The Early Life of a Local Hockey Legend and the Community that Surrounds
Drama Through and Through
A title like “A Decade of Turbulence, Turmoil and Talent” may seem a bit overstated, and leaning on the side of drama. However, it was one of the most impactful decades in the history of the area. This is the decade when dial tone service was adopted. When Stouffville lost it’s village status. When one-room school houses were closed. And, when plans for mega-projects were made. There was municipal arson in Whitchurch, unruly speed boats at Preston, and a community rising in Lemonville. Remarkably, Vandorf had an indoor pool more than 30 years ahead of Stouffville; Slater’s Pool was demolished only recently.
To write this issue, so much content had to be cut. Where history is fruitful, pages remain limited. We will, however, circle back to the Pickering Airport in the near future – as the plans for this project probably set Whitchurch-Stouffville back a decade. In this vein, do consider the timelines – Century City, a Utopian proposal with quality urban design, was nixed by the province in favour of a green space plan – a plan that was then ignored in favour of an airport – all within two years or so.
Keith Acton, the featured local character in this issue, lived through these times. Reading these articles, for him, may conjure up memories or glimpses of what was happening – but this little guy was busy playing sports!
This issue of On the Road is the first issue for our Year 2. We reformatted to a tabloid or “compact” format. The purpose is to give readers a better and easier to read format, provide higher quality paper for photographs and general durability, and to remove the irritation of folds and disheveled innards. To be responsible with the purse, we may have to start seeking section sponsors.
The availability of the Whitchurch-Stouffville Public Library’s digital library/online database is critical for this kind of research. Oh, the benefits of having a library card!
If you would like to share personal photographs that illustrate any of these stories, please scan or smart-phone photograph them and email to us. Email to Dave Tuley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keith Acton was born in 1958 and raised on Burkholder Street in Stouffville. Those were the rough and tumble days of snowmobile racing in town. For a town with a small population, it was loaded with talent.
Keith’s father, Gerald Acton, was a local builder and carpenter. Gerry built the family home on Burkholder. “They didn’t use subtrades back then,” says Keith, “they did everything themselves.” He was involved with minor hockey as a manager and trainer, and with speed skating as an official. Gerry never really skated or played sports. He was simply a very supportive father and great volunteer. Gerry passed away in 2015, he was married to Betty Acton for 69 years.
The skating skill in the family is directly descended from Betty, who was a prominent speed skater in her day and held several awards to her record. She had the boys on skates by the time they were 21/2 years old. At 93, Betty has now moved over to Stouffville Creek Retirement Residence; Keith visits her most evenings.
Keith’s brother, Kevin, became a prominent speed skater, earning a myriad of awards and honours. He too helped train the local hockey teams. Keith was an accomplished speed skater himself, but hockey was his passion.
Keith grew up playing hockey and baseball with local sports greats – Doug Feasby, Ted Assinck, Howie Jones, Billy Meakes, Rick Marshman, Malcolm Johnston, Patty O’Callaghan, Jim Wideman, Rob Bryant, and many others. “In those days, we all grew up together. Kids weren’t shipped off back then. We played together and played for our hometown. It was sport, recreation and fun,” says Keith.
Keith recalls fondly with a smile, “In those days, we would win a provincial baseball championship, be loaded onto a fire truck, like a driving celebration around town, and then be dropped off at the arena to start our first hockey practice – all the same boys.”
From his very first NHL game right through to his 1023rd, Keith played the same way – aggressively all out. He was blessed with great straight-ahead speed, and an ability to find an opening across the ice.
Keith Acton was called up for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1978 Amateur Draft. He had been playing for the Peterborough Petes 1975-1978, and was a smallish, gritty, 5-foot-8, 170-pound center. He enjoyed playing with Montreal the most – “I was playing with 9 or 10 Hall of Famers at the time.”
Keith seasoned two years with the American Hockey League’s Nova Scotia Voyageurs, before joining the Canadiens to start the 1980-81 campaign. He was inserted between Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt, and added an element of toughness to the team’s top scoring duo.
Keith became one of the NHL’s top faceoff artists, and picked up 15 goals in his initial NHL season. With 36 goals and 52 assists, the best performance of his career, Acton was selected to play in the 1982 All-Star game. Later, he also participated in the World Championships for Canada on three occasions: 1986, 1990 and 1992.
After the beginning of the 1983-84 schedule, Acton was traded to Minnesota in a deal that put Bobby Smith in a Canadiens sweater.
Shifting his allegiances, Acton became an integral part of the new team, which made it to the third round of the playoffs in the spring of 1984. After five seasons with the North Stars, he moved to Edmonton, where he played on the 1988 Stanley Cup Champions, and then spent five seasons in Philadelphia.
Acton retired following the conclusion of play in 1993-94, a season he divided between the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, and making an effortless transition to the coaching ranks, returning to the Philadelphia Flyers as an assistant.
Keith went on as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers (1998-2000), the Toronto Maple Leafs (2000 – 2011), the Columbus Blue Jackets (2012-13), and finished his second career as an Associate Coach for the Edmonton Oilers.
In Keith’s third occupation, he occupies himself with the ownership and management of Boston Pizza on Hoover Park Drive, Stouffville, where he employs between 50 and 60 people. You can see him there most days. “We summered here as a family while I was in the NHL – I stayed connected,” says Keith. He obtained permission to go against Boston Pizza policies, and has clad the walls in the pick-up lobby and dining area, with local historical photographs; it’s like a travel through time, a must see.
Dial Tone Service, 1962
Stouffville and surrounding area will join a continent-wide phone network with the conversion to dial telephone service. Area codes were created – 100 across Canada and the United States. To perform “Direct Distance Dialing (DDD)” without operator assistance, one simply needed to dial 1, plus the local area number (in Gormley 112), and then the area code and the number desired – only 14 numbers altogether!
Stouffville Speed Zones, 1963
Stouffville Municipal Council adopts speed zones in Town. From the western boundary: 50 miles per hour (mph) to Winona, 35 mph to O’Brien, 25 mph to Stouffer, and 35 mph to the eastern boundary. All other streets are 30 mph. According to a Highways Department study, most motorists are driving these speeds already, despite one record east and west through town was 68 miles per hour.
Rural Schools, 1964
It was announced in March that fifty rural school boards in four townships will be closed next January by the Education Minister William Davis. One person commented: “It is the beginning of the end of one-room school houses left in the province with the exception of the most isolated.”
A five-alarm fire took hold of M.G. Slater Lumber Company, causing an estimated $100,000 in damage. In addition to the building, a front-end loader and dump truck burned. Mr. Slater promised to rebuild immediately and will retain all 24 employees. Traffic on Don Mills Road (now Woodbine) was tied up for an hour.
Erie Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee located a plant on the Hood Farm in Ballantrae in 1960. Plans to extend the plant by several times were made in 1961. Erie Manufacturing is up to 35 employees by 1967. Erie President Kim Rogers is quoted in the paper advocating that Whitchurch should invest in industrial parks to counter the lack of industrial assessment. From Ballantrae, Erie ships heating, water and air conditioning units to most countries in the British Commonwealth.
Slater’s Pool, 1968
As a part of the reconstruction after the fire, M.G. Slater Lumber has built an indoor Olympic size swimming pool. Quite clever – the pool provides a reservoir for fire protection, reduces the burden of insurance and provides a place for year-round swimming. The 150,000-gallon pool is 3 feet deep at the shallow end, 10.5 feet at the deep end, and measures 82 feet long by 42 feet wide. The pool is handsomely covered in by a wooden truss balloon frame building and is fully insulated with 6-inch batts. There are two dressing rooms, shower rooms and a common room. Given that there is no lake, river or public water supply nearby (even today!), the reservoir-pool will provide a great water supply for fire protection. The pool will be rented to schools, swim clubs and other groups to cover the cost of operation. It operated until about 1987.
Century City, 1969
Plans for the “biggest single land development scheme in Canada”, or Century City, have been proposed in Uxbridge Township along Stouffville’s eastern border. The plan called for an eventual population of 150,000 people on 8,000 acres of land, divided into six neighbourhood units. Each neighbourhood is planned to radiate from an elementary school, community centre and shopping area. An industrial area was to border Stouffville. One of Canada’s oldest and best-known companies – C.C.M. – stated that it will move all of its operations and 500 employees in Weston to Century City, building a new 400,000 square foot plant; to be operational in 1970.
Stouffville reaches a population of 4,008. Only three other municipalities in York County have a population less than Stouffville: Sutton, Woodbridge and Georgina. Whitchurch Township Council, being presented with a population of 8,729, instead lamented that the commercial and industrial assessment had dropped to 10 percent, whereas the old balance was 40 percent.
Opening day of the new Stouffville Dam and Reservoir drew a large crowd and many speeches. Located on land originally owned by Abraham Stouffer, the $300,000 dam project is intended to prevent future disasters, like the flooding caused by Hurricane Hazel.
Mother and Sons, 1965
Mrs. Betty Acton came out of retirement Saturday to win a silver medal in a 220-yard, open air race at Maple’s Rumble Pond. Her son Kevin, then 11, took two silver medals in the 220 and 440. At the age of 6, Keith showed up for the race, but there was no opposition in his class because of the bad weather and road conditions.
Skating Competition, 1969(1)
The brothers advanced all the way to the Canadian Speed Skating Championships in Saskatoon. Kevin – racing against Canada’s best – attained two 4th place finishes and a 5th place. Keith, at the midget level, brought home a 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finish. Their accomplishments were recognized at a meeting of the Stouffville Council meeting. Kevin is in Grade 9 at Stouffville District Secondary, Keith Grade 5 at Orchard Park.
Skating Competition, 1969(2)
Kevin Acton, 15, scored a 2nd place in the 440 and three-quarter mile, as well as a 3rd place in the 880 at the Ontario Indoor Closed Speed Skating Championship in Kemptville. Keith Acton did not accompany his brother this time, due to the Peewee hockey playoff game in Stouffville.
Skating Competition, 1969(3)
Keith and Kevin added seven more awards to their collection at the Ontario Open Speed Skating Championships in Kitchener. Participants came from as far away as Quebec and the United States. Kevin brought back one silver and two bronze medals, while Keith received three gold medals and a trophy.
The developers for Century City have run into trouble – while they endure the long wait for provincial and township approvals, their mortgage payments and back interest is due, yet they cannot obtain funds without government approvals. In what seemed like the final hour, an American investment company came to the rescue with a $4 million loan; but the loan was later revoked when the province released a new policy statement, “Design for Development – Toronto Centred Region”, which called for the Century City area to be used instead for recreation, agriculture and open spaces.
Arson in Whitchurch
A blaze of fire erupted in the Whitchurch municipal building in Vandorf, ultimately causing $13,000 in damage. The fire appeared to start in the second story vault, destroying many of the township’s records – and leaving behind a smell of fuel oil. Some felt this incident was closely connected to a discrepancy in the township’s tax receipts, where just over $900 was alleged to be missing. Later in the year, Council requested that the Clerk-Treasurer resign.
End of a Village
At the final village council meeting – forever – on December 17, reeve Ken Laushway said, “Two weeks from tonight, will mark the end of an era for the Village of Stouffville – 94 years incorporated as municipality. At exactly one minute after twelve (Jan. 1, 1971), a new municipality will be born – a new era.” He was personally pleased that the Stouffville name would carry on with the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville.
Skating Competition, 1970
The brothers set a fast pace at the 1970 Ontario Outdoor Closed Championships at Olympic Ice Track near Richmond Hill. Kevin won 3 silver plaques and a trophy. Keith captured three trophies, scoring 1st in the 200, 300 and 400 metres.
Hockey Team Declared First
Keith could have been in Winnipeg, making a bid for a spot on the Canadian speed skating team. Instead, he stayed home, fulfilling his duties as a first-string member on Stouffville’s IGA Peewee Club. Stouffville blasted Alliston 3-0, with Keith making an assist on the second goal.
Peewee Playoff Even
“The Peewees won everywhere, but on the scoreboard,” reported the local media. For Stouffville’s IGAs, Doug Feasby, Ted Assinck, Keith Acton and Howie Jones “were rattling the Cambellford cage, but only Feasby was able to find the combination with the help of Acton”. Ron Fowler, goalie for the opposition, “became an acrobat and thief as he came up with near impossible saves”. This loss evened the best of three series at one a piece. The IGA Peewees did take Cambellford at their next meet, but then were swept from the hockey championship by Huntsville – they were just bigger and better.
Speed Skater Honoured
12-year-old Keith Acton received a personal award from Ontario Premier, John P. Robarts in 1970. For the third time, Keith won the provincial championship in speed skating.
Haulage Boys Make Championship
After a good regular baseball season, the Don Anderson Haulage Peewees advanced to the all-Ontario playoffs under the management and coaching of Wilf Morley and Jack Watson. In the end, the Peewees had to settle for second best, after a 13-11 loss to Grimsby. Keith played his defensive best, while Rick Marshman led the batting brigade with 3 singles. Marshman and Howie Jones alternated on the mound.
Peewee Hat Trick
Stouffville IGA Peewees romped Pickering 8-0, with Keith Acton hitting the target for three goals. Doug Feasby potted a pair, with singles by Hamm, Morley and Meakes. Howie Jones collected three assists.
1971 – 1972
Mortgages Due in Century City
Ninety frustrated mortgagees pressed for action against Century City. They sold their land almost three years ago, but haven’t received payments in principle or interest in nearly a year. Spokesperson for Century City lamented that the province’s role reversal had cost them dearly – they had outlined the proposal to several Provincial Ministers back in 1968, none had expressed opposition to the plan. Later in the year, the Century City proposal was “officially axed from the Zone 2 Area of the Toronto Centred Region Plan,” calling a close to the project.
Control Those Power Boats!
In an effort to maintain high quality of water at Preston Lake, residents have endorsed a move to ban all power boats from the private resort. Two weeks later, Council received a similar plea from Musselman’s Lake. Vern Davies of Cedar Beach Park has asked that boat motors be restricted to not over 10 horsepower.
Triumph in Lemonville
The 48-year-old, two-room Lemonville Public School will not be sold by sealed tender; instead, the York County Board of Education agreed to dispose of the property by public auction. A 75-name petition, circulated throughout the area by Henry and Jean Nauta, indicated majority support for a community centre instead. Whitchurch-Stouffville Council considered the issue and suggested that if the hamlet wants a community centre, they should set up a trust and receive donations for that purpose. On auction day, the community had raised $5,000. Arthur Latcham had promised to match the community fund dollar for dollar. Bidding on behalf of the community, Arthur would signal with a flick of his finger, his rival not identified. The price climbed from $5,000 to $15,000 when the bidding stopped. The reserve had not been met. Tumult and shouting ensued – “you’re the greediest Board ever…” By December 23, 1971, the sale of the former Lemonville School was announced for $19,000, a price far below the Board’s negotiating committee’s expectations. Arthur Latcham delivered the cheque personally to Mayor Laushway the next month. Funds raised by the community would be used to modernize the interior of the structure. The Town followed up by passing a bylaw establishing the community centre.
Opposition to Beer
Despite some opposition, the Fire Department’s German Beer Festival will proceed as planned in the Stouffville Arena, August 28. The Royal Canadian Legion will help the brigade with crowd control. The Stouffville Baptist Church and Stouffville Missionary Church registered their disapproval.
Province Freezes Property
From the Tribune: “Acting with surprising swiftness and without consultation with local municipalities, Queen’s Park has imposed a ‘freeze’ on an estimated 158,000 acres of land, lying on four sides of the proposed international airport in Pickering Township. In Whitchurch-Stouffville, the ‘freeze’ covers 30,000 acres…” The map indicated that over 50% of Whitchurch-Stouffville is affected. The completion date for the airport is tentatively set for 1979. Uxbridge Councillor Muirhead, on studying the layout of the airport, said “Stouffville will be obliterated by this!” Apparently, Stouffville will be smack-dab in the middle of converging flight paths. Queen’s Park set up an airport information hotline. The first strip being planned about 4 miles form town, while in a second phase, a strip will be constructed 2 miles from town. The airport issue was and could impact our Town so substantially that a future edition of On the Road will be dedicated to the subject; there isn’t enough space in this column to do the issue justice.
The 1971 Team
Keith Acton takes on the role of IGA Peewees team captain. Then in 1971, remarkable was the 5-1 victory over Picton. Purely overpowered, Picton was lucky to have a goalie of some talent, as he blocked 38 of 43 pucks sent his way. Keith scored two, while Billy Meakes, Malcolm Johnston and Rob Bryant were the other marksmen. Meakes and Feasby each picked up two assists, with Howie and Leger contributing one a piece. Later, after a game against Huntsville, two players – Acton and Smith – were hospitalized for minor injuries.
Trophies for the Brothers
The brothers brought home accolades from Ottawa for their speed skating prowess. Kevin was awarded one trophy for a 2nd place win and two 3rd place wins, for an overall standing of third. Keith placed 1st in the 200 and 400, and 2nd in the 800 metres; he received three trophies and a class championship award for highest points. Later in the year, Kevin Acton received a Certificate of Merit from the Minister of Education, recognizing his prominence in the 1971 Canada Games held in Saskatoon.
The Stouffville IGA Peewees advanced to the all-Ontario finals. However, they were turned back; Petrolia won 3-0. The boys did their best to hold them back. Team Manager Jerry Acton took defeat without excuse – “we’re proud of our boys”. The team was honoured at an awards banquet in the Legion Hall. The guest for the evening, introduced by principal Keith Sutherland, was Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jim McKenney. Coach Jack Watson introduced the team individually. The lads were presented with team jackets and photos.
Haulage Boys Take Title
The Don Anderson Haulage Peewees took the title. According to the June 17 Tribune, “No movie-maker could have released a more thrilling script. It was the last inning of the last game and one man out in the Peewee fastball tournament here, Saturday. Stouffville were trailing Scarborough 9-8. The bases loaded and Howie Jones at bat. Wham! The clean-cut Claremont lad unleashed a solid smash to deep left field, clearing the sacks with a grand slam home run. He was mobbed. Stouffville took the contest 12-9 and the tournament in three straight.” Earlier in the day, the Peewees ambushed Woodbridge (11-4), and edged past Willowdale 4-0 – with three of the runs being steals by Lang, Acton and Smith.
Haulage Boys Make Championship
The Haulage Peewees earned their trip to the Nation’s capital by selling chocolate bars door-to-door. In Ottawa they trumped Warsaw 16-6, with two “four-baggers” by Jones and Acton, and homers by Lang and Jones. Jim Wideman pitched the first 6 innings and Patty O’Callaghan the 7th. Later in the day, they were trampled by Alderwood 10-2, who was reported to be red-hot.
Haulage Edges Preston
“Saturday, Oct. 9 has been declared V-Day for Victory… From the 5th inning to the tenth, the score was deadlocked 3-3. In the top of the 10th, Lead-off batter, Keith Acton was safe on an error. A bunt single by Patty O’Callaghan and an error on Doug Feasby, worked the front-runner around to third. That set the stage for Dave Lang to belt a fly ball to left, scoring captain Acton with, what proved to be the winner. If coach Jack Watson’s hair was greying, at this point, it should have turned snow white during Preston’s last stint at the plate. For the homesters loaded up the bases, only to have hurler Howie Jones breeze three strikes past Bennett and snuff out the threatened rally,” according to the Tribune. Stouffville won 4-3.
Provincial Title for Peewees
Peewees won the Provincial Title Sunday with a two-game sweep of the final series over Preston. Tribune: “As team captain Keith Acton leaped high in the air, the ball glued tightly in his glove, a boy on the opposite side of the infield cried. Such was the reaction. For Stouffville, the all-Ontario Peewee Champions. For Preston, Ontario’s second best – disappointment.” For coach Jack Watson – it was a personal triumph.
Keith Acton was forced to take a few weeks off from sports in November, after having an appendicitis operation in the hospital.