TML Captains is a series that profiles the men who ‘wore the C’ for one of the NHL’s charter franchises.
Bertram Orian ‘Pig Iron’ Corbeau
b: 2 Feb 1894 Penetanguishene, ON
d: 21 Sep 1942 in Georgian Bay, ON
Toronto St. Patricks 1923-26, Toronto Maple Leafs 1926-27
Acquired: Traded to Toronto with Amos Arbour and George Carey by Hamilton for Ken Randall, the NHL rights to Corb Denneny and cash, December 14, 1923.
Lost: Signed as a free agent by Toronto (Can-Pro) after clearing NHL Waivers, October 20, 1927.
Toronto totals: 131 Games, 18 goals, 19 assists, 37 points, 338 PIM
Captain: St. Pats 1925-26, Maple Leafs 1926-27
The youngest of his family, Bert Corbeau was not the first pro hockey player in his family. His brother Con was a member of the Toronto Blueshirts’ 1914 Stanley Cup-winning team.
Bert’s professional hockey career pre-dates the NHL, beginning in 1913 with the Halifax Crescents of the Maritime Professional Hockey League. He moved for the next season to the Montreal Canadiens of the NHA, where he’d play the bulk of his career. Ironically nicknamed “Pig Iron”, Corbeau was far from brittle. In 1915-16 with Montreal, Corbeau the 5’11″, 200lb defenseman gathered 134 penalty minutes, then tacked on another 35 in the Stanley Cup challenge series as the Habs won their first championship. He topped 100 minutes in his next NHA season, but the rugged Corbeau wasn’t only the first 100 penalty minute player. He also was a scorer, potting 7 goals in 23 games that season. He’d go on to score 10 or more 3 times.
Corbeau transferred with Montreal from the NHA to the NHL, and played with the Habs until 1921-22. He developed quite a reputation for rough play, feuding with a number of players, getting involved in stick-incidents, and collecting major penalties. Yet, he was also routinely one of the better defenders in the league, and a key member of a Canadiens team that appeared in 3 Championship series for the Stanley Cup between 1916 and 1919. But, after being unable to repeat as NHL champs, the Canadiens started to rebuild. A major trade sent Corbeau to the Hamilton Tigers, and despite his 10 goals, Hamilton won only 6 games in 1922-23. Bert was traded to Toronto, where’d he’d play the next 4 seasons with players such as Jack Adams, Babe Dye, Reg Noble, Hap Day and Ace Bailey. He was named captain of the St. Pats in 1925, and held that position until he left the NHL. Corbeau was a durable player, missing only 3 games in his Toronto career. He led the NHL in penalty minutes while with Toronto in 1925-26 with 121 in 36 games. When Conn Smythe purchased the St. Pats and renamed the Maple Leafs, Corbeau became the first player to have played for both the Canadiens and Leafs. One early move made by Smythe involved moving wing Hap Day back to defence and pairing him with Big Bert Corbeau, making for a formidable pairing. Unfortunately, the team could manage only 1 playoff appearance during Corbeau’s tenure. He was sent to the minors and played for Toronto Ravinas and the London Panthers of the Canadian-Professional League for 2 seasons before retiring. He went on to referee pro hockey, and became a coach and was widely respected as a developer of young hockey talent. He coached in the OHA and in the Eastern League in Atlantic City.
Big Bert had taken a job at Midland Foundry and Machine Company, and had risen up to the position of plant manager. The summer of 1942 had been busy at the plant as the company had been supplying parts to the military. Once the summer order was completed, Corbeau invited his 45 employees onto his yacht, the Wawinet, for an afternoon of boating and fishing, of which 41 accepted. The afternoon of September 21, 1942 saw the 75-foot yacht, which Corbeau had modified over the years, cruise Georgian Bay stopping in Honey Harbour before heading home. The accounts of exactly what happened next are unclear. Some thought maybe Corbeau wasn’t at the helm, or hadn’t considered how overloaded and top-heavy the boat was, or fun and games had distracted the skipper from his course and the boat hit a sandbar. Whatever the reason, the Wawinet suddenly listed and took on water, sinking fairly quickly. With few lifejackets and rowboats for so many, people scrambled to get off the sinking yacht, some not knowing where shore was. In all 25 men, including former NHL star Bert Corbeau, perished in Georgian Bay. It was one of the worst tragedies to hit the Midland-Penetang area, particularly considering many young men were overseas fighting in World War II.
Bert Corbeau was an inaugural inductee to the Penetanguishene Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.
Information for this profile was complied from Jason Kurylo’s Toronto Maple Leafs Captains 1927-1938, LegendsOfHockey.net, ourhistory.canadiens.net, The Penetanguishene Sports Hall of Fame, Ice Hockey Wikia, The Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library, yathehabsrule.com, and the book ‘Bert Corbeau – Montreal Canadiens Winner of the 1st Stanley Cup’ by L. Waxy Gregoire.