If you put a random group of 20 Calgarians in one room you can bet that at least half of them could tell you a personal story about Stampede Wrestling or the Harts. In the age of black and white television, the grapplers of Stampede Wrestling were the most colorful characters that you could have probably met.
I was one of thousands that attended many of the Friday night wrestling shows and then eagerly watched them on the next day’s television one-hour program.
Walking into the Calgary Pavilion on a Friday night to watch wrestling, one could image that we were going to see a cock fight instead of a wrestling match. The smoke was thick and we sat on wooden benches or chairs that made your butt as sore as could be by the end of the night. The air was filled with the strong odour of cows as the Pavilion was also used as an cattle auction house during the day. The crowd was a wide mix — from the very old to babies in their mothers’ laps, along with plenty of natives who loved their wrestling. This was no Maple Leaf Gardens, but we loved the rodeo atmosphere anyways.
For Calgary Herald writer Heath McCoy, Stampede Wrestling was also an influential part of his youth. He has now penned Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling, a sensational account of the history of Big Time Wrestling’s early years to what would be known around the world as Stampede Wrestling.
With a number of books on the market today written by wrestlers, wives of wrestlers and assorted other people involved in the wrestling business, McCoy uses his reporter’s skills to the fullest. He has combined all of these many sources and combines them into an easy to read, historical account of Stu Hart’s early years to the many great wrestlers that had traveled through the rings of Stu’s promotion.
In 2004, McCoy had a wonderful cover story named “Butchers, Stompers & Cheats” that was included in the Calgary Herald newspaper. For any historian of those good old days of Stampede Wrestling it was a much appreciated piece on the villains of the squared circle. McCoy has now completed a much more comprehensive 300-page book that gives any wrestling fan a better understanding of how this crazy world of professional wrestling operated and survived on the Canadian prairies.
At first when I started reading the book, I had a feeling that I have read all of this before. If you are a reader of wrestling books, you too may get a sense of deja vu as I did; but as you continue to read, you feel that McCoy has done his homework and then some. Many books, magazines, newspaper columns and personal interviews help McCoy put a tight headlock on the entire Stampede Wrestling story.
For many fans, one might have thought that the popular voice of Stampede Wrestling, Ed Whelan, would have written this book. But with his passing a few years earlier, as well as Stu and Helen Hart and many other of the cast of characters gone, you might have felt that this book might never had been achieved. I believe that McCoy has done them all proud in reliving the stories and matches from the 1950s to the succeeding generations, to the wrestlers of today. McCoy pulls no punches either, as the reader gets a good dose of the highs as well as the many lows that these wrestlers have lived through.The names in this book are not only familiar to the local wrestling fans, but fans across the world get a peek into the lives and the long highway trips of many of their favorites. Names included in the early years such as Gene Kiniski, Dave Ruhl, Abdullah the Butcher and the Stomper Archie Gouldie enjoy many accounts of their lives. A more recent wrestling fan will enjoy reading the early years of Bret Hart, The Dynamite Kid and his cousin Davey Boy Smith and, of course, Owen Hart. There are really far too many names to mention here.
Also included throughout the book are many wonderful photos, mostly captured through the lens of Bob Leonard, Stampede Wrestling’s official ringside photographer. As you read the book, you would have felt cheated if it was all text with few photos. Going through the vast collection of wrestling photos we see many of these stars in never-before published photographs.
For fans of any age of wrestling, this is a must have book for their collection. Well researched and written, you finally have the complete book of Stampede Wrestling.
BILL CUBITT is a wrestling fan and photographer from Calgary, Alberta.