The Kenora Thistles were an early amateur men's ice hockey team based in Kenora, Ontario, Canada and formed in 1885 as a senior team by a group of Lake of the Woods lumbermen. The club is notable for winning the Stanley Cup as an amateur team in 1907. The town is the smallest in population to have ever won the Cup. The junior team started play in amateur leagues in the 1890s, and ceased playing in 1907, playing against Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario based teams.
The team nickname has been revived since the demise of the original club in late 1907 to denote minor, junior, and senior league men's hockey teams.
The town of Kenora, Ontario was originally known as Rat Portage. In the late 1880s, an amateur senior hockey club was formed by older professional men, most of them lumbermen, gold prospectors, or individuals in the local mining businesses. By the early 1890s, several young boys of the Rat Portage area, most of them between the ages of 9-11, formed a junior ice hockey team of the same name, which went on to beat the senior team in an exhibition. Among these boys were future Hockey Hall of Famers Tommy Phillips, Tom Hooper, Billy McGimsie, and Silas Griffis.
Over the next five years, these young players began to populate the senior team and quickly established themselves as one of the premier amateur hockey clubs of the western Canadian provinces. In 1903 they challenged the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup and lost. In 1905 they again challenged the Ottawa squad with the same disappointing results. That summer, the town of Rat Portage changed its name to Kenora.
In January 1907 the Thistles again challenged for the Cup, winning it in a total goals series against the Montreal Wanderers. The games were played on January 17 and 21, with Kenora winning 4–2 and 8–6, respectively. Two other future Hockey Hall of Famers, Art Ross and "Bad" Joe Hall were also on the roster but did not play. Kenora, with a 1907 population of around 4,000, is the smallest town ever to claim the Stanley Cup.
Just two months later, the Thistles were challenged by the Wanderers to a re-match. Despite importing the services of three more future Hockey Hall of Famers (Alf Smith, Harry "Rat" Westwick, and Frederick Whitcroft), the team lost the Stanley Cup and most of its noted players afterward to other professional teams, family life, or retirement. Despite the promises from a rich lumber boss by the name of Taylor Concord Kraus to provide financial support to continue to field a professional team, The Thistles folded during the 1907-1908 Manitoba Professional Hockey League season.
Since the original team's demise in late 1907, the nickname Thistle has been used for many hockey clubs in Kenora and is currently the nickname of the town's amateur, junior, and senior-level men's teams. A intermediate version of the Thistles were a Canadian Junior Hockey Team in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and began play in 1910. In 1934, they won the Turnbull Cup (MJHL) Championship, and repeated in 1940. The Thistles went on to win the Abbott Cup defeating the Edmonton Athletic Club earning the right to represent the west in the Memorial Cup. It was the first year that 2 teams from Ontario would face off for the Memorial Cup. The best of five series was played in Winnipeg. Kenora lost the final in 4 games to the Oshawa Generals.
The 1940 Kenora Thistles were inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame in the team category. They also have been inducted in the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, The Midwest`ern Canadian Professional Men's Winter Sports Hall of Fame, as well as Kenora's local Hall of Fame.
In 1968 the Kenora Muskies began playing in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. In 1975, the Team changed it name to the Thistles in honor of the Stanley Cup team.