One of the most talented hockey and baseball players to be born and raised in Brandon started skating
at age four. William (Bill) John Fairbairn played with the Brandon Wheat Kings as a 16-year-old and had a definite impact with his tenacity and skating ability. He was signed as a free agent in 1964 by the New York Rangers by Emile “The Cat” Francis, coach and General Manager, Fairbairn’s mentor, for whom he has the highest praise.
He scored 313 points in his three seasons with the Wheat Kings and teamed up with Juha Widing and Erv Zimmer to form one of the top lines in Junior hockey in 1966-67. To finish that season he was also added to the Port Arthur Marrs for the Memorial Cup and was called up by the Omaha Knights (CPHL) for three games late in the year. Fairbairn spent the next two seasons with the Knights (1967-69) and was on the All Star team in 1969, thus garnering a one game look with the Rangers.
He joined the Rangers in 1969-70 and was teamed with Walt Tkaczuk and Dave Balon on the checking line that, due to their style, was dubbed the “Bull Dog Line.” Fairbairn’s rookie season was very impressive; he had 23 goals, 33 assists and finished as runner up for the Calder Cup. He continued as a regular and helped the Rangers make it to the 1972 Stanley Cup Finals. That year he was invited to play in the Summit Series. However, his wife Lloydene was due to give birth during that time so Fairbairn declined the invitation.
1972–73 was his best NHL scoring year with 30 goals and 33 assists. In early 1976-77 he was traded to Minnesota North Stars (29 points in 51 games), placed on waivers early the next season and then was claimed by the St. Louis Blues where Francis was coaching. Fairbairn played very well in the last 60 games
of 1977-78 and was the Blues’ nominee for the Lady Byng Trophy. His rambunctious, hard-hitting style would be his downfall as back problems finally forced retirement just five games into the 1978-79 schedule. His NHL career spanned 11 years with 162 goals, 423 points in 658 games. He has been inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame and the Omaha Knights Hall of Fame and was voted as one of the “Top Forty Wheat Kings” in 2007.
Fairbairn played on numerous championship teams in both minor hockey and baseball and was one of the organizers of the Brandon Parkland Junior Baseball team that won the Canadian Championships in 1967. He was voted as an All Star Outfielder of that tourney.
Sport has always been an important part of his life – but in my discussions with Bill Fairbairn, family was talked about as much or maybe even more than sports. Tenacious – yet gentle and a family man. To quote a former Wheat King teammate, Larry McKillop “The dog would never give up”.
b. January 7th, 1947