| May 31, 2007

Feature Article - May 31, 2007

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Feature Article - May 31, 2007

The best place in Canada to watch hockey is in...Griffith

by JeffGreen

Anyone who has been watching the Stanley Cup playoffs will be familiar with the advertising spots which feature Mark Messier carrying the Stanley Cup and knocking on the door of a hockey fan’s house.

That scene was played out in real life last week, at the Villamere family hunting camp near Griffith, in Madawaska Highlands, when Mark Messier, Stanley Cup in hand, walked the final stretch of a two kilometre road off Highway 41 to the Villamere hunt camp. The limousine Messier had been driven in was parked around the corner.

At 42, Ed Villamere is the youngest of the 12 Villamere children - 9 boys and 3 girls. With his wife Barbara, he runs the Glaesar General Store in Denbigh. Each spring, the family gathers at the hunt camp for a bit of a reunion and an opportunity to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs on TV.


Ed’s niece Jennifer, the daughter of his brother Mike, saw the hockey shrine ad and thought the hunt camp might make a good entry. So on a Saturday night a month ago, on April 28, just before the contest deadline, she did some filming as about 15 members of the family were gathered around the campfire at the camp. They were watching the Senators win a game on a TV image projected onto a rigged-up bed sheet. The video, which was named “True Hockey Spirit”, was sent in just in time, and was selected as one of the top three entries.

On May 19, just before the overtime period in the game that would send Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals, it was announced that the Villamere hunt camp video was the winner of the contest.

“We were watching at the time,” Ed recalls, “just me and my wife. I jumped about high enough to put my head through the roof. It was really exciting for my wife, who is a big Mark Messier fan.”

Ed Villamere is convinced that the reason that the hunt camp was chosen was his mother Dorothy. Now, 84, the matriarch of the family played a central role in the video. Hockey has been a part of her life for a long time, and she told the story of how she remembers the night that Foster Hewitt came up with the moniker “Rocket” for Maurice Richard.

The hunt camp has been in the family since 1949. At first, the Villameres listened to the games on radio, then they set up a TV with a generator and an antenna, and eventually they put up a satellite dish.

The family lived in Renfrew, where they played hockey, and took vacations at the hunt camp. Although the siblings have scattered around Ontario over the years, they have all kept coming back to the camp in the fall for hunting, and in the spring to watch the hockey playoffs.

The real glory years for NHL hockey, and for the Villameres as fans, seem to have been the years before the expansion of the league in 1967. Among the 12 siblings, there are fans of each of the six original NHL teams, and to this day a lot of good-natured ribbing takes place at the camp as one team beats out another.

With the Senators making the finals, almost the entire family has joined forces to cheer for the team that is located within a 90-minute drive from the camp.

“The only exceptions are a couple of diehard Leaf fans who refuse to cheer for the Senators,” said Ed Villamere.

Last Thursday May 24, in the middle of the hiatus before the NHL finals, a party to present the Stanley Cup to the Villameres was held at the hunt camp. One week before, a crew hired by the CBC had come in and did some renovations to the cabin, including putting in a big screen TV, easy chairs, new counters, a lot of paint, and some NHL memorabilia. Finally, at 6:30 last Thursday evening, with 60 members of the Villamere clan in attendance, Mark Messier arrived with the Cup.

The contest sponsors: Pepsi, Lays and Gatorade provided food, but it was Mark Messier who made the greatest impression on the family.

“I can’t say enough about Mark Messier,” said Ed Villamere. “He did a few interviews when he first arrived, then he spent about 20 minutes talking to my mom. Afterwards he went inside the cabin with the cup for a photo session.

“He was available to everyone, especially to the kids. When he had a bite to eat, he washed up in the creek, and wiped his hands just like the rest of us would, then went back for more autographs. He couldn’t have said or did anything better than he did.”

CBC’s original plan had put a limit of 20 on the number of people at the party and three hours on the length, but they couldn’t keep this family to either of those limits, and they didn’t try.

“When you see our family, and how close we are, it’s actually genuine. The camp really is our shrine. It’s hockey, it’s the camp and it’s the company. Messier understood that, and that was a thrill for all of us,” Villamere said.

The Villamere gathering last Thursday was captured on video and played back during the 2nd intermission of the first game of the finals on Monday night. Aside from the presence of the Stanley Cup and Mark Messier, a national audience saw a typical Villamere family gathering.

The only difference was that the event was a dry event, which was something the CBC was adamant about.

“Our gatherings are not usually dry,” said Ed Villamere. “Of course, the CBC, Messier, and the Cup all left by 10:30.”

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