The recent death of Boston Bruins hockey legend Milt Schmidt reminded me of a couple of fascinating articles published last year in the Boston Globe about Schmidt’s early life in Kitchener. These articles paint a vivid picture of our neighbourhood as it was almost 100 years ago. School and church and factory were all within walking distance in the Kitchener of the 20s and 30s, and the corners of King and Victoria, with the Lang Tannery, Lions Brewery and Kaufmann shoe factory, were humming with industry. The repurposed Lang Tannery and former Kaufmann Shoe factory buildings remind us today of the city’s industrial past, just as to those living in this community in the first half of the last century, the rotten egg smell from the tannery and malting smells from the Lion Brewery must surely have been pungent daily reminders of the city’s industrial present.
Kevin Paul Dupont’s article about Boston Bruins hockey legend Milt Schmidt and his detailed investigation into Schmidt’s Kitchener childhood, was published in advance of the NHL’s Winter Classic outdoor hockey game at Boston’s Fenway Park on January 1, 2016. A second article was published on the occasion of Schmidt’s 98th birthday, and talks about Schmidt’s life as a teenager in Kitchener in the 30s. The first article focused on the nostalgia of natural outdoor ice rinks and followed the patterns of Schmidt’s boyhood from home to school, and from organized hockey on the school rink to shinny on the farmer’s pond. The second article talks about Schmidt’s early teenage years after leaving school at 14, and his work “in a shoe factory, a tannery, and in a brewery’s ice house.” Both articles provide a fascinating insight into our neighbourhood almost 100 years ago.
Milt Schmidt grew up on Shanley Street, and went to King Edward Public School, where he played for the school hockey team on a natural ice rink maintained by the school custodian. At 98 years of age Schmidt remembered the walk to school along Shanley to King Street. He recalled the fights he had with the boys at Sacred Heart who he would encounter on his way, and he was still able to sing the school song. Schmidt also recalled playing hockey on a pond on the “Lippert Farm,” that he and his friends would hike across snow-covered fields to reach. Ken and Helen Lippert have suggested instead that Schmidt may have been referring to the “Liphardt Farm,” formerly at 130 Union Street, and that the pond he played on may have been the one behind Forbes Motors beside the Spur Line Trail. The fields are no more, having long since been developed into residential housing. Schmidt also talks about the old Kitchener Auditorium on Queen Street, which was demolished for the Charles Street extension, where he sold peanuts and carried equipment bags for the Kitchener Millionaires junior hockey club.
It’s easy to imagine Schmidt as a boy and as a teenager, walking along Shanley Street to King Edward Public School and later as a teenager, walking down Duke Street to Kaufmann Shoes, or further down King Street to Queen to sell peanuts at the old Auditorium. It’s easy to imagine as well the smells from the factories, the brine smell of the old arena and the crunch underfoot of the empty peanut shells. There is a picture of the young Milt Schmidt standing on the sidewalk on Shanley Street – his hockey gloves on, a hockey stick in his hands and the Electrohome building behind him. Gone perhaps are the cold winters that made skating and playing hockey on natural ice a winter pastime. Gone too are many of the smoke stack industries and their rich odours. Except for the gloves and knickerbockers he’s wearing though, the picture could have been taken yesterday.
– Gordon Hatt