The Pembroke Lumber Kings are a very special hockey club. Steeped in history, the team has operated in Pembroke for more than a century. For many years the Junior A team, known as the Pembroke Little Lumber Kings, played in the shadow of the Senior Lumber Kings who competed for Allan Cup titles until senior hockey ended in Pembroke in the early 1960’s.
Pembroke’s hockey reputation was cemented in its first covered hockey rink, the McKay Street Arena which operated from 1905 until the Pembroke Memorial Centre opened in the fall of 1951. The McKay Street Arena provided Pembroke’s three hall of fame players with an opportunity to hone their skills-Harry Cameron, Hughie Lehman and the illustrious Frank Nighbor who won five Stanley Cups in his professional career, four of them with the Ottawa Senators.
To replace the McKay Street Arena, the community embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign that eventually led to a referendum that allowed town council to borrow the final $125,000 of the $310,000 bill to build the Pembroke Memorial Centre. The Memorial Centre hosted its first senior Lumber Kings game on October 28, 1951 when the Senior Lumber Kings defeated the Smiths Falls Rideaus 8-6 in overtime. An official christening of the building occurred on Remembrance Day, and then three days later on November 14, 1951 the Senior Lumber Kings hosted the Montreal Canadiens. Loaded with six hall of famers in their lineup including Rocket Richard, Boom Boom Geoffrion and Elmer Lach, the Habs defeated the Kings 6-3.
In the fall of 1952, the Chicago Black Hawks held their training camp at the newly built Pembroke Memorial Centre. The highlight of the camp was an exhibition game between the Black Hawks and Detroit Red Wings featuring NHL stars like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Terry Sawchuk. The teams played to a 3-all tie.
In an era when when Senior hockey had many former professional players and drew large crowds, the Little Lumber Kings struggled to draw crowds and stay financially afloat. That changed in the 1935-36 season when the Little Lumber Kings gained national attention when they made it to the Eastern Canadian Finals of the Memorial Cup, losing two games to none to the Toronto Nationals in a series played at Maple Leaf Gardens. That Lumber Kings junior team was led by Roy Giesebrecht who went on to play 142 games in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings, before leaving professional hockey to join Canada’s military effort in World War ll.
In more modern times, the Lumber Kings were founding members of the Ottawa District Hockey Association Junior A league (now the Central Canada Hockey League) which began operations in 1961. In the early years, Pembroke’s junior team had several names including the Pembroke Ironmen, the C and A’s and the Domestics. These names were chosen by team sponsors, but by the late 1960’s the club had returned to its roots, being called the Lumber Kings.
The success of the franchise can be attributed primarily to two coaches who between them brought 11 championships to the city of Pembroke. Jim Farelli was behind the bench for six of those titles in the 1980’s and Sheldon Keefe was the coach when the Lumber Kings won five consecutive championships from 2007 to 2011, capping it with a national title when the club won the RBC Cup in May of 2011 in Camrose, Alberta. In all, the Lumber Kings have won 14 CCHL championships.
Many players have donned the Lumber Kings jersey including several who went on to have successful NHL careers. They include Tim Young, Rodney Schutt, Dainius Zubrus, PJ Stock, MIke Eastwood and Jim Montgomery, who spent time as the head coach of the Dallas Stars. Bryan Murray also got his start in coaching with the Lumber Kings in the 1970’s, winning league championships in 1977 and ’78. Three years after leaving the Lumber Kings, Murray was coaching the Washington Capitals, beginning a long and successful career as a NHL coach and general manager.
Sheldon Keefe’s rise from the Lumber Kings to become the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been well documented. After 6+ years as owner and head coach of the Kings, Keefe spent a couple of years coaching the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. He then moved to the Toronto Marlies, guiding the Marlies to a Calder Cup championship in the spring of 2018. In the fall of 2019, he was hired as the head coach of the Maple Leafs.
The Lumber Kings hold many league records and two of their former players will remain in the league record books forever. Luc Chabot holds the single season record for goals scored with 101 markers and Peter White holds the single season record with 226 points.
Three books have been written about the Lumber Kings history. Two by historian Harold Garton called Hockey Town Canada and Hockey Town Canada-The Golden Years and one by Jamie Bramburger, entitled Go Kings Go! All three books capture the deep connection hockey has to the community of Pembroke.