One of the more enjoyable tasks as The Ultimate Leafs Fan entails responding to the many questions, requests or sharing of stories amongst fellow Leaf followers or collectors. Not a day goes by without receiving an email offering me a treasured Leafs artifact either seeking some information about the item or offered for sale or to donate to the collection. With the anniversary year fast approaching, inquiries about the early years promises to accelerate and frankly I can’t wait.
A few months ago Deb received an email directly from Col. Chris Hadfield (right to our ULF email from the site), saying that his great grandfather he believed received a job with the Leafs, after serving in the military with Conn Smythe . He wanted to know if we may have some photos from the 1930’s that he could come see. First we didn’t believe he was contacting us directly, but after some brief research, it was true, that there was a connection.
Chris Hadfield is a Canadian icon, the first to walk in space, spent 166 days in orbit and working with NASA his access to information would be second to none, yet he was seeking our help to trace the lineage of a family member with the Toronto Maple Leafs? This man dropped a puck from space and he was stumped on his family’s history?
I immediately contacted fellow Leaf Historian Paul Patskou who also happens to have the most extensive film library pertaining to hockey in existence. Always up for a challenge we informed the Hadfield family that if Austin Hadfield worked with the Leafs we would track it down. The plan was to see what we could find and present it to the family at a private showing inside the “Room”. Chris had heard of my collection, browsed through the website but like a true Leaf fan wanted to experience it in person. We arranged a day to visit and we would present information on Sergeant-Major Austin Hadfield we uncovered, if in fact there was any. Chris mentioned he thought he was a trainer with the Leafs but it was Tim Daly, so that couldn’t be it, but the military affiliation would certainly tie him to Conn Smythe a staunch military man himself, so that was a start.
The Leafs trained in the town of Preston Ontario (now Cambridge) and skated at the Galt Arena (still in existence). Conn Smythe the innovative thinker that he was, continued to search for ways to get the edge on the competition. Stationed in Galt with the Highland light Infantry Regiment was Sgt. Major Austin Hadfield, who had a reputation for tough physical training and producing exceptional results with the young men training under his regiment. The Infantry received awards for superior conditioning and these stellar results would surely have resonated with Conn Smythe.
Dry land training was unheard of in the 1930’s thus for the Leafs to employ a tough military man, leading off ice exercises, it was groundbreaking conditioning in the world of hockey. Sgt. Major Hadfield whipped the Leafs into shape starting in 1936 and gained the admiration of the players by joining in on the exercises with kids half his age. Well the little Col. Conn Smythe would have none of that and he too participated in the exercises, including carrying a man on his back running.
The training camp routine entailed the Leafs rising at 7am, breakfast at 7.30, on the field with Hadfield from 815 until 930, 9-holes of golf, lunch, short break and finally 3 hours on the ice.
We were able to uncover some other facts about Sgt. Major Hadfield and the family was thrilled to now have proof of the tie to the beloved Maple Leafs. Chris fondly reminisced the times he would watch the Leafs with his dad as a small boy in Sarnia, and Dave Keon became his favorite player (mine too) leading to a life long love of the hockey club. The admiration of the Leafs had no boundaries and Chris had taped broadcasts of all the Leaf games sent to the shuttle that he watched religiously, including Coaches Corner.
Chris recalled that upon re-entry to earth, unable to watch the end of Game 7 against Boston and after speaking on Satellite telephone with his wife, Hadfield’s first question was, “How did the Leafs do?”
The afternoon with the Hadfield’s flew by and clearly one of the highlights for Deb and myself hosting events “Inside the Room”. Chris, his mom, dad and sister all had great questions, informative antidotes and left smiling with newfound knowledge we were able to discover, including a picture of Sgt.-Major Hadfield leading a drill. I have always expounded about the tentacles that have no end when discussing historical periods in time and in this case the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Earlier, Mrs. Hadfield had politely listened while I gave a quick opening overview once inside the “Room, “and during pause handed me a beehive photo of Sly Apps with a red boarder, “Mike do you know who this is?”
“I sure do that’s a beehive photo and as a matter of fact I have that exact piece”
“Well he is a distant relative of ours, my grandmother and his grandmother were sisters,” Mrs. Hadfield proudly proclaimed.
“Then you will love the story I have for you; did you know that in 1936 Apps was a rookie at Leaf camp in Preston and guess who trained him? Sgt. Major Hadfield who was in his first year as the Physical Trainer of the Leafs, so you could say they were both rookies with the Leafs at the same time.”
She had a big smile on her face, as did I, because we both learnt something new as a result of sharing a story and making a connection. That’s what the beauty of a true collector represents, the unquenchable thirst to discover more. Now we have additional reasons to explore the Hadfield story further, hopefully uncovering pieces of little known history along the way. We are very excited to continue the search and will keep you posted.
Later that evening Deb and I were relaxing, preparing our schedules for the next event we’d be hosting (it never stops, ha). Recounting a few of the highlights from earlier we suddenly paused, looked at each other and without saying a word, smiled, knowing something real special had taken place that day.
See below for the Full Hour interaction Presentation with the Hadfield family