Toronto Global Grand - Birthplace of the NAHC

In the circles of the ACHC some called it a "deal with the devil" but despite this nearly-universal feeling among the owners, players and coaches of the one-year-old loop, the deal was made. Despite the misgivings, it ultimately turned out to be the best thing for everyone concerned. 

"The Devil" in this case was Jack Connolly. The mining entrepreneur and aspiring hockey magnate was, in the opinion of virtually all the other powerful people in the pro hockey world, a viper. But he was a viper who possessed the Challenge Cup. And the cachet that came with possessing that particular piece of hardware made Connolly someone to whom the others needed to pay attention, even if they needn't (wouldn't) respect him while doing so. Connolly's suggestion of a merger in the late spring of 1909 represented an enormous swallowing of pride for the ACHC club owners. The players, with the possible exception of Max Dewar, just wanted to keep playing and earning a paycheck.

The "deal" was based on Connolly's observations of the Federally Aligned Baseball Leagues in the U.S. Like any good businessman, Connolly kept abreast of developments in his industry and FABL represented North America's most successful professional sporting venture. He had the foresight to realize that what had nearly killed pro baseball in the early 1890s - namely competition for markets and players - would ultimately happen with pro hockey if something wasn't done as soon as possible to avoid it. As the biggest personality among the small fraternity of OQHC owners (the others were far more concerned with their mining operations than their hockey clubs so they followed Connolly's lead on most things), Connolly strongly suggested to the others that an "accommodation with the ACHC should be sought immediately" to avoid having to overpay the players. The others, all too familiar with "labor problems" from their miners, agreed instantly.

Convincing the owners of the ACHC clubs was an altogether different matter. To a man they all hated Connolly for "stealing" their best players, and less than a year had passed since those signings. Albert Trautman, who owned the Montreal National Club, advised his fellow owners that Connolly was not a man to be trusted. Trautman brought along Max Dewar who was all too willing to explain the way in which Connolly did business with potential players. Ottawa star George Dupree said much the same thing to his club's backers. Connolly, who had by this time become quite used to getting his way, saw that he would need outside help - and he had a particular man in mind for the job - but getting that man to play along would not be a simple matter.

That man was William Whitney. Whitney, the founder of the original professional baseball league (and its eventual savior as well when he created the FABL structure to save the owners from themselves), was now retired and living in California most of the year. But Connolly knew that Whitney, whose fortune was built on shipping fruits and vegetables from the U.S. West Coast to other parts of the country, was interested in expanding his business into Canada. This was the lever Connolly needed as he himself was a potential customer, with hungry miners to feed in New Leiskard, Cobalt and Haileybury, all of whom bought their food at Connolly's company stores.

Whitney spent his spring months in Chicago, but was reluctant to venture as far as the Ontario mining communities. But Connolly was shrewd and had a suitable middle man in mind to help entice Whitney to a more suitable location. Connolly therefore proposed a meeting with Whitney in Toronto at the Global Grand Hotel. The Global just so happened to be owned by Bert Thomas, who owned FABL's Toronto Wolves baseball club and was friendly with Whitney. Thomas also was known to be desirous of running a hockey club in his hometown - a city in which neither the ACHC nor OQHC had yet placed a club. With Thomas smoothing the way, Whitney agreed to visit Toronto in May. The next order of business for Connolly was getting the ACHC owners to agree to meet at the Global as well - and again Toronto was a good fit as it was neutral ground for both organizations. The final hurdle would be coordinating the timing so that it would be possible for Connolly to meet with Whitney, strike a deal to provide produce to the Connolly Mining Company Stores and then sway him to speak to the ACHC owners about the benefits of a consolidation agreement between the ACHC and OQHC. A tall order, but Connolly was a man accustomed to setting and achieving difficult goals.

Through sheer force of personality and will, Connolly made it work. The circle of men who both a) loved sports and b) had the financial wherewithal to own a professional club was a relatively small one. Thomas, as one of Ontario's top hoteliers, was well known to the ACHC's owners, and so was Whitney (if only by reputation). Connolly got a bit of luck too: Montreal Saints owner Jacques Cartier was in town as well (to meet with Whitney) and Cartier was a massively influential businessman in the province of Quebec. Though Whitney was initially irked by Connolly's subterfuge, he had made a profitable agreement on produce and was therefore willing to speak to the ACHC owners on the benefits of banding together. Though his quoting of Benjamin Franklin's "if we don't hang together we shall all hang separately" statement about working together got a mixed reception from his Canadian audience, the point about the perils of brinkmanship was well made. All the men on both sides of the equation were first and foremost businessmen, and had experienced many instances of dealing with people they didn't particularly like.

With Cartier's urging joining that of Whitney - Cartier's father had weathered baseball's financial wars of the 1880s/90s and Jacques remembered those days well - three of the four ACHC owners agreed to merge their league with the OQHC. The Montreal Royal Club, bereft of talent, dropped out of the discussions when it became apparent that the club's backers could not keep up with their competition financially. One additional sticking point was that aside from New Leiskard, the ACHC owners felt the OQHC was "small potatoes" and wanted to exclude those clubs. Connolly however stuck to his guns - it was all of them, or none of them. So seven men put pen to paper and signed up for the new organization:

  • Cobalt Miners (Dan Connolly, owner)
  • Latchford Locomotives (Edward Tanner, owner)
  • Long Lake Lakers (Samuel Underwood, owner)
  • Montreal National Club (Albert Trautman, owner)
  • Quebec Champlain Club (Maurice Flaubert, owner)
  • New Leiskard Silver Skates (Jack Connolly, owner)
  • Ottawa Athletic Club (Martin Delaware, owner) 

Another item that could not be immediately agreed upon was a name for the new circuit. The ACHC men would not accept becoming part of the OQHC (that smacked of outright surrender) and similarly Connolly's group would not entertain the thought of operating as part of the ACHC. Something new was needed.

Whitney, while recusing himself from making a specific suggestion, did suggest that the group "think of themselves in a national, or even continental, context" for while the league would start with several mining towns and three major Canadian cities represented, it could "eventually encompass the whole of the continent, including perhaps - or even hopefully - cities in the United States."

With this in mind, the group came up with what they felt was a Canadian spin on Whitney's FABL moniker: the North American Hockey Conferederation. Further discussions with Whitney (who later admitted "I couldn't help myself - once we started talking, the organizer in me just couldn't stay quiet!") as a participant provided the new league with two things that were brand-new to pro hockey but were staples of pro baseball: a standard player contract (hello, reserve clause!) and professional referees ("The players and fans need to know that everything's on the up-and-up," Whitney told the group).

The final portion of the meeting covered the idea of adding two new clubs to the mix. One, naturally, was a Toronto club - everyone agreed that the city needed to be represented. And Bert Thomas made it known he would like to own that team (Connolly supported this in a quid pro quo for Thomas' help in setting up the meeting). The other was Connolly's own suggestion of a club for the Francophones in Montreal - the Royal Club's exit had opened up this line of thinking. As Canada's then-largest city and biggest hockey hotbed, if any metropolis could support two clubs, it was Montreal. Ultimately, no agreement on this issue was made: Thomas was given a big "maybe" for owning a club in his hometown. And Connolly's Francophone club in Montreal was outright opposed (for obvious reasons) by the Quebec City contingent with support from Trautman (also for obvious reasons) and Delaware (probably for mere spite). Having won the majority of his battles, Connolly was willing to let that particular sleeping dog lie... for now.

With four owners coming from the OQHC to three from the ACHC, it was no surprise that Dan Connolly was elected the NAHC's first President. Everyone in the room knew that Dan might be the President, but it was his brother Jack who would wield the actual power.