And in this corner … The Wrestling Farmer! If you were picturing an overall-wearing good ol’ boy square dancing to the ring in a straw hat, you’d be a little off. The farmer in question was actually a clean-cut, sharp-dressed, scientific star named Billy Stack who could have just as easily have been known under a more appropriate name: The Wrestling Bailiff.
Billy Stack, of Bowmanville, Ontario, really was a farmer during his wrestling career that stretched from the 1940s into the late 1960s. In addition to working farms in the Oshawa area he also served as a licensed bailiff in the area while supplementing his day job with professional wrestling.
From his first appearances in the ring in the mid 1940s Stack was a typical clean wrestling babyface of the times. Tall and strong, with scientific skills and a big dropkick, he would form a close alliance with the main star of the Toronto scene Whipper Billy Watson.
Stack would also benefit from the tutelage of Phil Lawson. Described as a “Mat Coach” for Stack, Lawson had earlier trained Whipper for the pro ranks and was at that time serving as Watson’s ring manager.
In those early days Stack would set the tone for his career by staying close to his roots, appearing regularly on the weekly Oshawa shows as well as occasional turns at Maple Leaf Gardens and some smaller shows around Southeastern Ontario. He would accompany Watson and some of the other Toronto regulars for short trips out to Ottawa, Montreal, and upstate New York before returning home for extended stays.
The town of Bowmanville, a few miles east of Oshawa, had seen the pro style of wrestling since the 1930s, though it had been promoted under the guise of amateur competition. In 1949, the Bowmanville Memorial Arena was built and pro wrestling made its debut on September 6th of that year. With a main event of hometown boy Billy Stack taking on his friend and big MLG star Watson, the show attracted 800 fans (out of a population of roughly 4,500) and was deemed an unqualified success by Oshawa-based promoter Pat Milosh.
The second card in Bowmanville a week later would bring 700 fans to see Stack take on Tugboat Carlson, while Whipper main evented versus Red O’Malley. The third saw a similar turnout to see Stack back in the main and Milosh, who had taken over the Oshawa promotion in 1947, would rely on Stack for the next decade and beyond to help fill the area venues. In a cursory count of bouts wrestled under Milosh’s 40+ year run promoting in the area, Stack would place third only behind Pat Flanagan and Fred Atkins, respectively, for appearances.
Stack was part of a local trio that included up and comer Sandor Kovacs. The Hungarian émigré was billed along with Stack as a local team as Kovacs was living in Oshawa at the time. He would go on to a long career both as a wrestler and later as a promoter in Vancouver for All-Star Wrestling. Oshawa native Jimmy “Ziggy” Szikszay would complete the local threesome and help bring the fans in to see their favourites take on the heels.
As the 1940s turned into the 1950s Stack would spend his local time both in openers and at the top of the cards. Memorable series versus The Red Demon (whom he unmasked as Red O’Malley in late 1949) and the MLG stars including Atkins and Nanjo Singh, and masked stars The Unknown and The Masked Marvel would help cement his reputation as a fine wrestler and hometown hero.
Stack, alongside the other Canadian stars, was featured in the 1954 Parkhurst Wrestling set as card #22. “The Wrestling Farmer” Bill Stack is described as 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, and splitting his time between farming and wrestling. In the 1955 set, card #18 mentions that he had done a little boxing and played football before turning to wrestling, starting at the YMCA under Phil Lawson.
In a 1950s Oshawa program famed broadcaster and wrestling writer Barry Lloyd Penhale wrote: “In this writer’s opinion, Bill is one of the finest young men in the wrestling world, an opinion shared by all those who have had the pleasure of association with him. Bill is no slouch in the ring and has faced the best in the Toronto area.”
Fast forward 55 years later to a conversation with Mr. Penhale regarding the local scene in the 1950s and he would re-iterate that Stack was a fine wrestler and could have been a much bigger star had he been inclined to travel more. As for others who had shared that opinion as he had written in 1957, he recalled Lou Thesz observing Stack in action one night at Maple Leaf Gardens and remarking how impressed he was with Stack’s wrestling talent.
Bill’s career may have taken a different turn had he travelled the territories alongside the stars of the day. He would step out of the area in 1950 for a short tour of Stampede Wrestling billed as Farmer Boy Stack, meeting Stu Hart himself in a couple of bouts as well as teaming with Canadian star Earl McCready. He would also occasionally accompany Watson on short trips to St. Louis (where Watson owned a small percentage of the Sam Muchnick-run promotion) and Buffalo over the early part of the decade but would mostly stay close to the Oshawa-Bowmanville corridor.
Within Ontario, Stack would also make some stops on the Northern circuit for the Kasaboski Northland Wrestling promotion including a 1956 Sudbury bout versus Hard Boiled Haggerty that got a mention in the magazines of the day.
At that time the local east circuit included towns like Newmarket, Keswick, Stouffville, Peterborough, Cobourg and others along the north side of Lake Ontario. Toronto star Pat Flanagan would book out the Toronto stars to the towns for cards that would cover most nights of the week. At its peak it was a vibrant scene which would see a huge upturn in popularity as the 1950s wore on and there were many like Stack who would stay fairly busy on the local circuit while keeping their “regular” jobs at the same time.
His career as a licensed bailiff was spent mostly working with long-time area auctioneer Cliff Pethak and spanned the 1950s. Stack would also supplement his income working in auto sales alongside the farm work. One of his farms was near where the Deer Creek Golf course stands today, north of the town of Whitby.
For a time in 1950 he would also serve as a distributor for Whipper’s Beverages, serving the Bowmanville area. Whipper’s Beverages was a business foray by pal Watson featuring colourful wrestling themed bottles and caps that are highly collectable today.
In the mid 1950s Stack would add to his resume by occasionally serving as a referee for the local shows around Oshawa. In 1959 he refereed his first bout at Maple Leaf Gardens and would continue to do so through the 1960s, serving alongside veterans Joe Gollub, Al “Bunny” Dunlop and Ken “Tiger” Tasker, often working in pairs as two ref teams for the big bouts.
The last record we could find has Stack refereeing at the Gardens into 1969 and then he seems to have disappeared from the scene.
— Photos and clips from the collection of Andrew Calvert.