical facts the fictional story of Boston Mason, the son of a Confederate soldier who travels from his Massachusetts farm to seek his fortune in the Klondike. Mason's skating prowess earns him a berth as a spare on the Nuggets, a berth to which, Reddick feels, Mason has as much right as anyone - at least as one of the spares on the team that went to Ottawa was a ringer.
Don Reddick is a devoted hockey fan, a historian, and a field service engineer. His way with words makes Dawson City Seven spellbinding to history fans and fiction lovers alike.
NUGGETS FROM A YEAR IN SPORTS
by Trent Frayne, Maclean's Magazine 1/10/94
"For 90 years, Canadian sports scribes and even learned historians have snoozed over the weirdest and, in some ways, most wonderful chapter in the long story of the Stanley Cup. Nearly a century late, here comes an American field-service engineer showing us our folly."
"...Don Reddick has written a novel called Dawson City Seven...it's a great story."
- Arthur Black, Basic Black radio show
REDDICK DISPLAYS STORY-TELLING PROWESS
By Ken Bolton, The Yukon News, 11/5/93
"What makes it such a pleasant read is the skill with which Reddick weaves his tale, and the gentle romanticism with which he imbues the central character."
"...I loved it."
- the Honorable Audrey McLaughlin
CANADIAN BOOK REVIEW ANNUAL
by Matt Hartman, 1994
"Reddick has produced a memorable book, one that includes a valuable chunk of Canadian hockey history."
by Don Morrow, University of Western Ontario
"For me, this was an enjoyable book, one unencumbered by anything
smacking of academic standard. [...] I did sense the vastness and the
greatness of the Canadian west, the end of the gold rush era and its
remains as well as the colourfulness and early significance of hockey
before it became so commercialized."
"...I think this is perhaps the best historical novel I've ever read."
- Paul Kitchen, President, Society for International Hockey Research
Letter from Margot Sullivan
I would say that your first United States speaking engagement was a smashing success!! Everyone just loved the presentation. Many people were not hockey fans but found the whole story fascinating. The writers in the group loved to hear what you said about how ou found your ideas, publishing experiences, and all the little anecdotes involved in your travels, writing, research, and TV appearances. The video was a perfect lead into talking about DAWSON CITY SEVEN. Anyway the whole evening was JUST RIGHT - different from all the previous authors, multimedia, and in many respects one of the most successful because many in the audience could identify with you.
None of the previous authors have provided (thanks Terry) such delicious food and the staff was very spoiled the next day with all of the goodies. I wish we could have let people linger a little longer but since it was the reading room rearranging of furniture had to take place. By the way I thought that room was perfect for a group that size and lent itself easily to a speaker.
Again many, many thanks to ou and your whole family. It all went very well. The video is being processed for our collection. Great job! I wish you success upon the United States release and with your next publication.
Killing Frank McGee
reviewed by Andrew O'Malley
Canadians don't agree on much, but many of us do take the ignorance of our southern neighbours about our history and our sport (not to mention the history of our sport) to be axiomatic. These ungenerous biases did contribute to a pleasant sense of astonishment when reading Don Reddick's Killing Frank McGee. However, the enjoyment of this novel goes well beyond the gratification of having the career and death - on the World War I battlefields of the Somme - of a Canadian hockey icon noticed and celebrated by an American. Killing Frank McGee deserves recognition as a meticulously researched, powerfully written and often deeply moving piece of historical fiction.
The chapters alternate between two narrators, both real historical figures. Alf Smith, legendary player-coach, and pioneer of hockey's now notorious goon tactics, recounts the evolution of McGee into the game's first superstar. McGee's scoring prowess helped make the Ottawa Silver Seven the first Stanley Cup dynasty in the days before the Natioinal Hockey League. In Smith, Reddick creates a remarkable character: his insights into the brutal logic of the sport are coupled with a deep resentment of the wealthy promoters and administrators of his beloved game. The ice is, for Smith, a site on which an ugly class warfare is played out, where he seeks redress for the injustices (real and imagined) he has suffered at the hands of Ottawa's social elite. This part of the narrative, in which Smith moves from grudging respect to profound affection for the son of the prominent McGee family, provides rich insight into hockey's place in the Canadian cultural environment at the turn of the century.
William Kinnear, the second narrator, is a private in the Canadian armed forces stationed in France in World War I, who has joined the war effort to escape an ill-fated romance in his native Sackville, New Brunswick. His poetic reflections on love and loss provide a fine contrast to Smith's coarse misanthropy, and Reddick manages well the task of preventing this gentler voice from being overshadowed by that of the engagingly garrulous Smith. Particularly striking is the way in which Kinnear describes the insanity of trench warfare. The narration slips seamlessly from past to present tense and from first to second person when the ferocity of the fighting mounts, giving the experience of the catastrophic battle a sense of both immediacy and alienation. Kinnear, who has only a peripheral interest in hockey, and who is only vaguely familiar with McGee's pre-war, on-ice heroics, is the only witness to the hockey legend's obliteration by a German shell.
While hockey may be like war in its brutality and, as Smith insists, its necessary configuration of the opposing team as the "enemy," extending the comparison any further diminishes the horror of war. McGee only appears at the end of Kinnear's narrative, and then only long enough to die. On his companion website for the book, Reddick indicates that he could find virtually no information about Kinnear, whose name he chose randomly from a Canadian war memorial in France. Far from deflating McGee's heroic status, his relative absence from Kinnear's account emphasizes the greatness of the sacrifice McGee made alongside thousands of other Canadians.
Killing Frank McGee
Eminent Canadian historian Jack Granatstein described Canada as a "Nation Forged in Fire" (the title of his 1989 book with Desmond Morton, published by Lester & Orpen Dennys). The phrase refers to Canada finding its national identity on the battlefields of Northern France during the First World War, a scant fifty years after proclaiming statehood at Confederation in 1867. Granatstein's and Morton's second book in the two book series, "Marching to Armageddon" tells of the horrendous obstacles overcome by the sons of this fledgling nation to earn the respect of nations long dominant in the diplomatic world.
It is this same Armageddon that provides the backdrop for half of the story of Killing Frank McGee. Told through the eyes of Pte. William Kinnear, alternating chapters of Don Reddick's novel follow the footsteps of a young New Brunswick lad from the maritime lumber camps to the rat infested bomb craters in the muck of Flanders. Through Billy's story of spurned love, the reader comes to understand how the innocent youth of a nation came to find itself in the hell of no-man's land. The graphic description of changing scenery as Billy wends his way from his Sackville, New Brunswick home to the Western Front, along with the mounting fear in the narrator's quavering voice, shatter the pastoral images that this corner of France has now become. Reddick sums up the experience of 'The Great War' in the simple words of a returning Australian as he describes life in the trenches as: "Ducky mate, ducky."
The other half of Killing Frank McGee delves into the history of another facet of the Canadian national identity: ice hockey. So deeply rooted in the psychosis of the nation, this sport ignites the passions of both new comers and families who have called Canada home for generations. When Canadians are sent to compete against the world, nothing less than victory is expected, nor accepted, and the method of achieving victory, no matter how suspect, can always be overlooked. It is refreshing to learn that not much has changed in the past hundred years. Alf Smith, player-coach for the turn of the century Ottawa Senators and Reddick's second narrator, in a voice reminiscent of professional coach turned broadcaster, Don Cherry, recounts in harrowing detail the skull-splitting battles and blood-smeared campaigns that ensured that the Stanley Cup remained in Ottawa for the better part of the twentieth century's opening decade.
The most troubling aspect of Killing Frank McGee is that the reader gets to know so little about the title character himself. In the story told by Pte. William Kinnear, Frank McGee is not presented until near the very end of the story, just in time for the narrator and the title character to meet mere moments before the latter's death. In the recounting of Alf Smith, the hockey-man makes no illusions about McGee's role to his own hockey success. But aside from a few tidbits of the young scoring sensation's background and family, there is very little offered for the reader to bond with a character that one feels such a connection should be made, or that at least is suggested by the book's title. The reader's continued puzzlement does detract from the enjoyment of the wealth of historical knowledge provided by the author.
However, it is Reddick's ability to move from one story to the other, changing setting, narrator and voice so convincingly that is testimony to his skill as a writer. Picking up the book blindly, the reader, within a few words, is able to recall not only the story, but who is telling it and from where. Once the pages are opened, the reader is pulled in by the thunder of an artillery barrage as well as the crowd, light glinting from the blades of both bayonets and skates.