Ritchie, Alvin Horace
Customs and Excise Officer, Football Coach, Hockey Coach, Hockey Scout
An unidentified Saskatchewan Roughrider running for a touchdown, c. 1960. Al Ritchie was the coach of the Regina Roughriders during the heady period of senior football when the `Riders were an unstoppable force in the western conference. Ritchie's `Riders never won a Grey Cup, however, Ritchie died a few months before the Saskatchewan Roughriders won their first Grey Cup in 1966. City of Regina Photograph Collection, B-1006.
It is fair to say that if Alvin Horace (Al) Ritchie had never come to the Queen City, the sports scene in Regina would never have been the same. Al Ritchie, better known as "The Silver Fox", was a booster of amateur sports in the city for many years. He was the only coach ever to have won National Championships in both junior hockey and junior football, and was the Western Canada scout for the New York Rangers. He was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, the CFL Hall of Fame, and the Saskatchewan Roughrider Plaza of Honour. His name lives on as the name for a Regina street as well as for a Regina subdivision and a number of the facilities within that subdivision.
Al Ritchie was originally from Ontario. He came to Regina as a young man in 1911 and as a youth, was very active in playing baseball and lacrosse. Ironically, although he coached amateur hockey for years, he never strapped on skates! Ritchie joined the war effort during World War I. He was an artilleryman who was a prisoner of war for one year. After the war, Ritchie returned to Regina and became an employee for the Federal Department of Customs and Excise.
Customs and Excise provided Al Ritchie with a job, but Ritchie's true vocation was as an amateur sports booster. The fist sport that he turned his eye to was football. Ritchie's name became synonymous with the Regina Roughriders, the senior football team that dominated the western championship every year. Under his guidance, the Regina Roughriders won 56 consecutive games and nine western championships; it was also Ritchie who began to call the Regina Football Club the "Saskatchewan Roughriders." Despite all this success, Ritchie never did coach a Grey Cup champion. He coached 4 consecutive Grey Cup losing teams, from 1929 to 1932. Ritchie was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame as a Builder in 1963. He was also inducted, posthumously, into the Saskatchewan Roughrider Plaza of Honour in 1987.
Many sports figures focus exclusively on one sport, but not Al Ritchie. Ritchie set out to do for hockey what he had done for football: make the local team a force to be reckoned with. That team was the Regina Patricias, founded in 1917. The Regina Patricias were named in honour of Princess Patricia, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and a popular Royal Family member who had attended the opening of the Legislative Buildings in Regina in 1912. The name also honoured the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) regiment, founded at the start of World War I and the first Canadian regiment to see service during the war. The PPLCI boasted many members from the Regina area, and Princess Patricia was the regiment's honorary colonel. (The name was shortened to the more familiar Regina Pats in 1923.) Ritchie coached the team to victory in the Memorial Cup in 1925, again in 1930. The team went dormant during World War II, and Ritchie was part of the organizing committee that brought the team back to life in 1946.
In later years, Ritchie became the Western Canada scout for the New York Rangers. Dressed in his trademark coonskin coat, with his ever-present cigar, Ritchie gave many young prospects a shot at the major leagues. Dick Irvin, Johnny Gottselig, Gordon Pettinger, Freddie Metcalfe, Murray Armstrong, the Warwick Brothers, Scotty Cameron, Huddy Bell, Jim Henry, Bill Giokas, Dunc Fisher and Gus Kyle owed their professional hockey careers to Al Ritchie's scouting abilities.
Ritchie was honoured with induction to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 1965. In 1966 he was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. Sadly, Ritchie did not live long enough to see his beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders celebrate their first Grey Cup victory; Ritchie died a mere 9 months before the `Riders' first Grey Cup win in 1966. Ritchie's memory lives on in the City of Regina. His name has been given to Ritchie Crescent in Regina, one of Regina's subdivisions is now known as Core/Al Ritchie, and many facilities within the city honour Ritchie's memory, including the Al Ritchie Memorial Centre.