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Kids in a cafe turned out to be a snapshot of history

Retired photographer Bill Fitsell with the picture he took March 31, 1961.
Retired photographer Bill Fitsell with the picture he took March 31, 1961.(Lars Hagberg for the Globe)

GANANOQUE, Ontario — Polaroid instant camera in hand, Bill Fitsell, writer and photographer for the weekly Gananoque Reporter, was aware the boys would be at the Boston Cafe.

“Small town,” recalled Fitsell, now 93 years old and living in nearby Kingston, “so you knew every kid on the team.”

So on Friday night, March 31, 1961, Fitsell entered the cafe on King Street prepared to snap a photo of Gananoque’s bantam players celebrating their thrilling win earlier that night over Parry Sound. The planned shot would be destined to become a hockey treasure when Parry Sound’s 13-year-old Bobby Orr walked in, to be greeted by a standing ovation from the Gan boys.

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“He was a hero at such a young age — that really struck me,” said Fitsell. “There was none of that rivalry you get, or intense feelings, when they go on to play midget. They were still kids at that time.”

Orr and teammate Roddy Bloomfield (later the double for Paul Newman in “Slap Shot”) soon were squeezed into a booth, surrounded by Gan players Rick Eaton, Peter Small, Bobby Dickson, and Glen Grue.

Fitsell lifted his camera. Click.

Sixty seconds later, he had the developed black-and-white print in hand, measuring approximately 3½ inches by 4 inches.

From left: Rick Eaton, Bobby Orr, Roddy Bloomfield, Peter Small, Bobby Dickson, and Glen Grue.
From left: Rick Eaton, Bobby Orr, Roddy Bloomfield, Peter Small, Bobby Dickson, and Glen Grue.(Bill Fitsell/Gananoque (Ontario) Reporter)

“I knew it was a great picture because of the conviviality of the thing, all of them arm-in-arm as opponents,” recalled Fitsell, who went on to become an editor and columnist at the Kingston Whig-Standard. “They were celebrating a great series.”

Fitsell did not take action shots of the game that night at the Wellington Street Arena, but watched from the officials/penalty box between the benches. He was among the many in the building, including players, who knew scouts were dotted throughout the crowd, mainly to assess the play of Gananoque standouts Rick Eaton and Doug Higgins.

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“Orr stole the show,” recalled Fitsell, “but Higgins and Eaton were great players. Higgins was smart and good with the puck, like a Davey Keon. Eaton was a rushing defenseman with a terrific shot.”

Related: The Bruins went to scout two players. They found Bobby Orr instead

The picture, a copy of which Orr has tucked away in his files, is remarkable for the looks of innocence and happiness on the boys’ faces. With his right fist raised, the baby-faced Orr looks happiest of all.

“In those days, it didn’t matter if you won or lost,” said Orr, noting that he wishes he had a better memory for details of the game. “I mean, look at us in the picture. We’re having a great time. We’ve got milkshakes and French fries. Why the hell wouldn’t we be beaming? That’s the best meal we’d had in a while.”

For the Bruins franchise, the table was set that night. The feast was soon to come.

In 1961, Bruins honchos traveled to Canada to scout two players. Instead, they discovered Bobby Orr.
In 1961, Bruins honchos traveled to Canada to scout two players. Instead, they discovered Bobby Orr.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.