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 latter triumph marked the last time Canada won the tournament until 1994, when Luc Robitaille scored the shootout winner against the Finns in Italy.
“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.”
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).
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.
“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.
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.