Born in Fort William on June 28th, 1923, James Gaye Stewart attended Franklin Public School and Fort William Vocational High School where he was a standout on the track and on the football field. It was on the rinks of both Fort William and Port Arthur while playing with Fort William and Port Arthur teams during the 1930s that he would develop the hockey skills that would lead him to a successful NHL career.
Tapped by the Toronto Marlboros his strong stick handling and skating abilities saw him quickly advance up through the ranks, leading the OHA in scoring for 1940-41. In the 1941-42 season, he started out on the junior squad, advanced to the Marlboro Seniors, graduated to the professional ranks in the AHL with the Hershey Bears and was called up to help the Leafs in their successful 1942 Stanley Cup playoff campaign against Detroit; all in one season and still only eighteen years of age.
In his first full season as a Leaf, his 24 goals and 23 assists in 48 games saw him beat out Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard to earn the 1943 NHL Rookie of the Year title, becoming the first player from northwestern Ontario to win the Calder Trophy. Enlisting and serving in the Canadian Navy for two years, he returned to the ice for the 1945-46 season, joining fellow Fort William players Gus Bodnar and Bud Poile to form the famous ‘Flying Forts’ line. His 37 goals in 50 games saw him lead the league in scoring and earn him a spot on the 1st All-Star Team.
Claiming his second Stanley Cup with the Leafs in 1946-47, the following season he was involved in one of the biggest trades in NHL history which saw him and four other Leafs, including Bodnar and Poile, sent to Chicago for Max Bentley and rookie Cy Thomas. After three seasons with the Black Hawks where he spent time as their Captain and was named to another NHL All-Star Team, he was involved in another big trade which sent him to Detroit in 1950 before heading to New York and Montreal. Retiring from the professional ranks in 1955 following a couple of seasons in the AHL as a player and coach with the Buffalo Bisons, he left behind an impressive NHL record of 185 goals and 159 assists in 502 games. Following his playing career, he remained involved in the professional ranks going on to become an NHL referee for a couple of seasons.
Gaye Stewart never forgot his roots, often returning to his hometown to visit and even to play some hockey. In 1979 he was part of an NHL Oldtimers Showdown event held between periods at a Thunder Bay Twins game that featured NHL alumni who got their start at the Lakehead. This Hall of Fame Honoured Member passed away in Burlington, Ontario on November 18, 2010.
Inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, October 1, 1983