Wednesday, 15 February 2017


Major-General Isaac Brock, 1809
(Canadian Public Domain)
In fact, you might say that Willcocks was Canada’s Benedict Arnold. Arnold was the American general who had sold his soul to the British during America’s fight for independence during the Revolutionary War almost thirty years prior to 1812. Irishman Joseph Willcocks was a whole different story, a man of changeable loyalties who left both sides—Canadian and American—wondering how committed he really was to either cause because he seemed to have a love-hate relationship with both countries 

Willcocks was born 
in Palmerstown, Ireland in 1773 and at 27 sailed the Atlantic to live in York, Upper Canada (now Toronto, Ontario). He became a clerk at cushy various government jobs that he had been handed, thanks to kin membersbusinessman William Willcocks and Receiver General Peter Russell, both distant cousins. Some of Joseph’s positions were a receiver and payer of fees in the Surveyor General’s Office, registrar of the probate court, and sheriff of the Home District, an expanse that encompassed Simcoe and York countiesIncidentally, as sheriff, he was removed from office for obnoxious behavior in 1807. 

Politically minded, 
he was an 18th century WhigThe elitist group known as Whigs believed in free trade and parliament over absolute monarchy. They also received financial support from wealthy merchants and strong industrial interests. Willcocks was elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada in 1807, 1808 and 1812, representing York, as well as 1st Lincoln and Haldimand regions. On one occasion he was jailed for contempt of the House. In 1807, when he moved to Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario), he founded the opposition newspaper Upper Canada Guardian; or Freeman’s Journal. Yes, both names were used with a semi-colon in between.  

Through his rebellious paper
, he viciously attacked the British government on a regular basis in his four-page, 11-by-17-inch publication combating subjects such as oppressive land laws and fees, and misuse of power on many occasionsIn short, he promoted liberty, justice, and a future republic in Upper Canada much like the Republic of Ireland of which he had left. Willcocks also claimed to be the only person in Canada who dared to speak the truth. Many people thought he was being swayed by disgruntled American and Irishmen living in Upper Canada. Willcocks published his small but influential spread from July 24, 1807 to June 1812 before selling it to for $1,600. During those turbulent five years, he was jailed twice for libel.

An example of Joseph Willcocks' looting in the Niagara area (Canadian Public Domain)

By 1812, while
 war loomed with the United Statesmilitary commander of Upper Canada Major General Isaac Brock sought the help of Willcocks in securing the Six Nations natives--inside Willcocks’ constituencies--as Brit allies. That accomplished, and much appreciated by Brock, Willcocks then fought alongside Brock and his men consisting of British and Canadian soldiers, Canadian militia and native warriors at Queenston Heights that October when the Americans had invaded Upper Canada’s south. Brock was killed in action and the British incorporated martial law, which Willcocks--true to his nature--had always opposed, going back to when it had been first suggested in the Legislative Assembly at the beginning of hostilities 

On May 27, 1813, the Americans with 5
,000 troops attacked Niagara near Newark, capturing adjacent Fort George and chasing the Canadian-British troops as far back as Burlington Heights at the base of present-day Hamilton. Two months later, Willcocks decided to sail across the Niagara River on his own and offered his services to the Americans at Fort Niagara. He may not have been that pro-American, however. He merely thought they would win the conflict. Not only had Willcocks “turn-coated,” he had committed a treasonous act because he was still being a member of the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly 

Within a
 few weeks, Willcocks had recruited and took command of about 120 men soon to be called the Company of Canadian Volunteers--mostly American immigrants and some pro-American Canadians living in NiagaraTwo of his officers were prominent elected officials: Abraham Markle and Benajah Mallory.  Reminiscent  of American Civil War Confederate guerilla leaders “Bloody Bill” Anderson and William Quantrill fifty years later, the newly-appointed Major Willcocks led his crew in foraging, scouting, and a reign of terror by burning pro-Brit farms--property belonging to people he had known, including many political enemies, friends and neighborsWillcocks took several hostages, throwing them into prison south of the border. Then that December, Willcocks, now a lieutenant colonel, went too far. 

Following crucial defeats at the battles of Stoney Creek and Beaver Dams in June, the badly beaten Americans gradually retreated to Fort George which they eventually abandoned on December
 10Nearby was the town of Newark, where Willcocks had lived and printed his controversial newspaper for six years. Following orders from the American officer in charge at the fort and upon Willcocks’ urging, Brigadier General George McClure, the Americans forcibly removed  the Newark townspeople, mostly women, children, and elderly from their homes into a bitter-cold snow storm with only the clothes on their backs, about 400 civilians in all. Then Willcocks and his raiders, along with the other retreating Americans burned approximately 150 houses to the ground, leaving only three houses, forcing the locals to find what shelter they could in the nearby woods, amid two- and three-foot snowdrifts.  

In one situation, Willcocks ordered two of his men to remove a sickly woman, bed and all, and deposit her in the snow. Earlier that year, Willcocks had sent her husband, William Dickson, stateside as a prisoner. Now Willcocks wanted 
to destroy the Dickson property, too. While the two Canadian Volunteers wrapped the woman and took her out the door, Willcocks personally torched the two-story house along with all the contents. Once the fiery, dirty deed was done to their liking throughout the townthe band of Americans proceeded to advance across the Niagara River, with the Company of Canadian Volunteers bringing up the rear within sight of the British troops led by Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond 

Lt-General Gordon Drummond
(Canadian Public Domain)
Hot on the heels of the Americans, the British were enraged at the sight of the smoldering ruins of Newark as they approached from the south. They took on the retreating Canadian Volunteers, killing two and capturing several soldiers, while Willcocks and the others got away.  In retaliation, Drummond and his men sailed across the river within a few days, captured Fort Niagara with a surprise attack, and in the next few weeks torched several towns and villages, including Lewiston, Black Rock and Buffalo on the American side, and occupied the shores of the river until war’s end. No building along the Niagara River between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie was safe.  

How many Newark civilians died during December 1813 was undocumented. Undoubtedly, many froze to death. The shocking events of that day made headlines in many newspapers in England. Shortly after his order to burn the town, McClure was relieved of his command and dismissed from the US Army, while Joseph Willcocks 
now had a price on his head.

British vengeance didn’t stop with 
the burning of Newark. Once Napoleon’s army was defeated in April 1814, the British now turned their attention to the all-out war effort in America by sending thousands of troops across the Atlantic. When they invaded Washington in August, the Brits left the White House (known then as the President’s House), the Capitol Building, and many other government structures in flames and smoke, in direct response to the unwarranted destruction at Newark. Luckily for the Americans, hours after the attack on Washington, a wicked thunderstorm--quite possibly a hurricane--raced through the city and put the flames out.  

In 1814, 
19 captured people were charged with high treason and others not in Canadian custody were also marked following the Ancaster Bloody Assize Trials of 1814, in Ancaster, Upper Canada. As a result, eight of Willcocks’ comrades were hanged and seven others banished. Willcocks met his own violent end that September succumbing to a gunshot would during the Siege of Fort Erie--the last skirmish between the British and American forces on the Niagara front 

Due to potential retaliation or even death 
once the Treaty of Ghent was signed in early 1815 to end the War of 1812, the surviving members of the Company of Canadian Volunteers settled in the United States where it was much safer for them. Two of these had been mentioned earlier: Benejah Mallory, who had subsequently taken over the Canadian Volunteers upon Willcocks’ death, and Abraham Markle.  

Joseph Willcocks is buried in an unmarked grave in Buffalo, with neither side ever considering honoring the notorious rebel of questionable loyalties. And who says Canadian history is boring? 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017


St Lawrence Starch Co Beehive photo of Turk Broda (Canadian Public Domain)

On April 7, 
1936, Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner Conn Smythe--looking to replace his 40-something netminder George Hainsworth who had allowed nine goals that evening in a Stanley Cup final  game to the Detroit Red Wings--decided to stay back in Detroit to scout Earl Robertson of the Windsor Bulldogs who would be playing in an International Hockey League game the next evening against the Detroit Olympics. Smythe had heard that Robertson was a shoe-in as a future NHL goalie and wanted to see for himself without consulting any scouts 

The next evening, a
s the game progressed, however, Smythe was more impressed with the goalie at the other end of the ice: a short, dumpy 21-year-old named Walter “Turk” BrodaRed Wing property and four years younger than RobertsonSmythe quickly sought out Red Wings GM Jack Adams after the game and asked how much for BrodaAdams, who already had a solid goaltender in Normie Smith, replied, “Eight thousand.” Smythe had no problem with that. He and Adams shook on it and the two teams officially signed the deal a few weeks after Detroit took the Stanley Cup in the best-of-five series by three games to one.  

, a lifetimLeaf, would go on to backstop Toronto to five Stanley Cups, including three in a row and four in five seasons, during his star-studded 14-year Hall of Fame careerOn the other hand, Robertson played in six playoff games in 1936-37 for the Red Wings (replacing an injured Normie Smith) in a losing Stanley Cup final cause, then spent five uneventful NHL seasons with the not-so-hot New York-Brooklyn Americans from 1937-38 to 1941-42 before finishing up in the minors.  

1955-56 Parkhurst card
of Turk Broda
(Cdn Public Domain)
Born May 15, 1914 in Brandon, Manitoba to a Ukrainian family, Walter “Turk” Broda received the nickname of “Turkey Egg” in his childhood for the many freckles he had. He played his junior hockey with the Brandon Native Sons and the Winnipeg Monarchs before the Detroit Red Wings signed him. Broda was a fun-loving, good-natured individual who seemed quite relaxed between the pipes: relaxed enough to fell asleep before the occasional game, and sometimes in between periods, much to the chagrin of his coaches.  

He also loved to eat. A lot. And drink ice-cold beer. The Toronto press liked to call him “The Fabulous Fat Man.” They were the same press who thought Smythe was nuts to sign Broda in the first place, thinking that the netminder would eat his way out of the NHL on his big league salary. Broda’s weight was always an issue with owner Conn Smythe He made huge headlines going partway into the 1949-50 season when Smythe ordered Broda to lose weight or he would lose his job.  This was after Broda had minded the Leaf net for 215 straight games since returning from the Royal Canadian Artillery during World War II. Serious with his threat, supposedly, Smythe brought up two Leaf property goalies from the minors who were ready to go in on short notice: Al Rollins from the Cleveland Barons, and Gilles Mayer from the Pittsburgh HornetsIronically, the five-foot-six, 135-pound Mayer was the direct opposite of Broda: He was so skinny that his nickname was “The Needle.”  

The whole 
Broda weight thing may have been more of a publicity stunt than anything else, but it put the Leafs on the city’s front pages, something Conn Smythe always relished. Broda had fun with the so-called threat by jogging up and down Yonge Street to the delight of well-wishing fans who cheered him on. After missing only one gamea 2-0 loss to Detroit on December 1 with Mayer in net, Broda eventually lost the 10 pounds he needed to keep his job, then finished the season with a 2.48 GAA and a league-leading 9 shutouts, and three more shutouts in the playoffs in a losing cause to the Red Wings in a seven-game first round. 

 won two Vezina trophies in his career (2.00 GAA in 1940-41 and 2.38 in 1947-48), but some people felt he should have won more. His regular season GAA was 2.53 lifetime in 628 games with 62 shutouts. Every so often he would let in a bad goal, a “floater.” Only in the regular season, though. Early in his career he had a bad habit of allowing long goals, from 20-30 feet out. But through extensive practice conducted by coach Hap Day, Broda learned to correct that side of his game: Day had Broda--without a stick--face puck after puck shot from just inside the blue lineIn the playoffs, however, something inside Broda kicked into high gear. He was a different man. He excelled to the point where his lifetime GAA dropped HALF a goal to 1.98. In 101 playoff games, he shutout the opposition 13 times.  

Broda’s lifetime regular season/playoff GAA comparison standing at 2.53/1.98., how does that rival the other noted NHL goalies who had spent their entire or major portion of their careers in the Original Six? 

*Jacques Plante2.38/2.14…six Stanley Cups (Montreal) 
*Glenn Hall2.49/2.78…one Stanley Cup (Chicago) 
*Terry Sawchuk 2.51/2.54…four Stanley Cups (Detroit 3, Toronto 1) 
*Johnny Bower 2.51/2.47…four Stanley Cups (Toronto) 
*Frank Brimsek 2.70/2.54…two Stanley Cups (Boston) 
*Bill Durnan 2.36/2.07…two Stanley Cups (Montreal) 
  Al Rollins 2.78/2.38…one Stanley Cup (Toronto) 
  Gerry McNeil  2.38/1.89…two Stanley Cups (Montreal) 
*Harry Lumley 2.75/2.49…one Stanley Cup (Detroit) 
*Gump Worsley 2.88/2.78…four Stanley Cups (Montreal) 
  Don Simmons 2.89/2.59…three Stanley Cups (Toronto) 
*Hall of Famer 

On the basis of these GAA stats, Broda was the greatest clutch goalie ever to play the game during the Original Six era. In a class by himself, he was a true money goalie. The others couldn’t match his ratio of 0.55 better in the playoffs, with the closest being Montreal’s Gerry McNeil at 0.47Al Rollins at 0.40 and Don Simmons at 0.30. “If I had to play one game with everything at stake,” Conn Smythe once said to a reporter, “Turk Broda would be my goaltender.” 

Two of 
Broda’s teammates added to the quality of his play. “Turk was a great goaltender, but he seemed to be able to go up another notch when he went to the Stanley Cup final,” said Ted Kennedy. Howie Meeker went further: “Broda was the best playoff goaltender I’ve ever seen.” 

It seems that 
Broda had another talent, this one outside of hockey. According to Louise (Hastings) Carley--a girl friend of Leaf defenseman Bill Barilko--as stated in the 2004 book entitled Barilko without a trace by Kevin Shea, Turk Broda was an exceptional dancer at team get-togethers during his playing days. “Turk Broda was the best dancer I ever met in my life. He was so light on his feet. He has to go down in history as the best dancer ever!” 

After retiring, 
Broda coached the Toronto Marlboros to back-to-back Memorial Cups in 1955 and 1956, both times beating my hometown Regina Pats. He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1967, our centennial year, then died five years later of a massive heart attack