I always said that if I ever to Calgary, that I’d drop in to meet Stu Hart just to say thanks.
Thanks for sharing your family with us and providing some of the greatest pro wrestling action ever.
And last Wednesday, I completed that dream and more. I also stopped by Bret Hart’s house for a two-hour sit-down interview and visited that old ‘ring-a-ding-dong-dandy’ Ed Whalen at his Calgary 7 offices.
Now if you’ll indulge me a little, I’d like to share some memories from each of the stops I made.
First stop: Ed Whalen. 10:30 a.m. Calgary 7 newsroom.
Now I’ve known Ed for years. Or at least it has always felt like I’ve known him. He was the guy that kept Bad News Allen, and J.R. Foley and Makhan Singh in line.
Thanks to him, lines like “malfunction at the junction” and “in the mean time, and in between time” have been added to my vernacular.
So when I called him to arrange to meet him, it was cool that he remembered me from my days as editor (and publisher, writer, proofreader, stamp licker) for the Canadian Wrestling Report. It was seven years ago that I ceased publication of that to go to university.
On Pro Wrestling Plus, Ed gave the CWR a couple of plugs which resulted in many subscriptions, often from nooks and crannies of Canada that I didn’t know existed. At one point, wrestling brought the country together as much as hockey.
Ed’s a legend in Calgary. And not just from the wrestling. I knew that he was the TV guy for the Calgary Flames and was a sports broadcaster, but I didn’t know that he’s been in the business almost 50 years! Yikes!
He’s well-known across the province for his work with charities and his public speaking engagements too.
And Ed’s the youngest 70-year-old I’ve ever met.
I was happy to sit and chat with him, and to complete an entry on him for our Canadian Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. He got a big kick out of remembering some of the names in our Hall. Maybe you will too.
Next stop: Bret Hart’s house. Northwest Calgary. 1:30 p.m.
The thing that struck me most about heading to Bret’s house wasn’t my nervousness (I was). It was the mountains. Going from one end of Calgary to the other, the Rockies are RIGHT THERE. So close. Tempting to just keep driving. Maybe next time.
Bret’s house is in a normal neighborhood, one of those twisty-turny streets that Calgary city planners seem to love so much. It’s a normal house, with toys and a basketball net out front.
I was let in by his personal assistant Caroline, who deserves all of our thanks for setting up the interview. She showed me to a living room/office where I could hook up the laptop. Bret was in the shower, she said, and would be down in a minute.
I set up the machine and watched a huge bird outside the big window. So closely was I watching it, that I barely heard Bret come in.
“Hi Bret. What kind of bird is that,” I asked. “Magpie,” he replied. I had never seem one before.
We shook hands (he used his left hand, as his right hand has a broken bone) and he moved the world’s laziest cat from the chair closest to the computer.
Bret and I chatted a bit, and I told him about the hundreds of questions that were submitted. Then we got down to work.
He put a lot of thought into his answers. On a few occasions, we re-worked what he had said initially. At other times, I shared a story, like our experiences having Faarooq/Ron Simmons into the CANOE office, or reading Johnny Rougeau’s biography.
Two hours later, we finished up with his opening message. (A little backwards, I know.) I sent the interview off to CANOE. Bret signed some autographs and I presented him with some CANOE merchandise — read to the bottom for more on both!
Then he gave me instructions to his father’s place, and I was off.
Next stop: The Hart House. Southwest Calgary. 4 p.m.
Finding The Hart House wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. For one, Calgary only has a few places from which you can cross the river. None were particularly convenient for me. Then, in the maddening-Calgary fashion, all the streets in the subdivision were named the same, just with different endings, like Place or Hills or Drive or Avenue. Arghhh!
Finally I pulled up to Hart House. It’s a BIG place. And once was a lot bigger. Stu used to own much of the land around his place, and sold it a half-dozen years ago for a cookie-cutter subdivision.
Inside as I waited for Stu, I was awed by the age of the place, by the amazing antiques. You’d have to have had a place this big for twelve kids to have grown up in. For Andre the Giant and Don Leo Jonathon to come visit in.
Then Stu came in. He’s not moving too well these days. It’s his knees. We sat in the front room, moved to the next room when the dogs were making a bit too much noise.
And so I sat with Stu Hart and listened for an hour. I talked a bit, and asked a few questions. But mainly I listened. When you read the interview, please don’t be frustrated by my failure to keep Stu on track to the questions. I didn’t feel it was my place. Having just lost my Grandma weeks before, I wanted to hear Stu out. Our elder statesmen, our links to the past won’t be around forever.
The best part of the actual interview for me was asking him about yesterday’s wrestlers. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I enjoyed his stories.
We were interrupted a couple of times by the dogs (“that’s Neidhart’s dog”, “that’s Davey’s dog”) and once by Helen Hart. What an honor to meet her too! Again, may I say how mind-boggling twelve kids is to me? She’s quite small when compared to Stu and still has a touch of the New Yawk accent.
After one hour, and one very full mini-cassette tape I asked/begged Stu to show me the Dungeon. Can’t go to the Hart House and not see the Dungeon.
Next stop: The Dungeon. Hart House. Southwest Calgary. 5:30 p.m.
The Dungeon was nothing like I expected. And everything like I expected.
It is, quite simply, a small room in the basement of the house. Wood walls, suitable for drop-kicking. Low ceiling. One dingy window. The mats from a wrestling ring on the floor and some weights. That’s it.
And yet you are standing there with an awe-inspiring sense of History. Like being in the Tower of London or something. This place has stood the test of time. My favorites were all here at some point. Many trained there.
And best of all, someone was expecting me.
Our Canadian Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame was recently discovered by Paul LeDuc, an inductee and father to next-generation Carl LeDuc. I had told Paul, via email, that I was going to the Harts. He told me to say hi to Carl.
Instead Carl said hi to me. We chatted, and he will soon be heading back out on tour. He’s been at the Hart House for almost a year. Just learning. You have to respect that.
There wasn’t that much to see in The Dungeon. Stu sat on a weight-bench and started telling more stories. Within an hour, there were a dozen guys in there for that night’s training. Dean, T.J., Carl were just a few that I met. They all listened to Stu’s stories.
I got a few photos of Stu and I taken, and Stu demonstrated a few moves. Thankfully, just a few light punches and headlocks.
And we watched as Ross Hart started putting the trainees through the ropes (despite the lack of ropes).
Stu and I went upstairs and I left to go for a (non-wrestling related) dinner date.
My wrestling day in Calgary was through. A fulfillment of a dream.