The Life of a Grande Prairie Hockey Legend
September 24, 2016 People
Garry "Duke" Edmundson 1932 – 2016
The Canuck Seniors with whom I (Ron) was playing at the time had registered to compete in an Old Timer tournament in Victoria. Due to other commitments I was unable to join the team. Following the tournament a teammate told me about a game they had played and lost due to the performance of one opposing player. He raved about this player’s ability to score at will and control the entire flow of the game when he was on the ice. The player in question played with a team from San Francisco and upon further inquiry I learned that the player had Grande Prairie roots. The player in question was none other than Duke Edmundson. How I wish I had been able to participate in that tournament and had a visit with Duke to reminisce about growing up in Grande Prairie.
Duke was an imposing presence on the ice from the beginning. Duke’s father, Frank Edmundson was a talented and well-known hockey player in the Peace River country and later he coached Grande Prairie’s D- Company. Duke was his stick boy.
Later Duke’s younger brother Bryan played for the Grande Prairie Legion in the South Peace Hockey League. Garry, Duke’s only child lives in Maple Ridge BC, played junior hockey in BC and Semi- pro hockey in Las Vegas. Clearly Hockey is deeply embedded in the Edmundson gene pool.
Duke played his first junior hockey in Grande Prairie centering a line with Hockey Legend Bob Neufeld as his left winger. Duke, along with Bob played Senior hockey in Grande Prairie before Duke moved to Edmonton to play for the Edmonton Athletic Club (EACs). In many ways the world of hockey is a small world and following the Victoria Tournament I learned that in Edmonton Duke played with Roy Hammond and Stu Robinson. Both Stu and Roy went on to have professional careers in Europe and were my (Ron) teammates when I played old timer hockey with the Canuck Seniors and the UBC Old Birds in Vancouver. Both Roy and Stu raved about Duke’s hockey skills and savvy.
The “small world” story line and connections to Duke do not end with Stu and Roy. A number of years ago while playing in a Lower BC Mainland old timer’s league with the UBC Old Birds we faced a team from Surrey known as the Grateful Living. On the ice I (Ron) ran into a very determined but good-natured forward. While digging for the puck in a corner and getting my ribs messaged by the butt end of a stick I looked down to see a broad grin and heard a smart quip from the small but plucky forward. At lunch following the game he entertained our table with jokes and stories of his youth. There I learned that Terry Kerstein was born in Sexsmith where his father owned the pool hall. Later the family moved to Grande Prairie where he went to school. Terry was Duke’s cousin and told me he never quite accepted the reality that he lacked Duke’s ability on the ice. Terry – if you see this blog please call me so we can share a few memories about Duke and our experiences Grande Prairie those many years ago.
I think it was Terry who told the following tale about old-timer hockey although his version had a slightly different twist and different characters. The story is as follows. Even as seniors Stu, Roy and Duke loved to play hockey. Following a game they made a pledge. It was agreed that the first one to die would return to meet with those left behind to provide a report on the status of hockey in Heaven. Both Stu and Roy died a number of years ago and to Duke’s surprise Roy materialized on the 20th of Sept. “Duke”, said Roy, I have good news and I have bad news.” “What’s the good news?” replied Duke. “I’m here Duke to tell you about Hockey in Heaven and believe me – it is alive and well. We play every day and on the ice with us are guys from Grande Prairie like GP Hockey Legend Pete Wright, and teammates from your junior pro hockey days.” “That’s fantastic”, replied Duke. “What’s the bad news?”. “Duke”, answered Roy apologetically. “We need a centre for tomorrow’s game and we have selected you.”
Back to reality - as noted in Duke’s GP Hockey Legend’s Biography Duke received $100.00 and a new pair of skates when he signed a “B” card with the Montreal Canadiens. In 1959, following a stint with the Springfield Indians, Duke was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs where he played on a checking line along with Jerry James, a running back for the Winnipeg jets of the CFL and Johnny Wilson, the NHL’s Iron Man of that era. Duke played the last three years of his hockey career as a San Francisco Seal and San Francisco became home to the GP Hockey Legend following his retirement from the game he loved.
In August of 2014 Duke and his brother Bryan made a pilgrimage back home to Grande Prairie to visit old friends and see the Legends lounge. This included a lunch with some local elders in the hockey community. I (Stan) met Duke and Bryan in the lounge and brought one of my Leaf sweaters. Duke posed while I snapped a shot of him holding the jersey. When Duke heard I was a staunch Leafs fan he said he would send me a signed photo of himself from his playing days with the Leafs. I received the promised photo a few weeks later and it is proudly displayed at my home along with other treasured hockey memorabilia.
Grande Prairie’s Duke Edmundson at the Hockey Legends Lounge in
Grande Prairie with my Leafs jersey. Photo by Stan Neufeld
Duke was the Swan City’s first player to make it to the NHL but in spite of his status as a hockey player Duke was humble in every way. He expressed to me his deep appreciation for the Legend's project, for the Lounge and our activities to preserve hockey history.
On Wednesday, September 21 Stan received word from Bryan that Duke had passed away following a lengthy illness. We join Bryan and other members of Garry (Duke) Edmundson family in mourning Duke’s passing and celebrating his memory as Grande Prairie Hockey Legend.
Ron & Stan Neufeld