Leasiders and hockey fans across Canada were disappointed when our team lost to Russia in the recent World Junior Hockey Tournament. But that wasn’t the first time and it will not be the last time a Canadian hockey team loses to Russia.
Our first loss had a very distinct Leaside connection in the person of George Sayliss, who grew up on Rumsey Rd. opposite Trace Manes Park.
George was a forward on the East York Lyndhurst Senior B team that represented Canada in the 1954 World Hockey Tournament in Stockholm, Sweden.
He tells me that prior to the Russian game Lyndhurst trounced Norway, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and Germany, out scoring their combined opponents 57-5. In contrast Russia beat the same opponents with a combined score of 30-8.
The Canada–Russia final was played on outdoor natural ice in a snow storm before 17,000 fans. The Moscow Dynamos Soviet army team relied on speed and finesse while East York, playing the usual Canadian physical style, drew a great many penalties from the European referees.
When Russia won that game 7-2, a collective groan went up across Canada. Years later of course even Canadian teams with NHL players have suffered losses at the hands of the Russians.
George Sayliss’ sister Pat Cole–Sayliss, who still lives in the family home, tells me that as a kid her brother played hockey morning, noon and night at Trace Manes Park. George says he would refuse to take off his skates and so would eat his dinner sitting on his front steps.
He played hockey with his Leaside friends Peter Conacher, who grew up on Millwood, and Jack Caffrey, who grew up on Hanna. On Sunday mornings Sandy Bruce, the Leaside police chief, would arrive on his bicycle and kick the boys off the ice because the sound of the puck hitting the boards was disturbing the members of Leaside United Church.
Both Peter Conacher and Jack Caffrey later played in the NHL. George would have as well but a cracked wrist that took six months to heal ended his professional hockey career before it even began.
During those days, as George recalled, a number of other NHL players lived in Leaside.
The Leafs’ Harry Watson, who played on a line with Teeder Kennedy, painted the exterior of his Leaside house a bright and vivid Maple Leaf blue and white. To lure the Mahovlich family from northern Ontario, Leaf owner Connie Smyth bought them a house at the corner of Bessborough and Field. where Frank and his brother Peter lived.
When George Sayliss played hockey for De La Salle Oaklands he played against St. Mikes’ Red Kelly. Kelly later lived in Leaside with his wife Andrea who taught figure skating at Leaside Gardens.
George Sayliss started his own hockey career with a team sponsored by St. Anselm’s Church. He then played bantam, midget, Junior B and Junior A with Toronto Marlboros. In Junior A, one of his teammates was the future captain and later long time Leaside resident George Armstrong.
The Marlies traded George Sayliss to the Stratford Junior A team for Danny Lewicki, another future NHL star.
George Sayliss was always a hard worker. He told me that he was only five years old when he started delivering on a bicycle for the drug store on Millwood just around the corner from his home on Rumsey, where China Foods is located today.
When not playing hockey George worked for the Town of Leaside’s water and sewer department under the direction of Sid Hobbs. George said he worked on almost every sewer and water pipe in Leaside at one time or other.
After a stint with the Renfrew Senior A team he returned to Leaside to join our fire department. It was there that he and another Leaside firefighter, Norm Gray, were recruited to play for the East York Lyndhursts in 1953.
George’s East York team played in the Metropolitan Toronto Senior B league against such other teams as the Leaside Dynes, sponsored by Dynes Jewellers, located on Bayview at the time.
Ernie Frey, the owner of Frey’s Drug Store at the corner of Bayview and Fleming, played hockey for Dynes. It was Ernie, he himself told me, who as a member of the Leaside Board of Education, moved the motion to build Leaside High School when other trustees were afraid to do so.
George’s Lyndhurst team, as the league winners that year, were selected to represent Canada in the World Hockey championship, and the rest is history.
George Sayliss’ exploits may have been forgotten by most Leasiders, however, his sweater and memorabilia from that 1954 Canada-Russia game have an honoured place in the Hall of Fame in Peterborough where George now resides.
But hockey is not the only claim to fame for the Sayliss family. As a member of the Leaside Recreation Committee, George and Pat’s father, Matt Sayliss, kept moving a motion to build tennis courts at Trace Manes Park.
My mother, who was a member of that committee, would come home from the meetings to tell us that Matt Sayliss had done it again, only to be met with cries from other committee members of, “Sit down Matt, we’ve heard it all before.”
Today, however, the Leaside Tennis Club and courts at Trace Manes Park exist because of the perseverance of Matt Sayliss.
Leaside is fortunate to have been home to this outstanding family.