It was early September in 2012 when Lyle Helland had a sudden, scary realization.
Unless he acted quickly, a project he had spent the better part of his life working on and developing would soon be little more than part of a massive pile of rubble.
So Helland and oldest son Dale quickly went to work, taking a day to go through the soon-to-be demolished Moose Jaw Civic Centre and taking down each and every Lexan-covered photograph Lyle had so painstakingly curated and installed over the years.
Because of their work that day — and Lyle’s work over the last 55-plus years — those photos and other artwork will hopefully soon be up on display in Mosaic Place.
“If I hadn’t been in Moose Jaw at the time, I’m almost certain they would have all gone into the junk heap,” Helland said. “When I first heard they were tearing it down I knew we were going to have to get that all out of there.”
Helland joined Crusty Canucks alumni Wade Babiuk and Dave Mowry on Friday morning as the trio went through box upon box of photos in a sweltering Moose Jaw Ford Curling Centre, painstakingly identifying names and vintages.
Anyone who had been through the Civic Centre in years past would recognize many of them — the photos and other artwork hung in the arena concourse for decades and were constantly perused by patrons both young and old.
What people might not know is that if it was a photo from before 1980, the fact it was on those walls at all was because of Helland.
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It all started in the early 1960s.
Helland, now 83, and a group of like-minded individuals started gathering photos from past teams of all stripes for display in the brand-spanking-new Moose Jaw Civic Centre.
It didn’t take long for a decent number of pictures to be amassed, and the original idea was to raise funds to put silver frames around each individual photo for display.
They were able to get a handful done before money ran out, and it wasn’t long after that members of the group slowly drifted away until only Helland was left.
“The main thing, when our group first started, was to get the history back as far as we could,” Helland said. “Then when I was the only one still doing it, I decided I wasn’t going to quit just yet and I kept going.”
And kept going he did. A few dozen photos turned into over 100, which turned into the 200-plus that sat on tables in the curling rink on Friday.
The vast majority of the pictures came from Helland himself originally, and as word got out, more pictures came in day by day from other folks in the community.
“So there was this guy on South Hill who had put this little photography shop in his basement, and he took the photos and made them for me and charged me three or four dollars each. Everything, then, came out of my pocket,” Helland said. “I just hunted them up, some of the photos I got out of old programs like this (a 1959 Moose Jaw Pla-Mors program). And I got some from Dorothy Swarbrick, she had a bunch of stuff; and Leo Heisler, I got some stuff from him, and I just carried on like that.”
From there, it was a matter of putting name tags and identification on the photos, after which they were mounted in the arena on plywood displays and— thanks to generous work by Civic Centre caretakers — covered in Lexan, under which they remained until the Hellands took it all down.
From there, it was into plastic bins and into an outdoor shed, where they sat for an uncomfortable amount of time.
“Had them taking up half of my shed outside,” Helland said with a chuckle. “That wasn’t going to be a good place for them, so I came down here and talked to people here in the front (office) and I talked about putting the photos up on the walls. I kept getting bypassed and couldn’t get an answer. Then Wade talked to them and we ended bringing them here and storing them.”
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When Wade Babiuk got word that a ton of history was sitting in bins in Lyle Helland’s shed, it was a quick decision to become involved in the project from that point on.
In addition to being Crusty Canucks alumni, Babiuk and Dave Mowry also run the Afternoon Hockey League, meaning they were at the arena regularly and would be able to oversee any future projects involving the photos.
It was a natural fit.
“I just couldn’t stand to see history sitting in a box … these pictures don’t belong in a box, they belong on a wall so people can have a chance to see them,” Babiuk said. “I was just able to get the ball rolling.… If we can get them up, I’m sure a lot of people would be stopping to look all the time. It’s something almost everyone is interested in.”
The group is still in the earliest of early stages when it comes to having the photos displayed. But the Downtown & Soccer/Field House Facilities board is receptive to the project and decisions could be made in the near future.
The idea is to have the photos mounted somewhere in Mosaic Place concourse, with the official plan yet to be decided.
“Our goal is grouping all the photos by decades, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and then whatever happens after that,” Babiuk said. “But it could be anything, it all depends on what the board wants to do. “Framing them is the next step and we’re looking to get a price,” he added. “We’re hoping we might be able to get sponsorship, but that’s a little bit down the road. Right now, though, it’s the board that makes the call and we’re going to wait and see what they decide.”
Eric Schwabe from WOW Factor Media has also been involved in the project and has suggested each decade have it’s own corporate sponsor. How that display system would work has yet to be decided, but the results could be similar to others currently on the concourse walls.
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There’s little question that if everything goes as planned, the history of Moose Jaw hockey will be once again prominently exhibited for all to see.
“It would mean a lot if we could get these all up there again,” Helland said. “And then every hockey game or function in the arena, people would be stopping and looking at them… the Warriors have theirs, too, and we’re hoping they’ll be up sometime.”
If anyone has photos or artwork from hockey’s past in Moose Jaw and would be interested in donating them for display, they can contact the Mosaic Place office for more information.
“We’re in the working process and we’re going to do it right,” Babiuk said. “We’re really looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.”