WASAGAMING —Westman’s big kickoff to Canada’s year-long 150th anniversary celebrations found hundreds of people soak in hockey action at Riding Mountain National Park on Saturday.
The day’s centrepiece was park staff’s friendly rematch of a 1933 exhibition hockey game, when the Riding Mountain Relief Camp All Stars played against an intermediate hockey team from Dauphin.
"It was s great way to kick off Canada 150," key organizer and parks staff member Fred Sheppard said after the game, dripping with sweat. "People seemed to enjoy it."
One of the game’s more enthusiastic witnesses was Mac Estabrooks, who served the Canada National Parks system for about 40 years and whose final stint before retirement was as superintendent of Riding Mountain National Park from 1984-95.
Now a resident of Brandon, he headed up to his old stomping grounds on Saturday to help welcome a year-long celebration of the institution he spent his life assisting the development of.
"History is so important, and the historic sites we have are fabulous in this country, but there’s a lot of historic value to this park as well," he said, noting that the 1930s were an interesting time for Riding Mountain National Park.
The Great Depression had gripped the area, at which time more than 1,000 men were employed to build park infrastructure as an economic booster.
During this time, park staff got together on a regular basis as the Riding Mountain Relief Camp All Stars team to play other local area teams on a rink they constructed on Clear Lake. One of these games was captured in a 1933 Winnipeg Free Press photograph.
It’s this game that park staff and area hockey players strived to recapture on Saturday — a rematch of sorts that ended in a 4-4 tie.
In the original game, the All Stars lost, despite future Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender and five-time Stanley Cup winner Walter (Turk) Broda minding their net. On Saturday, Parks Canada staffer Les Campbell took Broda’s place as the All Stars’ goaltender.
While Campbell proudly noted his ability to let in fewer goals than Broda did several decades ago, he laughed: "This is probably it for my career."
The game’s stakes weren’t exactly high, with many of its participants unclear about which team had won the game, be it the All Stars or the visiting Young Guns.
Former University of Manitoba Bisons player Amy Lee was part of this group, reflecting on the game as a fun afternoon on the rink with an eclectic group of friends, old and new.
It was also neat to see the old-style hockey jerseys out on the ice, she added.
The Riding Mountain Relief Camp All Stars team jerseys used on Saturday were recreations of the original 1930s-era jerseys, as captured in the Winnipeg Free Press photograph.
Designers’ saving grace was a line in the accompanying story that clarified that the jerseys were "Parks Canada green," Sheppard said, noting that he would have otherwise assumed that they were red.
The game might have been the weekend’s high point, but its conclusion did not initiate a mass exodus from the park, with various other activities filling out the park’s Winter Adventure Weekend.
While participants fanned out to enjoy sledding, snowshoeing and various other activities, park warden Erin Monk noted that it had been the most people he has seen at the park all winter.
Not that they haven’t had visitors, he clarified, citing year-round activities at the park as drawing people in all 12 months of the year.
It’s nice to see so many people enjoying the park, Estabrooks said, adding that he hopes to see the hockey game become an annual event.
"Things like this, it preserves (the park) for future generations to enjoy," he said.
The outdoor hockey rink that parks staff constructed on Clear Lake for Saturday’s game will be maintained throughout the winter, Sheppard said, inviting people to skate it during their visits to the park.
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB