Way back on June 24, 2015, I came across Scotty Davidson’s Wikipedia entry. I know the exact date because I emailed myself the link as a future story idea.
Last weekend, almost three and a half years later, The Athletic published that story.
I didn’t spend all, or even most, of those 1,235 days working on the story of the man who captained Toronto’s first Stanley Cup-winning team, but I was at least thinking about it all the time.
After some initial research demonstrated that almost everything written about Davidson, and particularly the circumstances of his death, was incorrect, I pitched the story about a month before Remembrance Day last year when The Athletic’s new Toronto editor, Sean Fitz-Gerald, put out a call for story ideas.
(At this point a quick pause to say that if you like sports and sports writing and you’re not subscribed to The Athletic, you’re missing out. I’ve been a subscriber for over a year—ever since Stewart Mandel moved in with his College Football Mailbag—and there is just a ton of really interesting writing.)
Because they were swamped with responses, I didn’t hear back from Sean until the week before November 11. He was interested in the story, but when I said I wasn’t sure I could have it ready by Remembrance Day, he told me to take as long as I needed.
Davidson had two brothers and two sisters and I knew I needed to track down a family member to make the story complete and differentiate it from the numerous superficial (and often erroneous) retellings of his life that had already been published.
While poking around on some local Kingston history forums, I kept coming across the same name contributing to different discussions: Peter Gower. Eventually I emailed him and explained what I was looking for. He connected me with Edward Grenda, one of the founders of the Society for International Hockey Research, who in turn passed me to his colleague, Bill Fitsell.
Bill gave me two names, including Shirley Stevenson, the daughter of Davidson’s younger brother, Arthur. She passed away in 2013, but her obituary mentioned her children, Ian, Christine and Alastair. I found a couple phone numbers and started making calls, but had no luck there. I continued poking around the web on and off, while continuing my other research for the story, until finally, one night in August, I couldn’t sleep. I knew that if I wanted the story to be ready for Remembrance Day, I needed to make some real progress soon.
Lying awake, for some reason I had a feeling that I should try one more Facebook search. It took me five minutes—after nearly a year of searching—to find Alastair’s wife. The next day, I sent her a message and she responded quickly saying she would check with her husband.
I ended up speaking with him, as well as his brother and sister—Davidson’s grandnephews and grandniece. They didn’t know much about their great-uncle (Al asked me if the story of him being shot as he carried a wounded soldier back to their lines was true), but they told me a lot about their grandfather, Davidson’s brother Arthur, and their memories helped form the final section of my story.
The last piece to fall into place was the reporting on the circumstances of Davidson’s death. It seemed at first like a not-unusual case of a friend and officer, George Taylor Richardson, creating a final heroic tale to console grieving friends and family back home. That story was then repeated over and over until it became canon.
I didn’t put this in the story, but I think one of the reasons the incorrect story of Davidson’s death has been repeated so often, at least in recent articles, is that it is easily accessible online. It took a few trips to the archives to uncover the truth.
And reading through the century-old newspapers, it became clear there was another twist. People, including Richardson and Davidson’s family, knew how he actually died. The true story was published in papers across the country.
So what happened?
Maybe we’ll never know for sure, but it’s something I try to untangle in the story. I hope you check it out.