Recorded 2014 at Seventh Street Sound Studios
I grew up in the historic little town of Battleford Sask. It was a town that from the beginning had an uneasy relationship with its First Nations neighbors.
The town grew from an early fur trade post three hundred years ago to a town with a fort in 1875. For a while it was the capital of the Northwest Territories but soon lost the competition to become capital of the new province of Saskatchewan to the plain unimaginative sister, Regina.
There was no getting around the impending trouble between the communities as the Riel Rebellion must have put everyone into various states of mistrust and war like anger. Starving Crees approached the town and the towns people fled to the fort. Nothing good could really come of that.
So, I grew up with, of course, an uneasy view of who the good guys and the bad guys. I was in a town where my elderly neighbor Jessie Degear, would tell us stories of hiding out in the fort at the time.
All this to say that I was caught off guard, as an impressionable nine year old, in 1956 to discover that my biggest hockey hero was a Cree Indian.
Our local teams, the Battleford Millers, were local heros, in most part from stories of their historic trip to Japan during the 1934/35 season…the first Canadian team to do so. I understand there were a few native players on that team as well.
But the real electricity in my time, in that old Battleford Arena, was when word spread through town…Sasakamoose is coming to town tonight.
First it was the stories…there is this Indian guy who made the Chicago Blackhawks. Then came the stories of his leaving Chicago and rumors started that he may be coming home to play.
Then the day he first came to town.
We young players would line up behind the chicken wire and wait for Freddie to do his magic. He would start out behind his own net, gathering speed, like a Bobby Hull. He would skate through them all like they were toy metal players on a tabletop game.
Today they still say he had the speed and a 100mph slap shot like Hull and mercifully he would take that shot from the redline not the blue. Our defencemen casually just moved out of the way and left the poor goalie out there alone without mask or Depends …
This time it only took one Cree to have us Battleford folks shaking in our boots but this time with pleasure, as we watched errant Sasakamoose shots consistently getting stuck in the chicken wire above our heads.
As a modest tribute, I wrote a song about Freddie a few years ago as a beginning songwriter and today I am so pleased to see him recognized with the Order of Canada.
Even in a world of old-timers hockey and him in his eighties, I would not want to stand in front of his slap shot today!
Congratulations Freddie … you were a great part of my Canadian childhood.