The face of Thompson baseball for half a century and a member of the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame, Red Sangster can now add the Order of Thompson to his list of achievements and accolades since coming to Thompson from Flin Flon in the city’s early days.
Born in 1924, Sangster was already in Thompson when the original C.A. Nesbitt Arena was constructed. At the grand re-opening of the refurbished facility more than 40 years later, he told the assembled crowd that it took 133 train cars to bring the disassembled aircraft hangar that became the arena from Bird, Man., near Fox Lake, where it had previously served as part of the Mid Canada Line, a string of military sites along the 55th parallel, designed to detect enemy aircraft that had penetrated into the heart of North America. Arena construction began in 1964 and took a little over a year, with the official opening taking place Jan. 29, 1966.
Sangster also revealed how he had it named it after former local government administrator Carl Nesbitt during his term as recreation director, which started in 1967. Sangster even erected a sign with the new name three weeks before he had permission and was forced to cover it with paper when government officials came for a visit.
"No one right from day one did as much as Red to make sure we had facilities to play," said Mayor Tim Johnston at the re-opening of the C.A. Nesbitt arena.
Sangster was also involved in hockey in his younger days and was the manager and coach of the first Thompson hockey team to ever attend an out-of-town tournament in 1962, when he and 14 bantam hockey players travelled to Virden, Man. The team hopped aboard the 4 p.m. train from Thompson on a Friday, taking it from here to Kamsack, Sask. There, they were picked up by car by residents of Virden and driven to the tournament.
Forty-seven years later, Sangster still remembered the scores in the two games they played - both losses, one by a 6-2 margin, the other one ending 6-3. When the tournament was over, the team was driven back to Kamsack, where they caught the next train back to Thompson, returning on Monday morning.
But his name is most associated with baseball, literally in the case of the Red Sangster Ball Diamond, which was named for the long-time baseball organizer when it was constructed in 1992. He was inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, while the Thompson Reds, also named for Sangster, from the period between 1968 and 1973 were inducted in the special team category in 2003. Their roster included long-time Thompson superintendent of recreation Alex Sutherland, one of the players Sangster was known for attracting to the city by lining up jobs. The team competed in the Polar League with squads from Flin Flon, The Pas and Bowsman and hosted the Western Canada Senior B championship in 1970, a year after losing two games to one in the provincial baseball finals to Binscarth.
This past summer, Sangster saw the return of baseball championships to Thompson as the Manitoba men’s baseball championship was played in the Nickel City.
Previous recipients of the Order of Thompson, created three years ago by the Thompson Community Foundation to honour long-time citizens who have contributed to the quality of life in Thompson, include Calm Air founders Gail and the late Arnold Morberg in 2011 and Volker Beckmann in 2010.
The award was announced at the foundation’s annual fall gala, held Sept. 28 at St. Joseph’s Hall.