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by Don Morrow, University of Western Ontario
The finest clues to the nature of this work of historical fiction can be found in the first and last lines of the book. Reddick opens his historical tale with:
Now, I'm going to lie and wink. And I'm apt to exaggerate a little bit here and there, and I won't tell you when, and I'll do it because it makes a better story.
Indeed, this is a story written from the narrator's point of view; the narrator is George "Boston" Mason, son of a Georgian confederate soldier who left his home of origin (located in Massachusetts by then) at 19 years of age in 1904. His quest was to get to the Yukon gold fields and stake a rich claim. He left behind his sweetheart, Lizzie Grady, a figure somewhat reminiscent of Thirza Cook in Whitehead's biography of the hockey legend Cyclone Taylor. Although George and Lizzie part in anger, they eventually reunite in a marriage that lasts for over 50 years. Thus, the last line of this semi-romantic novel:
I believe the grandest thing I ever did in my lifetime was walk beside her.
For some reason, I dreaded reading the book and put it off as long as I could. Once I started, I was drawn immediately into the story. Reddick does a fine job of contextualizing the era with descriptions of Mason attending the first world series game in Boston, with sketches and flashbacks to George's stoic father and with vivid images of travelling across the Canadian west and on up to Dawson City just after the turn of the century. It is a story well told. Its only weakness to me is the author's strained use of dialogue among characters when he tries to re-create scenes from his narrator's recollections in 1962. In essence, the book is more about George's pilgrimmage to the Yukon than it is a "hockey book". At the same time, the events unfold so well that as Reddick wraps up the story in the last 10 pages by relating what became of each of the main characters in the tale, I was truly choked up.
Regarding the hockey history, this is a story that was waiting to be told and it made me think how lacking is our history of ice hockey in this country. The book is devoid of pictures, unfortunately, save the cover photo of the famed seven and their benefactor, Joe Boyle. And Reddick does have Mason point out to the reader how no one in that photo, taken at Dey's Rink in Ottawa just before the first game, is smiling. Small wonder after three and one-half weeks of travel on foot, dogsled, by storm-tossed ship, and by train with less than 36 hours to rest (without any practise or skating on the way) before the first game of the best of 3-game challenge for the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the proper name for the grail we now hail as the Stanley Cup, as Reddick reminds us constantly. The Dawson City Nuggets are seven players plus two "spares", one of whom is George who does get to play in the second game because of an injury to one of the starting players. Both teams have considerable talent, yet it is clearly Ottawa who are the more experienced and the more rested. If the book is devoid of source material, Reddick does include a considerable amount of press material by having the Dawson players read the exaggerated and one-sided accounts of the expedition and the games in the media. As most sport historians know, the Ottawa Silver Seven won the series in a two-game sweep, by scores of 9 to 2 and 23 to 2, the latter score built up by the awesome performance of Ottawa star player, Frank McGee's incredible 14 goals. Reddick avoids, for the most part, the tedium of game descriptions from the static nature of the no-forward-passing game of the era by having his narrator reflect and observe what was happening during the games from his perspective.
For me, this was an enjoyable book, one unencumbered by anything smacking of academic standard. Either the author found good diaries from which to base his story, or, he had a well developed imagination and fabricated the whole thing. Whichever, 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. And I was relieved that the last line did NOT read, "The grandest thing I ever did in my lifetime was play for the Stanley Cup in 1905 for the remarkable Dawson City Seven."