Things you may not know about the Trail Smoke Eaters!

  • The Trail Smoke Eaters were formed in 1926 and called the Trail Senior Hockey Club. In their first year of operation, they won the Savage Cup, BC’s Senior Hockey Championship. They went on to win seven Savage cups in a row, before losing to the Kimberley Dynamiters in 1934.
  • The West Kootenay and Boundary areas of the Province of BC can rightfully be called the ‘cradle of hockey in BC’. BC’s first roofed natural ice surface was constructed in the mining centre of Sandon in the Slocan area of the Province in 1893. Nelson, in the same region, built their first arena in 1894 and hockey games between the two communities commenced. Rossland built an arena in 1898, the largest west of Winnipeg. Hockey began to flourish in the region and, in 1905, teams from Sandon, Nelson, Rossland and Moyie formed the Kootenay Hockey League, with scheduled games throughout the winter months. Another league was formed in the Boundary area to the west at the same time, with teams from Grand Forks, Greenwood and Phoenix, communities established as a result of the discovery of copper in the region. The rivalry between the mining communities was fierce and special trains were scheduled to transport fans to and from the games in their neighbouring communities in the Kootenay-Boundary region. As the popularity of the sport grew in the region, teams began to recruit players and paid them to play hockey or found them work in the many mines and smelters, creating a semi-professional hockey league, the first in BC. World War One and the decline of mining in the Kootenay-Boundary region had a devastating blow on the ability of hockey teams to operate and the leagues suspended play until the early 1920s, when the West Kootenay Senior League was formed. By then, hockey was being played throughout the province and the heyday of hockey in the Kootenay-Boundary was past.
  • The Savage Cup is emblematic of the Province’s senior amateur hockey championship. The Trail Smoke Eaters have won the Cup 18 times, the most of any team in the Province.
  • The name “Smoke Eaters” is iconic in the world of amateur hockey. Locally, the team is affectionately referred to as the ‘orange and black,’ after the colours of their uniforms since the 1920s.
  • What’s in a name? Well, in the case of the Trail Smoke Eaters: everything! The distinctive name is one of the reasons the team is famous worldwide. The prevailing story of how the name was bestowed on the team dates to the 1920s.

Legend has it the team was named following a cartoon in the Vancouver Province newspaper that chronicles an incident in the 1928 Savage Cup finals. When a penalty was called against a Trail player, the fans threw debris on the ice in reaction to the call. One item was a lit corn cob pipe, which was picked up by a Trail player, who put it between his teeth, puffing away. The cartoon appeared in the following day’s edition of the newspaper. In an accompanying article, the paper’s sports writer called the team ‘smoke-eaters’ in reference to the incident. The name stuck.

However, research by local historian, Greg Nesteroff, refutes this story. He notes Trail sports teams had been called “Smoke Eaters” as early as 1901, probably in reference to the emissions from the smelter in Trail, constructed in 1895-96. References to the “Trail Smoke Eaters” appear more frequently in the Trail newspaper into the 1920s, when the paper began to report on the team’s games. By the 1930s, the name had been adopted by the team and the famous crest was created. Nesteroff has not been able to determine when the name was officially adopted by the team. Finally, his research discovered the cartoon, in fact, appeared in the March 8, 1931 issue of The Province newspaper, dispelling the story that it appeared during the 1928 Savage Cup playoffs. So, the origin of the name “Smoke Eaters” remains a bit of a mystery. Many articles and books written about the Trail Smoke Eaters make reference to the Vancouver Province story. It is time to correct history.

  • The first Trail arena, called the Fruit Fair Building, was built in 1911. In 1925, the City installed artificial ice in the arena for hockey, curling and skating. It was the first artificial ice plant between Winnipeg and Vancouver.
  • The Trail Smoke Eaters won the Allan Cup for the first time in 1938 in Calgary, Alberta. The team traveled home by train, arriving at the Canadian Pacific Railway’s station on Cedar Avenue. From there, they climbed aboard a fire truck and were paraded through the downtown area to the cheers of thousands of fans. Since then, it is a tradition that Trail hockey teams winning a BC championship are paraded through downtown on a fire truck.
  • On Christmas Day and Boxing Day in 1938, the Trail Smoke Eaters, then on an exhibition tour of Europe prior to the 1939 World Hockey Championships, played in Berlin before a large crowd, including senior Nazi officials. In respect to those officials in attendance, the players had to give the Nazi salute before the game began.
  • Anatoli Tarasov, the great Russian National Team coach, attended a British Columbia Amateur Hockey Association hockey school in Vancouver, BC in 1969 as a defensive coach. At the wind-up banquet, he commented on the play of the 1939 Trail Smoke Eaters. He remarked they were one of the greatest teams he had ever seen, amateur or professional. He went to say he tried to pattern his teams after the great team play and passing of that Smoke Eater team.
  • Trail native, Mike Buckna, played for the Trail Smoke Eaters from 1932 to 1934. In 1935, he visited Czechoslovakia, the birth place of his parents, and was asked to coach the Czech National Hockey team. His team played the Smoke Eaters in the 1939 World Championships, losing 2-1, scoring the only goal against the Smoke Eaters throughout the entire tournament. After World War Two, Mike coached the Czech National Team to a World Championship victory in 1947 and a silver medal at the 1948 Olympic Games before returning home to Trail to once again don the Smoke Eaters uniform. Mike is known as the “Father of Czech Hockey” and is a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame.
  • Steve Saprunoff was the Trail Smoke Eater mascot and stick boy during the 1930s. Mickey Brennan, a star player on the team, had given Steve his jersey, which Steve took with him when he enlisted in the Air Force at the beginning of World War Two. In 1944, his plane was shot down over Berlin and he was captured by the German army, wearing his Smoke Eater jersey under his flight jacket. After a few days in confinement, a guard noticed the jersey Steve was wearing. He had seen the Smoke Eaters play a German squad in 1938, prior to the World Championships. He told Steve he was a big hockey fan and loved the Smoke Eater style of play. He even knew some of the players’ names! After this visit, Steve began to receive special treatment not afforded to other prisoners. The guard smuggled in little bundles of food for Steve, including bread, sausages and apples. Steve was moved to another prisoner-of-war camp after a few days; however, he never forgot his chance meeting with a German hockey fan while in prison that made his life a little easier. Steve wore the jersey until he was liberated on VE day.
  • Montreal Canadiens great goaltender, Jacques Plante, first wore a face mask during an NHL game on November 1, 1959. In the 1959-60 season, Trail goaltender Seth Martin began wearing a face mask, one of only two amateur goaltenders in Canada to do so. Seth made his own masks, constantly improving on the design for safety and visual reasons. In 1967, Seth played for the St. Louis Blues in the NHL and made a mask for his playing partner in the nets, Glenn Hall. In the famous photo of Bobby Orr scoring the winning goal on the Blues in the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals, Hall is seen in the background wearing Seth’s mask. Seth is a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame for his outstanding play in international hockey.
  • The core of the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters was made up of players who played their minor hockey in Trail or Rossland. Nine players called the area home, a unique circumstance in amateur hockey at the time.



The Trail Historical Society is continually recruiting members to assist in preserving our local heritage. Membership entitles you to free access to the museum and archives, delivery of our tri-annual newsletter, a discount on all Society merchandise, and a voice at regular and annual general meetings. Regular, family and corporate membership are available. Click here for more information on becoming a member!


Are you considering a donation? The Trail Historical Society will consider artifacts, photographs and textual records for inclusion in the permanent collection. As a registered charity, the Society will also accept monetary gifts. To discuss a donation, either physical or monetary, please call 250-364-0829 to speak to staff or email us!



The name Smoke Eaters® and team crests are official registered trademarks of the City of Trail. The unauthorized use of these trademarks without the consent of the City of Trail is prohibited. The City of Trail will take appropriate action to enforce its rights pursuant to Canada’s Trade-marks Act.

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