Brandon-made Tackaberry skates — Tacks — recognized for national historic significance

Nearly 120 years ago, a shoemaker in Brandon, Man., who specialized in orthopaedic shoes for people with disabilities, designed a moisture-resistant skate boot that revolutionized a key piece of hockey equipment. 

Now, George E. Tackaberry’s skate, more familiarly known as CCM Tacks, has been declared an event of national historic significance.

“I think he revolutionized hockey. It is difficult to imagine what the sport would be if not for that important invention which became CCM, a Canadian institution,” Steven Guilbeault, minister responsible for Parks Canada, said on Wednesday, the day of the designation.

“Getting a new or used pair of Tacks was a memorable rite of passage for many young Canadian skaters. [Tackaberry’s boot] is an example of Canadian ingenuity and creativity in what became a landmark invention for our country, really, and for the world.”

In 1905, Tackaberry lived next door to an amateur hockey player named Joe Hall, who complained about how his skate boots rarely lasted a season.

The frustrated Hall, who was playing for the Wheat City Hockey Club and would go on to become a Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Famer, asked Tackaberry to design a boot to withstand the strain and stress of a full hockey season.

Tackaberry lowered the boot’s top edge, reinforced the heel and toe and improved the arch support. He also used moisture-resistant kangaroo hide that did not stretch so the fit stayed tight.

The boots were so successful that Hall’s teammates flooded Tackaberry with orders the following year and not long afterward, the shoemaker’s shop became devoted to the boots — which used leather straps to attach skate blades.

“Tackaberry’s improved boot came at a time when hockey was transitioning from an amateur to a professional sport. Better boots improved on-ice performance and professional players looked for any advantage they could get, including by investing in higher-quality equipment,” a Government of Canada news release says.

The Canadian Cycle and Motor Company took over production of the boot in 1927, though Tackaberry still owned the rights, and started mass producing them for NHLers. The company also began producing a better-quality skate blade.

After Tackaberry’s death in 1937, CCM bought the design from Tackaberry’s wife and the renamed Tacks became the company’s signature skate through the 20th century.

They remained the company’s signature skate until late 2006, when the Tacks line was replaced with a series of other brands.

However, its popularity never faded and the Tacks line was reintroduced in 2014 after demand from players at both the professional and recreational level.

Tacks have been worn by numerous NHL legends and superstars during their careers, including Jean Béliveau, Bobby Orr and the Riverton Rifle, Reggie Leach. The Daly House Museum in Brandon has an early pair in its collection and on permanent display.

“We were very pleased and excited to learn the government has given the skates and George Tackaberry’s input into hockey history that designation,” said Daly House curator Eileen Trott. “His boots were innovative for the time.” 

Trott said Brandon has deep hockey roots, with Wheat City playing for the Stanley Cup in 1904 against the Ottawa Silver Seven but losing in a best-of-three series. As well, Tackaberry wasn’t the city’s only skate maker.

In fact, the city seemed to have had a corner on the market on custom-made skates for pro hockey players in North America in the middle of the 20th century.

Brothers Victor and Walter Pestyk produced their hockey boots for more than 36 years, until the mid-1970s. At one time their company was contracted by the NHL.

In its news release, the government said national historic designations “reflect the rich and varied heritage of our country and provide opportunities for Canadians to learn more about our diverse history.”

The designation process, done under Parks Canada’s national program of historical commemoration, is largely driven by public nominations.

To date, more than 2,200 designations have been made countrywide.

“Honouring this is so important, so that we can either remember or, in some cases, learn about this as Canadians,” Guilbeault said.

Guilbeault was aware of CCM but only learned about Tackaberry when reading the briefing for the designation.

“So I, too, learned more because of this.”

The designation means Tackaberry’s contribution will be forever listed by Parks Canada as significant and, though there’s not a plaque right now, one may be erected somewhere in Brandon down the road, Guilbeault said.

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