Bill Harris: From
Hockey Sticks to Candlewicks
By: Paul White
Winter Sideroads 2008
New York Islanders' Long Island Lightning Company and the
Muskoka Candle Company have a connection.
Former NHL hockey star
Bill Harris, who played on the formidable Long Island Lightning
Company forward line is now lighting up the workshop of his
Muskoka Candle Company.
While strolling through
a craft mall in southern Ohio he made what would prove to
be a very fortunate discovery, leading to quiet NHL retirement
days, surrounded by scented hot wax in the village of Rosseau.
Many young Canadians
dream of a hockey career in the National Hockey League, but
only a few ever realize this ambition.
In 1972, Bill Harris,
a junior hockey star with the Toronto Marlboros, was about
to realize this Canadian dream.
He was at the top of
the hockey world. Harris had enjoyed a successful career with
his hometown junior hockey team and now the hockey world was
unfolding as he had always dreamed.
The New York Islanders,
a new team in the National Hockey League, made Bill their
first-ever selection in the league's annual junior draft.
But the dream hockey
life was only going to get better.
In 1972, the hockey world
was about to undergo a change that would forever impact on
the sport. For years, the Russian hockey team had dominated
international hockey tournaments. These supposed "amateurs"
had no equals in the world of international hockey.
But, in the autumn of
1972, the two hockey worlds were about to collide. The Canadians,
representing the North American professional league (the NHL)
were set to play an eight game series with the Russian "amateurs".
To get ready for this hockey showdown, the Canadian team held
a training camp.
This camp not only included
the very best Canadian hockey stars, but also three of the
finest graduating junior hockey players in the country were
invited to scrimmage with Canada's best. Goalie Michel Larocque
and defenseman John Van Boxmeer joined Bill Harris as members
of Team Canada.
Although the three did
not suit up for any games against the Russians, the experience
had a profound influence on all of them.
In the fall of 1972,
with the Team Canada experience behind him, Billy headed to
Long Island to tryout for the expansion New York Islanders.
He was an immediate hit with the NHL team's management.
When the season started
Billy let his hockey skills announce his arrival to the NHL
and the Islanders in particular. In the very first league
game played by the franchise and Harris' first game as a professional,
he scored the Islanders first ever NHL goal. This is a record
that can never be erased.
For the next eight NHL
seasons, Bill notched 20 goals each season and played on the
Islanders number one line, with Brian Trottier and Clark Gillies.
All successful forward
lines are usually given a moniker to recognize them as a great
line and the troika of Trottier, Gillies and Harris was no
exception. They became known as the Long Island Lightning
But, just before the
playoffs in the spring of 1980, Billy Harris' hockey life
would experience a major change. On trade deadline day, he
received a telephone call from Islander management. He and
team mate Dave Lewis had been traded to the other side of
the continent to the Los Angeles Kings for Butch Goring.
Harris continued to score
goals, notching another 20 goal season with the Kings. But,
in November 1981, he was again traded. This time he was going
home. Not back to the Islanders, but to Toronto.
The morning of the trade
with Toronto, many fans woke up to the news that Billy Harris
was joining the Leafs. Many long time fans wondered if Billy
Harris, a player with Toronto in the 1960s was making a comeback.
Same name but a generation difference. But the confusion between
the former Marlboro star and the Leaf from the 1960s did not
end with similar first and last names. No both even shared
the same middle name "Edward" and both had enjoyed
stardom as juniors with the Marlboros.
Billy played for the
Leafs until he was dealt back to the Kings in February 1984.
A few months later at the end of the season Harris retired
and went into various business ventures until one fateful
day in southern Ohio.
In 2003 Bill was walking
through a craft mall when he came upon a vendor selling soy-based
candles. Intrigued by the product he bought some candles and
took them to his home in Rosseau.
It was not long before
he discovered the positive properties of these candles.
On a return visit to
the vendor in Ohio, Bill proposed importing the candles to
sell in Ontario. But, for one reason or another, the candle
maker offered to show Harris how to make the candles himself.
This resulted in the
former member of the Long Island Lightning Company starting
the Muskoka Candle Company.
To start, Bill asked
some friends who owned a gift shop to try and sell some candles
for him. He was surprised and delighted when a few days later,
they called and said that "they were almost sold out".
At that point the entrepreneurial Harris knew that he was
on to something.
Harris said that in the
beginning, he used basic equipment to make the candles. "I
started out using a 55 cup coffee percolator with a plumbing
fixture attached" to make the candles.
When asked "What
was so special about his candles?" Bill's eyes lit up
just like they probably did when he scored a goal.
Harris said, "They
are really environmentally friendly. Most candles are paraffin-based
and they create a smoke that will leave black marks on your
wall or ceiling. These are soy-based and don't leave the same
"So if you have
any breathing or respiratory issues, they (the candles) don't
And, he said, the candles
"will burn down, leaving nothing, there is no waste."
The company has evolved
to the point where they produce 45 different fragrances. The
flavours run a wide range from "Campfire" to "Pink
Sugar", "Muskoka Summer" and "Cranberry
What started as a part
time venture has blossomed into a fulltime entrepreneurial
adventure. Harris and his business partner Stephanie McPhee
also customize specialty candle products that are personalized
for businesses and even weddings. From the small production
centre in Rosseau, Muskoka Candles ship candles all over Canada
and to parts of the United States.
During his hockey career,
Harris loved to light the goal light behind opposition nets
when he scored. Now his customers love to light his candles.