Stratford "Hockey Town"
Stratford began in 1832 as a planned town. The Huron Tract, a triangle of land
between Stratford, Goderich and Grand Bend, was surveyed and settled by the Canada
Company in an arrangement with the government of Upper Canada. The Company was
also responsible for the name of the town, the river and the first permanent building,
the Shakespeare Inn. Thus began a connection which has since the 1950s made
Stratford a world-renowned centre for classical theatre.
The town grew quickly and became a village and a town and the centre of a new
county all in the 1850s. With the coming of two major railway lines in 1856, Stratford
became a hub. By 1871, the Grand Trunk Railway locomotive repair shops were
located here and grew in two significant enlargements by 1907. By this time about one
half of the workers in town worked for the railway, many in skilled trades that paid well
and had many benefits.
In 1885, Stratford became a city and adopted the nickname “The Classic City”
appropriate to the literary connections of its name. Over the next twenty years,
furniture became a second major industry in town. By the 1920s, with a dozen
factories employing almost a quarter of the workforce in town, Stratford made one sixth
of all the furniture produced in Canada at the time. The success and stability of these
two industries made the community prosperous.
In 1904 the city set up a Parks Board to develop a formal park system that would
ultimately run the full length of the Avon River through town. This was the vision of R.
Thomas Orr, lumber merchant and insurance agent, who had a major influence on the
appearance of Stratford during the first half of the twentieth century. A ten year fight
with the Canadian Pacific Railway ended in defeat for the railway in a public referendum
and the preservation of the parkland along the river that has become such an asset in
the development of tourism.
It was into this environment that hockey became a passion in town. The Stratford
Hockey Club was formed in 1891 and joined the recently formed Ontario Hockey
Association, becoming very active in the administration of the OHA as well as fielding
senior and junior teams. The senior team, the Stratford Indians, were frequent leaders
in the league until the 1950s winning the Allen Cup in 1952. The junior Stratford
Midgets also had a good record.
In 1922, Stratford won both the senior and junior titles. Howie Morenz, known as the
“Stratford Streak”, was on both teams. In 1923 he joined the Montreal Canadiens to
begin his illustrious career in the National Hockey League. When he died in 1937, his
number was retired. He was one of the original twelve inducted into the Hockey Hall of
Fame. There were others as well from the Indians who went on to the NHL.
But hockey spread to other levels as well. The Grand Trunk Railway (later the Canadian
National Railways) was, from the beginning interested, in providing its employees and
often community members with opportunities for sports and other leisure activities (a
lending library, a band, etc.). The employees association at the shops were
instrumental in the development of a YMCA on land donated by the GTR next to the
shops and powered by hot water and steam from the shops (at no cost). It is
therefore not surprising that the GTR sponsored its own teams and even a league.
Howie Morenz also played for the Stratford Apprentice team when they were GTR
League champions in 1922.
Similarly, other industries in town formed an industrial league of teams sponsored by
the factories and businesses. In the 1950s Kroehlers Furniture Company sponsored the
Stratford Hockey Club team, named the Kroehlers. Hockey for youngsters also became
popular with the formation of the Rotary-Y Hockey League (now the Rotary Hockey
League) in 1926, and later the Stratford Minor Hockey Association. Stratford made two
forays into professional hockey in the Canpro League (1926-28) and the Ontario
Professional Hockey League (1930-31).
By 1895, Stratford also had women’s hockey teams. Although attendance was
originally limited to women only by Victorian standards, after World War I, teams
started to compete in the open. The champion Stratford Aces of the 1930s are still
All this activity led to Stratford’s other nickname as “Hockey Town”.
The building of a new Stratford Rink, with its magnificent tower, along the river
between the Waterloo Street bridge and the present arena location coincided with the
beginning of hockey in Stratford. It was on the same location as the first indoor rink
built by Benjamin Sleet, an escaped slave, in the 1860s near his business, the ice
house. The new rink was spacious and served well until it was replaced by the present
arena in 1924. It was the home of some of the Indians and Midgets great wins.
Originally called the Classic City Arena, the present building was solidly built of steel
girders and cement block, facing North Street and back-to-back with the old arena.
The building was originally built facing North Street because it was then back-to-back
with the old arena which was later torn down. The City took over the arena in 1942
from the arena company and later in the 1940s added a new front facing toward
Waterloo Street. A new street was opened named Morenz Drive, in memory of
Stratford’s greatest player. When the city’s nickname was changed to “The Festival
City” in the 1960s, the arena became known as the Stratford Arena, but in 1996 it was
renamed after the late William Allman who had been the dedicated caretaker of the
arena for many years.
Today the Allman Arena is the oldest arena in continuous use, probably in the world.
The city has done much to preserve its original character and cherishes its heritage
Since 1975 it has been home of the Stratford Cullitons who continue to wear the Indian
head symbol and have revived the winning team image from earlier days. The
Stratford Hockey Club, with the sponsorship of Culliton Brothers, a local plumbing firm,
were able to bring new life to their Junior “B” team with its new image. Quite a number
of players, from the Stratford area or brought from elsewhere, have gone on to play
with the NHL. All have fond memories of their time in Stratford.
For the City of Stratford
Check out "visitstratford.ca" for information about dining, hotels, attractions and shopping