The Jones Shield
I was watching some news footage of the Herder championship game the other night and I was struck with how calm and quiet the stadium seemed on the news. It might have been different for those there, but it just seemed calm. Calm compared to the Jones Shield.
Just a little more than 20 years before people began to settle at Grand Falls, Catholics and Protestants in parts of Newfoundland were shooting at each other. Very few communities on the island had populations of both denominations and naturally there was quite a bit of bigotry and sectarian rivalry. So rather than shooting it out on the streets, Catholics and Protestants in Grand Falls-Windsor shot it out on the ice.
Hockey has a long history in Grand Falls-Windsor. The first game was played on school pond, behind High Street way back around 1912. The game was played by some of the management of the mill who had come from Canada with the addition of an Englishman whose name would become synonymous with the sport in the town-Vincent Jones. Later to become Sir Vincent Jones, the AND Company manager was reported to have played the game with a field hockey stick.
From humble beginnings on a long filled in pond the game of hockey caught on in the new town. A rink was built near the site of the present stadium and teams were formed. Various organizations fielded teams like the Royal Stores and the various lads Brigades which were affiliated with the Churches. Eventually the two schools in the town formed hockey teams of their own.
In 1934 Sir Vincent Jones, who was now the manager of the Grand Falls mill donated a small wooden shield which was to be awarded to the winner of a tournament between Grand Falls Academy and Notre Dame Academy. The first series was won by NDA. The series would be played without interruption until 1998 making it one of the longest running hockey series in all of Canada.
In the beginning the Shield was played for in the old skating rink which was located near the present stadium (which I cannot seem to find a picture of!), while they were building the present Stadium around 1947-48 an outdoor rink was made at the ball field on Church Road. After the completion of the Grand Falls (later Joe Byrne) Stadium GFA and NDA had a world class stadium with one of the first artificial ice surfaces east of Montreal to play their series.[i]
For generations of people in Grand Falls-Windsor there are memories of the series; the rallies, the chanting and cheering, the signs plastered on the walls of the stadium and the incessant banging on the boards. During the Jones shield most of the town would show up and the stadium would be chinched. People will always claim that the place was so full that people were literally hanging from the rafters. Considering the population of Grand Falls and Windsor in the 1960’s was very close to what it is today it is not hard to believe that the stadium would have been bursting at the seams.
The series would usually mark the end of the hockey season and would be played in April and it would be a culmination of years of practice and hard work for many playing on school teams and in minor hockey. It is interesting to note that although the schools were segregated along religious lines boys who would go on to face off against each other would often be on the same minor hockey teams. Feeding in to the high school teams were players who came up through a first class minor hockey program. For many years the company paid for ice time and registration was free. Coaches, trainers and developers such as Joe Byrne were brought in to support the programs as well.
The Jones Shield would bring a holiday atmosphere to the month of April; time was taken out of school for pep rallies and everything (at least when I was in school) took on a more relaxed atmosphere, after all by the end of April the school year was winding down. Pranks and mischief were common between the two rival schools and for a number of years the statue of St. Michael in front of St. Mikes was in hiding! I vividly remember a stink bomb being set off amount the St. Mikes cheerleaders, having watched them clear away from across the ice. The stadium would be decked out with signed made by the students from each school sporting slogans like “Peg away GFA” or “everybody loves a Mick” that latter playing on a once derogatory term. With a packed house when the game was on I would venture to say that you could hear the noise from a kilometer away.
The end of denominational education meant the end of the Jones Shield. The two hockey teams would merge into one as the schools were combined. The referendum ending schooling on a religious basis occurred in 1995 but it took a couple of years to implement the new system. This came as a stay of execution for the Jones Shield. Nevertheless the last series was played in April of 1998; fittingly it went to seven games. And more fittingly since NDA/St. Mikes won the first; the GFA Gryphons won the last. That year the Shield was retired and put on permanent display at the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium. The hockey season of 1998-99 would see Exploits Valley High with a team made up from players that faced off against each other in the shield.
For years the series was broadcast live over VOCM with Roger Barnett doing commentary in later years. Beginning in the 1990’s the games were also broadcast on Cable 9 for the benefit of anybody who didn’t want or was unable to brave the crowds at the stadium. But it was worth it to go to the stadium to take in the atmosphere, the rivalry and for some fries and gravy from the canteen.
Above video dates from 1997 when it was still not known if there would be another series. The was one last series in 1998, which G.F.A won. (Video taken from CBC report, posted to YouTube by Windsor5000)
An attempt was made to keep the momentum going with a trophy known as the Harmsworth Cup-Sponsored by Abitibi it would be played between Grand Falls-Windsor and Stephenville. It never seemed to capture the magic of the old series-though both towns had paper mills owned by the same company there wasn’t much of a connection or much history to build a rivalry upon.
For many kids growing up and going through minor hockey the Jones Shield was almost as good as playing in the Stanley Cup. Many would go on into careers in senior hockey and it was not uncommon for the ANDCo’s and later the Cataracts to be stacked with Jones Shield rivals from a few years previous. Even the present day Cataracts can boast that they have at least one player who played for the Shield. A few years back there was even an alumni series played made up of GFA and St. Mikes players from past years. In the beginning the teams were made up exclusively from players from Grand Falls, over the years players from Windsor and Badger would also have the opportunity to play.
There was also an offshoot series for the junior high level; the Junior Jones Shield which the Windsor Collegiate Bears (The GFA farm team from 1995-1998) were the last to win in 1998. This series was played a few weeks before the actual Jones Shield.
It has been 17 years since the last Jones Shield game was played, long enough that boys born in that year would be playing for the trophy if it were still on the go today. It is unlikely that kids born in 1998 would even know what side of the stadium that they should sit on!
[i] Grand Falls the Place and It’s People 2005