KENSINGTON – It was a conversation that laid the foundation for half a century of memories between two small communities.
The vision of the late Raeburn Orr, Alec Chessman and Eric Jessome led to the birth of the Kensington, P.E.I.-Bedford, Que., Peewee Friendship Hockey Exchange. And when the 2018 Bedford contingent visits Kensington this weekend, the event will celebrate the first half of its 50th year. Kensington will make the return trip to Bedford in February.
“What amazes me in our little town is one word, ‘Bedford, how are things with Bedford, when is Bedford coming?’” said Wade Caseley, a former participant of the exchange and member of Kensington’s 50th year organizing committee. “People know exactly what you are talking about. There’s no explanation needed. After 50 years, it’s so entrenched in our community.”
Moved to P.E.I.
Chessman moved to P.E.I. from England in 1966, and replaced Orr as manager of the Seabrook Farms plant in New Annan. Orr, who sold his house to Chessman, had transferred to manage the Seabrook Farms plant in Bedford, and the two became “good buddies,” according to Alec’s son and Kensington resident Paul Chessman.
The founding fathers – Chessman, Orr and Jessome – began original discussions on the exchange in the late summer of 1968, and the first exchange took place in 1969. There was no exchange in 1970 as the Community Gardens’s Paperweight All-Stars travelled to Toronto. The peewee exchange resumed in 1971, and has happened every year since.
“As far as how it started out, I’m picturing a bunch of guys sitting around talking about hockey, and probably Ray Orr was down from Bedford (for a visit),” said Paul. “They were similar towns, similar interests in the game and Seabrook’s had a plant in both places.”
One highlight of Friday’s sold-out welcome banquet at the New London Community Complex will be a short skit performed by local actors honouring the memory of the three founding fathers and longtime Bedford supporter Eric Jones.
“My dad was one of those guys who was a Type A personality, and he got stuff done,” recalled Paul. “He was a bit of a driving force when he was involved in something.
“He was pretty proud of the whole thing . . . and he was excited to be a part of it. I don’t think for one second he would have ever thought 50 years later it would still be going on.”
The well-respected Jessome took great pride in managing Community Gardens, which included following a strict ice schedule and a strong emphasis on cleanliness.
“Children played second fiddle to no one in Eric’s mind,” said Bob Bowness, who worked under Jessome as minor hockey director. “Eric was the only bilingual person at the time in the community, so he was the go-to guy if we had any problems, and he travelled with the teams to Bedford.
“Eric was a builder in sports and recreation in the town, and left his mark for a lot us to follow.”
Jessome, who was honoured by the P.E.I. government for his recreational achievements, also played key roles in starting the Community Harvest Festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in August 2017.
Jessome, who, Bowness added, put in 60-plus hours a week managing the Gardens, was not shy when it came to big projects and promoting.
“Eric was a great promoter,” noted Rona Burt, who also worked under Jessome. “He believed in letting people know (about the exchange), and not just the local area but Canada-wide. He had people wanting to come to view the exchange from different parts of Canada.”
Retired Journal Pioneer sports editor Bill Semple, who also described Jessome as “an accomplished prankster,” agreed with Burt.
“Eric was a promoter unequalled in P.E.I. in his day, probably one of the best in Canada,” Semple said. “He certainly put Kensington on the map.”