It’s now a vacant lot. But even when Kenesky’s Sport and Cycle occupied the corner of Barton and Wellington, casual passers-by would never know that they were looking at the Sistine Chapel of hockey equipment. But from the 1950s to the 1970s every goalie in the NHL wore Kenesky goalie pads lovingly hand crafted by Emile “Pop” Kenesky who died in 1974. Joel Hulsman, who worked at the store from age 12 and who bought the store in 1985, passed away Sunday at Hamilton General Hospital—kitty-corner to the legendary sports store. Just blocks away, a crowd of over 26,000 had gathered to watch the outdoor Heritage Classic game between the Maple Leafs and Buffalo. During the TV broadcast of the game there was a feature on the historic Kenesky shop and its role in the life of so many NHL goalies. When the Bay Observer talked to Joel Hulsman in 2015-the 100th anniversary of the store he recalled, “Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuck—they’d be sitting on the steps on a Saturday morning waiting for the place to open so they could get a repair done. In 1928 Pop Kenesky invented the basic design for a goalie pad that is still in use today. “Pop was well respected and he worked hard,” said Joel, “at his peak he made 300 pairs of pads a year”. Demand was so great that many potential customers were turned away.
A pair was once shipped overseas on the Hindenburg in the 1930’s. Other netminders who used Kenesky pads included Ron Hextall, Johnny Bower, Ken Dryden, Al Bester, Gump Worsley Turk Broda, and Ed Giacomin. “it wasn’t just NHL goalies who came in here,” said Joel, “we had NHL forwards and defence- men as well.” After the 2013 championship season, then Blackhawk goalie, the late Ray Emery brought the Stanley Cup to Kenesky’s In 2015, Kenesky’s seemed to be keeping up with the times in the face of competition from sports equipment chains. The internet had become a big part of their strategy. “We are a destination,” says Joel, “our customers come from Kitchener, Fort Erie, Toronto even overseas—I deal with buyers in Abu Dhabi, Switzerland and Japan. Still the business is very competitive, “the web is a big piece of the equation now,” he said. But it was shortly after that celebration that the store was closed and sold to a developer.
Joel was passionate about Barton Steet. Bob Bratina who was the ward councillor for that part of Barton Street until 2010 recalled, “Joel Hulsman was a life- long resident of downtown Hamilton and became a champion of its revitalization. One of his teachers at Tweedsmuir Elementary School, Carol Bratina, remembers him as a gregarious and popular student with a passion for sports. He started working part- time at Kenesky’s Sports on Barton at Wellington, famous for Pop Kenesky’s handmade goalie pads. The relationship lasted 48 years as Joel eventually became the owner until its closing in 2015. Joel was always concerned about the state of the Barton Street Neighbourhood and was not shy about demanding more visible police presence and bylaw enforcement. As a result, Joel and I became very close during my time as the Ward 2 councilor and mayor. He was adamant that young hockey players and their families should not have to encounter drug activity, prostitution and dismal streetscapes while visiting the store. Right up until the store’s closure it remained a Mecca for up-and-coming hockey players among so many families that visited the store were the Nurses, Darnell and father Richard, the former Tiger Cat.