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23 March, 2012

GETTING IT RIGHT: THE ORIGINS OF HOCKEY BOOT INVENTOR GEORGE EDWIN TACKABERRY

The following is a revision of a post that I published on Wrights Lane in September of 2009.  At that time I indicated to readers that I planned to further research George Edwin Tackaberry's family connection to my hometown of Dresden, ON.  In due course, however, I hit an informational road block and the story has remained as I first presented it.


Like a bolt out of the blue earlier this week, I received a surprise email from a  Joan Beckley of  Toronto, introducing herself as the granddaughter of the famous hockey skate inventor.  Among other things, Joan listed a number of inaccuracies in my original story, the most startling of which was the fact that her grandfather apparently did not learn the shoemaker trade as an apprentice in Dresden.  In fact he and his young family were moved from the Dresden area by their widowed mother when George was only about five or six years of age.


I have carefully rewritten my original story to include the new information as provided by Joan.  As a result, Dresden now relinquishes a large portion of its claim to Tackaberry fame in favor of the town of Clifford, ON. where our boy George, as it turned out, eventually learned the shoemaker trade as a teenager working for a German immigrant by the name of Conrad Miller.


With thanks to Joan Beckley, here is the altered story with apologies to my readers for the inadvertent misleading information first published by me.  At least the record is now as accurate as it ever will be -- I hope.  The Manitoba Historical Society and CCM/Bauer corporations (primary sources for my original story) have also been advised of the new information.  The revised post follows.


"Tacks" were worn by hockey's best players
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Most every kid who ever laced up a pair of hockey skates and batted a puck around an ice pad in the last 100 years has aspired to someday owning a pair of "Tacks'.  For the benefit of the uninitiated, Tacks were the best hockey skates that money could buy and all the pros wore them.
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Much to my surprise, and others from my hometown of Dresden, there is a significant piece of information hidden away in a collection of biographical profiles compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. The world-famous skate was the work of Brandon shoemaker, George Edwin Tackaberry, who just happened to have been born on a Dresden area farm in 1874.  Who knew?

Here's the story, previously unknown.


The Tackaberry family lived on acreage in Camden Gore, five or six miles north of Dresden.  The senior Tackaberry, Benjamin, died in an unfortunate mishap in 1878 when his team of horses apparently cut a corner too sharply and dumped him into a ditch full of water.  The load fell on him and he drowned.  Benjamin was laid to rest in the Dresden Cemetery. As granddaughter Joan Beckley puts it, this left his wife, "poor old Jane Moore with 8.5 children."  Young  George was only four-years-old at the time, having been born on the 6th of May, 1874.


After the posthumous child (Benjamin Jr.) was born in 1879, Jane sold the farm and moved her brood back to the Lansdown area to be closer to family members.  She would eventually marry her widower brother-in-law  A number of undetermined years later, George moved in with the Horton family (possibly relatives), on their Lakelet farm near Clifford where he eventually learned the shoe making trade while working as an apprentice for Conrad Miller.  He married the former Helen Weir in August 1897 in Clifford and soon thereafter moved permanently out west where he went to work in the Zink Brothers shoe shop in Brandon, Manitoba.

According to reports still not completely confirmed to his granddaughter's satisfaction, George lived next door to "Bad Joe" Henry Hall a professional hockey player who, in an "over-the-fence" conversation one day in 1904, complained about his hockey boots.  Hall was known for his rough and tumble style of play and was apparently very hard on his equipment, particularly his skates.  He asked the young shoemaker, who specialized in making orthopaedic shoes for the disabled, if he could make him a pair of hockey boots that would last the season without collapsing. 

"Tacks", circa 1930, with signature
enforced heel and toe.
George picked up the challenge and carefully measured Hall's feet.  The two then went to work designing a new boot made of kangaroo hide because of its resistance to moisture and stretching.  They also lowered the top of the boot nearly two inches and added a snugly fitting reinforced heel and toe and a much improved arch support and sole to accommodate the attachment of a blade.  


He continued working for Zink Bros until at least 1917.  By 1919 he appears to have begun working out of his home and in 1921 he opened his own business.


"Bad Joe" was so pleased with his new skates that other players soon began trying out the new design.  Among the first were Lester Patrick of New York Rangers and Art Ross of the Boston Bruins.  Eventually George was swamped with orders and the reputation of his high quality "Tacks" spread across the country.


George apparently also made skate boots for all seven of his sons and one of those pairs is in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

When George passed away in 1937, the Canadian Cycle and Motor Company (CCM) acquired the Tackaberry trade name and his many innovative techniques.  The Tackaberry boot with its CCM Pro-Line blade was eventually worn by virtually every player in the National Hockey League and thousands of others who just wanted the best hockey skate on the market.  I could never justify a pair of Tacks...The best I could manage was a Bauer Rocket Richard model skate which was about $100.00 cheaper than a pair of Tacks in the early 1950s.

George's accomplishments, oddly enough, influenced a Toronto area life-style publication, The Tackaberry Times, to adopt his name as a symbol of an era when trips to town were an event, neighbours depended on each other, and a frozen pond was a community's skating rink and gathering place.

In an obituary, the Brandon Sun newspaper described George as "a man of ability and resourcefulness, an outstanding figure in the community."  Bad Joe Hall, a victim of the influenza epidemic of 1919, died at a very young 36 years-of-age and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.

George's wife, Helen, received a small royalty from CCM for each pair of Tacks sold, until her death, July, 1954.  Joan Beckley refers to the royalty paid her grandmother as "a pittance" for the rights to the Tackabery name.   "Tacks" were CCM's signature skate until late 2006 when they were replaced with the "Vector" line, and now the "U+".

According to Joan, two of George's older sisters eventually returned to Kent County where they married and lived out their lives. 

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