George McNamara is not the best-known name among the 263 players that are currently enshrined as Honoured Members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, though a new book by SIHR member Waxy Gregoire may help to change that. But to fans watching hockey 100 years ago, George McNamara was among the greats.
Born in Penetanguishene, Ontario, but raised in Sault Ste. Marie, McNamara began his pro career in 1906–07 with the Canadian Soo team in the International Hockey League. He made many stops in the various pro leagues of his day before winding up in Toronto, where he helped the Blue Shirts win the Stanley Cup in 1914. Brother Howard McNamara won the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1916. When the two McNamaras played together, they were known as "The Dynamite Twins" (though they weren't twins) because of their bone-crunching body checks. A younger brother Hal also played professionally in this early era. George and Howard later served with distinction in the First World War. George also coached the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the 1924 Allan Cup and formed the McNamara Construction Company with his brother Howard. It became very successful.
As a wealthy businessman living in Toronto in the 1930s, George McNamara hosted lavish parties and held dinners at the Royal York Hotel for those who were down on their luck during The Great Depression. In March of 1938, McNamara invited a group of old hockey players to a party in his home at 55 Old Forest Hill Road. Current Maple Leaf Charlie Conacher was there, along with recent teammates King Clancy and Baldy Cotton, but it was the list of oldtimers that was truly impressive: Ken Randall, Babe Dye, Reg Noble, Corb Denneny, Harry Meeking, Alf Skinner, and many others.
Nearly a year later, on February 3, 1939, McNamara hosted another hockey party. Most of those who'd been present in 1938 came back and the turnout this time was even more impressive. Roy Worters, Hugh Lehman and Percy Lesueur were all there ... although Lesueur may actually have been among those who telegrammed their regrets, a list that also included Newsy Lalonde, Jack Marshall, Jack Laviolette, Odie Cleghorn, Harry Hyland, Ernie Russell and Pud Glass, all of Montreal, and Cyclone Taylor of Vancouver.
Lester Patrick was there this time, arriving the day before his Rangers were scheduled to play at Maple Leaf Gardens. Art Ross was there too, staying over after the Bruins' game in Toronto the night before. Ross and Conn Smythe were feuding in the newspapers once again, but the Maple Leafs boss was also in attendance. So was NHL president Frank Calder.
All in all, almost 30 old-time stars were at McNamara's home that night. "The 'remember when' phrase was flying thick and fast as these one-time greats in the game ... talked over incidents long since stuck away in musty newspaper files but still tops in the memory of all who were in on the development of the game," said a story about the event in the next day's Montreal Gazette. A story that appeared a few days later in Toronto's Globe and Mail says that when talk turned to the greatest stickhandlers of all-time, "The lads who struck out for Duke Keats and Mickey Mackay were outtalked and outvoted by the champions of Odie Cleghorn."
Art Ross, Conn Smythe, and Lester Patrick all stood up for the style of present-day hockey when the good-natured arguments were made over the comparatively entertainment values of the old and new games. Ross admitted to being plenty nervous when he was called upon to speak in front of the gathering of old friends and rivals, many of whom he hadn't seen in 15 or 20 years. "I got more thrill out of the reunion," he was quoted as saying in the Globe, "than anything I've experienced since I was doing a bit of puck-chasing myself for [the] Montreal Wanderers."
There was talk of meeting once more at George McNamara's house the following year, but it appears there never was another such party There likely wasn't another get-together of so many old-time hockey stars until the opening of the original Hockey Hall of Fame building on the Exhibition grounds in Toronto in 1961.
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