May 16, 2013 (ISN) – Welcome to the first installment of Ken’s Blog, where historian Ken Warren takes us through the lives and times of his sports oriented family growing up in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the 1900’s and beyond. In Part I, Ken introduces us to his family and he and his father’s early exploits at hockey, baseball, gunfights and shoplifting.
Welcome to my Family Tree, where we so often root for one another in Sports. This is mainly going to be about sports, but the first couple of weeks will also deal with social and family values so that you get to know more than just one aspect of my family’s character or activity.
Dad and his brothers, Dad in glasses, Edg left, Ken forward, Austin right – Photo Courtesy of Ken Warren
My father, James Earle Warren, was born in Crandall, December 15, 1906. A fifth generation Canadian, he never allowed us, his children, to ever write down other than ‘Canadian’ in heritage blanks on government or school documents. While I was quite proud of my British heritage, Dad refused to acknowledge that we were anything other than Canadian.
Growing up on a farm in Isabella, Manitoba, “J.E.”, as we later called my dad, was a superb athlete in both hockey and baseball. At 19, he played on a line with soon-to-be great Jimmy Creighton. J.E. himself was invited to the Montreal Canadiens tryout camp in 1925, but was struck with deadly Scarlet Fever and spent the entire winter of 1925/26 in bed fighting the disease. His eyesight diminished from the disease and he required eye glasses for the rest of his life.
It took J.E. a year of dating before he had the courage to kiss Mom, but what was even funnier was his love letters that Mom saved and Dad read aloud in the company of us kids 20 and 25 years after he had written them. He howled with laughter, commenting on what a stupid jackass a man in love is; and we laughed heartily with him on hearing his wild promises of love. Throughout his reading, Dad laughed so often tears flowed down his cheeks and his glasses had to be taken off and cleaned and his face wiped before he could proceed. There were a lot of love letters, but we children wished there had been a hundred more because these were the best of times.
After a courtship that lasted through the first four years of the Great Depression, Nora and Earle were married July 15, 1933, in Little Britain, Manitoba, and honeymooned in Vancouver and Victoria, BC. At the time, they vowed to one day return to Victoria to live, and 30 years later they did.
Almost a year later, June 1, 1934, their first child, James Darcy Warren, was born; and nearly four years later, April 2, 1938, I, Kenneth Russell Warren, was born in Melfort, Sask., into the first house my parents ever owned.
We moved to Kindersley when I was two and trapped in my yard. Then when I was almost four, my new little brother Phillip Lyall Warren was laid out on our red chesterfield for me and brother Jim to see. Little did I know at that time that the birth of Phil, Feb. 24, 1942, was closer to the birth of my freedom. No longer was I the baby of the family. No longer was I told that I couldn’t cross the street by myself. With Mom looking after her new baby, Ken was virtually free to go where he wanted. At 4, 5, and 6 I travelled all over town by myself and with friends. At four my favourite activity, in company with Ronnie Tibbitt, was to call on ladies who were home alone to visit, and have cookies if they had any. We visited Vera Collins, a new woman in town, and she connected with my mother and became her best friend. But I had many other lady friends, too.
My first act of shop lifting (an apple from Clem Reid’s grocery) was a disaster. I got caught because my mom had sewed my name on my snowsuit. I never got a spanking for that one, and when my dad took me to see Clem, Mr. Reid said: “Next time take one with bruises on it.” Dad said: “There won’t be a next time.”
There was a next time, however; it just wasn’t Clem’s place that got hit. This time I stole fox furs from Jones, the butcher’s back shed. And I did get a good spanking.
We used tokens during the war to get butter and meat, and once when I was five and sent downtown to get butter, I saw the milkman’s horse and wagon racing down Second Avenue to Main Street unattended. Mr. Hawes, the baker, leaped courageously in front of the horse trying to grab its bridle. The horse reared up and its hooves came down hard on Mr. Hawes’s forehead. He was very seriously injured and was never the same after that. I think he died a year or so later, but I wonder if he was ever adequately recognized as the hero he was. It was a very brave thing Mr. Hawes had done. Thanks to him the horse never got more than a few inches onto Main Street.
In many ways, I think of my young life between four and six years old much like being that of Ulysses in ‘The Human Comedy’. I was the same age at the same period of time as Ulysses, and like him I spent so much time waving at conductors, engineers, and men on the train’s cabooses. We would raft on sloughs next to the tracks and were close enough to shout to the train men as their engines or rail cars passed us. In addition, I was aware of my dad handing telegrams to grieving loved ones like Ulysses’ brother Homer would do when the war took another of our million allied dead.
Edgie before going overseas – Photo Courtesy of Ken Warren
Furthermore, while I didn’t lose a brother in the conflict like Ulysses had, my favourite uncle, Edgerton (Edgie) was captured during the poorly-planned Dieppe Raid and spent the rest of the war in several Nazi Stalags (Prisons). At the end of this chapter is a sample of one of his letters from Stalag 8B. Another of my dad’s brothers, Uncle Ken, was in the RCAF. Dad attempted to join up, but the scarlet fever that had seriously affected his eyesight caused a denial from the forces. He was however made a lieutenant in charge of the Kindersley Army Reserve Unit, and I’ll never forget the Brenn Machine Gun that sat mounted under our dining room table for the duration of WWII.
The funniest thing that happened in Grade One occurred when we were dancing around the classroom to a song or game called “Jump Jim Crow”. As we were jumping, someone screamed and the game stopped. There, lying on the floor, was a large chunk of shit. Miss Sommerville was shocked. She asked who was responsible for it. Nobody answered. She went next door to the Grade Two room and came back with another lady teacher. The two ladies took all the girls downstairs to the washroom, and had each take down their panties. None of the girls was the culprit. We boys were worried sick that we would be next. It never happened. The mystery went unsolved, though most of us were pretty sure that a gangly farm boy named Glen Mitchell had accidentally been the pooper.
Anyway, enough of school. It was after school and the weekends that the fun really began. By 6 and 7, I was in peewee hockey and our home was less than a block from the arena (winter) and the swimming pool (summer). My dad, besides being the manager, was the referee for all Klipper senior games and most kid games in all age classifications. Naturally hockey was a must for us, although I wasn’t the star that my big brother was in hockey. In the winter we spent most of our time at the arena. We were rink rats and never missed a Klipper game.
Two things stick out about the Klipper games in the 1940’s: a) the number of times the goalies caused the game to be delayed while their bloody faces were being stitched up in the pre-mask era, and b) the horrendous cloud of smoke in the waiting room between periods as all of the men rushed to have a cigarette. One more thing, and this one really bothered my dad, foolish penalties. Unlike today, when you got a two minute penalty, you got two minutes. You didn’t come out early if the other team scored. Sometimes , the power plays got two and three goals when you were off for your two minutes. Foolish penalties were far more costly in the 40’s and 50’s.
Also in winter there were daily shinny games on Third Ave. East. Often the puck was a frozen road apple (horse turd from either the milkman’s horse or the ‘honey wagon’s’ team of horses. A honey wagon is explained a little later) and the goal posts were tin cans. Shinny was just for fun. Naturally, we also played ice hockey. I was on a peewee team with two of my best friends, Al Sanderson and Ross Paterson. Even then we knew Al would one day be super. Geoff Sanderson of the NHL is Al’s nephew and Ross Paterson has been a pharmacist in Victoria for more than forty years..
In the summer, three activities predominated for kids–especially boys–and they were all around the town’s swimming pool. The pool itself was number one. How many times did our parents send us off an hour before the pool opened so we were out of their hair? Would we have enjoyed the pool so much had we not waited so long in the hot sun? Of the hundred times I swam at that pool, the funniest thing I ever saw was my dad wearing the only bathing suit he ever owned from the 1920’s. It was the only time any of us at the pool saw one of those men’s suits that covered most of the body and he wasn’t wearing it as a joke.
The second most popular activity was team gunfights. This may sound silly to some people, but near the pool was a heavily treed and bushes area about the size of a football field. It was a great park and almost daily in the summer gunfights occurred there. Teams were chosen and they’d start stealthily from either end of the park and head toward meeting one another somewhere around the middle. It was the honour system–a paint ball game without the paintballs. Not as much fun, of course, but no expense was involved. “Bang, you’re dead.” was all that was said very quietly. Of course everybody had cowboy pistols or other toy guns, because guns were the most popular toy in the 40’s. My cousins from Winnipeg played it for two days and loved it. “What are we going to do tomorrow?” one of them asked. “Same thing,” I said. “Great,” he replied.
The third thing we did was baseball. Kindersley East against Kindersley West. Jim was always our pitcher. Little did we know at the time that he would put himself through medical school with the money he made pitching. We probably played fewer than 20 games over a four-year period, but Kindersley West never beat us. These were the sandlot days before Little League, so no adults were involved. Nevertheless, we practised by playing ‘scrub’ often, and also softball at school recess and lunch time.
The above were the main activities, other great doings included snaring or drowning out gophers, rafting in the sloughs, making slingshots, arrow guns, and stilts, reading comic books, collecting beer bottles along the ditches, hiking to the Kindersley Dam (the town’s water supply), or hitchhiking back and forth. Isn’t it nice to remember that at 5 years old with your nine year old brother we could safely hitchhike 15 miles in any direction and then turn around and hitchhike back home. I guess Jim and I liked that activity because our folks had never owned a car. Are those ‘safe’ days gone forever?