If you’re going to collect something, why not be the best at it?
That’s what Nathan Lajoie has managed to do. The Chatham, Ont. native has amassed a collection of over 4,000 books in his life, a collection he believes to be the largest private hockey library in the world at over 4,000 total items.
The aim? To be a big preservator of hockey history by collecting anything and everything about the sport he loves.
By doing so, Lajoie had to get expansive. He owns every issue of every The Hockey News magazine issue in the near 75-year-history of the outlet. He has record guides dating back to the early days of NHL stat collection. He has over 1,200 books, including all the heavy hitters and some more obscure, hard-to-find publications.
Lajoie simply loves hockey, and his collection is living proof of it.
For Lajoie, his collection itch began when he collected Panini sticker albums when he was around three years old. His more hardcore hockey collecting habit took off at the turn of the millennium after a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame with his father. Lajoie picked up The Hockey News: Century of Hockey magazine and said on the trip back home, he read it front to back to learn about the history of the game he didn’t know.
Lajoie would eventually go on to subscribe to the magazine, but it was shortly after that he started to search sites like eBay and Kijiji to find old issues and other hockey memorabilia. “Thankfully, a lot of my collecting was while the Canadian dollar was still even,” Lajoie said with a laugh.
With a collection that spans a century of hockey knowledge, has Lajoie had time to read it all?
“I don’t get as much time to read as I used to while working full time and having a wife and a son here at home, but usually in my spare time, I always like to have one on the go,” Lajoie said.
Lajoie’s No. 1 favorite – and often cited as one of the golden standards in writing about hockey from a player’s perspective – is The Game by Ken Dryden. But Lajoie doesn’t have any old copy of the book – he has one personally signed to former St. Louis Blues GM Ron Caron.
But one of the coolest books he has? A copy of Eric Lindros’ Fire on Ice. Why? The autograph signed out to Caron.
“Inside the book, it’s signed ‘Mr. Caron, all the best.’ – Eric Lindros. And then in small letters at the bottom in a Sharpie, it says ‘P.S.: Help.”
Help? The story goes that, while Lindros was holding out in 1991 after getting drafted by Quebec, Lindros would send signed copies of his books to teams he was interested in playing for and would write “help” in them. Using that theory, the Blues were one of those teams. And Lajoie has the one for Caron.
Among other rare pieces – and ones Lajoie rather not touch in his collection due to their fragility – are a series of books by former CBC broadcaster Ed Fitkin. Fitkin wrote many of hockey’s early autobiographies in the 1950s about players such as Maurice Richard, Turk Broda, Ted Kennedy and more. Lajoie said many of them are near impossible to find, but he has all eight of them.
The oldest book in Lajoie’s collection is one written by hockey media legend Foster Hewitt published back in 1934 called Down the Ice. He also had a copy of 1938s Hockey: The Fastest Game on Earth by Red Dutton.
“Some of these books I’ve paid more than I care to care to admit or tell the wife that I paid,” Lajoie said with a laugh.
Lajoie doesn’t have an approximate value for his collection, but with many of the pieces fetching high prices on the open market, you can just imagine how much it would actually be fully worth. But the goal isn’t to get rich off of everything he has: he wants to eventually give it to his son, but for now, it’s for himself to enjoy.
“I’ve always wanted to collect because I’ve always had such a big fascination for the history of the game,” Lajoie said. “I love reading about hockey history. I love reading historical accounts and old articles, biographies, autobiographies and team history books. I try to get as much information as I can to store in my mind about hockey history.”
Lajoie has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. He plans on cataloging everything into an Excel document to keep full track of his collection, something that will take a bit of time. He’ll continue to showcase his collection on his Hockey Library Facebook page for fans and historians alike while working with the Society for International Hockey Research to continue hockey information preservation.
But at the very least, he’s having fun with it. And like mentioned earlier, if you’re going to go big, you might as well go REALLY big.