January 12, 2015

The Mysterious Charlie Conacher Humanitarian Award

This is a 1969 newspaper clipping of Toronto Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong being award the inaugural Charlie Conacher Humanitarian Award, also known as the Charlie Conacher Memorial Award. That's Conacher's widow Sunny in the photo with Armstrong.

Why was Conacher, one of the NHL's greatest goal scorer ever, so honoured to have this award named after him? He had battled throat cancer throughout the 1960s, finally losing the battle on December 30, 1967 at the age of 58. In part of his battle he established the Charlie Conacher Research Fund to help raise funds for research into esophageal cancer. After his passing the Research Fund created the Charlie Conacher Memorial Award that would be given to the NHL player "who best exhibited outstanding humanitarian and public services contributions."

The question many of you may be asking yourselves now is whatever happened to this award? After all, since 1988 the NHL has awarded the King Clancy Memorial Award, named after another early era Leafs great and awarded for great humanitarian work in the community.

The Charlie Conacher Memorial Award was disbanded, for reasons I have not fully unearthed yet, in 1984. But it is very important to note that the Award was never officially recognized by the National Hockey League. It was a third party award with no direct affiliation to the NHL even though a NHL player was recognized each year. The Research Fund held a gala dinner to announce the award winner. The event was a successful fund raiser for the Fund.

Here is a list of winners of the Charlie Conacher Memorial (Humanitarian) Award:

1969 - George Armstrong, Toronto
1970 - Bobby Baun, Detroit
1971 - Jean Beliveau, Montreal, Bobby Orr, Boston
1972 - Orland Kurtenbach, Vancouver
1973 - Gary Bergman, Detroit, Jimmy Peters Jr., Los Angeles
1974 - Ed Westfall, New York Islanders
1975 - Ted Irvine, New York Rangers
1976 - Johnny Bucyk, Boston
1977 - Jim Lorentz, Buffalo
1978 - Bugsy Watson, Washington
1979 - Ed Staniowski, St. Louis
1980 - Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton
1981 - Ed Kea, St. Louis
1982 - Borje Salming, Toronto
1983 - Brad Park, Boston
1984 - Jim Peplinski, Calgary

It is interesting to note that in 1983 Lanny McDonald of Calgary was originally and mistakenly publicly announced as the winner, when in actuality Park had won the balloting. The correction was quickly made.

Stan Mikita, famous for his work with the hearing impaired, was given special recognition at the final gala.

The trophy is apparently on public display at Toronto General Hospital at the Charlie Conacher Research Centre for Cancer.

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