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History ‘n’ Hockey: Canada’s bloodiest labour tragedy

On this day in Canadian history, in 1963, three men were killed and eight wounded in the Reesor Siding incident near Kapuskasing, Ont.
A closeup of the top of the Reesor Siding Tragedy monument on Highway 11 near Kapuskasing. The image was shot by Flickr user chrissthegirl.
On this day in Canadian history, in 1963, three men were killed and eight wounded in the Reesor Siding incident near Kapuskasing, Ont.

The conflict was the culmination of a strike dating back to early January between the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union Local 2995 and the Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company. Workers had staged an illegal walkout as part of an effort to obtain better conditions, including the reduction of the seven-day work week during the winter.

The situation was exacerbated by the fact that farmers in the nearby hamlets continued to sell pulpwood to Spruce Falls. The strikers believed the farmers were undermining their bargaining position and the farmers believed the strikers were impinging upon their livelihood.

Colorado Avalanche at Ottawa Senators, 7:30 p.m.

2015-16 Season Records: COL 27-25-4 (5th in the Central); OTT 25-24-6 (6th in the Atlantic)
Leading Scorers: Nathan MacKinnon (18G, 25A); Erik Karlsson (11G, 49A)

Earlier this week Toronto traded its captain, Dion Phaneuf, to their provincial rival, but the real storyline on Ottawa’s blue line is Erik Karlsson’s production. With fewer than 30 games to play, he is currently on pace to score 89 points, but a multi-point performance tonight against Colorado would vault him back into range for 90.

If he maintains this clip, he will be the first defenceman since Nicklas Lidstrom in 2005-2006 to eclipse the 80-point mark and could potentially be the first rearguard to crack 90 since Ray Bourque did it more than two decades ago. If Karlsson keeps this up, he seems poised to secure his third James Norris Memorial Trophy.

If that happens, he’ll become the third youngest defenceman in league history to have three under his belt. Bobby Orr picked up his third Norris at just a shade over 22 and Denis Potvin was just about to turn 26 when he took home his third. If Karlsson adds to his collection, he will be just a couple of months removed from his 26th birthday.

Prediction: Senators by 1

Boston Bruins at Winnipeg Jets, 8:00 p.m.

2015-16 Season Records: BOS 28-19-6 (4th in the Atlantic); WPG 24-26-3 (7th in the Central)
Leading Scorers: Patrice Bergeron (19G, 26A); Blake Wheeler (14G, 35A)

Speaking of defenceman, the Winnipeg Jets just locked up their cornerstone rearguard, Dustin Byfuglien, for another five years on a contract extension valued at $38 million.

When the deal kicks in next season, Byfuglien will be slated to be the league’s third highest paid defenceman. That’s big money, but fair value for the big man who is both bone crushing and offensively dangerous.

In 308 games with the Jets since the franchise relocated to Winnipeg, Byfuglien has 73 goals and 141 assists, which ranks him third in points by a defenceman over the span, behind only Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban.

Prediction: Jets by 1

Toronto Maple Leafs at Edmonton Oilers, 9:00 p.m.

2015-16 Season Records: TOR 19-24-9 (8th in the Atlantic); EDM 21-29-5 (7th in the Pacific)
Leading Scorers: Leo Komarov (17G, 16A); Taylor Hall (18G, 32A)

Connor McDavid will finally have the opportunity to play against his favourite team. The Leafs have already blanked the Oilers 3-0 earlier this year, but the Richmond Hill native was out during that matchup as he was recovering from a broken clavicle.

Despite not having played since Nov. 3, McDavid returned to action last week and picked up seven points in his first five games since the injury. However, the newly minted 19-year-old can’t be expected to carry the team, as evidenced by Edmonton’s performances last week.

After scoring 12 goals in two games against the Blue Jackets and Senators, the Oilers were limited to two goals while allowing a combined 13 goals to the Canadiens and the Islanders. But then again, that’s business as usual in Edmonton; one step forward, two steps back.

Prediction: Oilers by 1

Calgary Flames at San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m.

2015-16 Season Records: CGY 24-25-3 (6th in the Pacific); SJS 28-20-4 (2nd in the Pacific)
Leading Scorers: Johnny Gaudreau (21G, 28A); Joe Pavelski (25G, 27A)

The Sharks currently have a home point streak extending back to Jan. 9 when they throttled the Leafs 7-0. Since then, they are 5-0-2 at the SAP Center which does not bode for the Flames, who are the second worst road team in the NHL with a 8-14-3 record. Calgary will be wise to stay out of the penalty box tonight as San Jose has the fourth best power play in the league with a 22.5 per cent conversion rate. That alone should be enough to keep the Flames on their best behavior, but it also behooves them to stay within the letter of the law since they have the second worst penalty kill.

Prediction: Sharks by 2

Last Minute of Play

Tension rapidly mounted as strikers began sabotaging pulpwood storage and deliveries to Spruce Falls, infuriating the farmers who depended on that income stream during the winter.

Then, on the evening of Feb. 10, strikers had planned on raiding a large cordwood pile in Reesor Siding, but police had alerted the farmers of their intentions. As more than 400 strikers converged on the farmers, the latter fired into the crowd, killing three and wounding eight.

Among the dead were brothers Irènée (34) and Joseph (25) Fortier and Fernand Drouin (25). Not long after the violence erupted, the provincial government imposed arbitration, ending the strike on Feb. 17.

That October, 20 of the farmers stood before a grand jury to determine if they would stand trial for non-capital murder. After more than two days of deliberation, it was determined that there was not enough evidence to proceed, but the judge had fined three of the men $150 each for dangerous possession of a firearm. The reality was that the weapons infraction was actually less than the $200 fine imposed on each of the 138 workers for striking illegally.

On the 50th anniversary of the incident, the Kapuskasing Northern Times reflected that the long-term impact of the strike had improved conditions for bush workers and even fostered a greater sense of community in Kapuskasing. Nevertheless, Reesor Siding remains one of the bloodiest labour disputes in Canadian history and was an unnecessary loss of life.

Prediction Record: 17-11

Mike Commito is a Canadian historian and avid hockey fan. Follow him on Twitter @mikecommito.


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