If you’re a direct descendant of the Mentis family, you’re bread from athletes. Here is the story of John Mentis, chronicling his sports career in Quebec, playing junior and senior hockey, and semi-pro baseball.
Article originally posted on Saltwire (February 24, 2020)
For those of us who enjoy sports history, it’s amazing how many fine black athletes came from Truro.
During earlier years there were Art Dorrington, Stan “Chook” Maxwell, Clobie Collins, Gordie Maxwell and Denny Clyke.
They were followed by brothers Darrell, Freeman, Luke, Scotty and Danny Maxwell, as well as Reg Boudreau.
Starring with the Truro Bearcats in Maritime senior hockey was Bob Mentis, he also excelled in track. And Bob’s family would likewise leave their mark in sports.
His oldest son, Ray Mentis, played in Sudbury and was scouted by Chicago Black Hawks. Next came Bob “Cook” Mentis who also played in Sudbury. A sister, Lenora (Sissy) Mentis, played basketball. Johnny Mentis was number four in the family and he was followed by Burton “Bertie” Mentis who was a terrific baseball player.
That brings us to the Johnny Mentis story, about a Truro boy who left his hometown and did wonders playing junior and senior hockey and semi-pro baseball in Quebec. This would turn out to be a stepping stone to a successful 30-year career working in the prison system.
Mentis recently reflected on being dealt a tough hand early in life.
“I was only five years of age when our mother died,” said Mentis, 81, a Granby resident. “The five children were brought up by our grandparents and my father. It was a pretty rough start for us young kids.”
A family interest in sports was followed.
“My father would take me skating on a pond behind what is now Fletcher’s Restaurant. I think I was about 10 when I started playing minor hockey with Willow Street School.”
Mentis also played hockey for Central School, Colchester County Academy and the juvenile Truro Eagles. He recalled the Truro Forum days.
“It makes me think of rink rats; I was one of them. We would scrape the ice, after games we’d sweep up and clean up the stands. We’d get into games at the old forum free and they’d let us play hockey until late into the night.”
Mentis went on to play two seasons with Brookfield Elks of the Truro District Hockey League. During the 1955-56 season he scored the winning goal in overtime against Rockingham Eagles, as the Elks won the Nova Scotia Royal Hockey Championship.
“The final game was played at the old Shirley Street Arena in Halifax,” Mentis recalled. “Herm Murphy passed me the puck on the winning goal. Turk Henderson was a big star on that team. I remember playing with John and Hugh Matheson, Terry Henderson and Jigs Dickey. The Elks’ Charlie Toole was a real good player; Ron Conrad was our coach.”
The Elks’ John Matheson recalled his former teammate.
“Johnny Mentis was a fast skater, he could get into full stride very quickly. Johnny was a good hockey player and an all-around good guy.”
Mentis also played minor baseball and at a young age he saw action with Truro Sheiks of the Truro and District Baseball League.
In the fall of 1956, the talented young Mentis left home to play hockey in Quebec.
“Stan Maxwell talked to some hockey people and I signed a C-Form with Boston Bruins. I reported first to Quebec Aces, a Bruins farm club.”
The exciting forward played two seasons in junior with Chicoutimi and Kenogami. Two well known Nova Scotia hockey names were teammates with Chicoutimi, Donnie Dennis and Jacque Allard.
Mentis played the following 14 seasons in the Quebec Senior Hockey League with Granby Vics and Victoriaville Tigers. He enjoyed championship seasons in 1961 with Granby and 1968 and 1969 with Victoriaville. He also attended three training camps with Boston Bruins.
An outfielder in baseball, Mentis played 13 seasons in provincial ranks with Waterloo, Granby, Actonville, Sherbrook and Kenogami. He won the first of three Quebec senior league batting titles playing with Kenogami in 1957.
When Granby Cardinals won the Quebec Senior Baseball League championship in 1968, Mentis was one of only three Canadians whomade the team.
“They went to having mostly all imports,” said Mentis. “Players came in from the United States, Cuba and Panama; the league got a lot stronger at the time.”
Aside from sports, Mentis also did well in other areas. In 1966 he became the first black man to become a federal prison guard, working at St. Vincent de Paul Federal Penitentiary in Montreal. His career included becoming a penitentiary assistant athletic director and later, the Director of Sports.
“Hockey and baseball were good to me,” Mentis said. “I ended up with a good career working in the penitentiary system. I retired after 30 years with a pension. It wouldn’t have happened for sure if I hadn’t left my hometown to come to Quebec to play hockey and baseball.”