Friday, 20 November 2009

1919 Stanley Cup final cancelled and the death of Brandon's Joe Hall

The 1918-19 Stanley Cup final between the Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Metropolitans was played under the shadow of an epidemic. The "Spanish" influenza was sweeping the globe, spread by troops returning home from World War I, and targeting young, otherwise healthy men.

The series took place in late March in Seattle and lasted a lasted a hard-fought five games. It included two overtime games, the March 26 match went to double overtime before being called a draw and the Canadiens won on March 31st to force the deciding game on April 1.

The Canadiens, who stayed at a hotel across the border in Victoria B.C., had their lineup ravaged by the disease. On the eve of the final game only three players: Pitre, Cleghorn and Vezina were healthy.

April 2, 1919 Winnipeg Free Press

At 2:30 pm on April 1, 1919 organizers announced that the final game was postponed indefinitely due to the illness.

Initially, there were attempts to downplay the illness. An April 3 telegram to Canadian media, supposedly sent by by Canadiens' Team Manager George Kennedy, said that the team was doing well with a few members "under the weather". That was not the case, though, as by that point Kennedy's own wife had been summoned to be by her husband's bedside due to the severity of his illness.

Things went from bad to worse as members of the Metropolitans also began falling ill

On April 5 sports fans were stunned by the news that 37 year-old Canadiens defenseman Joe Hall of Brandon, Manitoba had succumbed to the disease. (A later victim was manager Kennedy who never fully recovered from the effects of influenza and died in 1921 at the age of 39.)

Any hopes of resuming the final was put to rest and "series not completed" was engraved on the Stanley Cup.

More About Brandon's Joe Hall

Hall was born in Stafforshire, England in 1882 but his family settled in Brandon when he was a young boy. In 1900 he began making the sports pages as a cyclist, winning some regional races. A couple of years later his name became synonymous with hockey.

Early in his career, Hall earned the nickname "Bad Joe Hall" due to the fact that he was a rough, tough - and dirty - player. He spent a fair bit of time before governing bodies and watching his teams from the stands while under suspension.

One early instance was in a January 1904 game at the Winnipeg Auditorium as a member of the Brandon Rowing Club team. Some in the crowd were taunting him with calls of "Butcher" and "lobster" for his dirty play and Hall made "an alleged breach of etiquette towards the audience". (Other Manitoba  incidents can be read by clicking the above images.)

That 1904 team went on to challenge for the Stanley Cup final but lost to the Ottawa Silver Seven. Soon after, he was offered a pro contract with Portage Lake of the International Hockey League in Houghton, Michigan but turned it down to keep the Brandon lineup intact for another shot at glory.

January 3, 1906, Winnipeg Tribune

In November 1905 Hall finally went to Portage Lake but his time in the IHL was brief. 

In one of his first games on December 14, 1905, he was ejected for chopping a player with his stick. A couple of games later, against the same team, he went on a verbal tirade using profanities against a referee who then sent him off. When his outburst continued off the ice, the opposing team walked off in protest and forfeited the game. The management of the team said that he would be barred from ever entering their arena again.

Hall was back in Manitoba the following season. (It appears that he was not banned from the IHL, but a restructuring of the Canadian leagues allowed players to be paid to play at home rather than have to take up with cross border teams of the IHL.) Hall was part of the Brandon lineup that lost in the new Manitoba hockey league finals to the Kenora Thistles.

Hall's 1911 Bulldogs card (eBay)

Hall's troubles continued from team to team. A Winnipeg Tribune sports editorial of December 21, 1907 said of him:

"Hall’s one drawback as a hockey player is his temper, which, on the ice, he appears to be unable to control. Joe possesses the qualities of a great hockey player and if he could only dampen this feature, his worth would be doubled."

His saving grace, aside from the fact that he could be a good hockey player when he put his mind to it, was that he was considered a gentleman off the ice. A good-natured, family man who never got in trouble and avoided newspaper interviews.

The president of the Pacific Coast League said that "Off the ice he was one of the jolliest, best-hearted, most popular men who ever played." A Free Press writer agreed, saying that to those who knew him off the ice he was "Good Old Joe Hall".

January 21, 1913, Winnipeg Tribune

Hall played the 1910-11 season in the Quebec Hockey Association. He was perhaps beginning to mellow with age as he found his name in the papers more often for being a game star rather than for suspensions.  

He won the Stanley Cup with the Quebec Bulldogs in 1912 and 1913. A 1913 wire story said that Hall had a "unique position in the hockey world". His reputation meant that players were either wary of him or underestimated his hockey abilities which gave him the space to shine. His one drawback was the constant battle to keep himself from responding to the slashes and hits of opponents looking for the old Joe Hall.

In November 1917 the Montreal Canadiens picked Hall up from Quebec and he found himself playing in the starting line at times. In a January 1918 game the Habs beat Ottawa 5 to 3 and Joe was the game star scoring three goals, including the game winner.

As a member of the Habs he won the 1919 National Hockey Association championship which is what saw him and the team off to Seattle to play the Pacific Coast League champs for the Stanley Cup.

Despite playing for teams across the country, Brandon remained home-base for Hall, his wife Mary and their three children. He worked for the railroad on the off-season and invested in land around Brandon. (Source: Toronto World, Apr 7, 1917)

When it was clear that he may not recover, Mary was summoned from Brandon to be by Joe's bedside in Washington State. She, along with Hall's mother and sister, left immediately but they did not make it in time. A telegram came while en route stating that he had died.
Initial plans were to have Hall's body shipped from his place of death, the Columbia Sanatorium in Washington State, via Vancouver to Brandon for burial, but his final resting place ended up being Vancouver.

January 6, 1920, Winnipeg Tribune

The hockey community rallied around Joe's family. A trust fund was set up for the widow and children and  "Joe Hall Memorial Week" games were played throughout the province to raise funds. there was a game in Montreal as well. The Winnipeg game featured all-stars from various Winnipeg-based teams playing against the same from teams outside of Winnipeg. 

In all, Hall's professional career spanned 18 years. He was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.

The 1918-1919 Canadiens'
Joe Hall
Hockey Hall of Fame
Hall's Death Reminder of 1919 Flu
Canwest Aug 26, 2009

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