“I hope I’m not going to scare you, bringing out the latex gloves,” Denis Holme says. He quickly pulls them on and begins to tell Dudley “Red” Garrett’s life story, memento by memento.
There are precisely packed cardboard boxes on a table in front of Holme in this downtown Vancouver office on this particular day. They are filled with scrapbooks and hockey photos and Canadian Navy paraphernalia. There are locks of Garrett’s baby hair, and sign-in books from his funeral.
There are stacks of letters, more than 50 in all, that Garrett wrote home from his time in pro hockey and during the Second World War. The last is dated Nov. 11, 1944.
Garrett died two weeks later, when the HMCS Shawinigan was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Newfoundland. The AHL named its rookie of the year trophy after him in 1947, and winners have included Terry Sawchuk, Ron Hextall, Brett Hull and Corey Hirsch. Vancouver Giants assistant coach Yogi Svejkovsky is also on the list.
Holme, a Nanoose Bay man, wants people to realize that Garrett is more than some name on a trophy.
Holme is the training officer for the Nanoose Bay fire department. He also does some landscaping. He starting doing work for Garrett’s sister, Alison Good, a decade ago in Nanaimo. It came up that Holme was a hockey fan, and that her brother had been a player. She had boxes upon boxes of Garrett’s archives in storage, and eventually told Holme to take whatever he wanted.
She passed away Jan. 2, 2013.
“I say his name and people say, ‘Who’s that?’ and then I tell the story, and they’re kind of intrigued,” said Holme. “I would hate to see them rename the award to something they think is more relevant. I hate the changing of names of awards. I think it’s disrespectful.
“I want people to know who he is. I want his name to be relevant. I want the award to mean something. It was my pledge to Alison years and years ago.”
She couldn’t find a better caretaker for her brother’s belongings. Holme treats every trinket, every piece of paper, like it’s a baby bird.
You go over the collection with him and your emotions ricochet around. At points it feels like a CSI episode. You feel like an intruder. You feel heavy and burdened. You feel privileged.
The newspaper clippings and scrapbooks show Garrett, a Toronto native, coming through the ranks. He was a scrappy, hard-nosed defenceman — he led the OHA-Junior loop in penalty minutes in 1941-42 with 61 in 18 games for the Toronto Marlboros.
The Toronto Maple Leafs thought enough of him to bring him to training camp (Holme has an invite letter from legendary Maple Leafs executive Hap Day, which suggests Garrett tell his regular employer that he might miss some time at work) and the New York Rangers thought enough of him, and left winger Hank Goldup, that they traded defenceman Babe Pratt to Toronto for their rights on Nov. 27, 1942.
Pratt would win the Hart Memorial as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1943-44 and enter the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.
Garrett, as an 18-year-old, would play 23 games with the Rangers in 1942-43, scoring once and assisting on another. He was called off to war before that season ended.
Throughout it all, he was writing letters home to his family. You can sense his mood turning throughout.
On Nov. 28, 1942, he wrote: “Just got word today that I will be playing for New York tomorrow night. Boy you could have flattened me with a feather.”
On Aug. 29, 1944: “I’ve only been in the Navy a little over a year and it seems a heck of a life time.”
And on Oct. 29, 1944: “Hockey season got away to a pretty fair start last night — heard it on the radio, and felt just a bit tough cause I have been playing instead of listening to it, but guess the time will come soon enough. (Come to think of it, it couldn’t come soon enough!)”
The letters ended up being particularly important for Alison, who was two years Dudley’s junior.
Their parents had split up when they were kids, and the siblings lived apart for chunks of their childhood. Throughout the letters, Dudley always asked about Alison. Holme even found a dried-out flower petal and a birthday card for Alison in one of them.
She hadn’t been able to bring herself to read any of them when she handed them over to Holme.
“I told her, ‘Alison, I really think you should read these letters. You need to read these letters,’” Holme said. “She came back to me afterwards and said, ‘I had no idea that I meant that much to my brother.’ It was a great thing. I think it gave her some closure.”