World War II was in full swing when six Stellaco Wildcats shirked their hockey gear to join the Canadian army during the early 1940s. Four were sent overseas and two returned to share their stories.
Cpl. Peter Alex Thomas, Pte. Albert Jardine, Pte. Antoine Leon Ketlo, Freddy Isaac, Frank Tibbets, and Sam Casimel often travelled by train with the Wildcats to compete against teams from the Hazelton area, Burns Lake, Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, and Smithers, as well as hosting some games at the Stellaquo rink.
“Roads were virtually impassable in those days,” said Stellat’en First Nation’s Chief Archie Patrick, who grew up with some of the team members. “I remember as a kid that Fort St. James came in for a tournament, playing best out of three.”
“They played together, laughed together, and a lot of them worked together,” said Peter Luggi Jr., whose father Peter Luggi Sr. played the team’s sole goalie. “They probably also checked traplines, hunted, and fished together.” To raise money for hockey equipment and other team costs, the Wildcats hacked cross ties for railway tracks and horse-logged — transporting chopped trees by horses and sleigh.
“Some trees would roll down the mountain, and then brought down to Fraser Lake sawmills at its old site on White Swan Park’s beach,” Luggi said. “Dad said the team won most of the games, except for one to Smithers where they lost 2-3. They had a Japanese guy who was way too fast.”
Ketlo, better known as Tony, enlisted in the army on Sept. 20, 1943 and was honourably discharged in Vancouver on March 26, 1946.
Ketlo showcased his jokester personality through his antics overseas, according to stories he regaled in his later years to Luggi.
Going over a German defence line and taking a motorbike with a sidecar, Ketlo traveled back over the border with a German helmet worn backwards, and an American guard started shooting him. He yelled,”It’s just me!”
In another tale, Ketlo entered a German bar with some friends to have a beer. “They were doing okay until they started speaking English, then they had to take off.” Between tales, Ketlo was at times silent, deep in thought, Luggi recalled.
Taking part in the war effort at several European locations including the island Sicily in Italy as well as the the D-Day landing in Northern France, Ketlo earned a 1939-45 star, a France and Germany Star, a Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, and a War Medal 1939-45.
Passed away on Sept. 6, 1994 in Fraser Lake, Ketlo was survived by his wife Bernadette, four children, and 11 grandchildren. “We will be eternally grateful for his gift of peace that he gave to our country,” stated his son Sterling in Ketlo’s eulogy. “The memory of the war was always with him — always in the background — he never went into details about his experiences, yet you could tell that the memories were always with him.”
According to Veteran Affairs Canada, Thomas, son of Alec and Christine Thomas, was part of the Canadian Scottish Regiment and was 28 when the Minister of National Defence notified his family of his death, as well as commemorated his service, on March 30, 1945. He is now buried in the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands.
Jardine, son of Amelia Thomas and grandson of Thaudilh Thomas and Cecelia Pinak, was part of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. He was 24 when he died on Dec. 30, 1943 of injuries from action. At the time, German armies in Italy were defending a boundary that stretches from the Tyrrhenian Sea by Naples to the Adriatic Sea by Ortona. The Allies were looking to break through the line to capture Rome, and the 1st Canadian Infantry Division was to cross the Moro River to capture Ortona. Jardine is now buried at the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in Italy.
According to Lakes District News, Tibbets served from 1939 to 1945 and did duty in France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and Germany. He was the son of Chief Earnest David Tibbets and Adelle Antoine.