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Kings County men have fond memories of the first Canada Summer Games in Halifax in 1969

Five of the surviving members of the 1969 Nova Scotia Canada Games soccer team are shown at a recent 50th reunion at the Kings Arms Pub in Kentville. Left to right, are Bernie Davies, Peter Lang, Claude Davidson, Freeman Schofield and Laurie Munroe. All but two of the players were students at Horton District High School. Team Nova Scotia ended up fourth in men's soccer at the first-ever Canada Summer Games held in Halifax-Dartmouth in the summer of 1969.
Five of the surviving members of the 1969 Nova Scotia Canada Games soccer team are shown at a recent 50th reunion at the Kings Arms Pub in Kentville. Left to right, are Bernie Davies, Peter Lang, Claude Davidson, Freeman Schofield and Laurie Munroe. All but two of the players were students at Horton District High School. Team Nova Scotia ended up fourth in men's soccer at the first-ever Canada Summer Games held in Halifax-Dartmouth in the summer of 1969. - John DeCoste

'All we wanted to do was play soccer’

In the summer of 1969, Halifax and Dartmouth hosted the first-ever Canada Summer Games, a showcase of some of the best young athletes in the country.

For a group of students from Horton District High School, it was a memorable summer, as they got to compete for Nova Scotia at the soccer competition at the Games.

The surviving members of the 1969 Nova Scotia Canada Games soccer team got together recently for a 50th reunion at the Kings Arms Pub in Kentville.

According to team member Peter Lang, the venue was appropriate, as the bulk of the team was made up of local boys, coached by the late Connie MacNeil of Wolfville.

“We were a close group,” recalls Lang, who also played on the Nova Scotia men’s basketball team at the 1971 Canada Games in Saskatoon. “Nobody had any grudges, and there were no egos. We were a ‘team’ and that’s just the way Connie wanted it.”

And they were there to compete, he added.

"Our mood was great going in. And we were fit. Connie believed in hard work, and besides, we all had to go home and work when we were done playing," said Lang.

The competition at the Games was top-notch, he adds.

“The B.C. team that won gold went on to play pro out in B.C. When we played them, they only beat us by a goal or two, as I remember it.”

According to Claude Davidson, the players from Kings County were all good friends and played a number of sports together.

“A lot of us had never seen a soccer ball until we were 12 or 13 years old, but we ended up playing together as a group for a long time,” he said.

Bernie Davies recalls the players started out as the junior team at Horton.

“We’d play the ‘A’ team, and we’d beat them. Eventually, the ‘A’ team graduated, and we became the ‘A’ team.”

Taking on the best

After winning the right to represent the province by emerging victorious from a tournament held on the Rotary Field in Wolfville, the Nova Scotia squad - bolstered by the addition of Norm Gosse from Halifax and Terry Tanner from Dartmouth - prepared to take on the best from the rest of Canada.

Nova Scotia won both its preliminary games over Quebec and Manitoba and advanced to meet British Columbia in the semifinal. A loss to B.C., the eventual gold medal winners, relegated the host squad to the bronze medal match against Newfoundland, which it lost 2-1 to end up fourth.

“We didn’t care about the politics. All we wanted to do was play soccer,” says Davidson. “We ended up fourth in Canada. All our games were close. Nobody walked over us, not even B.C.”

Davidson was the top goal scorer on the team going into the games - but he didn't score a goal during the entire tournament. Against B.C., he laughed, “I hit both goalposts and the crossbar in the same game.”

Looking back, Freeman Schofield, who played centre half, says, “we should have beaten Newfoundland. Ontario and B.C. were definitely better than us, but against Newfoundland, we simply had a bad game."

Coach Connie

Not surprisingly, a lot of the memories of the team members centre around MacNeil.

“Connie was a great coach. He had a kind of vision about things," Lang said. “He had a way about him. He had an artistic background. We used to warm up to the Tijuana Brass.”

And he had faith in his players. Team Nova Scotia, Schofield said, was about three years younger than all the other players.

After the team was picked, the officials changed the age limit. Nova Scotia could have gone back to the drawing board, but MacNeil chose to go with what he had.

"It was a pretty good showing for a bunch of young guys from the country,” says Laurie Munroe. “We were all 18 years old, playing against 21-year-olds.”

The former players all have special memories of MacNeil, who, according to Lang, “molded us into what we became. He was a visionary, really, and he groomed us for what was to come. He could see what was coming, and when the time came, we were ready.”

Munroe recalls, “one of Connie’s favourite sayings was, ‘My old grandmother could do better than that, and she’s in a wheelchair.’ Or he’d tell us, 'you couldn’t hit the Bay of Fundy’.”

MacNeil is recalled as firm but fair, and a big reason the team was as good as it was and got as far as it did.

The 1969 Nova Scotia Canada Games men's soccer team in a photo taken in Wolfville. All but two of the players were students at Horton District High School. The team's coach, the late Connie MacNeil of Wolfville, a teacher at Horton at the time, is far left in the back row.
The 1969 Nova Scotia Canada Games men's soccer team in a photo taken in Wolfville. All but two of the players were students at Horton District High School. The team's coach, the late Connie MacNeil of Wolfville, a teacher at Horton at the time, is far left in the back row.

 

Provincial pride

“We were very proud to walk into the stadium for the opening ceremonies,” Munroe said, each player wearing blue Nova Scotia blazers and carrying the provincial flag.

The new stadium at Saint Mary’s, built for the Games, was packed, the stands full and spectators ringing the field. “I’ve seen a photo of Prime Minister (Pierre) Trudeau kicking a bunch of soccer balls,” Lang says. “I thought that was pretty neat.”

The soccer was played at the Stadacona naval base.

"There were good crowds for all our games,” Munroe says. “It was a good time. We were very proud to be representing our province.”

Lang agrees.

“My top memory was marching in with the rest of the team at the opening ceremonies. We were the host province, so we marched in last,” he said.

“It was a great feeling, and an experience I’ve never forgotten.”

Nor have his teammates.

“It was absolutely great, being part of that team,” Davies says. “It was special. You knew everybody, and everybody was your buddy. We had a bond, from playing together for so long. It was almost like we were all brothers. We won everything in the province, every year.”

Fifty years later

While it was great to get together – “I literally haven’t seen some of these guys since high school,” Schofield said – there was a tinge of sadness as well.

“Fifty years is 50 years,” Davidson said. “Three of us never made it” – MacNeil, Sheridan Davidson, one of the players, and the other coach, a late pickup along with Gosse and Tanner, whose name “none of us can, unfortunately, seem to remember.”

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