We Remember: Francis Clarence 'One-Eyed' McGee

The Ottawa Silver Seven, 1905 Stanley Cup Champions. The team was led by "one-eyed" Frank McGee (top row, far right), who fought and died for Canada during the First World War. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, via Wikipedia.)

Every year on November 11, citizens throughout the Commonwealth, the United States of America, and in other countries commemorate those who died while fighting for their countries in war since World War I with parades, moments of silence, and other ceremonies. During the days leading up to this year's Remembrance Day, we at Silver Seven will look at the points where the history of the Ottawa Senators intersects with the stories of the First and Second World Wars. These are but a few stories among tens of thousands of Canadians who went to war in defence of our country.

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On October 22, 1914, a 31-year-old man walked into an enlistment office to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force and fight in Europe in defence of the Allied cause. On the medical history page of his enlistment form, vision for his right eye was listed as 'good.' No description was listed for his left.

That's because the man was "one-eyed" Frank McGee, a former professional hockey player with the Ottawa Silver Seven who'd lost his left eye after a hockey puck hit him on March 21, 1900. It's unclear why, but McGee was allowed to enlist despite an ailment that, technically, should have made him unfit to serve. Just as McGee didn't let the injury stop him from playing better hockey than any of his contemporaries, he didn't let it stop him from defending his country and her commonwealth in the First World War.

Lieutenant Frank McGee was mobilized to England in May of 1915 with the 21st Infantry Battalion. In December of 1915, the armoured car in which he was travelling through Belgium was hit with a shell, sending McGee back to England with a knee injury. After recovering from his injury, McGee was offered a desk job, which he refused. He returned to the front lines in August 1916, fighting in one of the most significant military battles in Canadian history, the Battle of the Somme.

McGee died on September 16, 1916, one of 624,000 Allied fatalities during the Battle of the Somme. He was 33 years old.

There's more to the story of one-eyed Frank McGee than his war record, though. He remains the most dominant player ever to don an Ottawa Senators sweater, and was fittingly among the first group of inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

McGee actually left the game of hockey after his eye injury in 1900, although not completely: He became a referee for a few years, before deciding to re-join the players' ranks and signed with Ottawa. In his time with the Senators (known alternatively as the Ottawa HC and the Ottawa Silver Seven), McGee scored four Stanley Cup-winning goals (in 1903, 1904, 1905, and 1906) during the team's first dynasty years. In the legendary Stanley Cup Challenge two-game series against the Dawson City Nuggets, McGee scored 15 goals, including 14 in the second game (both numbers, as you might imagine, remain Stanley Cup playoff records). Eight of those 14 goals were scored consecutively within a nine-minute span. In his career, McGee scored 63 goals in 22 Stanley Cup playoff games, also a Stanley Cup playoff record.

In 1906, at just 23 years of age, McGee retired from competitive hockey to pursue his career as a public servant (if there were any doubts about McGee's status as an Ottawan through-and-through, this fact should quell them). Just as McGee's arrival brought about the start of the Silver Seven dynasty, his retirement coincided with the end: His retirement came after the team's Stanley Cup challenge win streak came to an end at the hands of the Montreal Wanderers, and the team wouldn't get the Cup back for three years.

With all due respect to greats like Art Ross, Jack Adams, Frank Nighbor, Clint Benedict, Cyclone Taylor, and many other Hall-of-Famers, McGee stands today as the all-time greatest Ottawa Senator. Moreover, his ultimate sacrifice during World War I also cements his standing as a great Canadian.

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Bibliography

  • Houston, William. "McGee, Francis Clarence." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, available here.
  • Kitchen, Paul. Win, Tie, or Wrangle: The Inside Story of the Old Ottawa Senators. Newcastle, ON: Penumbra Press, 2008.
  • McFarlane, Brian. "The Great McGee." Brian McFarlane's 'It happened in hockey,' available here.
  • Conway, Jennifer. "Ottawa Hockey Legends: Frank McGee." Joe Pelletier's 'Greatest Hockey Legends," available here.
  • Hockey Hall of Fame. "Frank McGee - Biography - Honoured Player - Legends of Hockey," available here.
  • Wikipedia. "Frank McGee (ice hockey)," available here.
  • Wikipedia. "Ottawa Senators (original)," available here.
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