June 15, 2012

Canada's link to the Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup this week, and that made me think how Timmins, my home town in Northern Ontario, played a key role in making that happen.

This summer, Timmins is celebrating the centennial of its “founding” as a more or less permanent gold mining camp. To mark the occasion, a local weekly newspaper conducted a poll asking the question: Who is the most notable person ever from Timmins?

Not surprisingly, country-music superstar Shania Twain topped the list by a long shot. No surprise either that a pair of hockey stars from different eras — Steve Sullivan, currently with Pittsburgh, and Frank Mahovlich, a legend in Toronto, Detroit and Montreal — should make the list. (A local Croatian Catholic church has installed stained-glass windows in tribute to Frank and brother Peter, also a hockey star).

What is surprising is that after all these years, the poll flushed out an enduring collective memory of one Jack Kent Cooke, the man who brought the National Hockey League to Los Angeles. Even though it’s been more than 60 years since Cooke, who died in 1997 at age 84, set foot in Timmins, his passage in the town was such a turning point for the business world that folks back home still remember him.

The signal moment in Cooke’s amazing rise in the media, sports and entertainment worlds came in 1936, when he was a hustling young toiletries-product salesman in the wilds of Northern Ontario, traveling from one Depression-stricken town to another, his pregnant wife, Jean, in tow. Harboring an interest in the then-budding business of radio, he decided to pay a visit to another man who would become a global media titan.

Cooke drove to Timmins to meet Roy Thomson, who by then had acquired a few radio stations and newspapers in Northern Ontario. As legend has it, Cooke so impressed Thomson with his energy, charm and salesmanship that the elder businessman agreed to hire him to run one of his struggling radio stations in southern Ontario. Thus began a partnership that would strengthen and expand on the basis of a Timmins-centred radio and newspaper enterprise.

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