The Fort Frances Canadians were underdogs even before their 1952 Allan Cup journey began having some doubt of even forming a team with many of their top players leaving to play elsewhere and not having a league in which to play. Having narrowly missed the Canadian title in a loss against the Owen Sound Mercuries in the 1951 Allan Cup final they had something to prove. Challenging teams on an exhibition basis during the regular season they won most of their games and set their sights on the Thunder Bay title.
Their 7-game district series saw them take on the highly favoured Fort William Senior Beavers. Losing their first two games 3-2, hope was waning among the Fort Frances camp when they lost the third game 5-4. Refusing to give up the fight they rallied to save their championship dreams in an outstanding comeback that saw them win the next four games 5-3, 2-1, 9-4, and 2-1 to advance along the Allan Cup trail.
After facing such adversity in their first series, the Canadians seemingly breezed to a 7-2 victory in their first game against the Letellier Maple Leafs. However, Letellier refused to allow Fort Frances an easy victory in the best of seven series, and the following game ended in a 4-4 tie. The Canadians regained control in game 3, crushing their opponents 10-3. Perhaps a little too confident following their decisive win, they lost the following two games 5-2 and 2-1. Letting loose a furious offensive in the sixth game, their 8-2 victory tied up the series. The final game brought the series to a nail-biting conclusion, with the Canadians scoring two goals late in the third period to win the game 5-4 and earn the title of Inter-Provincial champions.
With another hard-fought series behind them, the only team standing between Fort Frances and the Allan Cup final was the Edmonton Pats. In their first confrontation, the Canadians dominated play, but Edmonton was able to scrape through to the end, resulting in a 3-3 tie. The next of the best-of-seven series saw the score better reflect the play, as the Canadians continued to dominate, winning the game 8-5. Dropping the third game 4-2 after finding themselves on the wrong end of a couple of lucky deflecting shots, the Fort Frances squad had new resolve as they returned to their home ice, dealing out a 7-1 drubbing to the visitors. The following game provided much of the same for the Fort Frances crowd, as the Canadians again defeated the Pats 7-1, with Vern O’Donnell scoring a hat trick. The final game would see the two teams much more evenly matched, ending regular time in a 3-3 tie. The Pats fought desperately during overtime, but when Fort Frances moved a goal ahead they were deflated, and the score was 5-3 by the end; the Canadians were now Western Canadian champions and one step closer to the Allan Cup.
The best-of-seven Allan Cup final series saw the Canadians take on the Eastern Champion Stratford Indians. Due to travel challenges the first four games were played on neutral ice at the Fort William Gardens, with the remaining games all played in Fort Frances. Donning their new uniforms, the Canadians took to the ice and although badly outshot in the first period, scraped together a one-goal lead that would gradually widen, going on to win the first game 9-5. Badly outplayed in the following match, which was a 3-0 shutout, the third game saw the Fort Frances squad come back from a two goal deficit scoring three goals in the third period for a 6-5 victory. The following match followed much the same pattern, with Fort Frances scoring an astonishing four goals in the final period to make up a two goal deficit and win the game 5-3. However, their last-minute energy would fail them in the following game, as they failed to pull out of a 1-1 tie in the third period, instead allowing Stratford the decisive goal in a disappointing 2-1 loss.
With only one more win needed to take the Cup, the atmosphere in the Fort Frances arena was electric going into game 6. From the first play, the Canadians appeared to have the edge on the tight game, scoring one goal in the first period. Play continued to look promising for the local crowd when Fort Frances netted another goal to begin the second period, although Stratford responded with one of their own for a 2-1 score going into the third. Refusing to let go of the game’s momentum the Canadians continued to press on offense, scoring two more goals in the third. With the remaining minutes ticking away with no reply from Stratford, the game ended in a 4-1 win for Fort Frances Canadians, who claimed the Allan Cup as Canadian Senior hockey champions.
As the town’s only Allan Cup champion team, the 1951-52 Canadians hold a proud place in the community’s history. The team’s national success inspired both young players and fans alike, and turned the nation’s eyes to the small border community of Fort Frances.
The members of this Canadian championship team included (L-R):
Back Row: Pete Makarchuk (mascot), Stan Calder, Dr. William Boyle (medical), Bill Galbraith, Ray Coran
Third Row: Percy Robertson, Gordon Calder, Don Lovisa, Gordon Gosselin, Frank 'Ike' Eisenzoph
Second Row: Joe Bolzan (coach), Ed Kliner, Alex Kurceba, Mike Hupchuk, Dun Sampson, Glen Steele (manager)
Front Row: Walter Christiansen, Rick Ricard, William ‘Sambo’ Fedoruk, Bill Cleaveley, Vern O'Donnell, Eric 'Doc' Johnson.
Inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, September 29, 1984