Riverton's Reggie Leach to be awarded the Order of Canada

Former NHL star Reggie Leach, born and raised in Riverton, Man., was named to the Order of Canada by Governor General Rt. Hon. Julie Payette on June 27, 2019. He will receive the honour later this year. (File photo: John Lappa/Postmedia Network)

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Reggie Leach has won many trophies, set many records and received many honours on the ice throughout his life: the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Canada Cup, the Turnbull Cup and induction into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame to name a few. He has also received honours in recognition of his post-hockey work as a motivational speaker such as the Order of Manitoba and an honourary degree from Brock University last month.

While many of the Riverton Rifle’s acolytes wonder why he isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Leach will be receiving one of the greatest honours a Canadian can receive.

On June 27, the Rt. Hon. Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, announced that Leach will become one of 83 new members of the Order of Canada later this year. Leach was awarded the honour “for his contributions to the sport of hockey and for his commitment to promoting the role of sport in building healthy communities,” the press release said.

Leach, who now lives on Manitoulin Island in Ontario with his wife Dawn Madahbee Leach, was informed about the honour over a month ago and it still hasn’t sunk in yet.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful award to get,” he said to The Interlake Spectator. “It’s a super award for all Canadians and I’m honoured enough to accept it and to be in such a great class from across the country … I have been honoured for different things I have done across the country and this is actually the biggest one ever. This is a lot bigger than the (HHOF).”

While he wants to be recognized more for his work teaching youth to make better life choices, Leach’s resumé on the ice spoke for itself.

Ojibwe and raised in Riverton by his grandparents, Leach left home to play for the Flin Flon Bombers junior hockey team with Bobby Clarke. Drafted third overall by the Boston Bruins in 1970, he was traded to the California Golden Seals in 1972 before being sent to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975, reuniting with Clarke, who himself was later invested into the Order of Canada in 1981.

In Philadelphia, Leach won the Stanley Cup in 1975 and reached the Finals again in 1976 and 1980. In the 1975-76 season, he led the NHL with 61 goals and scored a record-breaking 19 more in the playoffs. Despite the Flyers losing to the Montreal Canadiens, Leach was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy and was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team. He later won the inaugural Canada Cup for Team Canada in 1976.

While he later had three more 30-plus goal seasons in the NHL, including a 50-goal campaign in 1979-80, Leach was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in 1982 and retired from pro hockey in 1984. It was also at that time Leach decided to fight against his ongoing battle with alcoholism which began in childhood. In 1985, he entered a rehab facility and has been sober since.

Leach now travels across Canada most of the year to deliver speaking engagements with a focus on Indigenous communities and families. It is something he would like to continue doing for a long time.

“The message I have. I can pretty well talk in any subject and I do a lot of speaking and I enjoy it,” he said.

The Order of Canada is actually the second honour bestowed by the Governor General on the Leach family this year. Dawn, who is the interim chairperson of the National Indigenous Economic Development Board, received a Meritorious Service Decoration in March and both try to improve the lives of fellow Canadians.

After all, the Order of Canada’s motto is: They desire a better country.

“If we get together as a whole and Canada starts working on positive stuff across the
country, maybe we could make this country the best in the world,” Leach said.

While he has made a home elsewhere and is an active citizen across the country, Leach will always be thankful for his hometown and the Interlake region.

“Riverton’s always been there for me,” he said. “I always give credit to Riverton for who I am today.”