As I read through the many articles contained in the Hall of Fame files or look at the great photographs contained in the archives, I tend to get lost in the moment. I often find myself imagining the sound of the cheering crowds at McKellar Park as I gaze at a picture of the Fort William Redskins. This week I thought I would reflect back upon a sport whose fans are gearing up for a tradition that dates back over 100 years, the awarding of football’s Grey Cup.
This popular sport made its first appearance in this area in the form of rugby, with the formation of the Lakehead Rugby Union during the 1930s.
Teams active in that league included the Lakehead Ukrainians, the Fort William Dynamiters and the Port Arthur Green Rivers. At the same time, rugby had also become an integral part of the local high school program.
It was not until after the Second World War, in 1946, that the Lakehead Rugby Football Union was formed. The charter members of that league were the Fort William Redskins, the Lakehead College Mustangs and the Fort William Ukes.
The ensuing years created some great rivalries with games drawing thousands of fans to each game. The majority of these matches were won by the Redskins, who amassed a rather impressive record in their 20-year history from 1946 to 1966, with 14 local, five Western Canadian and one Canadian title to their credit. The Redskins claimed their Canadian title in 1958, which was the first and last time a national football title had ever been brought to Northwestern Ontario.
Football’s strong tradition has continued at the high school level, and through such organizations as the Thunder Bay Minor Football Association and the former Thunder Bay Giants, all of which served as a great training ground for local and regional players.
In fact as you watch the hoisting of the Grey Cup, you can take pride in knowing that some players from this region have won this historic cup including Jeff Nicklin , Mike Chepesuik, Jorma Kuisma, John Mandarich, Wayne Drinkwalter, Jeff Treftlin, Michael Allen, Dave Van Bellengham and Nigel Romick.
No doubt many of the young players currently tearing up the local gridiron are dreaming of having the same opportunity.
Until next time, keep that sports history pride alive!
Jeff Treftlin (below)
Dave Van Belleghem (Above)
Jeff Nicklin (Right)
Mike Chepesuik (above)
1958-1959 FWCI Football Team
1932 Port Arthur Technical and Commercial High School Football Team