Oshawa Generals fans celebrate as their team score their first goal against Kingston Frontenacs during OHL action, at the Tribute Communities Centre, in Oshawa, Ontario on Sunday January 14, 2018. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Oshawa Generals fans celebrate as their team score their first goal against Kingston Frontenacs during OHL action, at the Tribute Communities Centre, in Oshawa, Ontario on Sunday January 14, 2018. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Oshawa GM employees once the foundation of Generals’ fan base

Legendary junior hockey executive Sherry Bassin has witnessed the type of impact General Motors of Canada employees once had on the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals.

The relationship ran much deeper than just a team name and logo in his days with the club.

“These people that worked hard on the lines, I can’t say enough about them, they were a big part of our support,” said Bassin, who was with the Generals from 1976 to 1989.

“Those guys that worked hard on the line, administrative people, they were all die-hard supporters of the Generals.”

The Generals were born in 1937 and took their nickname from GM, which was their original sponsor when they played in the Ontario Hockey Association. GM expanded over the years and eventually opened the Oshawa Assembly Plant in 1953. That helped grow not only the city of Oshawa, Ont., but the team’s fan base as well, with many workers becoming season-ticket holders right up until present day.

Bassin was in charge of the Generals when GM was at its peak with upwards of 23,000 employees in Oshawa. But those numbers declined heavily with layoffs in the early 2000’s. On Monday, GM announced it would be closing its Oshawa plant for good and letting go of the remaining 2,500 workers by the end of 2019.

It was news that didn’t sit well with Bassin, a 79-year-old Oshawa resident who won two league titles with the organization and had his finger prints all over a Generals team that would capture the 1990 Memorial Cup.

“The passion that you saw from the General Motors employees, this whole community survived around it. This is a blue-collar community where the workers worked hard and were doing well,” said Bassin, who was born in Semans, Sask., but has lived in Oshawa for more than 40 years.

“Because of their efficiency and proficiency (in making automobiles), whatever they were going through they’d find a way to make it work. You kept thinking they’ll find a way.”

Generals games often kept employees entertained while doing their shift work.

“The boys used to tell me when the cars were going down the line, the radios would be on to the Generals game,” said Bassin.

Bassin says that in his era the relationship between GM workers and Generals employees was intertwined, with some people even working for both at the same time.

Bassin once had two scouts that put in their hours on the factory line at the plant while one of his hockey operations staff members, Wayne Daniels, eventually took over from him as the team’s general manager while putting in a full career in the auto industry.

“Our fans were all kinds of General Motors employees, my secretary was even a General Motors employee, she got me deals on cars,” joked Bassin.

Longtime junior coach Stan Butler, who entered the 2018-19 season with the North Bay Battalion second on the OHL’s all-time wins list, broke into the league with the Generals in 1994-95 and remembers Daniels balancing both roles.

“Wayne worked full time at GM so basically what would happen we’d all get to work those days around noon, practice at 3:30 p.m. and if you had to meet with Wayne it was right after practice because he would leave GM and then come right to the arena,” said Butler.

Bassin and Daniels have both since been inducted into the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame for their contributions to the Generals, one of the most storied franchises in junior hockey.

Over the years, GM employees have been there to see a 14-year-old Bobby Orr make his junior debut in 1962, the acquisition of a 17-year-old Eric Lindros in 1990 and John Tavares being the first player in the modern era drafted under exceptional player status in 2005.

After the Generals’ first home, Hambly Arena, was destroyed by a fire in 1953 and the team was put on hiatus for nine years, GM employees returned when the Oshawa Civic Auditorium opened in 1964.

“A lot of the General Motors employees helped support the building of the new rink … that really is community,” said Bassin.

Bassin believes the old Auditorium — with seating for 3,600 fans — was a difficult place for opposing teams to come to thanks in large part to the fan base made up mostly of GM employees.

“Die-hard, die-hard season-ticket holders that lived and died by the success of the Generals,” said Bassin, who has guided teams to six Memorial Cup national championship tournaments and drafted Connor McDavid into the OHL with the Erie Otters.

“A lot of them that I knew very well had season tickets years ago behind the penalty box behind the visiting team … worst thing you could do was get a penalty. They all had different funny sayings, would work over the opposition.

“I can remember them in the playoffs being four deep in standing room in key games.”

The Auditorium remained the home of the Generals until 2006 when the city opened a new downtown arena, named the General Motors Centre. But the naming rights expired in 2016 and is now known as the Tribute Communities Centre.

The Generals didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Canadian Press, though they did issue a press release.

Team president and governor Rocco Tullio said the organization “shares a very storied history with GM and we (are) very proud of the number of GM workers who are our fans and season ticket holders.

“In the coming days and months, the Oshawa Generals will look for ways to support our GM worker fans, tickets holders and their families.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The body of 25-year-old Kyler Corriveau was discovered near Red Deer on Sunday. He was missing since Dec. 15. Police are investigating his death as a homicide. (Contrinuted photo).
RCMP are investigating the death of missing Red Deer man as a homicide

The body of Kyler Corriveau was discovered on Sunday

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 456 new cases of COVID-19 over Tuesday afternoon. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

Community Futures Central Alberta, in partnership with the Central Alberta Regional Innovation Network (CARIN), is behind the SMARTstart initiative for budding entrepreneurs.
New program aimed at helping entrepreneurs succeed

Program offers mentorship, business advice and networking opportunities

A Red Deer man, who has been declared a dangerous offender, lost his appeal of an aggravated assault conviction from 2017. Advocate file photo
Red Deer man who chomped on remand centre inmate’s ear loses aggravated assault appeal

Inmate lost part of his ear in attack at Red Deer Remand Centre in August 2017

Red Deer’s Wiklund vs. Wiklund is celebrating a burst of songwriting creativity during the 2020 lockdown by releasing a new tune to YouTube and multiple digital music platforms in each month of 2021. (Contributed image).
Pandemic lockdown fuels a flurry of songwriting for Red Deer music duo

Wiklund vs Wiklund will release a new single monthly in 2021

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A Subway fast food restaurant's sign is shown in New York on Oct. 24, 2016. A defamation lawsuit by the world’s largest fast-food operator against Canada's public broadcaster over a report on the chain's chicken sandwiches can proceed, Ontario's top court has ruled. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mark Lennihan
Subway can press $210-million defamation suit against CBC for show on chicken content

Subway can press $210-million defamation suit against CBC for show on chicken content

 A man watches the financial numbers on the digital ticker tape at the TMX Group in Toronto's financial district on Friday, May 9, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Energy pushes S&P/TSX composite up as TC Energy shares rebound after Keystone worries

Energy pushes S&P/TSX composite up as TC Energy shares rebound after Keystone worries

AltaLink seeks to refund extra $350 million over three years to Alberta customers

AltaLink seeks to refund extra $350 million over three years to Alberta customers

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage speaks during an event to mark the start of right-of-way construction for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, in Acheson, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. A government lawyer says decisions about environmental policy should be made by elected officials, not courts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta lawyer argues coal policy decisions belong with politicians, not courts

Alberta lawyer argues coal policy decisions belong with politicians, not courts

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

A medical team of the new Nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital apply a fiberoptic bronchoscopy to a patient inside a COVID-19 ICU in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. As the coronavirus curve of contagion turned increasingly vertical after Christmas and New Year's, the Zendal has been busy. On Monday, 392 virus patients were being treated, more than in any other hospital in the Madrid region. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Panel: China, WHO should have acted quicker to stop pandemic

GENEVA — A panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization… Continue reading

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, holds a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
COVID-19 vaccines: Canadians torn between helping the world and helping themselves

MONTREAL — The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is highlighting the disconnect between the… Continue reading

Most Read