A Look Back at the Dawson City Nuggets Stanley Cup Trek

Photo credit: unknown.

In 1905, the Dawson City Nuggets undertook an incredible cross-continent journey to chase their Stanley Cup dreams.

On December 18th, 1905 the Dawson City Nuggets loaded up on dogsleds and bicycles to begin an epic journey to Ottawa, Ontario to play for the Stanley Cup. Before we discuss the journey itself, let’s take a look at the background behind the trip.

The Stanley Cup was donated in 1892 by then Governor-General Lord Frederick Stanley – most hockey fans know this. What isn’t so well known is that the Stanley Cup was originally called the “Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup”, as it was intended to be “challenged” for in the form of best of three-game series’ by amateur teams in Canada. By 1910, the National Hockey Association, which would eventually become the NHL, had taken official control of the cup – and its champions would play teams from assorted professional leagues in Western Canada for the revered silver chalice. 1926 would see the end of this agreement when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League. Since then, the Stanley Cup has been competed for by National Hockey League teams only.

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For context, the game was a lot different in 1905 than it is now. For instance, back then there were six skaters and one goalie instead of the five skaters and one goalie in today’s game. They also used to play two thirty-minute halves instead of three twenty-minute periods, and the players stayed on the ice for the whole game – there were no line changes! Some other big differences were the goaltender had to stay on his feet the entire time (absolutely no dropping down to make saves), there was no forward passing, and the referees determined the length of each penalty as there was no standard for penalties at that time.

Back to our story. Earlier in the year, the then Stanley Cup champions, the Ottawa Silver Seven, accepted a challenge from the Dawson City Nuggets. Dawson City is located in Canada’s Yukon Territory, and to play for the cup the Nuggets would have to travel nearly 4,000 miles since all of the games would be played in Ottawa. In 1905 air travel was non-existent and there was no national highway system. When the Nuggets epic journey began on December 18th of that year, the temperature in Dawson City was twenty degrees below zero Fahrenheit. They left their home for Whitehorse (also in the Yukon) by dogsled and believe it or not, bicycles. This part of the trip took nearly a week.

Klondikers, by Tim Falconer, is a fantastic in-depth look at the Dawson City Nuggets epic 1905 journey to Ottawa, Ontario. Photo credit: Amazon.com

From Whitehorse, the Nuggets took a train to Skagway, Alaska where they were supposed to take a boat to Vancouver, British Columbia. They missed that boat and had to wait for five days for the next one which took them to Seattle, Washington instead. From there, they caught a train to Vancouver, where another one finally took them all the way to the Canadian Capital a full three weeks after their journey began.

The first game of the Stanley Cup Challenge Series was to begin just two days after the Nuggets arrived in Ottawa and it wasn’t pretty. Dawson City lost the first game by a score of 9-2. If that wasn’t bad enough, the next game which was three days later, was even worse. The Silver Seven obliterated the Nuggets 23-2, getting an astounding fourteen goals from their star Frank “One Eye” McGee. Dawson City lost the series, but played several exhibitions all over Canada afterward, totaling a 13-9-1 record before returning to their home in the Klondike.

In 1997 the trip from Dawson City to Ottawa was repeated by a team traveling the same route as their predecessors to play a game in Ottawa. They still used dogsleds, but instead of bicycles like in 1905, this team used snowmobiles for the Whitehorse leg of the trip. Otherwise, the modes of transportation and stops along the way were exactly the same. Like in 1905, this Dawson City team would also lose to the Ottawa team.

Marty’s Illegal Stick Hockey Podcast is available on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all other major podcast platforms.

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