One of the most fabled B.C. champs of all time celebrate their 60th anniversary this week at the 2024 B.C. boys basketball championships at the LEC. (Photo property of Winslade Collection 2024. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

How Ken Shields learned to dream! The story of a young boy’s road to the B.C. title 60 years ago with the 1964 Prince Rupert Rainmakers!

By Howard Tsumura

NORTH DELTA — When I think about the single most enduring reason that high school basketball has remained my favourite subject on which to write, I continually come back to that near-mystical feeling I get thinking about the moment when a young player catches the game’s fever for the first time and never lets it go.

I was 27 years old back in January of 1991 when I met Ken Shields for the first time, and he was  already the owner of his seven CIAU national championship titles as well as being newly named as the head coach of Canada’s men’s national basketball team.

I was at a stage in my career where I had begun the transition from community to daily newspaper reporting, helping to pioneer our two-page weekly spread on high school sports at The Province newspaper entitled School Zone when Ken Winslade, the esteemed caretaker, archivist and historian of our game in this province, asked me to contribute a feature story on Shields for the 1991 B.C. high school boys championship program.

Shields is coming through the airport and has to make a connecting flight, so he’s got an hour and he’ll meet you in the cafeteria for lunch,” Winslade told me.

I jumped at the chance and I am so grateful that I did.

In the one hour that I had with him, Shields told me so many stories, and he did it with incredible detail, and I captured everything he said on a shiny, hand-held cassette recorder that I bought just for the interview.

When I finished this piece, I felt like it was the start of finding my own style of storytelling.

The strange part about it is that the story — written in the days before the internet and the cloud — has not sat in any newspaper date base. It appeared just one time, so unless you happened to read it that year, or you collect championship programs including the one this story appeared in back 33 years ago, you’ve likely never seen it.

Over the years I had wanted to present it on the Varsity Letters website, but the only way to do that was sit down and re-type the entire thing. I resisted until this year.

It’s the story about how Shields, who grew up in Masset, in what now known as Haida Gwaii, and the Prince Rupert Rainmakers who won one of the most unique titles in the tournament’s history… and it happened exactly 60 years ago to the date of Wednesday’s 2024 Day 1 schedule.

When it was published, I remember Shields remarking that it was “the most accurate story” he had ever read about himself.

I took that compliment to heart. I will never forgot his kindness.

Enjoy the 2024 tournament and know that the spirit of this annual event was long ago paved by those willing dreamers from all over B.C., guys just like Ken Shields!


By Howard Tsumura

The signal would float high above the Hecate Straight on those cold, winter nights, a jumbled pack of scrambled electronics desperately seeking a warm, romantic receiver with the power to translate the language of love.

Like St. Nick spotting the perfect chimney, the signal always seemed to blush and relent somewhere over Masset in the Queen Charlotte Islands.

It was over this small area of the world that a boy with big dreams had rigged a crude back-yard antenna of hooks and wires in hopes that the basketball gods soon would be there. He would huddle in front of the living room radio and with deft precision turn the dial ‘ON’.

Suddenly, like a voice from the heavens, the words would come booming through the speaker. It was and still is, for Ken Shields, a voice larger than life. It was the voice that helped fuel his passion and carry him to the pinnacle of his life’s work.

“Welcome to Prince Rupert Rainmakers high school basketball,” the voice might have crackled, “heard here on CFPR radio in Prince Rupert. We’ll be back in a moment…”

Ken Shields (left) in action during Prince Rupert’s 1964 B.C. championship final win over Abbotsford at UBC. (Photo property of Winslade Collection 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Nearly three decades, encompassing the formative years of Canada’s growth into an international basketball force, have expired off Ken Shields’ game clock.

But on a Thursday afternoon in late January at the Vancouver International Airport, the current dean of Canadian basketball coaches is not looking over his shoulder and watching the seconds tick by.

Instead, he is determined to enjoy a brief two-hour respite from a hectic life’s schedule that has seen him go from high school hopeful to head coach of the men’s national team.

And what better place to digest the roundball gems of his career than a blue-collar airport cafeteria where self-serve ham and cheese, chowder and milk serve as the appetizer to a story of a man dedicated to a feast of excellence.

A chomp here, a gulp there and the words fall as smooth as a baseline jumper.

“I’m going to Prince Rupert tonight,” he says. “Actually, I’m going to Masset. The Haidas have their Assembly of the Haida Nation and I am very honoured to have been invited back, It’s where I first played, you know. And I’m hoping that my very first coach (Alex Jones) is going to be there.”

Born in Beaverlodge, Alberta on December 7, 1945, Kenneth William Daniel Shields spent his formative athletic years on the Island of Masset playing the only game in town… basketball.

But because the local school had no teams, Shields had to play in the Haida’s native league. He made his first team in Grade 7 and caught a fever for the game that is unrelenting to this day.

All through childhood he dreamt of playing with the big boys in Prince Rupert. But to him, the Rainmakers seemed as big an exclusive a club as the Los Angeles Dodgers, the big league baseball team he also followed religiously by radio.

His chance came in 1961 when the Shields family moved to Prince Rupert, putting young Ken within a shadow’s distance of the team that had captured the imagination of the entire town.

“I wasn’t even good enough to try out for the high school team,” he says looking back. “I didn’t make the high school team and I didn’t make the ‘B; team. In Grade 11, I was manager of the ‘B’ team. I was a substitute on a 15-16 year-old team in the local minor league.”

The kids that didn’t make the Rainmaker grade all gathered at the Prince Rupert Civic Centre after school, and it was there that Shields started to assemble something that resembled a resume of confidence.

The next year (as a Grade 12 in a Grade 13 school), everyone had gathered at the school for try-outs and Shields, went along with the simple idea of scrimmaging with the ‘stars’.

“But,” as he says, “the practices went on, cuts were made, and I didn’t get cut. Then I can distinctly looking around at the number of players that were around and I was still left.

“I looked at the guys that I knew would make the team, and I looked at the rest, and I knew I could battle them. So I made up my mind that I was going to make that team one way or the other.”

The determination he would muster over those next few days would serve him well for the rest of his life.

“The day that they picked the team… it was one of the biggest thrills of my life,” he says fondly. “The day that I got my uniform…”

Shields remembers the competition to make the Rainmakers was vicious. There were fist fights in the locker room between close friends. And one player received a brand new sports jacket from his father to fly with the team to their first game in Ketchikan, Alaska only to discover that he had been cut from the team.

That flight to Ketchikan was Shields’ first time in an airplane. During 13 seasons and seven straight CIAU titles earned as head coach of the University of Victoria Vikings, he would log some 380,000 air miles.

And while Shields was still shell-shocked over being selected to the team, he got an even bigger surprise when head coach Don Hartwig named him a starter to the 1962-63 team that would qualify for the provincial tournament.

That team travelled throughout the northwestern part of the province and into Alaska on a number of occasions that season, but didn’t come down to Vancouver until they made the B.C.’s in March.

That euphoria, however, was short-lived.

“We just came down and took our medicine,” Shields says of the back-to-back losses to Courtenay and Lord Byng that proved to be the team’s most humbling moments

That summer, a new coach came to town.

Norm Vickery had played basketball at UBC and would later embark on a successful coaching career of his own at the CIAU level.

The acknowledged team leader and floor general was Brian Specht. Skip Cronk was a fiercely competitive player and handled a lot of the scoring. Wayne Haldane, says Shields, was one of the greatest shooters he ever played with or coached. And Dennis Rooney, who picked up the garbage and played defence with Shields, was a street fighter that never backed down.

On day one of the tournament, the unheralded Rainmakers drew a very tough Kamloops team that had earlier beaten the UBC junior varsity team in a scrimmage,

“One of the Kamloops players turned to his buddies and said ‘Hey, we should have started the second-string,’” Shields remembers.

“Our guys didn’t say a word. We just looked at them. It was our easiest game of the tournament.” Rupert won 66-51.

The second game was a 62-61 win over Vancouver No. 1 Magee Lions in which the Rainmakers, down by a point with 10 seconds left, ran a set play and Cronk scored the winning hoop.

And the third game, still labelled the most exciting semifinal and perhaps the best tournament game ever, saw Prince Rupert defeat the defending champion MEI Eagles 66-64 in overtime.

Haldane, the coolest of customers, sank two free throws to tie the game 60-60 and bring on overtime. And in the extra session, a twisting lay-up by Cronk and two foul shots by Specht proved to be the difference.

In the final against Abbotsford in front of an overflow crowd of over 6,000 at UBC, Rooney hit the winning jumper with 42 seconds left to give Prince Rupert a 43-41 win and the B.C. title.

Incredibly, Vickery subbed in only one other player. Otherwise, Shields, Cronk, Specht, Rooney and Haldane played every second of all four contests.

“But,” as Shields is quick to point out, “the guys on the bench were equally committed. They worked equally as hard and they were equally important to us winning. They were totally supportive and just wanted to win.”

Members of the 1964 Prince Rupert Rainmakers (left to right) Dave Petrie, Skip Cronk, Ken Shields, Mike DeCiocco, Wayne Haldane strike a post-game provincial title pose. (Photo property of Winslade Collection 2024. All Rights Reserved)


The impact of a teenage boy winning a provincial basketball championship can’t be overstated.

It is, according to anyone who experienced the moment, a time of temporary numbness and total exhilaration.

But there was something just a little bit different about the way winning the title affected Ken Shields.

After he headed out of the UBC gymnasium on March 6th, 1964, he suddenly realized that his world was expanding. “I knew that what I really liked doing was playing basketball,” he says. “I thought I could turn that into a career that I really loved if I could become a coach.”

So while his college playing career was still in front of him, Shields was already thinking in terms of coaching.

In 1964-65, he was a member of the Canadian junior men’s semifinalist Mount Royal Cougars. For the next two seasons (1965-66, 66-67) he played in the back-court as a Canada West all-star with the Calgary Dinosaurs, then spent his final two seasons (1967-68, 68-69) at UBC where he alternated between post, forward and guard with the T-Birds.

“I decided that I wanted to coach the game early, so I was already viewing the game differently than some other players,” he says. “And having played the game at all different positions gave me a very well-rounded exposure to what each position requires. It has been a tremendous advantage to me as a coach.”

His first assignment was with the UBC women’s team in 1969-70. There, he joined forces with his high school coach Vickery and together the two led the team to the Canadian Senior ‘A’ championship.

He spent the following six years as the men’s varsity coach at Laurentian University in Sudbury where in 1975-76 he led the team to a fourth-place finish at the nationals and was CIAU Coach of the Year.

The 1976-77 season looked to be the one where Laurentian would win it all, but a position came open at UVic and Shields decided that he wanted to come home.

“That was a very difficult decision,” he says looking back. “I remember when I finally accepted the job I was working at the Olympics in Montreal and I drove to Sudbury because I didn’t want all of my players to find out through the media.

“I took them all out to dinner and I told them I was leaving, but I encouraged them all to stay in Sudbury because we had worked so hard for what we had built.”

In his first year at UVic, he got the team into the playoffs for only the second time ever. The next year they won the West and lost in the CIAU semifinals, and in his third year they lost out in the finals.

After that, all Shields and his teams did was win seven straight CIAU titles, a championship run so long that it is rightly called to this day an era of national basketball history. During part of his tenure, he also served as the school’s athletic director.

Ken Shields hoists Rainmakers coach Norm Vickery after 1964 title win. A few seasons laters Shields would be Vickery’s assistant with the UBC women’s basketball team. (Photo property of Winslade Collection 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Ken Shields is addicted to the game. There is no other way to put it.

While at Laurentian, he slept in Vickery’s camper outside the national team training centre in Ottawa, watching the guest coaches and digesting everything he could.

Finally, national team coach Jack Donohue asked him to start working at the camps.

His first duties included coaching the National ‘B’ team twice and the national junior team twice. Then, he landed the most coveted job in the country as the head coach of the men’s national team.

But despite the fact that his statistical accomplishments have dwarfed those of his peers, he still talks with great praise for Hartwig and Vickery, his two prep coaches, for giving him great philosophies of team play and defence.

And he acknowledges that his UBC coach Peter Mullins, was the man who taught him not to let emotion get the best of him on the floor.

“I like to think I stole as much as I could from every coach I ever played for,” he says of his unique ability to recognize and recycle a good idea. “My philosophy is a composite of everything.”

He talks of players like Guy Vetrie, the current UVic coach who was one of his top players at Laurentian; of Vancouver Island legends like Pasquale, Dukeshire and the Kazanowskis, of blue-collar workers like Ian Hyde-Lay (head coach at St. Michaels University School), and Mel Bishop (head coach at Prince Rupert),

If you ask him, he could tell you 10 stories about every player he has ever coached. He’s good at that.

But what he does best is put the grand picture into a kind of perspective that is as crystal clear as the little boy who wakes up from a night of dreaming, ready to conquer the world.

“All I can tell you is that I dreamed most of the things before they happened to men,” he says softly. “I dreamed about playing on the Rainmakers and it happened, I dreamed about getting a coaching job at a Canadian university and it happened. I dreamed about going to national championships, and winning national championships and that happened, too. I dreamed about beating NCAA Div. 1 teams and we did… seven out of 14 games, all on the road.

“I used to see it. Replay it in my mind. It wasn’t a fantasy. There’s a difference between dreaming and fantasizing. I believe people should dream. I believe it is very, very terrible to say to someone ‘You’re a dreamer.’

“The connotations in our society about dreamers is negative. (But) people have imagination. Use your imagination. Dream. Visualize that it is all possible.”

And what does Shields dream about these days?

“Those are private,” he says. “I don’t talk about dreams until they happen. But I mean, obviously we want to go to the Olympics.”

The legendary Ken Shields chats with former Vikes radio announcer, the late Guy MacPherson, at CARSA Gym, the home and Ken and Cathy Shields Court. (Photo courtesy MacPherson family)


He is a contented man. He is proud, dedicated, determined and resourceful. But most of all, he refuses to forget from where he has come.

Ask him what has been most important in his life. Ask him where he learned to be a winner. Ask him how he has climbed to the top of the mountain, and he’ll tell you in the blink of a mind’s eye.

“Still, the single most vivid memories I have are getting my uniform in high school on the day I was told that I had made the team, and winning the B.C. championship.

“Winning the B.C. championship was far more important to me, meant more to me, and is more etched in my memory than any one of the national championships or anything else I have ever won.

“No one can describe the feelings that were associated with that process and what we went through as a team — the tremendous work ethic, the fierce competitive desire and toughness.”

This week, yet another group of dedicated players will get a chance to enter that exclusive club of which Shields talks so highly.

Watch sport play itself out on the centre court in its purest form Saturday night, but please know this is not just a game unfolding before your eyes.

It is an event that will touch the lives of its participants forever and send them out into the world as the most positive of believers.

And in these fractured times of urine-swapping, slush-funding, contract-dishonouring deceit, it’s comforting to know that the most famous graduate of the tournament can’t take out his stamp of approval fast enough.

That and an Agrodome hotdog, is a great way to end the season.

(This article was originally published in the 1991 B.C. Boys High School Basketball championship program,)

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4 thoughts on “How Ken Shields learned to dream! The story of a young boy’s road to the B.C. title 60 years ago with the 1964 Prince Rupert Rainmakers!

  1. I have to ask, what can you possibly do for an encore Howard? Another brilliant gem. Ken is a giant, so much respect for him growing up as a young Roadrunner. Great coach, better human being. If we could only bottle that feeling of which he speaks! Thank you for bringing this story back in its entirety, thoroughly enjoyed the read, brought back so many memories of that golden era. Once basketball touches you it’s there for life, immersed in everything you do and intertwined in everything that happens. Almost DNA like. That’s what makes it great. Keep writing my friend, we need you :). Best wishes to Ken.

  2. Prince Rupert is a hot bed of basketball. BC basketball Hall of Fame members include Ken Shields, Mel Bishop, Neil Brown, Jim Ciccone, Chris Hebb, Luanne Hebb plus many other outstanding players over the years.

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