When the last of the war-year hangars burned down in Whitehorse in 1999, the tragic event ended an era that fills the memory banks of those of us fortunate enough to watch - or play - hockey in the hangar.
Four of these magnificient structures were built from 1942 to 1944 at the Whitehorse airport. They were used on the famed Northwest Staging Route when aircraft were flown from the United States through the Yukon and on to Alaska, where there were flown to Europe by Russian pilots to help in the Second World War effort against Nazi Germany.
When the final hangar, designated C, burned to a cinder in 1999, its value was set at $800,000, but to replace the Douglas Fir-laden structure would cost millions. Another hangar, designated B, had burned to the ground in 1993.
It was there that we kids of the fifties played our first organized hockey in Whitehorse. Hangar B was designated a hockey arena in 1947 since its role as a base for RCAF aircraft had diminished because of the winding down of military activity in the Yukon after the war.
How did a hangar become a hockey rink? Well, in 1947, a young Air-force corporal, Andy Gilpin, was posted to Whitehorse. There is no doubt that they sent Gilpin to Whitehorse because of his exceptional ability as a hockey player. In those days, competition between the Air-force and the Army in Whitehorse was fierce. Thus, both military outfits used their clout to make sure that they transferred good hockey players to the bases.
Gilpin, who had been a star forward in Junior A hockey in Quebec, brought considerable talent to the Air-force squad. So much so, that in 1948, he was selected as one of 17 players of the RCAF Flyers, Canada's entry in the 1948 Olympic Games in Switzerland.
But when Gilpin arrived in Whitehorse in 1947, they were playing hockey on an outdoor rink. Not good, he thought, in the extreme cold of a Yukon winter.
So he offered to get a crew together and build a hockey rink inside Hangar B - if the RCAF commander would agree. He did. Thus, indoor hockey came to Whitehorse.
In those days, the airbase was a long way from downtown - especially for a kid without a car - or a driver's license. I played midget hockey in the hangar for the Kiwanis team. To get there, I'd walk from Strickland Street, up Puckett's Gulch, dash across the end of the runway and make a beeline for the warmth of the hangar dressing room. One day, as I made my trek across the end of the runway, a DC 3 approached. As I lay prone on the edge of the runway, I discovered that the overhead sound of a nearby DC 3 is deafening. Today a chain-link fence prevents such runway crossings.
The senior men's games in the hangar were downright nasty. Hockey was king, and everyone had a favourite team or player. Me? Not so much. As a kid at the games, I spent my time looking for my older brothers and sisters in the stands so I could borrow some cash and hit the confection stand. Hockey was secondary to a hot dog.
The language I heard from some spectators, especially if the Town Merchants team was playing either the Army or the Air-force, was an education in words I did not know existed. I am not sure I ever witnessed a fight in the stands, but foul language was common.
There was also Sunday evening public skating to the modern sounds of Strauss waltzes on 78 rpm records played from the radio broadcast booth overlooking the ice surface. I rarely missed listening to a hockey broadcast during week nights when the dark, the cold and school prevented me from attending the games in person.
In 1953, the Whitehorse Civic centre - later called the Jim Light Arena - opened and the colourful era of hockey in the hangar ended.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
See also: Yukon Hockey Players in the Olympics