Orval ‘Red’ Gravelle: our First Olympian
Born prematurely, Orval Gravelle (1927-1997) grew up at 31 Notre-Dame Street in Aylmer. At the age of 10, a neighbour, Oscar Soulière, said to Red “Why don’t you take these skates, my lad. Gérard has a new pair”. The skates were size 8 and little Red wore them over his boots and just zoomed down the street.
His first hockey coach was Brother Jean-Camille at St-Paul school. At 14 he got his first pair of new skates and soon after played with the Aylmer Saints.
With a fiery character, he was nicknamed Red for the colour of his hair. During the summer he caddied at the Gatineau Golf Club where he perfected the game. By the age of 18 he was working at G.H. Connors while pursuing his studies at the Hull Technical School.
In 1947, the Aylmer Saints won the Ottawa District championship and Red was scouted by the New York Rangers and played in their farm team, the Rovers.
The 1948 Olympics were approaching and Canada had not yet made up a team. They were to be held in St Moritz, Switzerland and time was of the essence. The R.C.A.F. was mandated to form a team; those selected must, however, agree to serve in the Air Force.
Red was chosen and proudly wearing the royal blue uniform and the banana style cap, his family saw him off at Union Station where the train brought them to New York to board the ship for Europe. They returned with the Gold medal.
Red married Jeanne Perrier and they had five children.
He spent his whole career in the Air Force working as a machinist, but mostly playing and coaching hockey. Stationed in Trenton, Ontario, he was involved in minor hockey. Five of the boys that he coached made it to the pros - Dennis Hull, Chicago; John Garrett, Vancouver; Bob Daley, Philadelphia; George Ferguson, Toronto and Tom Tully, St-Louis.
The team was invited to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and given replica sweaters.