It is at the point where I hate getting phone calls from Canada early in the morning. That is because it can only mean one thing and that is exactly how today started for me.
I actually had two calls and I knew it was time to sit down and reflect on my adventures with Johnny Canuck from Vancouver, B.C.
If memory serves me correct I met Johnny in the early 2000s in Vancouver. Michelle Starr had brought me up to do some shows for him and Dave Republic. They had a nice company going and I figured it would be fun to head up and entertain the great fans in B.C. plus see my old buddies again.
“I got a new tag team partner,” Starr told me when I arrived. “You’ll like this guy. He is a big, tough guy from the docks and I think a lot of the boys are afraid of him.”
Sounded interesting. This was the crazy world of pro wrestling so you never knew who you were going to meet. But I always loved meeting new guys and the crazier the better in my world.
One thing I learned working during the years of a lot of independents was that there were always a couple of top dogs in the area and sometimes they weren’t so welcoming to guys whom the promoters would bring in. I used to work for a number of different promoters so I was no stranger to danger and always watched myself until I got the lay of the land. And although I had done some long runs in Vancouver, I still never knew how a person would react.
So off we went to meet the one and only Johnny Canuck. And I have to say he was a complete class act and we hit it off right away.
Johnny was a big boy. He was like one of those guys whom you wanted to have on your side if you ever got into a riot. Just a big, tough, mean, snarly bastard who you knew could help you out of a bind if you needed it.
Oh, and let me mention that if you weren’t in a bind, he was one of the biggest pussy cats I ever met. And I know if he was still walking the planet he would kill me for saying that.
I was fortunate to go in and out of Vancouver for Starr and Republic for a couple of years. I never had the long exposure to Johnny because I was living in Los Angeles but every time I was in Vancouver we would work shows together.
Once I got to know Johnny, of course I felt comfortable sharing my demented sense of humour with him. So once I was sure he wouldn’t knock my block off, the ribs began.
The fans in New Westminster were rabid. On this night I think Starr was in the cage and Johnny was going to be the special referee. So here we are sitting in the dressing room that night and finally there is a knock on the door and Johnny’s wife delivers his striped shirt to him. He is so polite with her and thanks her for it. Being a rather large man, she had a hard time finding a ref’s shirt that would fit.
So Johnny comes over beside me and puts the shirt on. I hate to say it but it was at least two sizes too small. He barely gets it zipped up. It looks like he is about to burst out of it.
Johnny gets up and starts pacing around the room. Of course nobody is going to say anything to him. He finally comes over and asks me to follow him to a corner.
“Can I ask you something?” he said.
“Sure Johnny,” I replied, “anything.”
“Do you think this shirt is too small?”
“No not at all. As a matter of fact, I have an idea.”
“What should I do with this thing?”
Well, with that statement I had a blank canvas. I told Johnny to take the shirt into the bathroom and soak it down. I told him that it would stretch out and hang loose on him and even make him look smaller.
Off he goes. He comes out of the bathroom wearing the soaked ref’s shirt that now looks like it was painted on him because of the water.
“Are you sure about this?” Johnny asked.
“Absolutely,” I told him. “As a matter of fact, once you get those hot ring lights on it this thing is going to hang all over you. It is going to look like you lost 50 pounds tonight.”
Johnny was happy. At this point he couldn’t wait to get to the ring. Finally it was time and he was off and running.
When the match ended and everybody came back to the dressing room, I was in tears. The shirt didn’t loosen up. Actually it shrank. It was so skin tight that Johnny could barely move in it.
Then Starr came in. He was dumbfounded.
“I come out the ring,” Starr said, “and Johnny Canuck is standing there in a ref’s shirt that is way too small and it is soaked like he is a male stripper. What the f— was going on?”
As soon as Starr saw me, he knew. And so did Johnny.
The three of us sat down that night and laughed our asses off. Johnny was just such a great sport about it. He had every right to tear my head off that night but we laughed and laughed. As a matter of fact every trip I saw him on after that we always talked about that night.
I always knew that Johnny was a huge, lovable human being. He was like that every time I saw him. Sometimes the big, tough-looking guys are miscast in life’s famous play of people’s reality and this was definitely one of them.
The world lost a great guy the other day.
Don’t worry Johnny, I haven’t forgotten that I owe you one. Next time we get together buddy, I’ll wear the ref’s shirt.
R.I.P. Johnny Canuck.
- Dan Denton archive of columns
- July 19, 2014: Remembering Johnny Canuck, a Lumberjack and a Loverboy
- November 23, 2006: Johnny Canuck: Back for G.O.D. and Honky Tonk