There have been many interesting Stanley Cup winners, from the Kenora Thistles of 1907 to the legendary NHL teams such as the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers. None have been more interesting, or have took a greater journey to the Cup, than the Dawson City Nuggets.
Their journey has become an integral part of Stanley Cup lore, and they are a team that is now remembered not for the lopsided loss for the Cup, but for their commitment to playing for it in the first place.
It could be said that the Dawson City Nuggets are the most famous of all Stanley Cup challengers, going back to the very beginning of the Stanley Cup. The biggest reason for this is the immense amount of work that the Nuggets completed just to play for the Cup.
At the time, any team could compete for the Stanley Cup if they put a challenge in. Feeling that they had a pretty good team, Dawson City decided to give it a go.
The interest of competing for the Stanley Cup goes back to about 1900 in Dawson City. It was in that year that Weldy Young, a former member of the Ottawa Hockey Club, sent a letter to the Ottawa Citizen indicating an interest in playing for the Cup.
Young had played for the Ottawa Hockey Club in 1890, and remained with the team until 1899 when he decided to go to Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush.
The Ottawa Journal would report quote:
“Hockey men say that if the Dawsonites should happen to win the cup it might likely remain a long time in Dawson, for the possibility of a team from the east going out there to play for it would be a matter of considerable difficulty.”
In 1901, the Stanley Cup trustees received a letter indicating that Dawson City wanted to challenge for the Cup against the Winnipeg Victorias. The letter, would state in part, quote:
“On behalf of the civil service hockey club of Dawson, hockey champions of the Yukon Territory, we hereby challenge the Victoria Hockey club of Winnipeg, the present holders of the Stanley Cup to a series of matches for the championship of Canada. Owing to our isolated position we would deem it a favor if you would act for us in the matter and let us know as soon as possible the dates for games, we would suggest the latter part of January 1902 as a suitable season as the winter trails in this country would, by that time, be in good condition to travel.”
Dan Bain, captain of the Victorias, stated that they had received the letter and hoped the team would make the journey but he would state that they did not stand much of a chance against the Winnipeg team.
That challenge wouldn’t happen but Dawson City was not going to forget about obtaining the Stanley Cup.
In September of 1904, a challenge letter was sent to the Stanley Cup trustees once more, asking that Dawson City have the chance to battle the Ottawa Silver Seven.
The letter would state quote:
The letter would add that there was the hope of playing Ottawa around the middle of January. Welby Young would write quote:
“This would leave us a month in which to play the balance of our games and still enable us to return to Dawson over the ice in March. The distance from Dawson to Whitehorse, where we will make our first railroad connection going is about 350 miles and it is the intention of the team to make this part of the journey on foot. The road is good and we can cover this distance in about nine days and by travelling this way we would keep the boys pretty fit.”
The challenge was authorized in December of that year.
At the time the Ottawa Hockey Club, or Silver Seven, were one of the greatest teams hockey had ever seen. On the team were Hall-of-Famers Frank McGee, Rat Westwick, Alf Smith, Billy Gilmour and Harvey Pulford. In addition, the team had gone 7-1-0 and finished first in the Federal Amateur Hockey League. The team had also won the Stanley Cup in 1903 and 1904, and was in the midst of a Dynasty Run towards becoming one of hockey’s best teams. By 1911, the team had won seven Stanley Cups.
With $3,000 from Colonel Joe Boyle, the self-proclaimed King of the Klondike and the owner of the team, the team was ready to make its way across the country.
The Ottawa Citizen would state quote:
“Mr. Boyle will not bring the Arctic heroes down from the frozen north without good strong hopes of success. If they are in anything like the same class as eastern hockeyists, and Joe is of the opinion they are, they should be thoroughly seasoned by the time they reach the capital.”
As soon as news spread that the Dawson City Nuggets would be making the journey to play in Ottawa, Canada became transfixed and began to follow the team even before they left. The Montreal Wanderers and Winnipeg Victorias both invited the team to play them as well. There were also plans to play the Toronto Marlboros.
So, who was on this team?
Albert Forrest: Came with his parents from Quebec to find a fortune. A speed skater, he was the goalie for the team despite never having played the position before. He was only 17-years-old and is still the youngest person to ever play in a Stanley Cup Game.
Jim Johnstone: A former police officer from Ottawa.
Randy McLennan: A graduate from Queen’s University and a doctor, he came from Ontario and was the only player on the team to have played for the Stanley Cup. He had played for Queen’s University when they lost 5-1 to Montreal for the Stanley Cup in 1895. At the time, he was working in the mine recorder’s office.
Lorne Hannay: A defenceman, he came from Manitoba and had played against the Silver Seven the year prior when he played for Brandon. In that experience, he had two goals.
Norm Watt: Coming from Quebec, he was known as one of the toughest and dirtiest players on the ice. He worked in the post office.
George Kennedy: A civil servant from Manitoba.
Hector Smith: Also a civil servant.
Archie Martin: A star lacrosse player from Ottawa, he was a personal friend of Joe Boyle and worked in his dredging company.
J.K. Johnstone: Worked in the post office with Watt.
Two players, Weldy Young and Lionel Bennett, the two best players on the team, did not make the journey. Young, who had played with the Silver Seven, had to work as an election official. He would eventually arrive late for the games.
Bennett chose to stay by his wife who had been injured when she was dragged by a runaway sleigh.
As soon as they received their approval to challenge for the Stanley Cup, the Dawson City Nuggets began the long journey down south. A trip that would cost $10,000, or about $250,000 today.
The Windsor Star would report quote:
“A team has been organized in the Yukon country at Dawson City and they are coming down into the provinces to play for the Stanley Cup.”
It would add over what will happen if the Nuggets actually won the Stanley Cup, quote:
Beginning on Dec. 19, 1904, they travelled from Dawson City to Whitehorse by dog sled first, with most of the team using dogs and some players even riding bicycles. Newspapers would follow the progress of the team. This first leg of the journey was 500 kilometres, and no easy task.
Upon reaching Whitehorse, the team then had to take the train to Skagway, a journey of about 150 kilometres.
Upon getting into Skagway, the team then boarded a ship and sailed down to Vancouver on the next leg of their epic journey., amounting to 1,700 kilometres on the water. Having missed their boat by two hours, they sat at the location for five days waiting for another ship. During this leg of the journey, many players developed sea sickness, making the trip even more miserable.
By Jan. 4, the Ottawa Journal was reporting that there was no sign of the challengers, stating quote:
“As of yet, nothing has been heard from the challengers since they left Dawson.”
After reaching Vancouver on Jan. 6, 1905, the team then boarded a train and the easiest leg of their journey began.
As soon as the team arrived, newspapers across the country started to print that the challengers were on their way across the continent. The Winnipeg Tribune would state quote:
“After their record-breaking trip from Dawson to Whitehorse, the Dawson City hockey team arrived in Vancouver via Seattle and left on the afternoon train for Ottawa. The boys look husky and weather-beaten and ay they are as hard as nails.”
The Ottawa Citizen would write quote:
“The Dawson City Hockey team challengers for the Stanley Cup arrived. The men are in fine condition.”
Travelling the distance from Vancouver to Ottawa, the team reached their destination on Jan. 11, only two days before the match was supposed to begin. The distance from Vancouver to Ottawa amounted to another 4,200 kilometres.
The entire journey for the team was a long one, covering a total of over 6,500 kilometres. For the small team from Dawson City, the trip was an epic one and the biggest part of their journey was about to begin, the Stanley Cup challenge.
The team would reach Winnipeg on Jan. 6, where they would show that the long journey had been impacting them heavily. Norman Watt would say quote:
“The boys are in poor shape and it is our intention to ask for another postponement of the matches. We have practically no chance to keep in condition and when we get to Ottawa we will be in no shape at all to play.”
Once the team arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 11, only two days before they were to play their first game. The Ottawa team would not allow them to adjust the date of the game.
That being said, the city itself was more than welcoming to the men from Dawson City. A huge welcome greeted the men as they arrived by train. Members of the Ottawa hockey club executive also met them at the train to welcome them to the city. Later, a welcoming dinner was held for them. In addition, the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Club provided rooms to everyone on the team, without cost.
The Ottawa Journal would write quote:
Everything kicked off with the first game in front of a crowd of 3,000 people and Dawson only down 3-1 halfway through. The team from the north seemed to be holding its own but things quickly changed. Norman Watt of Dawson tripped up Art Moore of Ottawa. Moore then hit Watt in the face with his stick and Watt responded by knocking out Moore with his own stick. Both men received 15-minute penalties. Moore would suffer four stitches in the altercation.
By the end of the game, Ottawa had won 9-2 and the Dawson City players complained that many of the goals were offside. It is believed from first-hand accounts that the lone referee missed as many as six off-side Ottawa goals.
The event was also attended by the Governor General Lord Grey and other members of Government House, as did several other politicians.
The Manitoba Morning Free Press would write quote:
“It is true that the Dawson City men had only just arrived and that they had hardly had time to get into proper shape but the form they did show was the most mediocre kind and while several were individually good, they had absolutely no system whatever and the local team practically scored when they wanted to.”
In the game, Alf Smith would score four goals, Harry Westwick and Frank White scored two goals and Frank McGee scored one. Randy McLennan and George Kennedy both scored for Dawson City.
Lorne Hannay was described as the best man on the team in the game and there were protests that he was a member of the Winnipeg Victorias and not a bona fide member of the Dawson City squad.
Feeling a bit big for his shoes despite the loss, Norman Watt then said that Frank McGee was not that good since he had only scored one goal in the first game.
With that, the second game was ready to be played on Jan. 16 and McGee, possibly because of what was said, decided to respond in the best way he could. He began to score goals. He just didn’t score a few goals, he scored more goals than anyone ever has in a hockey game, before or since.
In the first half of the game, McGee scored four goals. By the end of the game, he had added another 10 goals. Ottawa would win the game 23-2, making it the most lop-sided Stanley Cup win in the history of the game. Frank White scored once in the game, while Alf Smith scored three times and Harry Westwick scored five, all well behind McGee. Hector Smith scored both goals for Dawson City.
The Manitoba Morning Free Press would report quote:
For Ottawa, this was the sixth challenge for the Stanley Cup against them since 1903 and by far the Dawson City challenge saw Ottawa score the most goals of any challenge it had faced so far with 32 goals compared to only four by Dawson.
While the Dawson City Nuggets lost, they were still celebrated at a banquet held by the Ottawa team. Albert Forrest, the Dawson City goalie, was also celebrated for his work to keep the score from being double what it was in the second game. He was named as team MVP but the team didn’t seem to care what happened to him after the games were over. He would walk alone, from Pelly Crossing to Dawson City, a distance of about 250 kilometres, on the return trip home.
Another bit of Stanley Cup lore came after the game when the members of the Ottawa Silver Seven drop-kicked the Stanley Cup into the Rideau Canal and left it there overnight. It was retrieved off the ice the next day.
Only a few days after the Stanley Cup challenge, Kingston invited the Dawson club to a game and while accepting, the Dawson City Nuggets didn’t show up for the game and instead had gone to the east, sending no message that they had cancelled the game, which cost the Kingston club $100 in lost revenue.
After the games, the team went on to play several games in the Maritimes and eastern United States. Improving their play through the month of March. They would play a team from Pittsburgh and defeat them two games out of three and outscoring the Americans 17 to 10.
Eventually, the players would return to their old lives but McLennan and Watt would find out after the second game that they had been laid off work, effective immediately, albeit with pay until June 30, 1905.
Ottawa would be challenged two months later by Rat Portage and would win the best-of-three series two games to one to hold onto the Stanley Cup. For their part, Rat Portage would become Kenora and in 1907 the Kenora Thistles won the Stanley Cup and are the smallest community in Canada to ever win.
McGee would go on to win one more Stanley Cup with Ottawa before he enlisted to fight in the First World War. He was killed on Sept. 16, 1916. His body was never found. When the Hockey Hall of Fame was founded in 1945, McGee was one of the first inductees. In 22 Stanley Cup games he had an astounding 63 goals.
In 1989, the Dawson City Nuggets would be inducted into the Yukon Sport Hall of Fame.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, NHL.com, Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Journal, Wikipedia, Winnipeg Tribune, Windsor Star, Montreal Gazette