Exploring hockey history in Trail
by Lucas Aykroyd|12 MAR 2021
60 years ago on this day, Team Canada represented by the Trail Smoke Eaters (here in a game against West Germany) won the 1961 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland, beating the Soviet Union for gold.
photo: Keystone / Photopress Archive
Even though the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Switzerland was unfortunately cancelled due to the pandemic, hockey fans can still celebrate some great history made on Swiss ice much further away – in Trail, British Columbia.
The Canadian city of 7,700 inhabitants – a seven-hour drive east of Vancouver – is home to the Trail Riverfront Centre, a 1,400-square-metre facility with an outstanding city museum full of sports memorabilia.
The Trail Smoke Eaters as Canada’s amateur champion represented the country at the 1939 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and brought home gold.
photo: Lucas Aykroyd
Much of it spotlights the glories of the senior amateur Trail Smoke Eaters, who won the World Championship gold medal in 1939 (Zurich and Basel) and 1961 (Geneva and Lausanne).
The latter triumph marked the last time Canada won the tournament until 1994, when Luc Robitaille scored the shootout winner against the Finns in Italy.
A gold medal from the 1939 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Lucas Aykroyd
From a 1939 gold medal belonging to Jimmy Morris to a red Hudson’s Bay Company wool coat worn by the 1961 team in Europe, this is a feast of nostalgia. A notable highlight of the collection, which includes more than 300 hockey artifacts, is the 1961 World Championship trophy that the Smokies brought back to this city in the West Kootenays.

“Many of the 1961 team members have visited,” said Sarah Benson-Lord, manager of the city museum and archives. “Some attended the November 30, 2019 Smoke Eaters game commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Cominco Arena. The majority are in their mid to late 80s. We just lost defenceman Harry ‘Hurricane’ Smith at the end of May, actually. He was living in Sooke, just outside Victoria.”
The Seth Martin cabinet includes replica goalie masks donated by Thomas Connauton of Edmonton’s THC Vintage Masks.
photo: Lucas Aykroyd
An entire cabinet highlights original IIHF Hall of Famer Seth Martin, whose world-class goaltending made him an idol of Vladislav Tretiak’s in the 1960s. Video footage shows Martin and his teammates defeating the Soviets in 1961 and returning home in white cowboy hats to handshakes and hugs. (After retiring, interestingly, Martin continued to work as a Trail firefighter, passing away in 2014.)
Fans from the former Czechoslovakia will relish the tribute to Mike Buckna, a Trail native of Slovak heritage who coached the Czechoslovaks to their first World Championship title (1947) and Olympic silver medal (1948).
Trail’s Mike Buckna led Czechoslovakia to two European championships in 1938 and 1939 as a player-coach.
photo: Lucas Aykroyd
“Mike is considered the father of Czechoslovak hockey and we are certainly proud of his achievements,” Benson-Lord said of the late Buckna, who was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2004. “We have many a long-time Trail hockey fan who believe that Trail’s style of play was introduced in Europe by Mike.”
Between checking out exhibits, you can sit down on an old orange wooden bench (Section 26, Row B) from the Cominco Arena, which cost just $500,000 to build, courtesy of the local mining company, back in 1949.
Gold, copper, zinc, and lead are among the resources mined in this region between the Selkirk and Monashee Mountain ranges, dating back to the 19th century. But since the mid-20th century heyday of the Smokies, the Kootenays have continued to produce a wealth of hockey talent.
The Trail Junior Smoke Eaters retired jersey #15 in honour of Steve Tambellini, who played 553 NHL games.
photo: Lucas Aykroyd
The names include 898-point NHLer and current TSN commentator Ray Ferraro, 1988 Olympian and 2003 World Championship GM Steve Tambellini, 1996 Stanley Cup champion Adam Deadmarsh of the Colorado Avalanche, and many others.
“We’re a small community, but we’re immensely proud of our sports heritage,” Benson-Lord said.
And the Trail Riverfront Centre isn’t the only place to discover fascinating hockey history in this area.
Just a 10-minute drive away, Rossland is best-known today as a ski and mountain biking destination with the award-winning boutique Josie Hotel at the foot of Red Mountain. Yet the town of 3,700, which bid to host the 1968 Winter Olympics, also has deep hockey roots. In 1899, a 3,000-seat arena opened here as the “largest covered building” west of Winnipeg, according to the Rossland Museum.
The Rossland Ladies’ Hockey Team (1900-18), inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, went undefeated for 17 years before the 1918 Spanish flu ended their run. A large photo of the team adorns Gabriella’s Restaurant at Prestige Mountain Resort.
At nearby Crescent Valley Beach Park, you can view the riverside ruins of Patrick Lumber, a sawmill company launched by hockey legends Frank and Lester Patrick in 1907.
The pioneering Patrick brothers used their profits to start the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), whose teams in Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland laid the groundwork for modern hockey with new-fangled notions like line changes, penalty shots, and blue lines.
Naturally, the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, featuring Canada’s double-gold performance in men’s and women’s hockey, will always remain the high point in British Columbia sports history. Yet a visit to Trail and the surrounding communities is also a winning proposition.
To go even deeper into hockey history, visit the Hockey Hall of Fame – a partner of the IIHF – in Toronto. Always remember to check ahead for museum opening hours and availability.