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Named after the town of Renfrew in Scotland, Renfrew was settled largely in part to logging in the area in the early 19th century, and used the river in order to drive the lumber to locations such as Ottawa. This heritage was once celebrated every July with the Lumber Baron Festival until recent years.
The Renfrew Millionaires were a professional hockey team, that for two seasons, 1910–1911 and 1911–1912, would attract national attention to the small timber town of Renfrew, Ontario. The creation of railroad contractor and town founder, M. J. O’Brien and his son Ambrose, the Renfrew Millionaires were originally called the Renfrew Creamery Kings, and were a small hockey team playing in the Upper Ottawa Valley League. Dreaming of having their hockey team win the Stanley Cup, the O’Brien’s fought to have the team recognized by the Eastern Canadian Hockey Association, which would later become the Canadian Hockey Association (CHA).
After numerous rejections and snubs, the O’Brien’s finally and simply just created their own League, and called it the National Hockey Association (NHA). M.J. financed four teams in the League: the Renfrew Creamery Kings which became the Renfrew Millionaires, Cobalt, Haileybury and Les Canadiens of Montreal. Within a month, the Montreal Wanderers also joined to became the fifth team. At first, the media didn’t take this new League, or the Renfrew Millionaires, seriously. But by the time the Millionaires hit the ice on January 12, 1910, the 4,000 capacity crowd at the Renfrew hockey arena were on their feet. The crowds continued to fill the arena, despite the Millionaires first game loss of 11 – 9 to Cobalt – the special train to Renfrew from Ottawa to watch the hockey games became so popular it was labeled the ‘Timberwolf Special’ by the press. Adding to the excitement was the team roster. O’Brien and Ambrose were paying huge cash salaries for a team of hockey stars, attracting attention and the best talent. Bert Lindsay, father of well-known hockey legend Ted Lindsay, was brought in to play goal for the Millionaires. Lester and Frank Patrick were signed at the outrageous cost of $3,000 and $2,000 a season. Frank “Cyclone” Taylor became the highest paid athlete in the world when he joined the Renfrew Millionaires for $5,250 a year. The next season, 1910/1911, saw the Ottawa Senators leave the larger Canadian Hockey League, taking the Cup with them, joining the O’Brien’s NHA League. After all the hard work and investment, the Stanley Cup was now in sight, in the same League, and within grasp for the Renfrew Millionaires.
But after two exciting hockey seasons, the Renfrew Millionaires were not destined to have the Cup. Coming in third place after the second season, the financial costs became too high, and with O’Brien’s interests in railroads growing, the family withdrew the Renfrew franchise teams from the NHA and professional hockey forever. Still, the impact O’Brien and his son Ambrose made would be permanent. One of the two original O’Brien franchise hockey teams was sold to Percy Quinn to become the Toronto Blueshirts – which through accession, time, new ownership and an amalgamation, would eventually became the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1928. Another O’Brien team in the NHA would go on to become the beloved Montreal Canadiens. The NHA established by M.J. O’Brien formed the foundation of today’s National Hockey League. Canadians and hockey fans everywhere owe their love of today’s game, and League, to the hard work and dreams of M.J. and Ambrose
Much of Renfrew’s current prosperity comes from being the commercial centre for over 30,000 residents of the surrounding small towns and rural region, with over 450 small service or commercial businesses in the 2001 municipal census. In addition, Renfrew is an easy rest or activity stop for Ottawa-based cottagers and outdoor enthusiasts passing by on their way to nearby whitewater rafting, boating, camping, hunting, golfing, fishing, snowmobiling, down-hill skiing, and cross-country skiing.