Canada's Sports Hall of Fame Canadian History and Society: Through the Lens of Sport Virtual Museum of Canada


Dick Irvin was born without any of the normal advantages that most gifted athletes enjoy but still succeeded. In fact Irvin was to become an inspiration to all Canadians, for where others would be disadvantaged and give up, Irvin turned his disadvantages into an advantage.

As a young child, Irvin's family could not afford to buy him a pair of skates. Undeterred, Irvin improvised by wearing overshoes when playing in a friend's yard. As he could not move about as well as his peers, he learnt to compete by improving his stick handling. When he returned home, he improved these handling skills even further by shooting at a doorknob. Overcoming the lack of skating to his advantage by developing his handling skills enabled Irvin to become one of the most prolific scorers in the history of hockey. In fact, on one occasion while playing for the Winnipeg Monarchs against Toronto Ontarios, the best club in the east, Irvin scored nine times in one game, eight goals of which he created on his own!

While playing hockey, Irvin was drafted into the Canadian Army towards the end of the First World War becoming a member of the Fort Garry Horse regiment. By the summer of 1918 he arrived in France and had the dangerous job working with a signals unit as a motorcycle rider. It was the 'siggies' who were always the first into action in order to drive dispatches back and forth between headquarters..

As an athlete, Irvin had a headstrong will to win and in his twenty year stint as coach of the Montreal Canadiens they made the play-offs eighteen times. More importantly, Irvin was a coach ahead of his time, a visionary. Exactly as he had done as a player, Irvin worked out how to turn ordinary features of hockey to his advantage. For Irvin was known for completing a comprehensive statistical dossier of every one of his players and every player his Canadiens came up against; a dossier of the sort that a coach today would be proud. Indeed, in 1948 Hockey News reported: "There isn't much escapes the eagle eye of the Montreal coach who knows almost to the fraction of an inch how far any...players skate in a game, how they pass the puck, and what they do in any conceivable situation. That in part is the secret of his success, and rival coaches can take that information for free if they want it."

Photograph of Dick Irvin wearing hockey uniform
Dick Irvin played both amateur and professional hockey. He started his professional hockey career in 1916 with the Portland Rosebuds of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. He played in the NHL in 1926 with the Chicago Blackhawks and was the team's first captain. His style of play showed his determination, will to win and discipline.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

circular brass medal / badge with crossed flags
When Dick Irvin's hockey team won the Allen Cup in 1915 with the Winnipeg Monarchs each team member was given a motorcycle. He put his riding experience to good use when he was assigned as a dispatch rider in World War One. As a dispatch rider he was often placed in dangerous situations.
Collection: Army Museum of Alberta

Photograph of Dick Irvin behind hockey bench with players
Dick Irvin continued his hockey career as a coach, first with the Toronto Maple Leafs and then the Montreal Canadiens. He was known for his dedication, strong work ethic and leadership.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

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