History of the A's

 
 

An Interview With Ted Howe

 
 

Few players in the demanding sport of lacrosse could ever match the career longevity of Ted Howe.  His great passion for the game carried him through four decades of lacrosse, from minor and junior in the 1940s through to senior and professional in the 1970s.  

For Ted, the third time was always the charm. After near misses in the 1948 and 1949 Minto Cup finals, Ted helped capture the coveted junior title for the Athletics in the year of 1950. And in the Mann Cup finals, the 1971 senior crown with the Brantford Warriors helped to offset earlier close calls for Ted with the 1958 Welland Switsons and the 1963 St. Catharines Athletics. 

A solid two-way player and an exceptional draw-man, Ted was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1987 in the box players category.

 

Gary: Did you grow up in a neighbourhood near the Haig Bowl?

 

Ted: Yes, we were just around the corner.

 

Gary: This part of the city was a bit of a hotbed for lacrosse when you were growing up.

 

Ted: Yes, Jack Gatecliff was near, Ralph Speck on Lake Street and the Scotts were just down York Street, and others of course. It was the most popular game when we were kids.

And even earlier, I remember that my mother lived on Maple Street when she was single and the lacrosse grounds were where the Collegiate is now and she told me everything closed up on the afternoon when there was a field lacrosse game. People came with their horse and buggies, and stood all around the field.

 

Gary: Who were your sports heroes when you were a kid?

 

Ted: Oh, I guess anybody who played on the senior team. There were a couple of them that were firemen and at the firehall on Lake Street, George Hope and Carson Myers would be sitting around outside while on duty and we would go over to meet them. Just to talk to them was a thrill because we looked up to these guys.

 

Gary: When did you start playing?

 

Ted: I used to play in the backyard of the house until my father chased us out. The back of the house had wood siding and we would split the boards with lacrosse balls. We used the drainpipe as one of the goalposts and we split that too.

Some of my older brothers played, but they only played up until juvenile before they were drafted into the army and went off to the war. So I had the remnants of whatever equipment they had and that was what I started with.

 

Gary: Were any of your early minor teams a championship team?

 

Ted: The first one I can remember was the bantam team in 1944. We won the Ontario championship that year. The coach of that team was Tony Capula, he was a just a young fellow then, maybe still a junior player.

From 1944 to 1974 was the span of my lacrosse championship teams. (In 1974, Ted was a member of the N. L. L. champion Rochester Griffins.)

 

Gary: The Junior Athletics went through a string of good years in the late forties and you were part of some of those teams.

 

Ted: Yes, St. Catharines won the Ontario junior title for four years in a row, from 1947 to 1950. I didn’t play on the 1947 team but I was on the ’48 team that went west and lost in the Minto Cup finals.

I remember in ’48, the O. L. A. decided to send out an all-star team. It was actually our team and but they wanted to add three players from other teams that they thought would strengthen us. Of course they only provided so much money for so many players to go, so that meant we would have to leave the three dropped guys at home. We tried to raise money so that the three guys could also go, so we went around at a senior game at the Haig Bowl with blankets and people would throw us money. We did eventually raise enough money so everybody could go.

In 1949 the finals were back in Ontario, but we played all the games in Owen Sound. Their team stayed there but we had to go back and forth for every game, so it turned out to be quite an ordeal every other night. We drove up to Owen Sound for the games and in those days we didn’t have the highways that we do now. It was quite a jog and we lost that series in Owen Sound.

But in 1950 we went west and we never lost a game. The 1950 team was a great team. The 1947 team was a good team too and they won the Minto Cup here in St. Catharines, but I think the 1950 team didn’t lose a game all year. I know we didn’t lose a game out west.

In those days we would stop in Winnipeg and play a two out of three series. The Winnipeg team was never strong and it was more or less a formality. They were trying to promote the game there so we would make the stop.

In 1950 when we went west, they weren’t finished their finals in Manitoba, so they sent us straight through to Vancouver. We played there and they presented us with the Minto Cup. But on the way back we had to stop in Winnipeg and play a series there and we almost lost the first game. We figured it was just a formality, but after the first period we were down four or five goals. We just managed to tie it up in regulation and then won it in overtime.

 

Gary: Then in 1951 you moved up to senior. What was senior lacrosse like in the 1950’s?

 

Ted: It was a tough league, the game was played hard and tough. The caliber was good lacrosse but the fan support just wasn't what it was in the forties. In the early fifties, Peterborough brought in a lot of players from other teams. There were some from St. Catharines like "Nip" O'Hearn and Jerry Fitzgerald, and there were some from Owen Sound as well. They seem to have the money to entice them and the players in St. Catharines weren't getting anything out of it so the ones without any ties went up there. That's how they basically got started and they have been a real dominate team ever since.

 

Gary: Do you have a feel for why lacrosse went down in popularity in the fifties? 

 

Ted: I think a lot of it was lifestyle; people had more cars and a lot of other things that were distractions. There were a few areas where the game stayed strong but part of the decline in St. Catharines was that the team just wasn’t doing that well. That was the reason that in 1958 they moved the team to Welland for a couple of years.

 

Gary: Carl Madsen was the coach of that 1958 team, but after you won Ontario, he didn’t make the trip out west with the team for the Mann Cup series. Was it because he was ill at that time?

 

Ted: I don’t know. He may have been sick or maybe he just couldn’t get the time off work.

Thinking back, I remember he worked at Columbus McKinnon and they were very much pro sports, so I doubt that was it. They had three or four guys that worked there only because they played lacrosse.

So he didn’t go west with us but Vic Teal took over. I don’t think he had much lacrosse experience but he was great coach in hockey.

 

Welland Switsons captain Ted Howe checks a New Westminster shooter at the 1958 Mann Cup finals

photo by Dan Scott of the Vancouver Sun

 

Gary: Was the fan support any better in Welland than it had been here?

 

Ted: It was pretty good the first year we were there but it dropped off in ’59. It turned out that it wasn’t as profitable, so they came back to St. Catharines in 1960.

 

Gary: Were they playing indoors in Welland?

 

Ted: Yes, we were playing at the arena there.

 

Gary: What do you think of playing lacrosse indoors versus playing in the old outdoor bowls?

 

Ted: I enjoyed it more playing outdoors. We use to play in all the old bowls, the Rose Bowl in Brampton, the Miller Bowl in Peterborough and the Haig Bowl here. But the main reason they switched was because of all the cancellations. Too many games were rained out so the powers to be decided all the games had to be played indoors.

St. Catharines Jr. Athletic action at the Haig Bowl in 1950

 

Gary: In the sixties, you stayed with the Athletics for as long as they had a team.

 

Ted: In 1963 we played for the Mann Cup down in Cornwall, but lost to Vancouver. And then in 1966 they folded the team. Everybody seemed to loose interest and we actually forfeited our last game in Brampton that year when we couldn’t get enough players.

So in 1967, I thought my career was finished as far as being a player was concerned and I decided I would try to be a referee. That was the worst thing I ever did! (laughs)

I refereed for about half the year, but when Ross Powless approached me and wanted to know if I would play with his Senior “B” team in Brantford, I just couldn’t wait to go back and put on the pads. Mostly Native players made up that Brantford team, but they had about two or three Non-Natives.

I jumped at the chance to play and we won the Senior “B” championship.

 

Gary: Was that for Ontario Senior “B”?

 

Ted: No, that was the Canadian title.

 

Gary: Well that’s quite something after you thought your career was over.

 

Ted: Yes it was. And then in ’68, much to my surprise, I received a call to try out with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first attempt at professional lacrosse. I made that team and we had a pretty good year. But the league wasn’t too successful and in 1969 they reshuffled some of the teams around and put a team right here in St. Catharines, the Golden Hawks. It was considered a pro team and any players living in St. Catharines that wanted to play, had to play for St. Catharines. All of the St. Catharines players were pretty much spread around the league in 1968 after they held the pro draft, but in 1969 all the native St. Catharines players had to play on the Golden Hawks and that’s how I ended up back here in the Garden City. That was the first venture into pro lacrosse and it only lasted the two years.

 

Gary: The next year you were back playing Senior “A”?

 

Ted: In 1970, the Brantford Warriors drafted me. Morley Kells coached Brantford, and Morley was heavily involved in promoting lacrosse. I stayed in Brantford with Morley until 1973.

In 1971 we won the Mann Cup in Brantford with myself, Bob McCready and Gary Moore from St. Catharines on that team.

After that final game, we went into the hall next door to join some of the fans that were celebrating. When it came time to head home, we went back into the arena and here was the Mann Cup sitting on the trainer’s table, the room was wide open and nobody was there. We were looking at it and I don’t know which one of us said it, but somebody said, “Let’s take it home.”  So we grabbed our equipment, then grabbed the Mann Cup and set it in the trunk of our car. On the way home, we decided that we would each keep it for a day. So “Buff” McCready said “I’ll take it today, then I’ll bring it to you and then you can give it to Gary.” Well, I opened our grocery store the next day at nine and at about five after nine “Buff” walks in and he said, “I don’t want this, you take it!”

So I took it and put it up on display on one of the shelves. That was on a Saturday and they were looking for it up there. Jack Gatecliff heard about it so he sent a photographer out and Gary, "Buff" and I put on our team shirts and he took pictures of us out here in front of the house.

On Monday, I got a call from the manager of the Brantford team and he asks, “Do you happen to have the Mann Cup?” (laughs) By this time, Gatecliff had already written an article about how valuable the Mann Cup was. As soon as I read that, I ran over to my store and brought the Cup home and stuck it under my bed (laughs).

 

Bob McCready, Ted Howe and Gary Moore with the Mann Cup

St. Catharines Standard photo

 

That’s how the Mann Cup got to St. Catharines. It was just a spur of the moment thing. It took me so long to get it, I thought I would cherish it for a moment.

 

Gary: I don’t blame you. After your last season in Brantford, where did you play?

 

Ted: In 1974 I was drafted to play for Rochester in the second attempt at a professional lacrosse league.

 

Gary: Was there a lot of traveling with that pro team?

 

Ted: Yes, we would drive to Toronto and fly to a lot of the games. We would fly there and back on the same night.

 

Gary: Were they all weekend games with that league?

 

Ted: No, some of the games were during the week. You know looking back, you wonder how we ever did it or why (laughs). But I just loved it.

 

Gary: How did you manage to have such a long career in a physically demanding sport like lacrosse? 

 

Ted: I was fortunate. I never had a weight problem, never changed by more than a few pounds from summer to winter. I guess I had the right metabolism or something.  We owned a family grocery store and I was on my feet all day long slugging cases of produce and goods around, so I never got out of shape.

 

Gary: Jack Gatecliff often used to compare you to Gordie Howe, not only because of your last names, but also for the longevity of your sports careers.

 

Ted: Jack Gatecliff was good to me. A month after we came back from playing for the Mann Cup in New Westminster in 1958, he stopped by the store and handed me an envelope. This picture was inside and he said it came over the wire service. At that time the Canadian Press had a photo of the month award and this picture won. It came over the wire service and Jack thought I would like a copy.

 

Canadian Press "photo of the month" from the 1958 Mann Cup finals given to Ted Howe by friend Jack Gatecliff

photo by Dan Scott of the Vancouver Sun

 

Gary: Did the game itself change much over your career from the fifties to the seventies?

 

Ted: Well it got faster I think, and smarter in some ways. I think the people who were running the game were trying to improve it and speed it up. In the earlier days there wasn’t a shot clock so you could rag the ball or take as long as you wanted to get down in the other zone after you took possession. And it was more individual, more of a man-on-man type of thing.

It was a lot slower and a lot more rugged in a way. You could chop and slash and everything else. The first thing you would do when the guy came running at you was to take a roundhouse. Whether you hit him or not didn’t matter, you just tried to scare him to knock him off step for a moment or so.

It was slower but fellows like Jim Bishop and Morley Kells tried to speed it up. It was mainly those two that got the pro league started in 1968. They brought in a 60-second shot clock at first and then eventually it became a 30-second shot clock. And now it seems like you have an offensive team and a defensive team. Every time you change possession, everybody runs off.  When I played, when you went out for a shift, you went up and down a couple of times before you headed for the bench. I remember late in my career, Morley Kells was trying to impress upon us to only go up and back once before you changed. That was considered an innovation then and now they only go half way and then come off. Today it’s speed that they’re looking for.

 

Gary: Ted, over the course of your long career, who would you say might have been the best player you ever played with or against?

 

Ted: Well there was so many. I think Gaylord Powless was one of them. He was very smart, very heady. And he wasn’t afraid to take a beating to get in and to score a goal. And there was Jimmy McNulty. He could fire a ball like you’d never believe. Jerry Fitzgerald was a great player. I didn’t get to play much with him, but he was good. Ross Powless was a tough guy to play against. And John Davis was very smart. He was one of the best players of his time.

 

Gary: An impressive list, but I think few, if any, in the box era can match your outstanding career for longevity. Thanks Ted for your lacrosse recollections today.

 

 

"In a scoring sense, reliable Ted Howe took down top honors for the evening. Possibly the most underrated player in senior lacrosse, Howe scored four goals and assisted on two others. His first of the night, early in the opening period, was a masterpiece of timing. Taking a pass from Don Moore on the dead run, Howe flipped a back-hand shot which caught the top corner and the look of consternation on the face of goalie Jim Robertson (Fergus Thistles) could be seen in the press booth."

The St. Catharines Standard, Tuesday May 19, 1953

All photos courtesy of Ted Howe  

 

Sadly, Ted passed away on January 12th, 2009 after a brief illness, with his beloved Lillian by his side. He was a man of quiet dignity and patience with a keen sense of humour.

Kenneth Edward "Ted" Howe, 1930 - 2009

 

ADDITIONAL ON TED HOWE

 INTERVIEWS