Hockey is as Canadian as things get. As soon as communities pop up, there is a hockey team soon to follow. In fact, you would be hard pressed not to find a community in Canada that has not had a hockey arena or a hockey team at some point in its history.
In Melita, the first organized hockey game can be traced back to January 25, 1899. For reference, that is only six years after the Stanley Cup was first awarded. The game itself consisted of a junior team consisting of several prominent local individuals including Gilbert Cobb, Charles Pope and Capt. J. Anderson.
Ladies hockey also thrived in Melita. In 1902, long before most communities had a team for women, there was a school team captained by Jennie Dobbyn, and a team for the town captained by a Miss Armsden.
Over the next few years, interest in hockey would grow and by 1906 Melita was competing in a league with teams from Napinka, Deloraine and Gainsborough. Two years later, a new team was formed, playing against Pierson and Napinka. Needless to say, hockey had taken root in Melita.
In 1913, a church league sprang up in Melita with the Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists all putting teams together to compete against each other. That same year, the Melita Intermediates entered into the Brandon, Souris and Melita League.
How popular was hockey in Melita by this point? In March of 1913, the town actually declared a civic holiday so that fans of the team could travel to Brandon to watch a game. The game pitted the Southwest District champs, Melita, against Shoal Lake of the Northwest League. A special train was even organized to take fans to Brandon for the game.
Teams continued to compete until 1926 when the roof of the rink caved in. Hockey would take a hiatus for a time until a new rink was built in 1930.
The Melita Hockey Association officially formed on December10, 1930, with William Heath serving as the first president of the organization. This organization helped to bring together all the divisions of hockey and bring more order to hockey in the community.
As it was The Great Depression, money was tight but the team had immense support from those in the area. In the first year of the association, ticket prices for men were set at 20 cents, while ladies paid 15 cents and children 10 cents. Memberships were also sold for the Intermediate club, costing one dollar and draws were held to raise funds. Farmers would donate bushels of wheat during the 1930s to help out the teams and in 1939 Councillor Tom Loucks of the Municipality of Arthur offered land to plant potatoes to raise money for the Melita Hockey Club. With 1,000 bags of potatoes grown by the club that year, each sold for 90 cents, the club made a lot of money.
Thanks to this support, the Intermediate Club continued to thrive and would enter the Border League in 1936. The team also entered the MAHA Playdowns and reached the Provincial Final against Neepawa. They would win in Neepawa but declined to play in Winnipeg the next day because ice in Melita was ready to play on and the team didn’t want to lose gate receipts.
In 1938, the team once again reached the Playdowns and trains were organized for the fans to follow the team. A total of 650 fans attended the team’s first round win, followed by 1,000 fans filling the rink in the second round. Sadly, Melita lost.
In 1939, the team made the finals with wins over Souris, Virden, Deloraine and Swan River. They would meet Carman in the final and the game in Melita for the championship would last until 3:00 a.m. due to an overtime to break the ice and the late arrival of the referees. Carman would win the game.
Melita’s love for hockey would continue to grow through the years, and even today you can find several teams playing in the community. All of this started thanks to an early game played in 1899, with the love kept alive by fans and players alike over the years.
Suggestions for columns or questions? E-mail Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to his podcast by searching for “Canadian History Ehx” on your podcast platform. Find his show on YouTube by searching for “Canadian History Ehx”.
Information for this column comes from Melita: Our First Century.