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The all-powerful Mr. B. – A memoir

February 23, 2011
By

A childhood memoir

The Smoke Eaters hockey team depicted on a mural at the Trail Memorial Arena.

We grew up hearing stories, true and apocryphal, about the larger-than-life CM&S (Cominco) Company president Selwyn G. Blaylock. One of those stories had to do with the world-famous Trail Smoke Eaters and a particular game that almost didn’t get played. But first some remembrances of Mr. Blaylock.

Dad would recall the time that one of his work mates wanted to get married and Mr. Blaylock insisted on approving the event before the families could go ahead with their wedding plans. During the Second World War, when Mr. Blaylock was making speeches about the need to support the war effort on the home front, he insisted on every smelter worker coming to him for permission to volunteer for service overseas. 

Mr. Blaylock was the boss, no doubt about it, and when something happened in our town, most likely he was behind it, had somehow sanctioned it, signed off on it, maybe even wrote or spoke to the provincial or federal government minister in charge. He had that kind of sway. He was smart, powerful and persuasive.

A forceful presence, some even joked that the G. in Selwyn Gwillym Blaylock stood for God. He was the undisputed king of Trail and nowhere was this more obvious than his power over the local hockey league.

Dad couldn’t remember if Mr. Blaylock, and it was always “Mr. Blaylock,” was a hockey fan. Mostly he was interested in metallurgy, Dad said, and one could add that he was supremely interested in company profits for the shareholders. He wrote long tedious technical articles about zinc and lead and iron ore for the mining journals that few in town ever saw. No one knew much about Mr. Blaylock. Some things that happened were bad and some were good for the town. But one thing was certain: whatever happened it was a sure bet that Mr. Blaylock had a hand in bringing it about.

Almost everyone in town and across the region was hockey crazy. They’d been that way since the early days when the town first got its hockey team not long after the first smelter was build in the mid-1890s. After all, this was the “Home of Champions,” and Blaylock was instrumental in making sure champions were born and bred here under his gaze and the shadow of the smelter’s tall stacks.

This was the home of the future world champion Smoke Eaters. But Dad thought Mr. B., the businessman, might also have seen hockey as a means to his ends, one of those diversions to keep the hockey-loving citizenry happy and uncomplaining. After all, it was his town – a company town – and that’s the way it was going to stay.

Mr. Blaylock’s daughter Margot might have been a fan as well. She was a big girl, a tomboy, said some of the kids who went to school with her. She drove a big light blue convertible around town, a Buick, some recalled. Maybe she even went out with some of the Smokies. Doubtful that would be the case for a girl from Tadanac, that special protected community overlooking the Columbia River where Cominco managers and their families lived. But they must have envied her that car. Then she disappeared one day. Word was that she never did get married. It was rumoured that her dad bought her a service station down at the coast. But that was long after the game in question.

On that particular night, the Kimberley Dynamiters were in Trail to face off with the Smokies. My Uncle Frank was in goal for the Dynamiters. He’d been hired by the company to help build the new concentrator at Sullivan Mine. My Dad, nine years younger, was hanging around hoping to get a free pass as a stick boy for his older brother. No one would argue with Frank. He was a scrapper. Had a temper. Never backed down from a fight and he won most of them.

The puck was supposed to be dropped at 7 p.m., but the game was delayed by 45 minutes. The crowd, maybe 3,500 fans, was clamouring for a face-off whistle in the old Trail Fruit Fair building down towards the East Trail bridge. No one knew what was causing the delay, except the Smokies. They knew.

They had spotted “that Indian halfbreed” on the players’ roster for Kimberley and someone said he was semi-pro. If that wasn’t true, then someone else was pretty sure he had played for money somewhere. No way they were going to play if he suited up and skated for the Kimberley team. He was tall, strong and fast. He played well and was a decided advantage to the East Kootenay team.

The stalemate lasted until Mr. Blaylock was seen coming towards the Crown Point Hotel where the visiting team was staying. He strode in through the main entrance. He was a big man and he wore a big black hat. When he crossed the threshold and entered the room where the players were arguing, he cast a huge shadow, my dad remembered. There was dead silence until he spoke.

“Boys, you’ve got 15 minutes to get out on that ice,” he said with all the high authority that he commanded. “If you don’t, some of you just might not be working tomorrow morning.” That was that. The teams, whose players depended on their jobs at Cominco and Sullivan Mine, put aside their differences and the game went on as scheduled.

Such was the power of Mr. Blaylock. He not only controlled the men at work, and in those days the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada (later Cominco and now Teck Cominco) employed more than 6,000 workers, but he also controlled their social lives. When the war began, he decided who could go and who had to stay and work in the war-time manufacturing plants at Warfield and Tadanac (Canada spelled backwards with a T for Trail).

Folks say Mr. B. had to be consulted on virtually everything from stocking the company store, to who got mortgages, to who would marry whom. Some even maintained that he dictated what could be printed in the Trail Daily Times. He  might even have had a hand in making sure the right pers0n became editor of the newspaper. Sometimes it was a company PR man.

Mr. Blaylock died on November 19, 1945, about six months after Mine-Mill union Local 480 signed its first contract. But the league, which had been suspended during the war years, had started up again by then. The Smoke Eaters had already won one world championship in 1939 before the war started and they were destined to win a second time in 1961.

This memoir is based on a story related to me by my father Mike Verzuh.

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3 Responses to The all-powerful Mr. B. – A memoir

  1. Derryll White on December 15, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Ron there are a few picutres of Blaylock on our site – jst search “Blaylock”. I know there is also a lot of newspaper material from all over the Basin, but it hasn’t been processed with search tags yet.

    Best of luck
    derryll

    • Ron Verzuh on December 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      Thanks, Derryl. The photos will be useful since I’m hoping to get a book out of the dissertation. I presume I can get copies and permission to use the photos from the institute? Cheers! RV

  2. Harold Batting on December 24, 2011 at 4:07 am

    Hi Ron its been awile since I have seen you. I take this time to wish you the best. Ron about the Blaylock nstory all I can tell you is that Dick Mcleod of Castlegar bought that Blue Buick from the Blaylocks. He restored it and still drives and shows it at Car Shows. Hopes this helps ya. Remember the night we had over a dozen wild teenagers in your Corvair. Harold Batting

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