Long before an original founder of the Okotoks Junior A hockey team helped bring the squad to the Foothills, he had Oilers’ green-and-gold flowing through his veins.
“The best way to describe Lawrie was yes, he was part of this Oilers’ team but he over the years, maybe 40 or 50 years, he was all Oilers,” said Wayne Lauinger, chairman of the Okotoks Junior A Oilers. “It starts with the Senior Oilers – Lawrie was part of all that.”
Lawrence “Lawrie” Wedderburn died on Dec. 29 at the age of 90. He farmed just north of Okotoks and, besides running a successful farming operation, he was a builder in the community, helping to build the Okotoks Recreation Centre, helped with the Oilers for several years and was the patriarch for one of the most well-known Okotoks families over the past 100 years.
Lawrie, along with his son Gregg, was one of the original 28 members who ponied up the money in 2000 to ultimately bring the Junior A Oilers to Okotoks in 2005.
“Lawrie was part of that group, but he was instrumental in creating the Oilers tradition,” Lauinger said. “It was the Okotoks Oilers before the Edmonton Oilers… Lawrie goes a long ways back and it wasn’t just him it was his whole family.”
Lawrie loved hockey and being active – which was one of the reasons he was part of the committee which helped build the Okotoks Recreation Centre Triplex that opened in 1982.
“During our meetings he was a good mentor and he always had lots of insight,” said Ted Shacklady, Triplex committee co-chairman along with Hugh Gillard. “Because he had been in a lot of hockey rinks he was very aware of what the needs were and he seemed to be able to look into the future – what type of facilities that needed to be built that were not only friendly to the fans, but the players and coaches too.”
It would be wrong to say Wedderburn was born into hockey – he did not play the game while growing up in Longview before moving to the family farm just north of Okotoks in 1938.
However, he made up for lost time by helping hundreds of Okotoks boys and men play Canada’s national sport.
“I grew up with his son and through the Okotoks Oilers we played all the way up through minor hockey,” said Brian Miller, whose family farm neighboured the Wedderburns. “There wouldn’t be a day go by that Lawrie wasn’t at the rink [located then where the Okotoks library is now].”
Lawrie managed numerous youths’ team and the Okotoks Senior Oilers.
“He was instrumental in keeping the senior men’s team going for years,” said Miller, a former senior Oiler.
“His boys all played good hockey. Senior men’s hockey back then was very good, you didn’t have the junior teams, the senior teams were guys 21, 22, 23. It was as good as semi-pro now.”
The Wedderburns were a large part of it.
“Lawrie had four boys playing with the Senior Oilers one time,” Miller said.
“[He was] laid back but very intense inside. A very soft-spoken man, but when he spoke you listened.”
He listened and used a common-sense approach.
Shacklady was the commissioner of the Ranchland Hockey League when the Okotoks Senior Oilers and the Blackie Bobcats squared off in a series-deciding playoff game.
However, one of the teams had used an ineligible player.
The head of Hockey Alberta ruled to play the game again.
“A couple of individuals told Lawrie – as they put it ‘to talk some sense into me’– so I could make a decision in favour of Okotoks,” Shacklady said. “All Lawrie said was: ‘You should never have put him in that position.’
“I remember how fair he was to everybody.”
Long-time family friend David “Ozzie” Hoiland, said some of the best times of his young Okotoks minor hockey career was going to games.
“I am 70 years old and I have known Mr. Wedderburn for 60 years,” Hoiland said.
“I remember Lawrie for a lot of years, but when I was younger we all played baseball and hockey together. I travelled a lot of miles in their car to games. That is something I’ve never forgot.
“He was so supportive of all the kids, not just his kids and me… This was the days before the buses and everything, and Lawrie and my dad went everywhere.”
Lawrie was predeceased by his wife of 57 years Betty Lock of Okotoks, who he married in 1947.
Together they raised six children Gregg, Rob, Terry, Bruce, Peggy and Bill. Lawrie farmed the property with his father until his dad’s passing in 1957, and since then Lawrie, along with his sons, have farmed the property to the present day.
He was honoured with the Okotoks Rotary Club “Integrity” Award in 1995 for his contributions to the community, including the Okotoks Oilers and Okotoks Pro Rodeo.
Lawrie was also an active member of the Okotoks Curling Club, D’Arcy Ranch Golf Club, and was a season ticket holder of the Okotoks Oilers.
A tribute for Lawrie is scheduled before the Junior A Oilers-Olds Grizzlys game Jan. 11 at 7 p.m.
A funeral service was held at the St. Peter’s Anglican Church on Jan. 7.