04 March 2019

Miss Fenwick's Good Old Hockey Match

More than a fortnight has passed since my last post, but I haven't been lazy. It's been a hectic time, centred around our third move in seven months. To think that we lived over a decade in our last home. Our new house is much smaller, but an addition is planned. Right now, bookcases are the priority.

During all this activity, I somehow managed a couple of pieces for next issue of Canadian Notes & Queries. The longer of the two concerns Canada Reads, CBC Books' "literary Survivor" (their words, not mine). The shorter is a review The Arch-Satirist, a 1910 novel by elocutionist Frances de Wolfe Fenwick. I wish I could say that I liked the novel. Set in fin de siècle Montreal, it begins with great promise by introducing a degenerate, drug-laden teenage poet, only to shift focus to Lynn Thayer, another of those self-sacrificing female characters that are all too common in early Canadian literature.

The Canadian Bookman, July 1910
Still, the novel managed to hold my interest; in part, because of its cynical depiction of Montreal Society (Miss Fenwick was a member). It's not much of a stretch to conclude that scenes involving the Golden Square Mile set were inspired by actual events, particularly given the fact the author's second novel, A Soul on Fire (1915), features a character so clearly modelled on Sir Andrew Macphail.

Perhaps the greatest value in The Arch-Satirist comes in its depiction of a late-nineteenth-century "hockey match." I've never seen this novel referenced in histories of the sport, and so encourage chroniclers of the early game – Stephen Harper is one – to follow this link., which leads to a six-page description of the match and the building in which it was played.

Read "Caruso" for "Calvé."

Constructed in 1898, the Montreal Arena stood at the corner of St Catherine and Wood, and is thought to have been the first building designed specifically for hockey. The match described by Miss Fenwick is played between the Wales and the Conquerers – likely the Wanderers and the Canadiens, both of which called the Arena home.

I'll leave with these remarks made by Estelle Hadwell, Lynn Thayer's closest friend. Those who don't much care for hockey will appreciate:
I do love to be fin-de-siecle,'' she had said. "But, when it comes to hockey or pug dogs — well, I simply can't, that's all.'' Then she had told a plaintive tale of how, when a girl, she had been taken to a hockey match. Her escort had been an enthusiast of the most virulent type; and she had been obliged to feign a joy which she by no means felt.
     "It was ghastly," she observed, ghastly. "There I sat, huddled in grandmother's seal-skin which wasn't a bit becoming, and watched a lot of weird things dressed like circus clowns knocking a bit of rubber round a slippery rink. And all those poor misguided beings who had paid two, three and five dollars to see them do it yelled like mad whenever the rubber got taken down a little faster than usual — oh, you may laugh! but I can tell you that when one of those silly men whacked another silly man over the head when the umpire wasn't looking because the second ass had hit that absurd bit of rubber oftener than he, the first ass, had — why, I felt sorry to think that the human species to which I belonged was so devoid of sense.
Fun fact: "1 Wood," the building that now stands on site of the old Montreal Arena, was designed by my father's friend Ray Afleck, the man who also designed the Beaconsfield house in which I was raised.

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  1. Oh how this catches my interest. Not bad prices on line - but I can't justify the shipping. I have enough to books on hand to wait till this one drifts into my life naturally. In a like manner - I finally found a copy of "I Lost it all in Montreal" in the wild.

    One of the problems though is 1900-1930 books often don't get shelved in bookstores anymore unless they really stand out. I rescued a copy of the Archibald Lampman memorial edition from a discard pile the other day. It was being sent to recycling.

    Good luck on the move.

    1. The Arch-Satirist has a full-colour frontispiece. Does that temp? I should point out that it is the only illustration, though the title page implies otherwise.

      Shipping charges put an end to nearly every online purchase I consider.

      Coincidentally, a friend gave me a copy of the very same Lampman, along century-old volumes by Charles Mair and Robert Stanley Weir, he'd rescued from the pulper. What a country we live in.

      Thank you for the kind words regarding the move.

  2. "You said you didn't give a fuck about hockey/ And I never saw someone say that before" - Gord Downie, Fireworks