The Early Years

Ottawa Senators Historical Eras

Inspired by the organized hockey they had witnessed for the first time at the 1883 Montreal Winter Carnival, sportsmen Halder Kirby and Jack Kerr returned to Ottawa and started a team.

Called the Ottawa Hockey Club, it was the city's first. With its red, white, and black jerseys, the team entered the 1884 Montreal Carnival tournament, where Nelson Porter, a future mayor, scored the club's first goal. Two years later, the Ottawa Hockey Club became a charter member of the world's first hockey league and the team's representative, Thomas D. Greene, was elected president. Still strictly an amateur sport, hockey surged in popularity with the opening in 1889 of the Rideau Rink, which Lord Stanley of Preston honoured with his patronage. Winning the Ontario senior championship in three successive years (1891-1893), the Ottawas were now a recognized elite team. Relocating to Dey's Skating Rink on Gladstone Avenue in 1897, the Senators competed in top-level company and in 1903 won their first Stanley Cup, defeating the Montreal Victorias on home ice. A monument at the Centretown site in Ottawa honours the former rink and the championship. The Sens defended the Cup eight times over the next three years, earning the nickname Silver Seven.

It took some time for fans to get used to the idea of hockey players being paid money, but if that was the new reality for having top talent on your team, so be it.

Alf Smith's 1907-08 contract with the Senators called for payment of $500 and "an additional bonus at the end of the season if the Club's finances warranted same." Hockey was now professional and in 1909 the word "Amateur" was belatedly dropped from the name of the league, which became Eastern Canada Hockey Association. With hockey now a business, the club incorporated federally in 1911 as The Ottawa Hockey Association. Operating since 1908 at Ted Dey's new arena on Laurier Avenue, the Senators were Stanley Cup champions in 1909, 1910 and 1911. By 1915-16, with 10 regular players and five temporary replacements in the lineup, the club's total payroll came to $11,500. Frank Nighbor's salary was $1,525 for the season and Eddie Gerard's $1,325. At 30 per cent of gate revenue, the Senators paid Ted Dey $8,300 in rent that season. With the end of the First World War days away, Ted Dey and Tommy Gorman took over ownership of the Ottawa Hockey Club in November 1918, a partnership that would remain for five years.

Master promoter Tommy Gorman dubbed his team the Super Six when he and Ted Dey bought the Senators in 1918. And the squad responded, winning four Stanley Cups between 1920 and 1927.

It was during that period when Frank (King) Clancy became a fan favourite. So committed was the local product to the team and the city that he demanded and won a no-cut, no-trade clause in his contract. Leaving the old Dey's Arena after their 1923 Stanley Cup triumph over Vancouver, the Super Six moved into a brand new, state-of-the-art Ottawa Auditorium. It was the first rink in the city to have artificial ice. Business magnate Frank Ahearn took over sole ownership of the team in 1925. Being a great admirer of Frank Nighbor, Ahearn made sure the "Pembroke Peach" remained under contract. Nighbor, who was the initial winner of the Hart Trophy in 1924 as the league's most valuable player, then won the Lady Byng trophy for gentlemanly play in the first two years of its awarding, 1925 and 1926. The Senators captured their fourth Stanley Cup of the Super Six era in 1927, defeating the Boston Bruins at the Ottawa Auditorium in a fight-filled contest.

By 1928, NHL expansion was taking its toll. The Senators were a small-market team competing against clubs in large American cities with big arenas generating sizable revenues.

With the Depression on, cautious civil servants were saving what few dollars they had at the expense of Senators' coffers. After sustaining financial losses year upon year, owner Frank Ahearn sold the Senators to Auditorium Limited in 1929. But as the major shareholder in that company, his fiscal woes continued. Desperate, the Senators sold King Clancy to Toronto in 1930 for an unheard of $35,000. After finishing last in 1931, the Senators suspended operations for one season but re-grouped for two more years, placing last again in 1933 and 1934. Confirming rumours that the end was near, management announced the team would be relocating to St. Louis, Md., for the 1934-35 season. "So Ottawa is to pass out of professional hockey!" lamented a newspaper. "It will be as though England gave up cricket." The Senators became the Eagles. It was the same team, with the same owner, and the result was the same – last place. At season's end, the club ceased operations and a dispersal draft claimed the players.