A Life's Story

December 31, 2022

A hall of fame athlete who excelled in family

Edward Leier was known for his athletic talent, but his devotion to his family was what mattered most

By: Taylor Allen

Edward Leier made it to the NHL and scored a goal on his childhood friend Terry Sawchuk.

Edward was also a provincial champion sprinter, an all-star infielder-outfielder in the Manitoba-Dakota League and, later in life, became a talented golfer who played the sport into his 90s.

Newspaper clipping of Edward Leier and Terry Sawchuk from 1947 when they played baseball together for the Elmwood Giants. (Supplied)

He excelled at sports, but there was something much more important to Edward than his athletic feats. His family.

One of many examples was when Edward was inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 in Morden. It was shortly after his granddaughter Rhiannon Leier Blacher made the Canadian national swimming team for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“I think he talked more about her during his induction speech than he talked about himself and all his baseball experiences,” said Edward’s son and Rhiannon’s father, Brian Leier.

Edward was as humble as they come. He wasn’t one to stick out his chest and brag about what he accomplished in his heyday. For members of his family, they had to flip through scrapbooks that his wife, Pat Mahood, put together over the years, or speak with people who played with or against Edward to truly understand how talented he was, especially in hockey.

“You learn about him through other people. I met Ab McDonald at family events and various dinners around Winnipeg. And he always went out of his way to come and talk to me and he’d always talk about how much he admired my dad and what a great person and player he was and how he always looked up to him,” Brian said.

Edward Leier with the Chicago Blackhawks after his eye injury, around 1950. (Supplied)

“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Wow, this is Ab McDonald telling me how great my dad is.’”

Edward was born in a tiny village in Poland on Nov. 3, 1927 to his Volhynian German parents, Edward and Erna. They moved to Canada the following year and eventually ended up in Winnipeg on the outskirts of East Kildonan. Edward, who eventually had four younger sisters, got his start in hockey at Morse Place Community Club at the age of six. He grew up playing hockey and baseball with Sawchuk, and eventually played junior hockey with the Winnipeg Rangers and Winnipeg Black Hawks.

Edward, a centre, went on to play 16 games in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks between 1949 and 1951. He scored two goals — one of them against Sawchuk, who was with the Detroit Red Wings at the time — and had an assist.

An eye injury cut his NHL career short.

“He was playing a game, I think against the New York Rangers, and he caught the butt end of a stick in his cheek. He got it in the cheek, but it injured his eye,” said Brian.

“He was actually blind in that eye for a month and then it recovered. But he said he could never see the puck and field of play like he did before the injury.”

Edward Leier with granddaughter Rhiannon in the 1980s before their respective sports accomplishments earned them inter-linked Wikipedia pages. (Supplied)

Edward bounced around the minors until 1956. He was a point-per-game player with the AHL’s Springfield Indians at the time, but tragedy struck the family that year. Edward’s 18-month-old daughter Sharon was in critical condition for four days with gastroenteritis. She survived, but soon after that Pat, pregnant with twins at the time, was on a flight home to Winnipeg for treatment. The twins ended up dying on the flight, which almost also killed Pat in the process.

Edward decided to hang up the skates, as he no longer wanted to be away from his family.

“He could’ve kept playing, but that was a turning point for my dad. My dad was always concerned about our safety and our well-being. He was always worried about everyone,” Sharon said.

“It was his great love for his family that was always prevalent. That’s what I remember the most, his love and concern and care for his family’s safety.”

Edward and Pat had three children — Sharon, Brian and David — seven grandchildren and two great-children. They met in 1953 when Edward played for the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League (the WHL was a minor-pro league at the time). His post-hockey job with Retail Credit Company (which later became Equifax) took the couple to Regina and Calgary, but a promotion eventually brought them back to Pat’s hometown of Vancouver. After 30-plus years with the company, he retired in 1989.

What makes the family most proud is how he took care of Pat, who suffered a stroke in 2002 and slowly developed dementia before she died in 2019.

Ed and Pat Leier at Newlands Golf Course, Langley, B.C., in 2003. (Supplied)

“By the time 2005 rolled around, the dementia came in and he took care of Mom at home, day in and day out until 2014. He even learned how to cook, which was a big thing because he had a mother that had done everything for him because he was the golden boy in that family. But he did it and took care of our mother until 2014,” said Sharon.

“Even then, I’m telling him, the doctors are telling him, the social services are telling him that she has to go into a care home. So, then she went into a care home, and he went every day for four-and-a-half years. His dedication to our mother was just unbelievable.”

As you’d imagine, Edward was also extremely supportive of Rhiannon’s swimming career as he would attend meets whenever he could. Rhiannon also swam for Canada at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

“Every media guide I was ever in, even my Wikipedia page and his Wikipedia page, we’re always linked,” said Rhiannon.

“Whether I was at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, you’d look in the media guide and there would be something about my grandfather playing in the NHL. And vice versa, if you go to his Wikipedia page, there’s something there about me and I’ve always loved that.”

Brian Leier (from left), Sharon (Leier) Fraser and sibling David Leier (far right) with Edward Leier in 2021, when he was 93. (Supplied)

Edward died peacefully on Nov. 25, three weeks after his 95th birthday, with family by his side in Vancouver. Although he lived the majority of his life outside of Winnipeg, he considered himself a product of the Prairies right up until the end.

“He always saw himself as somebody from Winnipeg. Like it really truly was home,” said Brian. “Living on the West Coast when you’re older is an easier life, but he was always a Winnipeg guy and always talked fondly about all the people he grew up with. He was very proud of where he grew up in East Kildonan.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

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