How hockey lifted shipyard workers’ spirits during WWII

The shipyard workers had their own crew to cheer them on and distract themselves from the war.

After being one of the first official public events to be canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020, Rogers Hometown Hockey returns to the yards this coming weekend (April 23-24). But just a block away, North Vancouver’s hockey historian will take the opportunity to rally support for our original hometown team – the Norvan Shipyards.

For a season in 1941-1942, wartime shipbuilder Burrard Drydock iced up a semi-professional team to lift the spirits of its 14,000 workers.

Chris Mizzoni spent hours poring over archives and piecing together her season for the Society for International Hockey Research. He was invited by the Museum of North Vancouver to serve as resident expert on two discovery sessions at MONOVA.

As members of the Pacific Coast Senior Hockey Association, the Norvans, as they became known, played Friday and Saturday nights against teams put together by other companies that made merchandise for the war effort – the New Westminster Spitfires, Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Bapcos.

It was a different game back then, Mizzoni said. Most Pacific Coast Senior Hockey Association players had retired from or had not yet made it into the professional leagues. They were a little “dougher” than what you’ll find among the pads today, Mizzoni chuckled.

The game was much slower, but the shenanigans on the ice would make today’s referees pale. Among the highlights (or lowlights): In the first game of the season, a Nanaimo Clippers player was convicted of misconduct for an intentional trip by an umpire. There were brawls that spread from the ice to the box to the stands and near riots that broke out. Newspaper clippings of the day looked like the reporter had been hired to cover a boxing match (and fans ate it up). In one instance, a game was stopped when a fan flicked a lit cigarette down the back of the goalkeeper’s sweater.

“Oh my god,” Mizzoni said. “Try that today at Rogers Arena.”

But despite the nastier side of “old hockey,” the players had an important mission. While thousands of civilians took their lives to join the war effort, the teams were there to distract workers from the war.

“It was just to represent the shipyard workers and give them something to do on a Friday or Saturday night,” Mizzoni said. “It gave them something to cheer about.”

The team’s research gave an interesting glimpse into life back then, Mizzoni found. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, everything on the west coast came to a standstill, including hockey. Only after arena managers painted the windows black and halted radio broadcasts of the games to disguise them as targets for bombers were they able to resume the season.

Mizzoni said he hopes everyone who walks through the museum this weekend will gain a better understanding not only of the team but also where it fits into North Vancouver history at the time.

“That’s just a small part of it,” he said. “People are living down there in these huge condos, and they have no idea what was going on out there.”

He’s also crossing his fingers that there might be someone out there with documents, artifacts, or even personal stories about the Norvans.

“I hope some of these old people will remember the team,” he said. “And talk about old hockey and tell the history of the Norvans that no one knows.”

Mizzoni will be in MONOVA’s Discovery Session room on Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. The event, titled “Be Your Own Hero,” offers children a hands-on medal-making activity back home.

One of the items on display will be a replica Norvans sweater that Mizzoni had custom made based on the only published photo of the team crest he could find. Visit North Shore News Vintage to wear the logo of hometown hockey heroes on your own shirt.

When: Saturday 23 April and Sunday 24 April, 11am-4pm both days

From where: MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver, 115 West Esplanade
North Vancouver

Costs: Single admission is $10-$14, free for children under five, $38 for a family, tickets at the door.

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