Sam Gaw: A Life Well Played

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by Doug MacDonald, with an assist from Sam Gaw

Sam Gaw born in Kemptville March 27, 1926 was raised in Bedell and Kemptville. Sam first skated on a pond at Bedell “on an old pair of single runner skates.” His hockey career took him from the “tin rink” in Kemptville to Madison Square Garden in New York City, passing through rinks across Canada, the USA, Scotland and England.

Sam had been named James Claire Gaw by his parents, which he thought was not a good name for a hockey player. When very young, Sam knew a man named Sam Clair, so, when filling in names and positions for his bantam hockey team, he wrote in “Sam”, which would be his new name for the rest of his life.

Sam went to the original Kemptville Public School and then, after the school fires of 1936, to the “new” Composite School. In 1938, the 12 year old James Claire Gaw took the top mark for history on the High School Entrance Examination for Kemptville High School. In his autobiography Sam says, “ I wished many times in later life that I had obtained a college education, possibly in journalism or law…I didn’t work hard enough in high school. I was having too much fun playing all sports to take school seriously.” At 17, after completing grade 11 in Kemptville, Sam was invited to the New York Rangers training camp in Winnipeg. Gordie Howe was also at this camp. Sam went on to New York with their farm team, the New York Rovers, from November 1943 to March 1944. The Rovers played in Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoons, and Sam remembers that “it was a thrill signing autographs outside the Garden for the fans.” As an employee of the Garden, he saw all the entertainers, from Gene Autry to the ‘big bands’: Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Miller, even Sinatra and many more. What a season for the teenager from Kemptville.

In October 1944, Sam joined the Canadian Army Corps of Signals and was stationed first in Kingston and later in Ottawa. Off duty, he played with army hockey teams and the Ottawa St. Pat’s Juniors, until discharged in June 1946.

During the 1946 fall season, he played with the Kimberly Dynamiters in BC, and from 1947 to 1951 with the Kemptville Royals, four-time league champions. From 1951 to 1954, he was with the Brockville Magedomas, winning the league championship three years in a row. While he was with the Magedomas, Sam played exhibitions against the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks and the Montreal Canadiens.

In 1954, Sam was off to Scotland with the Dunfermline Vikings, and then back to the Kemptville Royals in 1955 and 1956. It was in 1956 that Sam and two partners purchased the Rideau Glen Golf Course, later selling it in 1977. He was a member of the Kemptville Town Council from November 1965 to August 1968, and Chair of the Committee of Council which was responsible for building the “new” 1967 rink.

From 1942, Sam Gaw was employed by the CPR; a career that took him from Bedell as telegraph operator, to Assistant Superintendent in Toronto in 1968, and in 1977 to CPR corporate headquarters in Montreal as Manager of Rules, Training and Time Services. In 1984, am began another career with the Railway Transport Committee of the Federal Government, and in 1988 he became Senior Investigator Operations with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

In 1985,he began a 13-year association with Ottawa Olde Tymers Hockey Team. Sam Gaw was a talented story teller. His autobiography, Memories of a Life Time, is a fascinating account of an amazing life. The North Grenville Sports Hall of Fame inducted Sam in 2010: Sammy Gaw Athlete (Hockey).

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