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Memories from Nelson’s oldest Maple Leaf
Lloyd (Bus) Algar, who died last month at 96, was the oldest surviving Nelson Maple Leafs alumnus, having played right wing for the senior hockey team from 1939-41 and again for a few games in 1945-46.
The Peace River native learned to skate when he was five. At eight he moved to Ponoka where he played his first organized hockey with a high school team. Beginning in 1934, he spent parts of four seasons with the junior Edmonton Athletic Club followed by a year with the Olds Elks of the Alberta senior league.
During World War II, he played for army teams and spent a year stationed in England. Returning to Canada, he earned a commerce degree from the University of BC and then worked in Trail for a few years before moving his family back to Nelson to start a tire shop.
When Nelson hosted CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada in 2007, Algar was featured as part of an exhibit at Touchstones Nelson. This is an edited transcript from an interview conducted at that time.
What brought you to Nelson?
I had heard good reports of Nelson and decided to give it a try. I had nothing to lose. They promised a job and $5 a game if we happened to win — and a beer if you lost!
What job did they offer you?
Working on the Bonnington dam as an electrician’s helper. I knew how to screw in a light bulb, but that was about it. It was a good learning experience. In the spring I managed to get on with the Nelson fire department and worked there for the next year.
Who recruited you?
I talked to Pat Aitken, the coach. The senior Kootenay league had Nelson, Trail, Kimberley, and the first year, Gonzaga college of Spokane.
What do you remember about that year?
I batched with some other young fellows who had come out from Manitoba at Maymie Simpson’s boarding house. We had a good time. It was quite a young team.
How did the team do?
We made the playoffs by beating Kimberley two out of three, but then had to play the Trail Smoke Eaters and not many teams won against them. (The 1939 Smoke Eaters won the world amateur championship.) But we had some good games with them.
Jack Kilpatrick was one of our mainstays, a top scorer. He played with the two young Winnipeg players. They were our top line. Len Bicknell and Leo Atwell were the two top defencemen. Red Carr and Buddy Hammond played with me on one line. We had two good forward lines and a pretty good defence. Jess Seaby was in goal — no mask, of course. Poor Jess did get cut up quite often. It was a nice bunch.
Pat Aitken started off coaching. Then Rene Morin came over from Rossland to finish off the season with us. I don’t know any more about the politics of the team that year. The next year Spokane dropped out and we played interleague games with Alberta teams.
What happened after that?
The league broke up in ’41 due to the war. Most of us moved to the coast. Some of us played in Victoria and some went to Nanaimo. I went in the services that winter and played for both the Victoria army and amateur team. It was hockey and army, morning, noon, and night.
They shut down all the army hockey teams in early ’44. They wanted soldiers to be soldiers, not hockey players, I guess. A lot of my teammates were drafted overseas and for some reason they didn’t take me. I followed later and spent a year in England.
I played one game over there with an army league team. The captain came along and picked me up from Aldershot barracks. I don’t know how he found me. I said I’ll come but I’d like a good meal before I play. He wrote a chit for me to go into the officer’s mess and so I had bacon and eggs. That was a rarity at that time for us enlisted guys.
Did you want to play in the NHL?
I had a tryout offer with the Boston Bruins but it never happened. I never got to their training camp. They would sign all the junior players to what they called a C form — the rights to your hockey career. You never got paid anything. At least I never did. Boston [traded] me, I think, to the New York Americans. They were supposed to be training in Winnipeg, but I never heard from them. I guess I got lost in the shuffle.
What was the highlight of your hockey career?
I was just fortunate to be able to play and come out without any broken limbs or serious [injuries]. Not like today where these fellas are having concussions. It’s funny that we didn’t have the face masks and head gear of today.
Do you still follow hockey?
Oh, yes. I’m quite a Canucks fan. Hockey is still a great game, although it’s much different than when I played.
It’s much faster and they have far more players. We only had 11 — two forward lines. Now they have four. They’re twice as fast, twice as big. But no better than we were.