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‘This is a hockey town’; Hall of Fame inductee reminisces on hockey influences

People of Collingwood: Fern St. Onge, 2020 inductee to the Collingwood Sports Hall of Fame
2022-05-02 POCStOrge
Fern St. Onge is one of four individual 2020 inductees into the Collingwood Sports Hall of Fame.

With pandemic restrictions easing, the 2020 Collingwood Sports Hall of Fame inductees were finally able to accept their accolades in-person on May 14.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with one of the individual inductees, Fern St. Onge, 78, who is being honoured for his contributions to hockey.

Q: For how long have you lived in Collingwood?

A: I came here when I was 20. I’ve been here for 58 years.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in Kapuskasing, Ont.

I left home at 16 years old to play hockey in Peterborough. I played for the Peterborough Petes for three years.

My coach there was Scotty Bowman, the greatest coach in the National Hockey League.

He’s the god of coaching.

My stepson phoned Scotty Bowman to ask if he’d write me a little note to congratulate me for going into the Collingwood Sports Hall of Fame. I saw a call on my cell phone and we talked on the phone for about an hour. He sent me a lovely letter and an autographed picture of himself skating around with the Stanley Cup.

It was really nice of him to do that.

Q: When did you first know hockey was important to you?

A: When you live in northern Ontario, it’s -40C for six months of the year.

We lived by a school that had a big skating rink with boards.

Everybody played hockey.

If you weren’t at the main arena, you’d be out on an outdoor rink. We would go and play and my mother would have to come get us to bring us in off the ice. This is what you did – kept your kids busy playing hockey.

Q: What brought you to Collingwood?

A: Collingwood was starting a Senior A team. They were looking for players.

Q: What was your regular job?

A: I got an apprenticeship at the Shipyards to be an electrician. Then, I worked for Bill Fisher Electric for about 10 years.

Then, I spent 30-something years working for the town as an electrician at their wastewater treatment plant.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to get into coaching and managing hockey?

A: It just went with the territory.

I was coached by Darryl Sly. I learned so much from Darryl. He and I were very close. We were co-coaches and co-managers in Collingwood. He was also my coach with the Barrie Flyers. I played there for about three years before they folded.

Q: What are some major highlights from your career coaching hockey in Collingwood?

A: I coached Junior C hockey, and Junior A Tier 2 in Collingwood.

I also coached Senior A in Durham.

I was also the treasurer of the Intermediate A team here.

I coached a lot of hockey and I was involved, but when I look back when I coached Tyke hockey, the little children... I had more fun because these little kids, they don’t know how to cheat.

When you blow the whistle, they’ll try to go 100 miles an hour. They’d give you 110 per cent. Maybe they couldn’t skate very well, or maybe they fell, but they’d pick themselves up. It was so much fun looking at their little red faces, and they were always happy.

That was the fun part of my hockey career.

Sometimes, in Junior A hockey, there’s a lot of stress and it’s always stressful, and you have to motivate them. With the little guys, they were pre-motivated and always so happy.

Q: Do you still coach now?

A: No. I gave it up because you spend so much time at the rink. I guess you could use the word burnout. It was time to pass it on to someone younger.

I wanted to go to Florida (in the winter) with my wife and enjoy that. We have 10 grandchildren, and now we’re into great-grandchildren. We’re very close to them and they all live around here.

We go up north in the summertime. We just do what old people do. (laughs)

Q: How did you feel when you heard you’d be inducted into the Collingwood Sports Hall of Fame?

A: I felt good that I was being recognized.

There are a lot of great people in the Sports Hall of Fame. Collingwood is so famous for so many great hockey players.

This is a hockey town.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: I’d really like to thank Dr. (Don) Paul. He’s been a mentor to me, and a nice man. He was my doctor. I had three children, and Dr. Paul was there for them.

They call Dr. Paul “Mr. Hockey” in Collingwood. I’ve known him all these years, since I was 20.

There’s a lot of good people in Collingwood, especially in hockey.

I’m really glad I came to Collingwood and never left.

It’s the greatest little town in the world, and it’s close to my heart.

For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email jessica@villagemedia.ca.