By Sam Laskaris
A Stanley Cup legend and one of the world’s most prestigious trophies were among those who visited a First Nation in British Columbia this week.
“We’ve been trying to get the Cup here for a couple of years,” said Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band, located at Oliver, B.C.
That dream became a reality on Wednesday. Reggie Leach, one of the greatest Indigenous players to make it to the National Hockey League, was also in town for the Cup festivities that day.
Events began early in the morning when Cup officials took the famed piece of hardware to various businesses in town. This took several hours to complete as it takes about 40 minutes to just drive from one end of the First Nation to the other end.
Later the Stanley Cup was on display at the band office and then at the SenPokChin School, a local elementary school.
Louie had hoped to bring the Stanley Cup to his community in part to showcase its new band office.
“It was completed a year-and-a-half ago,” he said. “We’ve been in it for more than a year. So it was more of an open house (on Wednesday). We didn’t do a ribbon cutting.”
Louie, who has been the Osoyoos chief for 31 years, said he utilized some of his business contacts to help bring the Cup to his community. One of his contacts is Edmonton-based sports agent Ritch Winter.
“You can’t just call them up and say you want the Cup on a certain day,” Louie said. “There are some months of the year when it is not available.”
Traditionally, all members of the Stanley Cup championship squad each year are given a day with the trophy during the off-season months. Since NHL rosters these days include players from around the world, Cup champions often take the trophy to their home countries on their day with it.
Louie said those that request trophy visits can’t be fussy about what day they are awarded, if they are indeed fortunate enough to get it.
“If they had told us we’d get it on Dec. 25 then we would have taken it on Dec. 25,” he said.
Louie said he hoped the Cup visit would help inspire sporting activities in his community.
“It’s too bad sports is dying off here on the reserve now,” he said. But many of the First Nations sporting stars from yesteryear were among those who showed up on Wednesday.
Osoyoos has 540 members and about three-quarters of them live on reserve.
Louie said others travelled a few hours, including from places such as Kamloops and Merritt, to attend Wednesday’s festivities.
A couple of hundred people came out to see the Cup and Leach and have their pictures taken with them.
“There’s always people that are casual fans,” Louie said. “But the serious ones are the ones who travelled a couple of hours to get here and they skipped work for a day to come and get their picture with the Cup. Nothing is bigger than the Cup. Seeing it is a bucket list thing. Many people can now cross it off their bucket list.”
Leach, who won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975, was also thrilled to be a part of Wednesday’s festivities in Oliver.
“It’s always exciting to be around the Cup,” he said. “What I love the most is watching the people get their photos with it. To me it’s a magical trophy.”
Leach also enjoyed seeing the various reactions of those who were getting their first glimpse of the famed trophy.”
“I saw people with great big smiles,” he said. “People were crying and shaking because they had a chance to look at all of the Stanley Cup winners. It’s a very special moment when the Cup is in the building.”
Louie has known Leach for a number of years. Leach’s wife Dawn Madahbee Leach is now the interim chair of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, a board that Louie previously chaired.
Leach, who is now 67 and now lives in Ontario, was born in the Manitoba community of Riverton. His goal-scoring prowess eventually earned him the nickname the Riverton Rifle.
Leach ended up playing 1,027 NHL contests. He collected 688 points, including 428 goals.
Besides being a member of the Stanley Cup champions in ’75, Leach also captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s playoff MVP in 1976, the year his Flyers lost the league championship to the Montreal Canadiens.