March 25, 1927|
Timmins, ON, CAN
|Died||c. August 26, 1951
Cochrane, ON, CAN
|Height||5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)|
|Weight||180 lb (82 kg; 12 st 12 lb)|
|Played for||Hollywood Wolves (PCHL)
Toronto Maple Leafs
Bill Barilko was born to Steve and Feodosia (Faye), whom were both immigrants to Canada. Steve Barilko was born in Dobuchin, a polish district of Pruzana (which was then part of Poland) in 1892, while Faye Karpinchuck was born in Malech, another Polish district of Pruzana in 1899. Steve arrived in Quebec City, Canada in May 1910, while Faye would arrive in Halifax in December 1924, 14 years after Steve. One year later Faye and Steve would get married after they met on a train that was going to Timmins, Ontario. After one year of marriage Steve and Faye Barilko would have their first child, Alex Barilko born on February 4, 1926. William “Bill” Barilko was born March 25, 1927 and Annie, the youngest of the three Barilko children was born September 5, 1930. School was always very difficult for Bill, after spending three years in Grade Eight Barilko left school at age fifteen. Bill would get his first job driving truck for Delnite mines  in The Porcupine area, which includes the communities of Timmins, Schumacher, South Porcupine and North Porcupine. The Porcupine was a gold rich mining area, in which many immigrants, like Steve Barilko were drawn to in hopes of finding financial prosperity. Porcupine was known for many things, including the 500 lakes in the area, as well as for having the most bars per capita in Ontario and later, for producing world class athlete’s including hockey players. For the children of the Porcupine area the best way to avoid a difficult life in the mines was to play sports. Carlo Cattarello noted that: “A lot of families were in the mines. It was dangerous work and they didn’t want their sons to go underground so they figured hockey was a great outlet”. Hockey quickly became an obsession for the children of the area. Bill Barilko was no different, from a very young age he dreamed of playing in the NHL. The only thing standing in his way, the fact that he couldn’t skate. Bill did not learn to skate until later in his childhood thus was forced to play goal throughout Grade School.
After dropping out of school Bill improved his skating, eventually becoming a Defenseman for the Timmins Canadians, playing later for the Hollinger Mines Greenshirts, both in 1944-1945. In 1945, the Toronto Maple Leaf scouts were heavily scouting the area at the time and offered Barilko a tryout with the Pittsburgh Hornets, a team in the American Hockey League. The Hornets picked up Barilko and sent him to the Hollywood Wolves of the Pacific Coast Hockey League for further development. Bill was now a part of the Maple Leafs vast system of five farm, or minor league teams. Barilko quickly became a fan favorite in Hollywood, being described as soft-spoken, well-mannered and polite off the ice, however when Barilko stepped onto the ice he displayed a mean streak and dished out ferocious body checks earning him the nickname of “Bashin’ Bill”. In Barilko’s second year with the Hollywood Wolves his play drastically improved, most notably his skating, drawing interest once more from the Maple Leafs. In February 1947, Maple Leafs defensemen Bob Goldham broke his left arm and Garth Boesch suffered a groin injury forcing Maple Leafs General Manager Conn Symthe to recall a defenseman from one of the Maple Leafs farm teams. Bill received the news that he was being recalled, under the impression he was going to Pittsburgh to dress for the Hornets, Barilko packed his bags and left Hollywood for the last time. Upon arrival to Pittsburgh, the Hornets General Manager told Bill to continue on to Toronto where he was to play for the Maple Leafs. Thursday February 6, 1947 Barilko stepped onto the ice for his first NHL practice. That night Barilko played in his first NHL game, an 8-2 loss to the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens. Bashin’ Bill scored his first NHL goal two nights later in a 5-2 win against the Boston Bruins. Originally Conn Smythe had hoped Goldham and Boesch would return from injury to the leafs lineup, and he could send Barilko back down to the minors but after three short weeks Bill had cemented his place on the Maple Leafs blue line. The 1945-1946 season was a tough one for the Maple Leafs, missing the playoffs completely, en route to becoming the least penalized team in the league.
The following year Conn Smythe put together the youngest team in the NHL with an average age of 24. Smythe figured youth was key to success, an ideal still practiced in today’s NHL. Conn Smythe saw an ideal in Bill that we wanted the Maple Leafs to adopt, that “If you can’t beat them on the ice, beat them in the alley”; Barilko had mastered the art form of the hip check and had the ability to beat opponents in either venue if necessary. Smythe would go on to say “If one of our players should get injured by illegal tactics of the enemy, I expect the players on our team to see that the man responsible doesn’t get away with it”. This mentality of a responsibility to your teammates to look out for one another was a mentality Barilko had no trouble adhering to, coming from a town where most men worked in the mines and where a collective responsibility was needed to ensure everyone went home safely at the end of the day. By the end of the 1946-1947 season the Toronto Maple Leafs finished second overall and were the leagues most penalized team with 669 penalty minutes. Bill Barilko played 18 games, scoring 3 goals and 7 assists to go along with 33 penalty minutes. That year the Leafs would beat the Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup, the first of Barilko’s young career. Following that win Howie Meeker said Barilko was “Something else- a hard rock from the north”  describing Bills steady, rock solid defensive play every championship team needs.
The Maple Leafs success continued into the 1947-1948 season where they finished first in the NHL and went on to sweep Detroit 4-0 in the finals to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup. Barilko had another solid season on the Leafs blue line, registering 5 goals and 9 assist through 57 games. Bill also led the league in penalty minutes with 147  thanks to his no fear, team first mentality that had once again endeared him in the hearts and minds of Toronto Maple Leaf fans. The following season was very much similar to the previous, ending in a Maple Leafs victory over the Red Wings to capture the 1948-1949 Stanley cup, their third in a row.
However this championship streak was bound to come to an end and did the next year. In the 1949-1950 season the Maple Leafs finished third overall but were ousted by their old rivals, the Detroit Red Wings in a seven game series. The loss was hard to take for everyone as it temporarily stalled the Maple Leafs dynasty, but in the long run it would only add fuel to the fire that became the 1950-1951 season. Detroit finished in first place with 44 wins, Barilko’s Maple Leafs finished second to Detroit with 41 wins. Barilko had another good season on the Leafs blue line, despite registering only 12 points in 58 games, Bill once again provided that steady defensive presence he had become known by in addition to 96 penalty minutes reinforcing that he was one of the toughest in the game. In the first round of the playoffs Toronto would face Boston. On March 31, game two of the series ended in bizarre fashion, a tie. After the third period finished in a tie the game went to overtime and after a scoreless overtime period the game had to be stopped. At the time there was a Toronto Municipal Bylaw that prohibited sporting events from going past 11:45 p.m. on a Saturday night making this only the second ever playoff game to end in a tie. The Maple Leafs would go on to win the series 4-1-1, setting up a Stanley Cup Final series between the Leafs and Canadiens. Going into game five, the Maple Leafs were up 3 games to 1, with every game going into overtime and as it would happen game five would need extra time as well. Annie, Bills sister remembers listening to Foster Hewitt’s call of the game on her radio and what exactly happened at 2:53 of the first overtime: “Meeker went behind the net. Centers out in front, McNeil fell. Out in front again. Watson shoots. He shoots, he scores! Barilko! Barilko has won the Stanley Cup for the Leafs!”. With that goal Barilko had won the Maple Leafs their fourth Stanley cup in five years. By ignoring his coaches’ constant imprecations to stay back and keep position, Barilko pounced on the centering pass and backhanded the puck over the sprawling McNeil. There is something to be said here about Bill Barilko, he lived his life very much like he played hockey, without fear of conscience, following his instincts and often reaping the rewards but sooner than later your number is going to come up and when it does you have no choice but to accept the result.
The 1951 Stanley Cup finals are considered by most Hockey Historians to be one of the greatest series ever  and was surely the apex of Barilko’s hockey career. One could say that Bill Barilko’s rise to hockey greatness shares the same parallels as the settlement of Northern Ontario. Much like Barilko’s early days in hockey, Northern Ontario was a very wild, rough and raw area, but through countless hours of hard work by the people closest to it, Northern Ontario became a very developed, important part of Canada just as Barilko became a very important part of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Summer of 1951
The summer after Barilko had scored the Stanley Cup winning goal was one of relaxation, spending time with friends and family and most importantly, fishing. Since The Porcupine was surrounded by countless lakes most people took up fishing as a hobby as well as a means for food, this included Bill’s Dentist, Allan Henry Hudson. Hudson was also an amateur pilot, owning his own pontoon plane he used to get to remote Northern Ontario lakes. Hudson’s Fairchild 24W was a relatively small passenger plane with a frightening history of complications. In 1949, shortly after takeoff from Hudson’s cabin on Lake Temagami the engine burst into flames, forcing Hudson to circle back and perform an emergency landing on the lake. The plane was overloaded with cargo and struggled to gain altitude prior to the engine igniting. Archie Chenier recounts one of his many fly in fishing trips with Hudson, in which he had to beg Hudson to land the plane on a nearby lake as they would have ran out of fuel on the approach to Cochrane. According to Chenier “Hudson had no fear in his conscience when it came to judgments while flying”. Despite all of this, it was actually Archie Chenier that was supposed to be Hudson’s fishing companion on that ill-fated trip of 1951, but had to back out due to work. Hudson had then invited one of Barilko’s childhood friends, Bill Curik to accompany him. Barilko, who was due to return to Maple Leafs training camp in the coming weeks, convinced Curik to let him take his place instead and Curik agreed. Barilko then went to see his mother who was managing his finances at the time, to get some money for fuel for the fishing trip but Faye would not give it to Bill. “I had a premonition that something would happen”, said Faye who went on to add “My husband died on a Friday and I never wanted Billy to take a chance on anything on a Friday”. However Bill decided he would go fishing with his friend Henry Hudson anyway. Faye was angry with Bill for deciding to go fishing despite her plea, so she never got to say goodbye to him, something she would never be able to forgive herself for.
Through an unlikely series of events Barilko and Hudson found themselves taking off from Porcupine Lake on Friday August 24, 1951. The pair was heading to Seal River, a Northeastern extremity of James Bay to fish Arctic Char. James Crawford was working that day of August 24, 1951 at Rupert House, a regular stop for bush pilots to refuel before heading off into the remote northern Ontario wilderness and he recalls Barilko and Hudson stopping to refuel and Bill telling him that they would be back in two days’ time to refuel once again before heading back to Timmins. Following a very successful fishing trip Hudson and Barilko returned to Rupert House to refuel, Dan Wheeler who was working that day alongside Crawford recalls that “Dr. Hudson looked tired, he said he had a rough trip from Fort George where he was forced to unload some of their camping gear to lighten the planes load. He took the lid off one of the compartments of the pontoon too look at the fish, he said they would spoil if they didn’t get back to Timmins that night”. Wheeler guessed there were about 150 pounds of fish in the one pontoon. Several eye witnesses recall Hudson needing many attempts to successfully take off from the lake and once they did the plane was having issues gaining altitude and remaining stable as Hudson flew directly into an oncoming storm. Those people who were at Rupert House on that fateful day would be the last ones to see Bill Barilko or Henry Hudson alive.
Disappearance and death
Bill Barilko was due to return to Timmins on the stormy evening of August 26, 1951. Initially when Barilko and Hudson failed to return those closest to them thought that they would most likely return the next day after being delayed by stormy weather. In an eerie parallel, almost too strange to be true, Bill Barilko’s third cousin, also named Bill Barilko was lost in the very same woods north of Timmins in 1937. On a hunting trip he had become lost in the dense woods but was eventually found by a search party. Would Bill hold the same fate as his cousin or would his mother’s premonition become a reality?
The following day the military base at Trenton, Ontario was notified of the disappearance and took to the air in a preliminary search. The search included 38 Royal Canadian Air Force planes and 270 personal (pagan) making it the largest rescue mission in Canadian Aviation history. 219 151 nautical square miles were covered in the first week of the search; this number would eventually reach 325 679 square miles in the search that became known as Operation Hudson. Conn Smythe, Maple Leafs General Manager offered a $10 000 reward for finding Barilko as he desperately wanted to find his Stanley Cup winning defenseman as the 1951-1952 NHL season quickly approached. After nearly a month of searching, Operation Hudson was abandoned by the Canadian Air Force; however Bush pilots, Aboriginals, trappers and fishermen continued to search on foot, air and water for the Hudson Plane. The grim reality that the chances of Barilko and Hudson ever being found alive were already highly unlikely, with the chances dwindling with every passing day. Tim Horton would replace Barilko on the Leafs blue line and would tragically share the same fate as Barilko, dying young at age 44 in a single vehicle accident years later.
With such a large scale search not turning up even the slightest hint of where Hudson’s Fairchild had crashed wild rumors began to surface about the pair’s strange disappearance. Some people believed that Conn Smythe was actually holding Barilko incommunicado as part of a publicity stunt leading up to the start of the 1951-1952 season. The wildest and most unrealistic of these rumors was that Barilko actually flew Hudson’s relatively small plane all the way to Russia to secretly coach hockey, to no one’s surprise this rumor never gain much traction. The one rumor that never seemed to die out was that Hudson, who owned a plane in a gold mining area, was smuggling gold out of Canada into the United States. People began to question how Hudson had come to obtain a very large house, two cottages, a plane as well as a boat. People often pointed to when Hudson was shot in the leg at a Toronto curling bonspiel, with the culprit never been identified, as evidence he was participating in illegal activities. This rumor remained prominent for eleven long years until the spring of 1962.
After a decade of on ice failure, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally captured their first Stanley Cup since 1951 when Bill Barilko scored the winning goal against Montreal. And as if the Hudson-Barilko wreckage was waiting for the Maple Leafs to once again capture Lord Stanleys Mug, the wreckage was discovered a mere 43 days later. To many Canadians and hockey fans alike, the curse of Bill Barilko had finally be lifted. It was Gary Fields and Ray Paterick who were doing a timber survey from a helicopter for the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests who had come across the wreckage. Not thinking anything of it at the time, the pair failed to mark the coordinates of the crash site; they returned the next day to pinpoint the wreckage but failed to do so. The forest was so dense that it took 5 days of searching a 10 square mile area before the yellow Fairchild was rediscovered. The plane had crashed about 80 km north of Cochrane, not even 200 km from the pair’s hometown of Timmins. Faye Barilko was notified that they had found her son; Annie recalls that “The news was hard to take in one way but a consolation in another. Though it was the end of years of doubt, uncertainty and almost desperate hope, the fate of her son was at least known”. The skeletal remains of Bill Barilko and Henry Hudson were still strapped into their seats, a pathologist later determined the men had died due to multiple fractures to the skull and most likely both died upon impact. The pontoons of the Fairchild had been cut open, most likely by the police, although it was never documented as to what was found inside, Gary Fields notes that there were never any fish bones found inside or on the ground around the crash site. The Department of Transportation’s investigation concluded that due to the damage to the airframe, the apparent entry through the trees and the presence of burned material, that poor weather, loss of control and pilot inexperience were the most probable cause of the crash. Bill Barilko’s funeral was held on June 15, 1962 at the First United Church in Timmins, finally laying to rest a fine young man who was taken far too soon.
Immortalization into Canadian History
In 1953, when the fate of Barilko was still unknown the Porcupine Juvenile Hockey League created the Bill Barilko Memorial Trophy that was to be awarded to the best defenseman, which would be the first in a long line of honors the late Bill Barilko would receive. In 1992 the Toronto Maple Leafs officially retired Barilko’s #5, the number still graces the rafters of the Air Canada Center today. As for the actual wreckage of the plane, it remained a part of the Northern Ontario forest for 60 years until October 2011, when the plane was returned to The Porcupine, where the Timmins Sports Hall of Fame is creating a Barilko exhibit to preserve and celebrate the story of Bill Barilko for future generation to come. Bill Hughs believes bringing the plane home is about “Northern pride and preserving an important piece of Canadian history” as well as “Planting a seed so kids coming out of Northern Ontario feel good about coming out of Northern Ontario”.
In the past twenty years Bill Barilko’s name has almost became synonymous with The Tragically Hip’s “50 Mission Cap”, and is how I came to know the basics of Barilko’s story. Many people believe the song has done more to ensure the survival of the legend than any book, magazine or newspaper story. Fifty Mission Caps were given to World War Two fighter pilots as a sign of experience and to a lesser degree prestige, “I was left with the idea of a fifty mission cap being this thing that would denote accomplishment, experience and success – all things that a hockey player would aspire too”, is what The Tragically Hip’s lead singer Gord Downie had to say on the connection between Barilko and the fifty mission cap. Downie had been carrying around Barilko’s hockey card in his wallet as he found the story to be quite compelling  and ended up writing a song that has been seen as a type of contemporary ode to a fallen Canadian hero. Gord Downie does an excellent job of characterizing the story of Barilko: “There must be something in Bill Barilko that people relate to. We all unite in tragedy. It’s a Canadian story, a tragedy really of someone cut down in his prime. It’s a story of unfulfilled potential as it is hockey”.
The story of Bill Barilko is about more than just celebrating a life, it is about celebrating an ideal that Barilko represented, one of modest begging’s but through hard work and determination reaching the top. Like Downie suggests people from all walks of life can relate to Bill Barilko and it is important to realize just how fast we can lose everything we’ve worked so hard to obtain. Barilko will surely serve as a source of pride for the people of Northern Ontario and for that matter, Canada, for years to come.
Barilko won 4 Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs in 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1951.
Barilko's story was published in the 1988 book Overtime, Overdue: The Bill Barilko Story, by John Melady, and the 2004 book Barilko — Without A Trace, by Kevin Shea.
The story of Barilko's 1951 Stanley Cup heroics and his mysterious disappearance were the inspiration for The Tragically Hip song "Fifty Mission Cap". The song appeared on the Canadian band's third full-length album Fully Completely, and is often credited with reintroducing Barilko's story to a younger generation.
- List of fatalities from aviation accidents
- List of ice hockey nicknames
- List of ice hockey players who died during their playing career
- List of NHL players: B
- List of NHL retired numbers
- List of people who have mysteriously disappeared
- List of sports people who have died during their career
- List of Stanley Cup Final overtime series winners
- List of Toronto Maple Leafs award winners
- List of Toronto Maple Leafs players
- List of Ukrainian Canadians
- Sports-related curses
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- Stephen Swain, “I Stole This from a Tragically Hip Song: Stories of Bill Barilko.” Sport History Review Volume 39 (2008): Page 152-169. http://journals.humankinetics.com/AcuCustom/SiteName/Documents/DocumentItem/16370.pdf
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- Museum of Flight. “Fairchild 24W.” October 8, 2013. http://www.museumofflight.org/aircraft/fairchild-24w
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- Melady, Overtime, overdue: The Bill Barilko Story, page 91,132-133.
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- O’toole, Megan. “Best of Summer: Lost Leaf ‘Bashin’ Bill Barilko a Canadian Myth.” National Post, March 9, 2011
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- Shea, Barilko: Without a Trace, page 170.
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- Melady, Overtime, overdue: The Bill Barilko Story, page 120-121.
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- Shea, Barilko: Without a Trace, page 193.
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- Fitzpatrick, Todd (1999-06-07). "Bashin' Bill". The Sporting News. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
- Bill Barilko's biography at Legends of Hockey
- Bill Barilko's career statistics at The Internet Hockey Database
- Ron Boyd wreckage discovery.