On Thurs. June 15, Wayne Deorksen, master of ceremonies, welcomed everyone and in particular the evening’s guest of honour, Ken Clay. A true Vanderhoof hero, Ken came back to Vanderhoof for a visit, which turned out to be a party to celebrate his invention of the hockey visor, a significant contribution to the world of hockey, and to the rich history of the town.
Wayne’s sister, Barb Penner, has been posting photo’s and articles on the Vanderhoof History site on Facebook, sharing lots of files from the Hobson museum. “I’m sharing the stories before they are lost” she says. “It’s part of my own Canada 150 project, a ‘Vanderhoof 150’ collection of 150 noteworthy people and events in our town.”
Number 134 on that list is Ken Clay, the modest and largely unknown inventor of the hockey visor.
“Ken called Barb last week and thanked her for recognising his achievement on the site and asked if he could meet her for coffee. Barb thought it would be neat to share her coffee date with others in town and here we all are.” said Wayne, his other sister Deb, one of eight Deorksen siblings was also there serving refreshments. It was a delightful evening with plenty of heart-warming nostalgia. Barb, the mastermind behind the event was in her element, “It’s great” she said, “We threw a party for someone we haven’t met. That’s just who we are.”
Written by his kids
Born in 1937 in Carrot River Saskatchewan to Albert and Ella Clay, he was the middle of three boys, older brother Arnold and baby brother Keith. He is 80 years young this fall. All three boys played hockey to keep out of trouble, their dad was an RCMP officer and mom was a stay at home mom. He played two years for the Nipawin Hawks before moving west. Back in the Prairies he moved houses for a living with his buddy Ron Forsyth, who he is still friends with to this day, as he is with most with his old buddies, a testament to his character. Besides being a force on the ice, he was also a trick waterskier, doing stacked pyramid formations and barefoot skiing!
He moved out to BC in the late 50’s and started playing for the Prince George Mohawks. He quickly made a name for himself as a top defenceman, but when they dared sit him for a game, off he went to become a Bear. He married his Vanderhoof sweatheart Sylvia (Bubbles) Adams in 1962, (55 years on July 2nd!) and they moved to Lynn Lake Manitoba briefly for work and had there first daughter Keri-lynn. Vanderhoof called him home for the 1963 hockey season and his legend as #4 on the Vanderhoof Bears began, alongside his teammates Lenny Fox, Donnie Finnie, Roy Streigler, Corny Froese, Lance Russell, Jim Silver, and many others.
When he lost his eye to a high stick in 1963, many thought his hockey career was over, but he had other plans. Following the huge rally by the community of Vanderhoof to help with the medical expenses incurred with the flight to and hospitalization in Vancouver, he came back determined to play again.
After a month in the hospital, Ken created the first documented clear face shield in 1964. The invention caused quit a stir, with announcers calling it a “fish bowl” and a “wrap around windshield”. While the original shield and helmet were lost in the fire that consumed the Vanderhoof Arena a few years later, the newspaper clippings still attest to the dates and facts. Known as the masked defenceman Ken went on to win the George Allen trophy for top defencemen the very next season. Some said the visor actually inproved his play as he was able to drop in front of the puck without fear. Ken and Sylvia went on to have another daughter Tammie, and a son Darren. He and Ken Clare owned the Texaco station and bulk plant in Vanderhoof, and then the Clays moved to Fort St. James to open another Texaco there in 1976. Ken enjoyed many years of coaching minor hockey, before relocating to the sunny Okanagan in 1986 where his hockey career continued as an Oldtimer. Ken and Sylivia now enjoy their four granddaughters, and four great grandchildren and he still loves to strap on his skates whenever he can. The family is very proud and honoured to have Vanderhoof reconizing our Dad as the hometown hero he is. “Thank you so much, we wish we were there,” a message sent by Ken’s family.
The night Ken became a Bear
Ken shared some trivia with Omineca Express. He said he started off playing for the Prince George Mohawks. “I went to Prince George to play in the Commercial league. Guys in the Mohawks saw me playing in the merchant team and said “Hey, come and play with us”. And so he did. He also met the love of his life in those early days. For two years he courted his Vanderhoof sweetheart, Sylvia. “I’d go back to Saskatchewan, work there in the warmer months moving buildings and then play hockey in the winter months”
But evidently there was quite a rivalry between the Mohawks and the Bears, “They were clicky” said Ken, who went on to tell the tale of the night he became a Bear. He recalls, “When they said “We don’t want you to dress tonight we’ve got enough players” I said fine. I went straight down to the Bears dressing room and asked “D’ya want somebody to go out there and kick ass tonight? I crossed the ice that night and became a Bear and moved down here.” Certainly their loss, our gain: the Mohawks eventually referred to Ken “The one that got away”. Ken lived in Vanderhoof for twenty years, from 1956 till he moved to Fort St. James to run a Texaco gas bar in 1976.”
Ken Clay explained how the visor came to be. “While healing over the summer I had time to think about it and how much I wanted to get back to the game. It was just an idea that materialised and I went with it and it worked for me.”
“I used the clear plastic goaly mask with a strap, sawed off half of it, drilled holes in it and in a helmet, then bolted them together. For quite some time it was just me wearing the visor though. The other players didn’t even wear helmets. But slowly it caught on and others started making their own like I did. Now you started getting more players. Pilots, RCMP, and boys that needed their eyes.”
Although there’s not been any formal credit for Ken’s invention, someone else did try to take the credit. “There was a guy in Ontario and he said he invented it in 1973. So my girls got after that and said “Hey that ain’t right and then they put it on the internet, that I invented it in 1964, and we we never heard from him again.”
“Young man’s country”
When asked what it’s like being in Vanderhoof again, Ken said, “We come back here periodically and I love it up here. It’s a young man’s country.”
And on how it feels knowing he contributed to sports safety and helped make hockey what it is today, he said, “I don’t feel like I’m a hero or anything. Watching all the kids now playing in the pro’s and NHL wearing the visor. It just makes me feel more comfortable to watch these players now. The way they’re playing. It’s a tough sport. It was a tough sport, it’s still a tough sport, and we survived it.”
“I’m overwhelmed by the welcome. To see all my old buddies again” says Ken, “It’s great. Thank you so much.”