Few folks bleed Onaping Falls Huskies blue more deeply than Bob Parker – and well that he should.
The long-time former mayor and Levack hockey-man originally coined the moniker, tapping into elements that were already part of the fabric of the town that he would first call home in the late 1950’s.
His story starts, however, two days away - by train.
Born in White Rock (Nova Scotia), Parker would spend the first 18 years of his quite interesting life as a Maritimer. Blessed with a love of sports, the now 84 year-old resident of Levack was certainly not on a fast track to the National Hockey League. And he was fine with that, even as he converted at the age of 16 from skater to goaltender, ill-equipped for the challenge at hand.
“I had a Black Diamond first baseman’s mitt, no blocker, just an ordinary glove, no chest protector, none of that stuff – and regular skates, not goalie skates,” said Parker. “I remember taking a shot off my face (no masks), so I went to the dressing room, took off my skates, went to the medical centre which was right there (they were playing a non-varsity team at Acadia University) and got stitched up and then played the rest of the second and the third.”
Those were different times.
As they neared adulthood, Parker and a friend were aware of some folks from back home that had made the trek to northern Ontario, finding work in the mines that were hiring in spades in the fifties and sixties. Boarding a train from Nova Scotia to Sudbury – a ticket that would cost $48 in 1957 – Parker would begin the adventure that would change his life.
“It was a two day trip and we only had a seat, didn’t have a berth or nothing,” he recollected. “We got to North Bay and the conductor made the announcement; to me, that sounded like the end of the world, like we were maybe up in the Yukon or something.”
While Parker took very little time to immerse himself in his new community, he would have to do it alone as his travelling mate did not quite meet the rather intriguing job requirements of the time.
“I weighed 162 pounds and he (his friend) weighed 139 pounds – and you had to weigh 140 to get a job at Inco,” he said with a smile. “He was a pound short. They gave him a note (indicating they would hire him once he reached 140 lbs), but he didn’t want to stay. We told him that all he had to do was drink a few beer and eat a few bananas.”
“That’s not a hard job.”
It didn’t take long for Bob Parker to take to the locals – nor they to him. He recalls a visit to the homestead of Randy Carlyle, future NHLer and Stanley Cup winning coach, the young lad just two at the time and blessed with an uncle who called Nova Scotia home. The man who was about to make his mark on the local hockey scene carried much of his love from his birthplace to the town that eventually merged together the towns of Levack, Dowling and Onaping Falls.
“I did everything back home,” said Parker. “I was that kid who would dive off a bridge when nobody else would, I would be out fly-fishing for salmon – I did all that. That’s probably why I loved it here.”
To be sure, it wasn’t as a player where Parker would shine the most, though he did strap on the pads to start in the old refinery league shortly after his arrival. “One night, I had 13 breakaways and stopped everyone one of them,” he said. “I thought, frig this, I’m going to play out.”
Before he knew it, Parker was mixing in a little coaching – he had an atom team that included future L.A. Kings all-star forward Dave Taylor – along with some on-ice officiating. Yet it was behind the bench where he first belonged – for better or worse. “They asked me to be the bantam coach one year; I guess they had a few kids that could be trouble,” said Parker.
“I met with those parents and told them if your kids give me a hard time, it’s easier for me just to take them off the team than to put up with any B.S. I was sort of a disciplinarian, I guess. But I wasn’t a guy that got very emotional behind the bench. My junior guys used to call me “Bobaroff”, because I reminded them of the Russian coaches.”
His first venture into non-youth hockey would see Parker helping to launch then coach the Levack Huskies, winners of the NOHA Intermediate “B” banner in back to back years, taking down the powerful Sault Ste Marie Comets. It was a team that featured what Parker described as his “core four”: Roy “Poopsie” Parker (no relation), future Onaping Falls Huskies juniors coach Pat Tremblay, as well as Ron Corelli and Doug Parenteau, not to mention Mike Callaghan, the man he termed “the best all-around athlete I’ve ever seen”.
With junior hockey re-appearing in Levack, Parker opted to fold the intermediate Huskies, concerned over the number of separate squads the small town could support. Two years later, he was back in the fold with the junior Miners - and when Onaping Falls becomes the selected name for the amalgamation of the three towns, the Onaping Falls Huskies were born, a name which continues to this day thanks to the minor hockey system in that area.
Parker would leave the hockey scene, for the most part, when he made the move to politics in 1978 or so, though still championing his love of sport in his role as mayor, a post that he held from 1983 to 1991, and again from 1994 to 2000.
Enjoying a legacy that few can match, Parker was also instrumental in trumpeting the transition of what is now the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) from its status as a Junior B loop in the seventies to Junior A status by the end of the decade, enlisting the help of folks like John Grignon (Nickel Centre) and Merv Edwards (Capreol), such that teams in these parts could pursue a pathway to a national title (Centennial Cup, RBC Cup, et al).
While the Onaping Falls Huskies are no longer among the contenders for the coveted hardware, current management of the NOJHL finalists (Hearst Lumberjacks vs Soo Thunderbirds) owe he and his brethren a boatload of thanks for the fact that the northern champs will make their way to Estevan (SK) later this month, battling it out with the best in the country.
Let us not forget where it all started – and the man who wears his love for the Onaping Falls Huskies clearly on his sleeve is but one of the many gentlemen in these parts who helped make it happen.