Categories Archives: Individual Athletes

Leo Woods

Halifax, N.S.

Leo Woods (1918-1974)

Leo Woods, one of Nova Scotia’s premier ballplayers, had a career that spanned 28 years combined in senior baseball/softball stretching from 1935 to 1963. Fellow players, competitors, fans, sportscasters and sports historians alike often commented: ”Leo was one of the finest baseball/softball performers ever to display his talents in these parts”. Throughout his softball career Leo played mostly Senior “A” calibre ball, while his baseball career spanned 12 years, playing in the Halifax Defense League from 1941 to 1945 and in the highly competitive Halifax and District League from 1946 to 1951, all the while playing against many talented imports from the United States collegiate and minor-pro ranks, many of whom went on to play in the major leagues. During his five years in the H&D, Leo played in three All-Star games and batted in the top 10 three times against a select group of pitchers. He was also in third place as of August 1, 1951 for a fourth time, batting .329, but records were incomplete for the full season.

However, Leo’s first and foremost love was softball (called fastball today). At the early age of 17, he began playing senior baseball, alternating between softball and baseball, often playing both games on a single day. Shoestring catches were his trademarks playing baseball, while in softball, at that time, outfielders made catches with their bare hands. In addition to being an excellent fielder, Leo was a superb softball pitcher. At the age of 18, he pitched his first no-hitter against the North End All-Stars; and in 1942, playing against the Navy, he pitched a second-career no hitter. Limited research revealed that Leo also pitched nine more games limiting opponents to 4 hits or less. In 1940, Halifax Shipyards won it’s first Maritime title with Leo pitching a three-hitter in an 11-4 win against Liverpool in Provincial playoffs and a lopsided win against Moncton in the first game for the Maritime title.

Still, Leo was best known for his hitting ability. While playing in the talent-laden Defense League between 1941 and 1945, Leo combined for an impressive .311 batting average in regular league and playoff action. This league consisted of many Maritime legends and professional-level talent that played for the service-based clubs. Playing in the professional class H&D league, Leo compiled a very respectable .283 average based on 315 hits in 1113 plate appearances between 1945 and 1951. As noted previously, he consistently batted in the top ten of that league.

Records indicate that Leo Woods was an even better hitter in fastball. In 1940, the Halifax Shipyards won their first Maritime championship, with Leo batting 5 for 11 with a .455 batting average in that series. In the 1942 playoffs, his batting average was .391. In 1946 and 1947, Leo was a member of the Halifax Zwickers* softball team when they won back-to-back Maritime championships. During these playoffs years, Leo batted an average of .397 and .343 respectively. In 1948, with Keith Stags, he won a third consecutive Maritime senior softball title. Again Leo led the way with a .386 batting average in the playoffs. In 1956, at the age of 38, Leo won the Halifax Senior “A” Batting Championship title with a .477 average.

Throughout his long successful career, Leo played on 18 city championship teams, won 6 Nova Scotia titles, and played on 5 teams that won Maritime softball crowns.

*The Halifax Zwickers’ team was also among the 19 legacy inductions in 2014. 

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    Ron Turcotte

    Grand Falls, N.B.

    Ron Turcotte aboard Secretariat at Winner’s Post-Parade at Preakness in 1973


    Ron Turcotte, OC, began his career in Toronto with E. P. Taylor‘s Windfields Farm in 1959, and he was soon wearing the silks and winning races. As an apprentice jockey he rode Northern Dancer to his first victory and gained gained prominence with his victory aboard Tom Rolfe in the 1965 Preakness Stakes.

    Turcotte began working with Canadian trainer Lucien Laurin at the racetrack in Laurel, Maryland; and in 1972 he rode Riva Ridge to victory in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Ron became internationally famous in 1973 when he rode Secretariat to win the first Triple Crown in 25 years. He was North America’s  leading stakes-winning jockey in 1972 and 1973.

    He became the first jockey to win back-to-back Kentucky Derbys since 1902 and is the only jockey to ever have won five of the six consecutive Triple Crown races. Turcotte’s career ended in 1978 following a fall from his horse, Flag of Leyte Gulf, at the start of a race at Belmont Park that left him a para paraplegic. 

    In 1984 he became the first ever recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award given annually to the jockey who has made significant contributions to the sport. He was also voted the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award that honours a rider whose career and personal conduct exemplifies the very best example of participants in the sport of thoroughbred racing.

    He is the first person from thoroughbred racing ever to be appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

    Turcotte lives in his home town of Grand Falls, New Brunswick, Canada, with his wife Gaëtane and their four daughters. He is an advocate for the disabled and helps to raise funds for disability programs, and is intimately involved with the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund (PDJF). A well-known survivor of an on-track accident, Turcotte makes appearances at racetracks to raise funds and awareness of the assistance the PDJF provides to fellow injured riders.

    Ron Turcotte was hospitalized on March 9, 2015 following a single-vehicle accident in New Brunswick. The van he was driving flipped after hitting a snow bank with he and a friend both injured in the accident; with Turcotte sustaining fractures to both legs. He had hoped to speak on behalf disabled jockeys this coming May in Lousiville, KY and attend the Induction ceremony for the Maritime Sports Hall of Fame in June. We hope for a speedy recovery and attendance at those events will be possible.

    In the 2010 Disney movie Secretariat, Ron Turcotte’s role as Secretariat‘s jockey is played by Otto Thorwarth, a real life jockey himself. A National Film Board of Canada documentary feature film on Ron Turcotte’s life and career, Secretariat’s Jockey, Ron Turcotte, had its world premiere in Louisville, Kentucky in May 2013. There is also a book about his life by Bill Heller, The Will to Win: Ron Turcotte’s Ride to Glory (1992), Fifth House Publishers ISBN 9781895618082

    He was voted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1974; inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1979.  He was also inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame the following year in 1980.



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      Willie O’Ree

      Fredericton, N.B.

      Born Willie Eldon O’Ree, CM, ONB (October 15, 1935, in Fredericton, New Brunswick) is a former professional ice hockey player, perhaps best known for being the first black player in the National Hockey League. O’Ree played for the Boston Bruins. He is often  referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of ice hockey” due to breaking the black colour barrier in the sport, and has stated publicly that he had met Jackie Robinson twice in his younger years. Although a great deal has been made of being the first black in the NHL, in reality he is best known for “… [his] friendship and compassion. Proud and not afraid to show it, his self-confidence only serves to reveal his humility.”

      Midway through his second minor-league season with the Quebec Aces, O’Ree was called up to the Boston Bruins of the NHL to replace an injured player. O’Ree was 95% blind in his right eye due to being hit there by an errant puck two years earlier, which normally would have precluded him from playing in the NHL. However, O’Ree managed to keep it a secret, and made his NHL debut with the Bruins on January 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first black player in league history, appearing in two games that year, and returned in 1961 to play 43 games, playing with Boston centreman Don McKenney and right wing Jerry Toppazzini.  He scored 4 goals and 10 assists in 1961.

      His professional career, which spanned 23 years, took him from Fredericton to Quebec, Kingston, Ottawa, Los Angeles, San Diego, and New Haven retiring in 1979. He has worked for the NHL, both as an ambassador and in the development of youth, and is still working for the NHL in his 80th year.

      O’Ree played over 800 games in the Western Hockey League (WHL) between 1961 and 1974, scoring thirty or more goals five times, with a high of 38 in both 1964–65 and 1968–69. His best year was 1968-69 when he tallied 79 points (38-41) in 70 games. Most of O’Ree’s playing time was with the WHL’s Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls. The latter team retired his number, now hanging from the rafters at the San Diego Sports Arena. O’Ree continued to play in the minor pro leagues until the age of 43. However, his contribution to hockey went well beyond his playing days, working in hockey promotion, youth development and cross-cultural understanding.

      In 1984, he was inducted into the New Brunswick Sport Hall of Fame; in 2008 into the San Diego Hall of Champions, and was honoured by the San Diego State University for his work in “diversity and cross-cultural understanding. That same year the City of Fredericton named the new sports complex after Willie O’Ree. In 2011, he was named to the Hockey Legacy Board by the Boston Sports Museum.

      In 2005, he was inducted into the Order of New Brunswick (ONB); and five years later into the Order of Canada (CM).


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        Forbes Kennedy

        Dorchester, N.B./Charlottetown, P.E.I.

        Forbes Kennedy (1935 – )


        Though born in Dorchester, N.B., Forbes Kennedy is considered one of Prince Edward Island’s most famous hockey players, having moved there just weeks after his birth. The diminutive forward (5’8”, 150 lbs.) may have been one the smallest players on the ice at any level, but he played the game like a much bigger man, often being described as gritty, tough…


        After a stellar junior career beginning at age 16 with the Halifax St. Mary’s and then with the Montreal Junior Canadiens for a further three years, he made the jump to the NHL. He would play with Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto from 1956 to 1969.


        In 615 games, he accumulated 72 goals, 112 assists, for 184 points, and 1,052 penalty minutes. Upon retirement he returned to Charlottetown, and began a coaching career that took him from Halifax with the Junior Canadian’s in the Maritime Junior Hockey League to the Carolina’s and Virginia, to Newfoundland and back to Charlottetown again.


        On January 16, 2012, Kennedy was honoured by the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League with a “Forbes Kennedy Night” and he was presented with a plaque in recognition his service to the team that he coached from 2004 to 2007.


        He was inducted into the P.E.I Sports Hall of Fame in 1968.



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          Philip “Skit” Ferguson

          Reserve Mines/Dartmouth, N.S.

          Philip “Skit” Ferguson (1925  – )


          At a time when baseball was king in the province of Nova Scotia and American collegiate players dominated the local scene, a lefthander from Reserve Mines, C.B. more than held his own with the very best. Philip “Skit” Ferguson led the Truro Bearcats to the Halifax and District League championship in 1946 winning eighteen games while losing just one (18-1). To add to his achievement on the mound he also won the batting title, hitting .468, while easily winning the league MVP award.


          In his career with the Dominion Hawks, Halifax Shipyards, and the Truro Bearcats he accumulated a record of 51 wins and 5 losses. One of the greatest testaments to his ability and endurance is the fact that he never left a game that he started.


          Despite offers from three major league baseball teams, he decided to attend St. Francis Xavier University to obtain an engineering degree.


          On the ice he led the X-Men to an undefeated season in his graduating year, 1945-46, scoring 22 goals, along with 20 assists.


          He was inducted into the St. F. X. University Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.



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            Yvon Durelle

            Baie Ste. Anne, N.B

            Yvon Durelle, born Oct 14, 1929, was known as the Fighting Fisherman, and was one of the Maritimes’ most courageous and colourful athletes. A native of Baie Ste. Anne, New Brunswick, Durelle split his time between fishing, working on lighthouses and light-heavyweight championship boxing, beginning in 1947. With twelve siblings living in close quarters (7 biological siblings and 4 adopted brothers and sisters), as well as the rough and tumble life in Baie Ste. Anne, he had plenty of ‘brawling’ practice in his early years. His great natural talent and toughness caught the attention of Moncton promoter Chris Shaban, who became Durelle’s manager and trainer and launched him into the professional boxing circuit, becoming the Canadian light-heavyweight champion by 1953. He lost that title later that year but regained it in July, 1954 and successfully defended it on two occasions, retiring with that title.

            By May 30, 1957, Durelle had developed sufficient prowess and skills to allow him to challenge for the British Empire light-heavyweight title defeating Gordon Wallace by knock-out in the second round. After this victory, Yvon was matched against Archie Moore for the world light-heavyweight championship. On December 10, 1958, in a fight that had all of Canada – and much of the world – on the edge of its seat, he came very close to capturing that title. He had the Moore down three times in the first round, and four times in the fight. He was himself knocked down three times, and finally counted out the fourth time in the eleventh round. Though he failed to claim the crown, this fight went down in Canadian boxing history as perhaps the best bouts of the half-century.

            Durelle’s reputation as a tough and determined boxer was well earned. Credited with an iron constitution, he once fought Floyd Patterson with a broken his hand that occurred during a bout some six days earlier. Although advised to postpone, Durelle refused, as he had promised he’d be there and had Patterson by decision in eight rounds.

            Though he was a fearsome force in the ring, Durelle had a kind and gentle personality and was affectionately referred to as Doux, French for soft. Durelle’s last big fight was against George Chuvalo in 1959 for the Canadian heavyweight title. With the beginnings of leg problems, he lost, and promptly announced his retirement. It was also a fight that perhaps Yvon did not have his heart in, as that was shortly after some thirty-five (35) Baie Sainte Anne fishermen lost their lives when a rogue wave struck the village pier. He made a brief comeback in 1963 before finally retiring to his home province.

            Yvon was married on June 27, 1951 to his loving wife, Therese (Martin), and they had four children, Geneva (LaPierrre), Yvon, Jr. (called Bo), Paul  and Francine (Kipling). Three live in New Brunswick, but Francine currently resides in Winnipeg with her husband and two children. Geneva became a nurse and helped as their parents aged. Yvon died in 2007 being cared for by Therese, who passed away herself  in 2011. Francine describes her father as a character who enjoyed playing jokes, cards games and his dogs, but could be serious when need be. He also discouraged his sons from taking up fighting.

            In 105 professional bouts, Durelle won 44 by knockout and 38 by decision. He lost ten by decision, three on foul, and was knocked out nine times. Based on this record, Yvon Durelle was enshrined in the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame in 1989. He is also a member of the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame (1971) and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (1975).


            Some interesting links for Yvon Durelle  (several are in French; some involve genealogy and other have video links included):






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