January 08, 2014

Hockey Legend Of A Different Kind: Charles Coleman

This three volume set is Charles Coleman's historical compendium called Trail of the Stanley Cup. Coleman thoroughly researched hockey history to compile the history the Stanley Cup from 1893 to 1967.

These leather bound volumes are worth hundreds of dollars, or more. There were 1,000 leather bound editions. They were never offered for sale but rather issued to key NHL players and VIPs. This particular issue of "Trail," #97 out of 1,000, belonged to Norm Ullman. These leather bound copies can be found in online auction sites nowadays. Reprints were later issued for the public. Several Canadian libraries have those in their reference sections.

All of us hockey historians nowadays owe Charles Coleman a debt of gratitude. He was the original hockey historian, and without his work we may have never had such a wonderful record of hockey's early days.

Coleman had a Masters degree in mining engineering from Montreal's McGill University. He ended up working for years in the copper mines of Zambia before returning to Canada. He then became a mining consultant as well a city councillor and mayor of North Hatley, Quebec.

But hockey was his passion. It was always obvious in his work, but I recently got a sneak peak into just how devoted he was to his hockey work. I met Charles Coleman's grandson, Rob Colapinto. He shared the following memory of his grandfather, painting an amazing image of hockey's original historian.

I remember siting in his den as a child as he worked away on the three volumes. Papers and endless stats and mock-ups of all the team jerseys going all the way back cluttered the room. He wrote it at his home in North Hatley, Quebec, where we'd see him during the summers. My grandmother and mother would be so irritated with him for not getting out of the den (and out from under thousands of pounds of paper) to get in the sun or go down to the lake with his grandchildren.

Sam Pollock (of the Habs), who had a cottage beside ours and was a very close friend of grandad, would wander up on occasion and try to lure him out only to be lured in; and the two men would spend hours going over the most obscure hockey stats and history.

The great man worked, nose-to-grindstone, for years on each volume - double checking every bloody factoid. He was incredible. I'd pick up something like a 1926 Leafs team photo and he'd freak, saying if it didn't go right back in place (within the tornado of paper mess), he'd lose it.

Anyway, I've got two sets - mine being a display copy (#120) that has yet to have its plastic-over-leather protectors removed, nor ever opened - and the other a melange of #40, #122 and #123 that I've leafed through over the years and remembered those summer days lying his floor and watching the old guy work. Quite something.

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