A local member of the last Vernon Canadians senior hockey team from the famed Okanagan Senior Hockey League of the 1950s is being remembered for his work and passion in the sport.
Michael T (Mickey) McDowell died in Vancouver at the age of 82 on Jan. 31 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
“Mickey McDowell was a popular figure at Vernon Senior High School back in the 1950s,” recalled Vernon’s Betty Tanaka. “His family owned McDowell Motors near the railway station.”
Born to Charlie and Ruth McDowell in Vernon on April 17, 1940, McDowell played minor hockey in Vernon before joining the famed Canadians, or “Blues,” as they were known for the colour of their uniforms, in 1959, three years after Vernon won the Allan Cup.
McDowell played seven games for the Canadians in 1959, scoring twice and setting up one goal as Vernon lost the national Allan Cup final that year to the Whitby (Ontario) Dunlops.
In 1960-61, the final year of the OSHL, McDowell played 37 games, scoring 19 goals and adding 23 assists, helping Vernon to the last league title. The OSHL folded after the playoffs.
“There weren’t a lot of local guys on our team but he was good enough to make the team,” said Merv Bidoski, one of the rare Vernon players on the Canadians – and one of two survivors who was part of the Allan Cup championship team in 1956 – about McDowell. Bidoski also worked one summer for McDowell’s dad at his garage.
“Mickey was able to play. He was a good guy who always did his best.”
McDowell would leave Vernon to play for the Regina Pats, then obtained a hockey scholarship to play for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. He was a member of the 1962-63 T-Birds team inducted into the UBC Sports Hall of Fame, coached by the legendary Father David Bauer. McDowell won the Canada West scoring title and, in 1964, was selected to play for Canada’s national team.
He was UBC’s Bobby Gaul Memorial Trophy winner in 1969 for outstanding athlete and character.
The UBC Thunderbird community paid tribute to McDowell before a UBC game early in February. Members of the Vancouver Canucks Alumni, Thunderbirds alumni, as well as McDowell’s family and close friends joined a packed arena of fans and together, took a moment to honour the Vernon native.
McDowell was a former president of the Canucks Alumni Association and was the driving force behind forging close ties between the association and his alma mater.
For years the Vancouver Canucks Alumni has been supporting the success of Thunderbird athletes on and off the ice. Just prior to his death, the alumni established an annual UBC award in honour of McDowell titled The Vancouver Canucks Alumni Foundation Thunderbird Award in Hockey.
Off the ice, McDowell obtained a master’s degree in physical education and a doctorate in psychology. He worked on paving crews in the summers between university, later working for Columbia Bitulithic where McDowell enjoyed a lengthy career running machines, managing crews and eventually becoming company president.
McDowell was president of the B.C. Road Builders in 1986 when the Coquihalla Highway was built. He also taught at UBC.
The Okanagan Senior Hockey League ran from 1951-52 to 1960-61 with the Canadians winning five of the 10 league championships.