A Childhood On The Canadian Prairie
Born in the small farming town of Floral, Saskatchewan, Canada on March 31, 1928, Gordon Howe grew up in nearby Saskatoon with his eight brothers and sisters. His father, Albert Howe, had just given up a life of farming at the time of his son's birth and subsequently worked as a mechanic and construction worker, finally achieving the position of superintendent of maintenance for the City of Saskatoon. Money was tight in the Howe household during the Great Depression and his mother, Katherine Schultz Howe, could sometimes only feed the family oatmeal porridge for each meal. When he was five years old, Gordie Howe developed a health-threatening calcium deficiency in part caused by his family's poverty. In addition to taking vitamins to correct the problem, Howe began to exercise regularly to improve his bone and muscle strength. His dedication to a demanding physical regimen would later prove crucial in the longevity of his career, particularly after suffering some major injuries during his first years in the NHL.
Like most boys growing up on the Canadian Prairie, Howe played hockey with his friends during the long winters on any frozen surface. He got his first pair of skates after his mother gave a dollar-and-a-half to a neighbor whose husband was hospitalized; in exchange, Mrs. Howe got a sack filled with assorted odd items, including a pair of skates. Although they were far too large for him, Howe put on several pairs of socks and spent all day out on the ice. After he outgrew them, Howe sometimes had to strap blades onto his street shoes in lieu of proper skates. Although he was at times embarrassed by his lack of equipment, Howe increasingly turned to hockey as his refuge as he was growing up. After failing the third grade twice, he was often the target of teasing at school and developed into an introverted teenager.