Remembering legendary Braves coach Bert McClelland
Although I was a firm supporter of the proposal, the discussion got me thinking about the broader issues — including correct spelling — involved in attempting to honour deserving individuals through the naming of local sporting venues or other facilities.
The time spent pondering the issue certainly provided me with a heightened awareness of those facilities which already bear the moniker of sporting greats of years gone by, including the McClelland Arena in Copper Cliff.
Having called Sudbury home since 1969, I’ve been around long enough to remember the occasional visit to fabled Stanley Stadium in Copper Cliff, the predecessor to the new rink.
I’ve also been around long enough to have heard the lore of the Copper Cliff High School Hockey Braves and the team’s consistent success under the guidance of its legendary head coach, Bert McClelland.
As I thought about all this though, something about the spelling of his name nagged at me. I was sure I had come across a handful of references to Bert “McLelland” at various times.
Through the wonders of the Internet and Google searches, I confirmed both spellings had been used in various settings over the years. Could it be that the City of Greater Sudbury had erred, affixing incorrect signage throughout McClelland Arena?
Though most on-line references were clearly attributed to Bert “McClelland,” the bulk of the SDSSAA (Sudbury District Secondary School Athletic Association) records make note of coach Bert “McLelland.”
It was time to solve the mystery and shed some light on McClelland Arena and the man for whom it’s named.
Given that nearly four decades have passed since the doors opened in the mid-1970s, that was easier said than done apparently. After a number of phone calls, I was, quite thankfully, given the direction I needed. Bill McDonagh was the man to talk to.
While I had enjoyed the pleasure of chatting with the octogenarian hockey marvel at the time of his induction to the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame a few years back, and was well aware of his hockey background, I simply had no idea he had coached at Copper Cliff High at the same time as the iconic McClelland.
With both men moving to the teaching profession after brief stints with Inco, it turns out that McDonagh coached the junior team while McClelland was achieving legendary status with the senior Braves. “Bert had a lot of things going for him, but the big thing was Stanley Stadium, the artificial ice,” McDonagh said told me.
Built in 1935, the facility housed the only artificial ice surface in the region for many, many years and provided McClelland’s squad with several weeks more ice time than their competitors.
But it wasn’t just convenient access to the Inco-donated venue, McClelland’s considerable leadership skills and a a glut of hockey talent produced no less than seven all-Ontario champions in a reign spanning from 1948 to 1975, with countless appearances in finals and northern Ontario titles mixed in for good measure.
“For a lot of parents from Copper Cliff, high school hockey was the big thing,” McDonagh noted and McClelland was hockey in the community. “The arena, on Saturday nights back in the sixties, was packed.”
McClelland’s tutelage saw a steady stream of players flowing from Sudbury to NCAA schools in U.S. The school board actually sent McClelland and his wife, Beth, to the National University Championships in Minnesota in the late 1960’s because no fewer than seven Copper Cliff High alumni were competing at the event.
During our delightful hour-long chat, not only did McDonagh school me about why McClelland’s name was affixed to the arena, but he also helped solve the mystery about how to correctly spell the man’s name. Unless four different Copper Cliff High School yearbooks were filled with errors, it was indeed W.A. (Bert) McClelland.
It was only seven years after his decades long career at CCHS came to an end that McClelland Arena opened.
Turns out the city had it right all along. Now to get those SDSSAA records corrected.
Randy Pascal is the founder of SudburySports.com and a contributing sports writer for Northern Life.