Organized hockey became part of life in Ottawa beginning in 1884. The city’s professional ice hockey team, the Ottawa Senators (nicknamed the Silver Seven) won the Stanley Cup in 1903. In 1917, the team joined the new National Hockey League (NHL). In 1934, during the Depression, Ottawa lost the team when it was sold and moved to St. Louis.
In the winter of 1940-41, hockey fever again gripped Ottawa. A resurgent Ottawa Senators, under a new coach, former NHL player George “Buck” Boucher, and now part of the Quebec Senior League, topped the league’s standings.
At Chinese school, held in the evenings at the Chinese Mission at 314 Lisgar Street, some teenage boys had an idea: they would form an all-Chinese hockey team and call it the “Chinese Aces.” The team drew players from Ottawa, Hull, and Aylmer. The Seto family supplied three brothers to the Aces, and several families, two. Three players were half-Chinese. Most on the team also played for their schools or in the city’s minor hockey league.
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The Chinese Aces’ first practices were on ice the boys cleared on the Rideau Canal. Known as a small, scrappy, and determined team, the Aces held their own in exhibition games against teams from Ottawa and nearby districts. Crowds packed the arenas. The Aces used their appearances to collect donations for war relief in China.
One stormy night, after a game in South Dundas, 100 kilometres south of Ottawa, four carloads heading home with nineteen of the Aces and their supporters got stuck in a snowstorm. As the storm raged on, players Alford and Hector Seto set out to find a place for the team to shelter for the night. After an hour’s trek, they came upon the farmhouse of Harvey Smith and his wife. The Smiths’ unexpected guests took up every available sleeping space; the three smallest players slept on the kitchen table. The storm marooned the Aces at the farmhouse for three days.
In the team’s last season, in the winter of 1946—the year many players were headed off to university—the Aces had a final matchup with the formidable Aylmer Saints. The Saints boasted five players and a coach who were brothers or cousins of the Boucher clan, who’d either played or coached in the NHL. After four straight losses to the Saints over the years, the Aces beat them by a score of 5-4. Hector Seto, at age 84, still savoured the victory: “The Aylmer Saints were our reference as a team of excellence.”