Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Compiled by Dick Wright, former St. Thomas Times-Journal sports/city editor, friend and fan.  To view Dick's other sites check out his profile,


PAISLEY PIRATES 1955-56:  Team included future St. Thomas Royals OHA Senior "B" players Joe Griffi, James "Tiny" Syme, Ed Lockhead, Art Sullivan, Cec Cowie and of course, coach Keith Kewley.

Canadian recruiters par excellence

Paisley Pirates, Glasgow Bruins, Ayr Raiders, Dunfermline Bruins, Dundee Tigers and Perth Rangers were the epitome of hockey in Scotland in the 1940s and 50s and the name "Kewley" was synonymous with the growth of the game during that period.  Teams were made up mainly of Canadians, bringing a kind of North American culture and hero worship to the Land of the Thistle.
Hockey became big business in Scotland after World War Two.  In 1946 some 70 Canadian players crossed the Atlantic by boat to play for a newly organized national league -- Firth Flyers, Dumfermline Vikings, Falkirk Lions, Dundas Tigers, Ayr Bruins and Paisley Mowhawks.  Players were "pooled" and then assigned to the teams in what was a rather controversial system at the time.  Similar drafts of players on a reduced scale would carry on for almost a decade.
Generally, it is a well-kept secret that Toronto Globe and Mail assistant sports editor Claude Kewley was the lone Canadian scout for the Scottish Ice Hockey Association, responsible for selecting players for the Scottish national league. Four of his six sons, Keith (left wing); Hal (left wing); Herb (defence) and Danny (goal) were included in the first draft of Canadian players to chase a puck on Scottish ice for more than a decade.

Claude, assisted by his sons, regularly conducted tryouts for prospects and developed an impressive talent pool.  In the days of the National Hockey League's "original six" British hockey provided graduates of junior hockey in Canada with an excellent opportunity to extend their careers by a few years playing at a semi-professional level.

The Kewley boys were born in Stratford, played minor hockey in Kitchener and junior in Toronto.  Keith, the oldest, was the first to play in Scotland in 1946 at 21 years-of-age.  Jack Gatecliff, who later became the legendary sports editor of the St. Catharines Standard, was another young Canuck recruited by Claude to play in Scotland during the season of 1946-47.

Keith was immediately named captain of the Dunfermline Vikings and from his left wing slot he contributed 22 goals and 14 assists in his first season.  As captain, his leadership ability was given free reign by head coach Scotty Cameron and he led the Vikings to the playoff championship, the Autumn Cup and Canada Cup, while finishing close runners-up to Perth in the Scottish National League. 

The next season (1947-48) he was asked to take on the dual role of player-coach and he led the Vikings to the Simpson Trophy.  He also met May Campbell of nearby Cowdenbeath, whom he married in January 1948.  

The newly-weds subsequently returned to Canada for two years until Keith was approached in 1950 to coach the Ayr Raiders.  Because May was anxious to return to her homeland, the decision was a no-brainer and with Keith behind the players' bench the Raiders skated to a Scottish National League and Autumn Cup double in 1951-52.

The opportunity to team up again with his former Dunfermline mentor, now manager of the Paisley Pirates, was enough to lure Keith away from Ayr for the season of 1952-53.  His Pirates dominated Scottish hockey during the 1953-54 season, winning the treble of Scottish League, Autumn Cup and Canada Cup.  He took particular pride in recruiting home brew players to mesh with his Canadian imports.  The cost-effective development of local talent to supplement his Canadian regulars in a punishing schedule of 60-plus games, produced a legacy of talent for British ice hockey.

Still in his twenties, Keith was a keen student of the game and receptive to new ideas.  His coaching methods, including meticulous game preparation and innovative development of strategy and set plays, positioned him well ahead of his older coaching rivals.

The beginning of the end came in 1954 with an ill-conceived decision  to combine the Scottish and English leagues into a new British National League. The Pirates iced a strong lineup and more than held their own in the expanded league but added expense and increased amount of travel for players and fans alike proved to be too much of a burden for a team from a small city with a population of 70,000 and the Paisley organization reluctantly suspended operations.   Keith, however, was recognized in that last season by being named coach of the BNL All-Star "A Team" for 1955-56.
Speaking of all-stars, five Pirates destined to wind up playing Senior hockey back home in St. Thomas for the 1956-57 season, dominated  balloting in  1952-53-54-55.  Ed Lochhead, goal; Herb Kewley, defence; and Art Sullivan, Cec Cowie, Hal Schooley, forwards, were all "A Team" selections.  Sullivan had a most remarkable season in 1954-55 as a member of the Dundee Tigers when he recorded 83 goals and 75 assists.  In two seasons with Dundee and one with Paisley, "Sully" scored an almost unbelieveable 190 goals.  Schooley too had a productive 1953-54 season when he scored 76 goals  and 61 assists in Paisley's 65-game schedule.  Second in team scoring that year was another future St. Thomas Royals player, Harry Bentley, with 36 goals and 54 assists.

With British hockey then in serious decline (the league eventually folded in 1959), the Kewleys and two young sons, Harold and Keith Jr., returned to Canada in the summer of 1956.  They settled in St. Thomas, ON where  Keith was employed in the city's industrial planning department.  The lure of hockey was still strong, however, and within months he took over the reins of the St. Thomas Royals, a new entry in the Ontario Hockey Association's Senior "B" League.

New life for Pirates in St. Thomas

He was quick to fill his roster with players from his former Paisley Pirates teams including goaltender Ed Lochhead, defenceman Joe "Tony" Griffi and forwards Hal Schooley, Art Sullivan, Cec Cowie, Carl Hatt, Don Beattie, Harry Bentley, Len Gaudette and brother Herb who had seen action with both Ayr and Paisley after playing with Sudbury Wolves in the 1949 World Hockey Championship.  He even managed to lure one of his Scotland-bred players, James "Tiny" Syme, a hulking defenceman.   With the addition of London Lou Ball Junior graduates such as Joe Pelish and Les Thomas, along with Bill Melville, Junior Barash, Dan MacPherson and Bob Cook who were already St. Thomas residents, the Royals were immediately a powerhouse in a very competitive senior league.

Every good hockey club needs a good trainer and one of the first non-playing recruits for Keith was Scotsman Dan Neill who emigrated to Canada in 1948.  That was the start of an almost 40-year association with hockey and baseball in St. Thomas for Dan.  It would be interesting to know how many miles of tape and and gallons of liniment Dan went through in that period. 

Battles with the Strathroy Rockets in particular are legendary, the teams playing before boisterous sell-out crowds clamouring to see the Royals take on the Rockets with their high-scoring forward line of  Jack McCreight, Paul Oliver and Don Emms. 

Personally, that was some of the best hockey that I have ever witnessed and I did not miss a game during the two seasons that the Royals were in operation.  "Steady Eddie" Lochhead (known in Scotland as "Mr. Shutout") and I shared a front porch boarding house bedroom at the time and I was the frequent recipient of inside scoop on hockey -- and girls in town who had developed a sudden and curious interest in the game.  Ed would eventually meet and marry a St. Thomas lass, Betty West.  Sullivan, who along with Cowie, brought British brides back with them, still lives in St. Thomas and for years was a golfing buddy of his old bench boss Keith.  Sully finished up his playing career as a member of the Woodstock Athletics Senior "A" Hockey Club.  Parkinson's desease has slowed the one-time goal-scoring ace, but he still enjoys the odd pint with Keith at the local Legion.   "It's amazing to hear the two of them talk," says Keith's son Harold.  "They remember every game and every goal that was ever scored."

I had the pleasure of teaming up with Cec Cowie on the St. Thomas Merchants Intermediate baseball team in the summer of 1959.  Cec, equally comfortable behind the plate as he was at any position in the field, was as much a warrior on the baseball diamond as he was on the hockey rink.  Never a flashy player, he could be expected to give no less than 100 per cent.  A short time ago, his granddaughter made an Internet request for any information on her grandfather's playing days and I hope this site eventually comes to her attention.

I also worked with Harry Bentley at the local newspaper during the 1960s.  Harry, a pressman, played a lot of senior hockey in Strathroy and Simcoe after the Royals folded and joined Times-Journal staff members for Tuesday night pick-up hockey.  Once Harry got the puck, you just let him go because there was no way you could get it off his stick -- I know from first-hand experience.  Harry and his wife would eventually move permanently to Florida.

I always liked Hal Schooley too, one of the last of the old time dipsy-doodlers.  He was as colorful off the ice as he was on it and a lot of fun to be around socially.  His trademark rushes over the blueline were something to behold. Cradling the puck on his stick as he cruised in on one skate, he would acrobatically extend the other leg in front of him to ward off opposing defenders.  I had never seen that move before in hockey, and I never saw it again.  Hal made his home in the Hamilton area, never completely severing ties, and for a number of years was active in minor hockey and coached a Flamborough midget team in the 1980s.

Enter Junior hockey in St. Thomas

After a brief hiatus, Junior "B" hockey was introduced to "Railroad City" in 1961 and again it was Keith at the helm contributing his aptitude for developing young players over the next seven years with the St. Thomas Barons, later to be re-named the Elgins in a newly-formed Tier Two Junior "A" League.  He took his young squad to the All-Ontario finals in their first season and to a runners-up finish in the Canadian national championship in 1967-68.

Working in tandem with president Lolly Marshall, manager Jack Cassidy and director Cliff Marshall, Keith rounded out a formidable management team.  An initial working agreement was established with the Montreal Canadians and several years later the Boston Bruins.  In turn, my hometown Dresden Junior "C" Kings became a farm team of sorts for the Barons.  A number of Barons graduates found their way into professional ranks, including John Hall, Hugh McGonigal, Wally Chase, Bob Smith, Bill Armour, Jim Dent, Wayne Newell, Roy Pyke, Marc Brunet, Dan Schock (NHL), Brad Selwood (NHL), Ken Murray (NHL), Dave Foley (NHL),  Dennis Desrosiers, Jack Criel and Jim Pinnegar, to name but a few that memory allows. 

St. Thomas Barons jersey
(Times Journal photo)
Bill Armour was a member of Keith's 1965 Barons who was every bit as talented in lacrosse as he was in hockey.  A Peterborough native, Bill  was a member of that city's 1966 Mann Cup champions and was also a member of Canada's National Lacrosse team in 1967.  He had his peak scoring season in 1968 with Peterborough Lakers of the Ontario Lacrosse Association Major Series when he finished fourth in league scoring with 42 goals and 79 assists in 38 games.  After junior hockey, Bill played several solid seasons with the Greensboro Generals of the Eastern Hockey League where he teamed up with Roy Pyke and Bob Smith. 

Competing in a division with strong teams from London (Nationals), St. Marys (Lincolns), Sarnia (Legionnaires), Tillsonburg (Mavericks), and  Ingersoll (Nationals)  the always  fiesty Barons were perennial fixtures in the Western Ontario Junior "B" Hockey League playoffs. 

Barons/Elgins Season-by-Season Results[edit]

St. Thomas Barons

LeaguesSouthern Ontario Junior A Hockey League
Western Ontario Junior A Hockey League
Western Ontario Junior B Hockey League

Franchise history
1961-1970St. Thomas Barons[11]
1970-1973St. Thomas Elgins[12]
1973Merged w/ St. Thomas Colonels
1961-62362691-238180531st WOJBHLWon League
1962-633524110-246153482nd WOJBHL
1963-644029110-273185581st WOJBHL
1964-653920182-213206424th WOJBHL
1965-664021172-227209444th WOJBHL
1966-674026131-225165531st WOJBHLWon League
1967-685025223-297241533rd WOJBHL
1968-695637181-255178751st WOJAHLWon League, Lost National Final
1969-705431212-245236643rd WOJAHL
1970-714413265-205270315th SOJAHL
1971-7256202610-244288504th SOJAHL
1972-736010455-209373257th SOJAHL

Games with arch-rival London Nationals (coached by Ike Hildebrand, Turk Broda and Bep Guidolin) would regularly sell out Treasure Island Gardens and the St. Thomas Elgin Memorial Arena. Crowds in excess of 3,000 were not unusual.  I also enjoyed watching Keith match wits with rival coaches Marty Zorica and Ted Garvin of the Sarnia Legionnaires, both old baseball acquaintances of mine.

I felt a particular closeness to Barons of the 1963-64-65 seasons.  That's when players such as Captain Mike Webb, Bob Brown. Ken Hough, Roy Pyke, Ken McKay, Brian Murray and Fin Melville joined my St. Thomas Tom Cats baseball team in the Junior Intercounty League.

In keeping with his long-standing commitment to developing local talent, Keith promoted St. Thomas Minor Hockey products Tom Ewans, Bob Brown, Mike Sekora, Bill Marshall, Wayne Newell, Ed Kenny, Ken Hough, Brian Murray, Fin Melville and eldest son Harold and watched them develop into bonafide junior-calibre players.  Perhaps the most versatile Baron of that era was Murray, a defenceman in hockey, a member of the Univerity of Western Ontario Mustangs football team and a power-hitting catcher-outfielder with junior and senior baseball teams in St. Thomas.

May, a quiet and gentle lady who rarely missed a home game with her two sons in tow, passed away in 1969 and Keith wound down his remarkable career coaching for several seasons at the midget level in St. Thomas. 

As sports editor at the St. Thomas Times-Journal in the 1960s, I worked closely with Keith (seen to the left recently reviewing a sports page from that era) and had a routine arranged with him for post-game interviews and other team publicity. He regularly supplied me with excellent  ideas for stories from his desk at city hall and always made time available for me.  

I recall in the season of 1965-66, the Barons ran into difficulty with the local school board when the team fell $3,500 in arrears for player high school tuitions.  The school board threatened to suspend the players, several hoping to gain university acceptance the following fall.  I took it upon myself to organize a fund through the Times-Journal in the hope of raising enough money to pay off the team's debt to the school board.  I ceded the fund with $10 of my own, suggesting that if fans did likewise we could raise enough money to stave off suspension of the players.  In a week's time some 300 fans donated the full $3,500 to the fund and the tuition debt was wiped out, indicative of the kind of support the team had in those days. 
Clipping from The St. Thomas Times-Journal, 1962-63.

Meantime, Keith's sons Harold and Keith Jr. proved to be pretty good athletes too, prominent in high school sports, hockey and golf.  Playing briefly with the Junior "A" Niagara Falls Flyers, Harold was a member of the Barons in the team's last season, 1968-69.  That was when the team had the misfortune to be pitted against the Flin Flon Bombers in an ill-advised, disasterous Canadian championship series.  In 1969, the Barons won the Western Ontario Junior "A" Championship. As per their league's agreement with the Western Canada Hockey League, the Barons were shipped out to Manitoba to face off against Bobby Clarke and the WCHL Champion Flin Flon Bombers in a best-of-seven series for National bragging rights. The Bombers won the first three games. The Barons forfeited game four in Flin Flon, leaving during the second period and citing violent play by the Bombers -- conceding the championship and escaping, battered and bruised, with their very lives.

Both Kewley brothers have established successful careers in real estate and remain in St. Thomas where they keep a close eye on their old man - or vice versa.

Justifiably, Keith was belatedly honored by induction into the British Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005 as player/coach during an era when hockey reigned supreme in Scotland.  No question that his dad would have been proud of the way Keith had carried out his legacy. 

He remarried a number of years ago and now in his mid-80s is still going strong.  He has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren and has been known to head south for the winter months.  They have hockey in Florida now you know...and some pretty good golf courses too!

Regardless of where you spend your winters these days, keep playing on Keith -- keep playing on!

Only those who have been involved in sports in one capacity or another know what I mean.  We never lose that competitive edge, it keeps us in the game. 

UPDATE NOTE FROM DICK:  I talked to Keith again over the telephone just before Christmas (2012).  His voice was as strong as ever and his mind as sharp as a tack.  He was concerned about the health of his wife who is now confined to a nursing home, but other than that he was the same old Keith talking about hockey and his recollections as if they were yesterday.  He lamented the fact that his late brother Herb and old buddy Art Sullivan had never been named to the British Hockey Hall of Fame.  "Herb was one of the best defencemen to ever play hockey in Britain.  He could move the puck up the ice like no one else and Sully's goal-scoring ability was unequalled," he said.  "Sully scored more than 200 goals in three seasons in the Scottish Hockey League, for heaven's sake.  They deserve to be in the British Hockey Hall of Fame every bit as much as me!"  That was classic Keith, ever the promoter, sticking up for his players -- even if it was 60 years after the fact.

*June 15, 2016:  The aforementioned Art Sullivan passed away earlier this year.  I recently set up a long distance telephone conversation between Coach Kewley and a nostalgic Roy Pyke (70).  Roy was overjoyed with the opportunity to reminisce and to say thanks to the "best coach" he ever had.