by Sam McBride

In more than 30 years of exploring my family history I have made some fascinating discoveries, but nothing tops finding out my grandmother Winnifred Mae McBride (1889-1960) was a pioneer in ladies ice hockey as a young lady in Nelson, British Columbia. I was even more surprised to learn that she alternately played forward and goalie positions on the 1911 Nelson Ladies Hockey Team coached by Lester Patrick, who, with his brother Frank, had a huge role in establishing professional hockey and the National Hockey League.

Known then as Winnie Foote, she also served as secretary-treasurer of the team, where her work included liaising with her counterpart in Rossland in organizing home-and-away hockey matches and social events between the Nelson and Rossland ladies hockey teams.

I don’t recall hearing my dad Leigh ever saying that his mother, who he referred to as “Win”, played hockey in her youth. These matches, often combined with games between men’s and junior teams, attracted hundreds of spectator and were a big winter event in the two communities. Two Patrick sisters, Dora and Cynda, were also on the Nelson team, with Cynda being team captain.

1910 Nelson Ladies Hockey team, coached by NHL legend Lester Patrick. Winnie Foote, 20, is second from right. Courtesy Nelson Archives

The Patricks came to Nelson in 1907 when their father Joe Patrick acquired a sawmill at South Slocan, near the junction of the Slocan River and Kootenay River, about half-way between Nelson and Castlegar. When not playing hockey in Nelson or elsewhere, Lester and Frank helped out at their father’s business called Patrick Lumber. Conveniently located next to rail service that took the products to market, Patrick Lumber proved to be a very profitable operation, despite a near disaster in June 1909 when spring flooding on the Slocan River broke a boom containing logs before processing, with a large number of logs floating away down the Kootenay and Columbia rivers. Lester and Frank were able to retrieve many of the loose logs, but quite a few were claimed by “finders-keepers” or went across the border into the U.S.

When the Patricks arrived in 1907 Nelson’s hockey arena located high uphill at Stanley and Houston streets had poor facilities for players as well as spectators. They became a leading part of a civic drive to build a new arena near the intersection of Hall Mines Road and Cottonwood Creek. Joe, Lester and Frank Patrick all served on the fund-raising committee, along with prominent local businessmen like J. Fred Hume, Wood Vallance Hardware manager Walter McBride and his nephew Roland Leigh McBride (1881-1959), who would marry Winnie in December 1914. The first Nelson Daily News report of the organization of the fund-raising committee said R.L. McBride was elected president of the committee, but a couple of days later the newspaper ran a correction notice saying Walter McBride was elected president, not his nephew. My guess is that the uncle thought it would be more appropriate for the higher-up Wood Vallance man to hold the position.

In any event, my grandfather R.L. McBride did most of the work and established a reputation for successful fund-raising for community projects, which later included local hospitals, the Nelson Golf Club and the Nelson Civic Centre, as well as bond sale drives in both world wars, particularly World War Two when his two sons Leigh and Ken served as officers with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada regiment in the Italian campaign.

Roland Leigh McBride 1881-1959

Winnifred “Winnie” Foote, c 1910

Originally from Perth, Ontario, the Foote family moved west to the Nelson area in 1900 when Win’s father Jim Foote began a job as blacksmith at the Silver King Mine. After living in the townsite next to the mine for two years, the family moved into Nelson in 1902 when Jim got a job with the City of Nelson construction department. Their home was a rented house also described as being near the the intersection of Hall Mines Road and Cottonwood Creek. While the terrain changed substantially due to the highway interchange work in the 1970s, the location today of the long-gone 1909 arena and Foote house is around the area where the Alpine Inn is located.

Nelson Daily News article January 9, 1911.

A great source of information on early men’s and ladies hockey in Nelson is the book “Knights of Winter: the History of Ice Hockey in B.C. Between 1895 and 1911” by Craig Bowlsby, which is based on information in local archives and newspapers of the time. He notes that Winnie Foote had also played for the Nelson Ladies Team in 1910, when the group photo of the team was taken in a Nelson studio. Her younger sister Gladys Edith Foote (1894-1965) also tried out for the Nelson team in 1911, but did not make the team. I remember hearing that “Glad”, as she was known, was an excellent ice skater.

A valuable part of Bowlsby’s book is an index of the names of everyone who was ever played hockey in B.C. up to 1911. The listings include R.L. McBride playing a couple of years for the Wood Vallance team in a Nelson industrial league. His cousin Chester McBride (son of Walter) is listed as being captain of several Rossland rep teams in the late 1890s. My other grandfather, E.E.L. “Ted” Dewdney is listed as playing several years in the early 1900s for the Bank of Montreal team in a league of teams of the banks in Rossland. While Ted was quite athletic, his sport was tennis, not hockey.

The newspaper reports of games between Nelson and Rossland ladies usually ended up with Rossland winning by one goal. The Daily News noted that Rossland with its higher elevation had an advantage over Nelson in hockey because their rinks were much less likely to get mushy due to periods of warm temperatures in the winter months.

Nelson Daily News article January 1911

I remember Win in her final years being in poor health. Rather than talking with her grandchildren about the past, she always wanted to play bingo with us. She never got over the shock of her younger son Kenneth Gilbert McBride (1920-1944) being killed in action in Italy. Her obituary in June 1960 mentioned several service organizations she belonged to, but, sadly, nothing about the her fun days with the Nelson Ladies Hockey Team.

This photo in family files was likely taken by Winnie. It appears to be the “spares” of a Nelson-Rossland game together in the stands. The player in the middle of the photo with white toque is Winnie’s sister Glad Foote.
Nelson Daily News article, early January 1911.
Winnie Foote in about 1910. One of her hobbies was photography, and she often experimented with poses with friends who were also camera buffs.
This wall projection in the Trail Riverfront Centre Museum of the 1910 Nelson Ladies Hockey Team shows Winnie Mae Foote (second from right) more closely.
Winnie Foote with Dr. Wilmot Steed, c 1910. I don’t think they were ever a couple, but were part of a group of close friends in Nelson in the early 1900s who became lifelong friends. Something the Footes, Steeds and Lillies (the family of Wilmot’s future wife Elizabeth) all had in common was coming west from Perth, Ontario. His children Graeme Steed, Jack Steed and Edna Whiteley were good friends of the McBrides for many years.
This book, based on information from archives and newspapers of the time, is a , so rce of information on early hockey in the West Kootenay region as well as B.C. as a whole.

Winnie in a playful pose with friend Wilmott Steed. She loved to take photographs, and goof around with scenes like this.

Lester Patrick when playing for Victoria, B.C. team, from Wikipedia