Friday, 16 March 2012

A history of Orioles Community Centre - Part 1

On March 31, 2012 there will be a history show-and-tell at Orioles Community Centre.

Orioles Community Centre

Established in 1948 at Burnell and St. Matthews, Orioles is one of Winnipeg's oldest community centres. Its roots in the neighbourhood, however, date back much further. This is a look back at Orioles that I hope to update as the history project progresses !

Former Canada Bread Plant

The roots of the Orioles Community Centre can be traced back to a baseball diamond. Canada Bread Field was located immediately north of its bakery on Burnell Street. From 1926 to 1939 it was home to the Winnipeg Commercial Diamond Ball league which claimed to be the country's largest company baseball league with 17 teams.

December 1939 Tribune

The West End Orioles club was organized in 1936 and consisted of a couple of boxcars next to a rink on the Canada Bread Field site. One acted as a warming hut, the other as the club office.

The Orioles name may have come from the Baltimore Orioles baseball team or, more likely, the Baltimore Orioles hockey team of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, both of which were active at the time.

One of the founders of West End Orioles was was Charlie "Pop" Regelous, an employee of Crane Supply. Along with brother Tom who was a manager /coach and son Doug who was captain of one of their Bantam teams, West End Orioles quickly became a hockey powerhouse.

February 6, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune

The earliest mention of organized sports at West End Orioles is in the 1938 - 39 hockey season. Teams were entered into the Bantam A and Bantam B divisions and at least one team in the Intermediate League. The Bantam B team, captained by Doug Regelous, finished the season in third place.

Between 1939 and 1940 a number of improvements were made to the site. Lights were installed to allow for evening games and it got its own water source for flooding the rink.

On the coaching front,
Horace "Hoss" Nicholson was brought aboard for the 1939 - 40 hockey season. Nicholson, an electrician for the City of Winnipeg, quickly gained the respect of those in local hockey circles. Free Press sports columnist Ken McKenzie wrote that Hoss was:

"... without a doubt the most enthusiastic coach in the loop. Every time his team scores, or does anything which he particularly likes, "Hoss" will throw his hat high in the air with jubilation. "Hoss" uses up more energy in a single game than does any of his players. He seems to have put his pep and enthusiasm into his players and it is seen in their spirited play."
(Winnipeg Free Press, January 10, 1942)

April 8, 1940, Winnipeg Free Press

Nicholson gave the Orioles their first of many championships with the 1939 - 40 provincial Intermediate title. Their Bantam A team finished in third place.

In 1941 Orioles added a midget team to their lineup and barely a month into their inaugural season were in third place. The Free Press' Ken McKenzie wrote that they were "...the surprise team of the season..." and "...playing the most aggressive, inspired hockey in the midget league for some time." (January 10, 1942.)

April 4, 1942, Winnipeg Tribune

As the season was ending, tragedy struck the club.

Charlie Regelous, who was still club president and recently elected to head the Winnipeg Bantam Hockey League, fell ill in November 1941. Despite Vince Leah's best wishes for a quick recovery in his 1941 year-end column, Regelous died on April 3, 1942 at the age of 44. Over 500 people attended his funeral. His pallbearers were players from his defending championship team.

L: February 5, 1943, Winnipeg Free Press
R: June 14, 1944, Winnipeg Free Press

During World War II ninety-four West End Orioles members served. Not all of them made it home, Sargent Alan Hackett and Pilot Officer David Wilson among them.

October 4, 1944, Winnipeg Free Press

For those not serving, there was a free-for-all in the ranks of local amateur hockey. Eager for new blood, teams from as far away as New York and Hamilton came to Winnipeg to sign up players. The problem became so bad that in 1944 officials from the various leagues and clubs met at the Ampitheatre to discuss the matter. Their decision was to reject the vast majority of out-of-town transfer requests, including a couple involving Orioles players.

May 2, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune

October 11, 1944, Winnipeg Free Press

It was during the war years that summer sports first appear in the lineup. Orioles fielded baseball, soccer and lacrosse teams, though they do not appear to have had the same success as their hockey counterparts. Above is the 1944 Bantam lacrosse team that came runner up in the city finals.

March 29 1943, Winnipeg Free Press

Bantam A Champions
March 18, 1944, Winnipeg Free Press

January 20, 1945, Winnipeg Free Press

Despite the player shortages due to war and their boxcar clubhouse being severely damaged by fire in December 1943, West End Orioles continued to do well on the ice.

In the 1942 - 43 season Hoss Nicholson coached both the St. James Canadians to the juvenile hockey championship and the West End Orioles to the midget championship. In 1944 the Orioles took the Bantam A championship.

Juvenile Hockey Champions
March 27, 1945

Bantam B Champions
March 31, 1945, Winnipeg Free Press

Western Canadian Champions
April 16, 1945, Winnipeg Free Press

The 1944 - 45 season was a banner year for the club. Of the four teams entered into local hockey leagues, (Midget, Bantam A, Bantam B and Juveniles), three won provincial championships. The Juveniles, who finished their season with a 20-1-1 record, went on to Moose Jaw in April 1945 and took the Western Canadian Juvenile hockey crown.

February 5, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune

With a record like that, Hoss Nicholson was wooed away from amateur hockey. He was already doing double duty with the Orioles and St. James Canadians but for the 1946 - 1947 season he coached the Brandon Elks. In subsequent years he was coach / manager of the Winnipeg Monarchs and Winnipeg Canadians, then had a career in scouting for the Boston Bruins and New Westminster Bruins.

Hoss died May 29, 1984 at the age of 68.

In spring 1945 Stan Evans began an ambitious relationship with the club.

Evans ran Stan Evans' Style Shop, a men's clothing store in the Avenue Building and was an avid sportsman who sponsored many local teams and leagues. Prior to his involvement with the West End Orioles he sponsored a provincial softball team named Stan Evans and co-created a small senior hockey league in which his Stan Evans' Stylists played.

August 15, 1945, Winnipeg Tribune

At the West End Orioles' banquet dinner in spring 1945, club president Russ Ball announced that Evans was the new financial sponsor the club. That summer's baseball and lacrosse teams went under the name Stan Evans Orioles.

In August 1945 the club was reorganized. Evans was now president, Ball vice president.

Evans announced that the Orioles would field a full slate of hockey teams for the 1945-46 season under the name Stan Evans Orioles. Admitting that he had little experience running hockey teams, he said that he would bring back Hoss Nicholson and hired Art Barnett and Jimmy Kennedy as co-coaches, both men had led championship teams with the Winnipeg Monarchs organization. Bill Webber, also from the Monarchs, became club manager.

February 13, 1946, Winnipeg Free Press

Post-war there were more teams and leagues being formed and Evans reached beyond the traditional leagues that the West End Orioles had played in. There was a Stan Evans Orioles in the Commercial League and in the Senior hockey league.

Evans then set his sights on Junior hockey. After pursuing the St. James Canadians for a couple of months, Evans managed to trigger a merger between them and one of the Orioles's new Junior clubs. In October 1945 he was president of the newly christened St. James Orioles that would be operated arms-length from the club.

Senior Champions
April 3, 1946, Winnipeg Free Press

Evans made it clear that the Stan Evans Orioles were looking for championships: We are going out for titles in all divisions this coming season. This is no fly by night club. We have formed and we are in the game to stay. (Winnipeg Free Press, August 27, 1945.)

The only title won by any Stan Evans Orioles summer or winter) in 1946 - 47 was the Senior hockey team. They were city champions but bowed out in the playoffs for the Western Canadian championship. Despite the ambitious plans and deep pockets, the Stan Evans Orioles hockey teams finished the season with just a fraction of what the 1945 - 46 West End Orioles delivered.

October 10, 1946, Winnipeg Free Press

There was another summer of Stan Evans Orioles baseball and lacrosse teams then, just as the 1946 - 47 hockey season was set to begin, Evans and his sponsorship were gone. At an October 1946 meeting Al Crockett, who had served as secretary under Evans, was the new president.

It's hard to tell what happened with the "Stan Evans experiment." There wasn't media coverage of the withdrawal other than the above story noting the change in presidents and reversion to the West End Orioles name The lack of media itself might be an indication that something unpleasant had happened as the sports pages were only too happy to fete outgoing club presidents !

There may have been bad blood within the Orioles. Despite announcing a full coaching roster in late summer 1946, Hoss Nicholson never did return to coach. On the eve of the Juvenile season a rookie coach, Billy McKenzie, was brought in, though doesn't appear to have finished teh season with them.

Perhaps it was simply a case that Evans bit off more than he could chew ? It's a far cry from sponsoring a few teams to overseeing the operations of a multiple-sport mini-empire.

January 14, 1947, Winnipeg Free Press

Evans didn't disappear from the sports scene altogether. Though the St. James Orioles also ceased to exist after that one season, the senior hockey team was rechristened the Stan Evans Stylists and played for another year. He also signed on to sponsor a soccer team, Stan Evans Scottish. In late 1947 he pulled his sponsorship of both of these teams.

In March 1948 Stan Evans died suddenly.

Despite the upheaval behind the scenes, the Orioles won the Midget hockey championship in 1946 - 1947.

March 20 1948, Winnipeg Free Press

Romeo Rivers was appointed coach in October 1947 and the Orioles put four teams on the ice, a Juvenile, Intermediate and two Bantams.
That year they captured the Junior championship.

Thistle Curling Club

May 6, 1947, Winnipeg Free Press

Under Evans there was talk of building a brand new club house for the Orioles, though nothing came of it. In 1947 the West End Orioles' found out that their property, owned by the city, was sold to the Valour Road Memorial Legion for a new hall and curling club. Construction began in June 1948 of what is now the Thistle Curling Club.

The Orioles found themselves scrambling to find a new home at the same time that the city was implementing major changes to the way youth recreation programming was organized.

The next chapter of Orioles' history was set to begin.

For a list of Orioles All-Star players from this period check out the lists, lists lists post !

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