Northern Manitoba lost one of its greatest sporting heroes this week.
Ken Baird passed away suddenly on Sunday, Dec. 18 at his home in Snow Lake. He was 65.
Baird was a gifted hockey player who played nearly 300 games in the pros, but how he spent his life after leaving the ice is just as noteworthy.
He was born in Flin Flon before moving to Snow Lake with his family at age 12. He played minor hockey in both communities, later cracking the roster of the Flin Flon Bombers as an 18-year-old defenceman.
With the Bombers, Baird set a team record for points by a defenceman with 75 in 1970-71. After being drafted by the California Golden Seals, he went on a 10-year odyssey through the ranks of professional hockey.
Baird played a handful of NHL games before breaking into the WHA with the Edmonton Oilers. He joined fellow Flin Flon natives Al Hamilton and Tom Gilmore, and former Bomber Chris Worthy, on the team.
Baird would later join the Calgary Cowboys and Winnipeg Jets, winning an AVCO Cup title with the Jets. He later played hockey in Germany, where he met his wife, Uschi.
“He did so much for my mom,” said Amber Semborski, Baird’s daughter and only child. “There is so much that they didn’t get to do and see, and it breaks my heart that she doesn’t have him by her side anymore.”
Baird was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 26, but managed the disease and continued with his hockey career. He retired from the pros at age 29.
At that point, Baird moved back to northern Manitoba. He took a job in HBM&S’s zinc plant in Snow Lake. He and Uschi raised Amber in
Baird spent much of his spare time in the community. He could usually be found on winter nights at the Snow Lake rink, the Wilfred T. Lipton Arena. In the summer, he would frequently head out to the lake for a good day’s fishing or grab his clubs for a round at the Snow Lake Golf Course.
He was a familiar presence in the community, frequently spending his time volunteering or raising money for community causes. On the day before his untimely death, Baird ran a meat draw in
“He was such a character,” said Semborski. “There are lots of people in Snow Lake that will be missing him. He helped with our local Legion branch, he helped raise our new scoreboard up in the arena. He was always willing to lend a hand if someone needed it.”
Above all else, however, Baird enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren.
“He watched my daughter during the week for me while I worked and she and he, I think, enjoyed their time,” said Semborski. “He helped teach my son how to skate and was always giving him tips and tricks to make himself better – and to take the other guy down!”
Baird was also known as an entertaining storyteller who always had an anecdote ready.
“He was always very animated with his stories,” said Semborski. “He was all hands and standing up to tell them. Now I realize that my six-year-old son is exactly the same, over-exaggerating and telling wild stories.”
Recently, Baird attended the final home game at Rexall Place in Edmonton, the Oilers’ home arena. He himself played in the first game at the arena, a 4-1 Oilers win over the Cleveland Crusaders. Baird fought a Cleveland player in that game. A photo of the fight was on the front page of the program for the next Oilers home game.
Baird attended a ceremony before the final game with several other former Oilers, including Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. The group wore the orange uniforms the club first wore when they broke into the WHA – the same ones Baird wore in his tenure with the team.
Baird leaves behind his wife, daughter and two grandchildren, as well as his brother and sister.
“I cherish those moments and can’t wait for my son to grow up and wear my dad’s alumni Edmonton Oilers jersey,” said Semborski. “He was a good man, father, husband, grandfather, brother, best friend. He was good. Great. Amazing.”