For much of Red Lake’s history, sports were the primary source of recreation and entertainment for the area. The region’s producing mines created hockey and baseball leagues, sponsored tournaments, sports days and Canada Day celebrations. Mines like Howey Gold Mines, Cochenour-Willans Gold Mines and Campbell Red Lake Mines, built or contributed to the creation of early recreation centres and sports fields. If the mines did not build facilities outright, they often donate materials, and mine employees would volunteer labour. These facilities started out as outdoor rinks and baseball fields, but eventually, permanent arenas and recreation spaces were constructed. For example, Cochenour Arena opened in 1962, the Red Lake Golf & Country Club was built in 1965 and the Campbell Mine Recreation Centre (now the RLGM Recreation Centre) was constructed in the 1980’s.
The Mine Leagues
Howey Gold Mines formed Red Lake’s first organized sports teams in the early 1930’s. The original baseball and hockey leagues were made up of four teams. As Howey Gold Mines was the only producing mine in the Red Lake, three of the original four teams were made up from their employees. There was a team from each of the different divisions of the mine operation - underground, surface and mill. The fourth team was made up of players from Red Lake.
By the end of the 1930’s, Howey Gold Mines reduced their participation to a single team as more mines and communities entered the two sports leagues. Red Lake Gold Shore Mines, McKenzie Red Lake Gold Mines, Madsen Red Lake Gold Mines, Cochenour-Willans Gold Mines and Gold Eagle Mines joined during the 1930’s. In these early years, the McKenzie Island teams dominated the hockey league, while the Red Lake teams were the baseball league’s heavy hitters. Campbell Red Lake Mines and Dickenson Mines, the leagues’ biggest rivals, were among the last to join the leagues, entering in the late 1940’s.
Both the hockey and baseball leagues were highly competitive. Hockey games on Sunday afternoons could draw hundreds of people, and playoff finals could bring crowds of upwards of 1,100 people. The district’s mines would actively hire athletes, trying to get an advantage. There were numerous occasions when the mines were not hiring but made exceptions when hockey or baseball players were looking for work. Recruitment was not unheard of in Red Lake. Mines recruited players like Jackie Drummond, George Jenkins, Nicky Libbett and Mike Rogers from as far away as Toronto, Ontario. There were also cases where a miner’s primary job was to play on a sports team.
Some of the region’s best athletes competed in the mine leagues. Hockey players like William Troniak, Jackie Drummond, W. Sigmundson and Conrad (Connie) Perron were selected to form the Red Lake Thunderers in 1937. In 1937/38, the Red Lake Thunderers competed and came close to winning the Allan Cup (Canada’s senior amateur men’s hockey competition). Examples of other athletes who participated in the Red Lake mine hockey and baseball leagues include Bob McKim, Earl Smith, Ron Buckler, Pat Donahue and former Red Lake mayor Philip Vinet.
For personal perspectives on sports in mining, please watch the videos featuring Hans Schareck, Reg Molloy and Richard Pitura.
Richard Pitura on Getting Hired
Other Sports and Clubs
While the mine leagues formed the basis of Red Lake’s major organized sports for a long time, countless other sporting activities and clubs were popular in the region. As more families came to the area, sports teams and clubs were organized for the region’s younger population. School sports ranged from curling to football, while figure skating, skiing, hockey and baseball/softball were popular non-school sports. Boys Scouts, Girl Guides and the Young People’s Association are examples of the groups and clubs available for the district’s children and youth.
The variety of sports played in Red Lake began to expand in the 1930’s. Activities like archery, aquaplaning (a predecessor of waterskiing, similar to wakeboarding), badminton, bowling and curling were introduced during this period. Curling quickly became a widely popular pastime for residents of all ages. Red Lake became the first community to build a curling rink in the late 1930's. However, the rest of the communities soon constructed curling rinks. Curling is still a very popular sport played in Red Lake today.
While the focus of this page has been Red Lake’s sporting history, there were and still are numerous other social groups and recreational events in the Red Lake region. Other examples include Dominion or Canada Day celebrations, bridge clubs, the Red Lake art group and the Red Lake Polish Alliance.
If you have information on Red Lake’s early sports teams, groups or clubs, please consider contacting the Heritage Centre’s Curator, Lisa Hughes (firstname.lastname@example.org) to assist in expanding the Heritage Centre’s records.