In that brief peaceful period between the Depression and the start of World War II, no other athlete thrilled and fascinated sports fans in the Annapolis Valley and throughout Nova Scotia more than the dashing and flamboyant Orlay Bligh. Major Fred Kelly, his coach at Acadia University, called him one of Acadia’s greatest athletes. It was said that no one could play baseball, football, and hockey like Orlay Bligh and no one could fight like Orlay Bligh. But it was in hockey that he made his greatest impact.
Bligh’s hockey playing was often described as reckless and absolutely fearless characterized by wild headlong rink-length rushes often resulting in either a goal or Bligh crashing into the goalie or boards. Even though he was strong, tough, rough and fiercely competitive, Orlay Bligh was always described as a thorough sportsman – a clean player who never held a grudge.
Orlay Bligh was first noticed by Nova Scotians outside the Annapolis Valley in 1933 when he suited up for the local Berwick Junior and then, starting in 1935, he starred for three years with the Acadia University Axemen. In 1936 – 37, Bligh was a standout player on the Berwick Bruins Senior hockey team which captured the Nova Scotia Senior championship as well as the Nova Scotia Eastern League championship in 1938. In 1939, Bligh had one exciting and well-publicized season with the Halifax Wolves – one of the strongest senior hockey teams in the Maritimes. In March of 1939, in the final game of the season, the Halifax team lost the Nova Scotia championship to the Sydney Millionaires in the Halifax Forum before a capacity crowd of over 5,000 fans. The game was described as rather rough with Bligh, as usual, in the thick of things, but most sportswriters concluded that it was Orlay Bligh’s finest game of the season.
Following the hockey season, in April of 1939, Orlay Bligh sailed to England to join the Royal Air Force. In February of 1940, just 34 hours after his parents in Berwick received word that Orlay would be coming home to train in Canada, they received another message – Pilot Officer Orlay Bligh was killed when his bomber crashed in Abingdon, England while returning from a mission. He was one of the first to serve and one of the first to die in the Second World War.
Since that fateful year, 1940, the Orlay Bligh Memorial Trophy, established by the late Dr. R.A. Moreash and William B. Wilson, and other members of the executive of the 1937 Berwick Bruins, is awarded to the Acadia University Axemen hockey player who exemplifies the character, determination and sportsmanship of Orlay Bligh.
It is a fitting memorial to an athlete of whom, Ace Foley, chief sports reporter of the Chronicle Herald once wrote. “I have never seen a hockey player with more dash, more enthusiasm, and more downright recklessness. It was a thrill to watch him play.”
Inducted June 1999