Old Scores,

New Goals





BY Joan Finnigan


Quarry Press


The Legend of

"The Shawville Express"

  "If I were building a new team and were given my choice of all the players I have seen in action, I would select Finnigan as one of the wings. He was a perfect coach's player; he could score, patrol his own wing defensively and, as a penalty killer, he had few equals."

— Frank Selke, Behind the Cheering


       I was born in Ottawa in 1925, the eldest child of Maye Horner and Frank Finnigan, both then aged twenty-four. The year before, my father, known then throughout the Ottawa Valley hockey circuit and later throughout the hockey world as "The Shawville Express," had signed his first National Hockey League contract for $1,800 per season with the Ottawa Senators. Bonuses from Frank Ahearn, owner of the Senators, brought my father's salary for that first year up to $3,400.

      Prior to turning pro, my father had worked as a lineman for Bell Telephone in Pontiac County in Quebec and, according to Valley legend, was up a telephone pole when the long distance call came up from Ottawa proclaiming to the whole countryside "instamatically" that Frank Ahearn of Ottawa was calling Frank Finnigan of Shawville. Someone ran from the Chinese restaurant on Main Street to tell my father.

        For years afterwards one of my mother's constant refrains was, "Oh, if only he had stayed with the Bell! He wouldn't have gotten a swelled head, and he wouldn't have taken to drink, and he wouldn't have got in with all those dreadful people . .. and we wouldn't have . . . " The meteoric and chaotic life of the professional hockey star would have been bypassed for the more orthodox predictable life of the Big Company employee with what seemed to her, I am sure, all its enviable advantages: the punctuality of nine-to-five hours, the holidays with pay, the certain pension at retirement age, the "safe" life away from the constant threats and emotional dangers of living in the limelight.

Frank Finnigan, "The Shawville Express," sports the uniform of the Ottawa Senators with the distinctive "O" crest and black, red, and white stripes. Finnigan played for The Senators for over a decade, winning The Stanley Cup in 1923-1924 and 1926-27.
When The Senators disbanded in the early 1930s, Finnigan was sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he starred on the 1932-33 Stanley Cup team with fellow former Senator Frank "King" Clancy.

Even though my father was a national idol in an era when the country seemed to have very few, he chose to live in Centretown Ottawa on McLeod Street, first block west of Bank Street, in an unpretentious one-bathroom house. Our middle-class neighborhood was home to such future celebrities as Lorne Green, Fred Davis, and Paul Anka. I suppose my father could have chosen a more prestigious area of the city in which to raise his family. But he had wanted Centretown, he told us later, because "It was close enough that I was able to walk to work."


Frank Finnigan rode the Push, Pull, and Jerk Express from Shawville to Ottawa where he became a hockey legend and gained his nickname "The Shawville Express."

Many other local hockey heroes would travel down the Ottawa Valley to become Hockey Hall of Fame legends playing for The Senators. The Pontiac train made twenty-six stops at stations like this between Ottawa and Waltham.




Yet he was never known to walk to work — or anywhere else, for that matter! He always drove one of his annual succession of new cars three blocks over to Argyle Avenue where the old Auditorium stood in those days on the site of the present-day ymca. There, the only professional hockey club in the history of the Capital City, the Ottawa Senators, had their home base, practiced and trained, hosted the National Hockey League teams in an international circuit which included the Toronto St. Pats,


Pedlars with horse and cart sold their wares along the streets of Centretown Ottawa. Pictured here is Ben Polowin and his horse Jenny.

Frank Finnigan's youngest son Ross rides his tricycle in front of the family home on McLeod Street, Both Ross and his brother Frankie retained considerable memorabilia of their father's hockey career. But it was John who kept the scrapbooks source of data and photos for this booh.




the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Maroons, the Chicago Black Hawks, the Boston Bruins, the New York Americans, the New York Rangers, and the Detroit Red Wings. Two years after I was born, the Ottawa Senators won The Stanley Cup; my father, a wet-behind-the-ears rookie brought down the telephone pole to inject new blood into the playoffs, had scored the winning goal. "

It is often said in Canada that children of hockey players are fit-ted for skates before they are fitted for shoes. In retrospect I recognize that, figuratively speaking, we almost grew up on our skates. Frigid, Siberian Ottawa was a good place for a professional hockey player to raise a family, some of whom he certainly intended to follow in his footsteps. Ottawa was then, as I remember it, nine months of ice and snow. The second fully recognizable season was two months of summer, usually spent at Sand Bay on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Spring was merely an undelineated period in between winter and summer, a few weeks of taking off your winter coat, and being told to put it back on again (1 once skied on the 24th of May on the north slopes of Camp Fortune). Like spring, autumn was just a brief sigh of sadness for summer's end, the click of the furnace going on the first of September, the after-school aromas of mother's jams, pickles, and grape juice in the kitchen, the barrels of apples and bags of potatoes put into the cold storage in the basement, winter hems let down, snow shovels standing in position. Our profound Canadian yearning for winter would almost equate with the passionate longing of the English poet who wrote, "Oh, to be in England now that April's here!" Annually, we danced an ecstatic welcome to the First Snow.
      We grew up in a glassy sea of skating rinks — one on Gladstone Avenue near us (now the site of MacNab Park); one at Glashan Street School (although they locked it on weekends and you had to climb with your skates on up the eight-foot-high chain-link fence to get in); and one on Second Avenue to which one sometimes aspired if one had a "crush" on a young man of the moment who lived in the Glebe. There was the Rideau Canal — until someone drowned and it was banned as a skating rink. Given certain quick-freeze ice conditions before too much snow had fallen, sometimes all the streets of Centretown became skating rinks. On Saturday afternoons for ten cents there was skating at The Auditorium, affectionately called "The Rink," to the "Skater's Waltz" and the "Blue Danube." And then there were all the backyard rinks.
       We always had a backyard rink. Our days and nights were filled with the slashing of sticks and the crashing of pucks. Centretown was populated then by people raising families and, with five of us at home, it was easy to pick up a team anytime along the street. We played after school and on the weekends and even in the cold winter nights when we turned on the back porch lights and lit the ice. In time, flying pucks actually wore holes right through the wood in our back porch. Girls were not really welcome on the backyard rinks, unless there was a shortage of neighborhood boys, and my brothers tell now how sometimes they were told on the sly to take their younger sister off the rink for "ragging" (hanging onto} the puck.
       On below zero nights when there was not the cutting of ice by sharp skates or the crashing of the puck on the boards, there was the steady sound of the necessary hosing. Indeed, one painting that has not yet been done by a Canadian artist, to my knowledge, is of that solitary figure, the rink-maker or the icer, standing out in the crispness of a twenty below January night, alone under the lights, moving the hose carefully over the ice surface. There should be an historic plaque somewhere to commemorate the passing of this unsung national hero. Along with the frozen ponds, lakes, and rivers of this country, the backyard rinks generated our national game and spawned some of our greatest teams and players.
       During the day in the house on McLeod Street we lived the relatively ordinary life of all the children growing up in Centre-town in that era. But, from an early age, on singular nights we had a heady and perhaps enviable experience when we went to watch our father's games at The Rink {and later when he was with Toronto Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens). My brothers and sister and I took turns going with mother, dressed in our Sunday Best, and sitting in the Special Box then reserved for families of players. As a little girl I was secretly mortified by the boorish manner in which the players, including my own father, cleared their noses by using their hands and then wiping the phlegm on their pants. I had already started to grow up in the world of beautifully-embroidered handkerchiefs for ladies, boxed in sets for Christmas-giving, and clearly the only proper vehicle known then to man for the business of nose-blowing. My sister later confessed that as a young child she was so bored that she could never sit still or even keep awake through an entire N.H.L. game, and remembers well going to sleep inside my mother's big black seal coat.
       My brothers were much more aware of the course of my father's hockey career. They lived and breathed hockey. Not only did they practice to be great hockey players like their father before them, but they followed the games in amateur leagues throughout the "hockey city" which Ottawa was in those days.
        From the very first time the cry "He shoots! He scores!" went out over Canadian airwaves, they listened to Foster Hewitt announce





the games on radio. They collected gum cards with an avidity that verged on mania and forced the rest of us to swallow two-by-three squares of stale bubble gum, or let it go to waste. My brother John made scrapbooks of all the newspaper clippings and magazine writings in which my father appeared. While my brother Frankie began playing in earnest in leagues that led to the N.H.L., John sold programs at The Auditorium, both to earn himself some money and to keep himself within the inner sanctum of hockey.
       But I don't ever remember listening to a game on the radio or reading a newspaper headline. Nor did I ever collect gum cards. I do vaguely remember going to the N.H.L. games with my mother when it was my turn to go and sit with her in the Family Seats. But I remember more what my mother wore on her head than any play or score or player, for that matter. In truth, I have only one or two memories of my father's career in big-time hockey.
      I very vaguely recall my father winning The Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1932 (I would be seven then}, and the memory takes on the hue of a nightmare. After the game my mother and I had made our way out of our Box Seats into the lobby of the arena where patrols of policemen were trying to keep the crowds under control. But the crowds went wild as the victorious heroes came out of their dressing-room. We caught sight of my father off in the distance and began to try to swim against the current towards him, my mother holding my hand. But my father was swept away from us in a sea of arms. "They are going to kill him now," I thought. The policemen fought valiantly to maintain crowd discipline but the mobs picked the players


Hockey heroes like Frank Finnigan endorsed every product imaginable, from Aylmer tomato juice to Dunlop tires, from Beehive com syrup to R.J. Devlin and Biltmore hats. Their image appeared not only on the sports pages but in consumer magazines and on public billboards in every hockey town.



up and carried them away. My father disappeared from sight. The crowds surged around us like an ocean, almost tearing me from my mother's grasp. I was torn between tears and anger. Why were they bearing my father away like a piece of flotsam? He was ours. Not theirs. Or so I thought.

As a young girl growing up in Ottawa's Centretown in the 1920s and 1930s I soon discovered that going along Bank Street with my father was often an unforgettable experience. All kinds of unknown, unidentified people came up and slapped him on the back, crying out, "Great game, Frankie!" or pushed through shopping crowds to shake his hand, or pressed upon him for autographs for their kids. Ottawa then had a population of 120,000 but the fact that my father was a great right-winger in Canada's national game made the city a tiny village.
       As a child, it seemed to me very puzzling that he knew everyone and everyone knew him. It required a number of years and a certain amount of learning before I realized that, as a hockey hero, he belonged to everyone — even strangers. I don't think, my mother ever accepted that. She was suspicious of every fan, every admirer who came near him. "Who was that?


Frank Finnigan is shown here beside one of his annual sucession of new cars given to him by the automobile dealer as payment for his endorsement.




Who was that?" she would demand. "How dare they call you 'Frankie' when they don't even know you!" To which my father would patiently reply, "I don't know who it was. They know me, but I don't know them. Everybody calls me 'Frankie'. They call Howie Morenz 'Howie'. They call Joe Primeau 'Joe'."
       I soon became aware of my father's legend, sensing some of its negative implications as well as all of its more positive ones. "No bones about it," as my mother was wont to declare, it was exciting to go down the streets of Centretown in the shadow of my father, strangers greeting him with, "You're the greatest, Frankie boy!" Fair-weather friends slapped him on the back, saying, "Come on, Finnigan! Buy you a drink!" In the beginning there was nothing but a filling up with pride on these occasions when I observed my father and his public. But I know now I was witnessing the kind of surface "loving" and "adoration" which comes to the entertainer-artist by way of substitute for a profound and healthy loving on a one-to-one basis.
     While my father was stick-handling himself through the intoxicating labyrinths of his hockey career, blending headlines with homage, we "Finnigan kids" were busy living our own young lives and trying to grow up. But 1 did have periodic vicarious glimpses of my father's other life which my mother in her pithy Ottawa Valley language always described as "living high on the hog" — his comings and goings to Chicago, New York, Detroit, in a private car with a porter; his name in heavy black on the sports pages declaring "Finnigan Scores Again!"; his talk of the Waldorf, the Royal York, the Windsor; his stories of an up-and-coming singer, Bing Crosby, of a Harlem jazzman named Fats Waller, of a Broadway musical called Sonny Boy.
       From his voyages into the other world, my father often came home "in the clouds of the night" or in the dawn from his "Away" games because it was the team's custom to catch a sleeper right after the game from wherever they were, and then to travel all night to reach home. Sometimes in the small hours I would awake to hear the murmurings of my parents' voices, or the rustling of tissue paper.
      The morning following my father's returnings we always got up with "Christmas" excitement in our hearts, for our father was a generous man with impeccable taste in clothes and would come home laden with gifts for my mother and for us. I can see the dresses for my sister and me, laid in layers of tissue paper, straight from New York's finest stores.
       The vein of my father's generosity ran over into a fault. One day he took me to buy a pair of new shoes and instead bought me three pairs, one a chocolate brown pair by Hurlburt, no less, with gold eyelets and curly laces, so grand that, when I first got them, I used to stick my feet out in the aisle at school so that everyone could see them.
       When it came time to buy me my first skates, my father bought the most expensive in the city. I can feel the leather in them yet; they were soft, black, almost figure-skating quality. The chrome in the blades was mixed with some other alloy which, in my mind, verged on platinum so that my feet on the ice netted the sun by day and the moon by night. I knew that no one on earth had ever had a pair like them. And certainly I knew that in the change shacks at the outdoor skating rinks there was no chance that I would ever get my skates mixed up with anyone else's. Whether it was because of my superlative skates, or because I was born with "hockey players' knees," I became a precocious hockey player, learning without any lessons or training to move on the ice in an unconscious imitation of my father's style.
         My hockey career peaked in Grade Five at Percy Street


Ottawa Senators like Frank Finnigan sometimes cut a dashing image office, attired in the latest fashions, supplied by clothiers and furriers in return for their endorsement. Hockey was business even back in the Roaring Twenties.



  School. It was a cold, sunny, brilliantly blue January noon hour in which my grade was playing off for the girl's championship of the school. To this day, I can recall the feeling of floating effortlessly up the ice, stick-handling my way through the entire opposing team (most of whom were still skating on their ankles and their asses), scoring time after time as the crowd, lined up around the boards of the outdoor rink, roared their approval.  

Frank Finnigan was billed as hero wherever The Senators traveled in Toronto, New York, Boston, Montreal, Detroit, Chicago, and even Pittsburgh.



On one of these scoring rushes I went past the principal, a stately Mr. McNab whom my mother always described glowingly as "a scholar and a gentleman." As I passed him I heard him say, "Look at that girl go! She's just like her father!" This compliment offended me, I remember, for I was a girl in an age when girls were girls and boys were boys. I never played hockey again.

Ten years ago while researching a film on the history of hockey in the Ottawa Valley for the National Film Board, I had the occasion to encounter the continuing legend of my father, "The Shawville Express." I was a touring Maple Leaf Gardens with Dick Beddoes and King Clancy, my father's teammate with the Senators and later with the Maple Leafs. The "King" introduced me to an old trainer there who had been at the Gardens when my father played for the Leafs in the 1930s. He told a heartwarming story about my father.
      "Ah, Frankie," he said, lighting up. "He used to come in well before every game and unwind the tape from around his hockey stick. Then he would take the skate-sharpener and sharpen the edges of his stick carefully, put the tape back on and go out and play. He never used more than one stick a year!"
        Another time, while researching one of my oral history books along the Richmond Road outside of Ottawa, I met an old man who reminisced about seeing my father play for the Ottawa Senators. "Untrippable he was," the old-timer mused. "His balance was uncanny. They couldn't trip him — and they tried."
        And then there was another old hockey buff in Ottawa who said to me, "Yes, he was a great one — but his pants always hung down!"
       Some time ago while I was meeting with Gervais O'Reilly at Quyon, Quebec, he pulled out a rare newspaper photo of The Stanley Cup Winning Ottawa Silver Seven Team of 1905 and then began reminiscing about great Ottawa Valley players who went on to star in the N.H.L. — players like Frank Nighbor, Bill Cowley, Murph Chamberlain, and Frank Finnigan. "One of the great social events of my youth," Mr. O'Reilly told me, "was a dance on October 12, 1928 at the Shawville Theater — formal dresses, dance cards, a ten-piece band, the Royal Ambassadors from Cleveland, Ohio, no less. I can even remember some of the girls on my dance card — Aileen Morrissey, Aileen Gavan, Inez McLean, Annie McGarrity all from Quyon; Marjorie Clarke from Campbell's Bay, Ann O'Brien from the Island, and an Elliott from Shawville. But the highlight, the star event, was when Frankie Finnigan, fresh from the Ottawa Senators, appeared at the doorway. Remember the Senators had just won the Stanley Cup that spring. We all almost fell back. And I remember he just stood along the wall with the boys — and he never danced."
        And another time I went out to Stark's Corners, just back of Shawville towards Portage-du-Fort, to tape a descendent of the original settlement, M.A.O. Stark. The Stark house is a huge landmark brick set very high on a hill above the hamlet looking out over the Ottawa Valley across the river and into the Opeongo Hills.
        Mr. Stark talked Shawville history and genealogy for a while, and then said how much he'd like to see my father again. "I don't get into town so much now I'm eighty-two and I miss meeting your father on the street there and talking to him," he said a little sadly.
       "Did you ever watch my father play hockey when you were a young lad?" I asked him.
        "Oh, heaven's yes," he replied. "Hockey was the big event. We'd hitch the horses to a cutter or maybe a sleigh and take some members of the family — it was a very large family of thirteen — but we would take some of them, the avid hockey fans, for five miles, in the winter, into Shawville to watch Frank Finnigan play. I'm six years younger than Frank so I would have been ten and he'd be sixteen. The Shawville arena of course has fallen down. But Shawville was one of the first towns in the whole Pontiac to have a covered rink."
        Mr. Stark went over to his front window which looks down over Starks Corners and the fertile rolling fields of his ancestral farm.
       "Yes," he mused, "I've seen him play right down here below on an outdoor rink in that field, play Portage-du-Fort, maybe when he was twelve, and Portage always was a rough, rough town — off limits to a lot of young people."
     Then in 1981 Tundra Books of Montreal staged a reception in Petawawa for my first book about the history of the Ottawa Valley, Look! The Land Is Growing Giants, based on the legend of Joseph Montferrand, "King of the Ottawa River." At the reception, Sean Conway, mpp for Renfrew County, was a special guest who greeted me with the question, "Where's your father?" He happened to be in the crowd, and I pointed him out to Sean. "My grandfather always said he was the greatest. That's the book you should be doing," he said to me as he sat down beside my father. He spent the remainder of the reception engaged in good-spirited conversation with that other Ottawa Valley legendary hero, "The Shawville Express." I suspect the seed for this book was planted that day in Petawawa.
       The Legend of "The Shawville Express" lives on today, even though my father died on Christmas Day 1991. For the two years previous to his death, he worked hand-in-hand with Bruce Firestone and the hockey enthusiasts who have returned the Ottawa Senators to the National Hockey League after an absence of nearly 60 years.


Frank Finnigan was the last of the Ottawa Senators living when this portrait was taken by photographer Eva Andai of Shawville, Quebec. Something of his spirit and something of the character of the old Senators can be seen and felt here.




When N.H.L. commissioner John Zeigler and the Board of Governors awarded an expansion franchise to Ottawa on December 12, 1991, my father shared the limelight with the new owners. "Without the support of Frank Finnigan," one governor was heard to say, "Ottawa wouldn't have been awarded the franchise." Frank Finnigan, "The Shawville Express," was scheduled to drop the puck at the Senator's first home game in October 1992.
       Frank Finnigan's personal hockey career mirrors the course of history for the Ottawa Senators. Born in a small town cradled in the Ottawa Valley, he developed his skills and character on river ice before going down to the big city, like dozens of other players before him and hundreds more after him, to join the professional ranks playing in the N.H.L. The "Roaring Twenties" were glory years for Finnigan and The Senators with "The Shawville Express" dancing on skates to a championship tune wearing a R.J. Devlin hat in the 1927 Stanley Cup Victory Parade down the streets of Ottawa.


Sporting the uniform of the new Ottawa Senators team while attending the N.H.L. Board of Governors Expansion Meeting in Florida in December 1990, Frank Finnigan lends his support and his image to the franchise.



Finnigan starred. Headline after headline in The Ottawa Citizen and The Journal proclaimed his prowess and finesse — as well as the talents and courage of Alec Connell, Hec Kilrea, Frank "King" Clancy, Frank Nighbor, Harry "Punch" Broadbent, Cyril "Cy" Denneny, George "Buck" Boucher, Eddie Gerard, and their teammates.
       The "Dirty Thirties" held no such glory for Finnigan and his teammates, however. Ottawa Senator owner Frank Ahearn disbanded the team in 1934, selling off local heroes like Finnigan and Clancy to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where they starred briefly before retirement. The Senators descended into the minor professional circuit of the Quebec Senior Hockey League until the team folded in the 1950s. Meanwhile, Finnigan descended into obscurity and even further into alcoholism. My father's near-miraculous release from his drug addiction in the 1950s now appears as the harbinger of the equally miraculous return of the Ottawa Senators to the ranks of the N.H.L. Frank Finnigan, "The Shawville Express," again became a star of the new Ottawa Senators in the two years before his death.
       The legend of "The Shawville Express" thus spans two eras of hockey glory in Ottawa. From my father's perspective, using
his memories and those of his fans, friends, teammates, and relatives,


At Frank Finnigan was always quick to remind everyone, the Ottawa Senators were once a proud team, winners of nine Stanley Cups before disbanding in 1933-34 and will continue to be a proud team when they return to the N.H.L. for the 1992-93 season.




I have compiled this story of the Ottawa Senators. The story begins up the Ottawa Valley, in the cradle of professional hockey...


 Next chapter 



Сайт управляется системой uCoz