Even in the darkest times, there is some light. When Dave “Bearman” McKigney died in a van crash in July 1988 in Labrador, his son, Davey Jr., was only eight. He was on that fateful tour, and Willie “The Wolfman” Farkus flew home to Aurora, Ontario, with the child. Davey Jr. found a new home with Rolly Duguay, who he already called “Dad” anyway.
How close were Duguay and McKigney?
Following Duguay’s death from cancer on Monday, May 30, at the age of 76, he’ll be interred at a plot in Queensville, Ontario, near McKigney’s grave.
“He’ll be put to rest in the same cemetery as Dave is, that’s what Dad wanted. I bought the plot for Dad there,” said Danny Duguay, one of six children of Duguay, two of whom, including Davey Jr., were adopted. “They’re having drinks up there, partying. The guys won’t go to sleep. They’ll be up for days partying.”
Ricky Johnson, brother of Rocky Johnson, was one of those wrestlers on the Bearman circuit around Ontario – Big Bear Wrestling – who saw the special relationship between the two men. “Whatever Dave wanted him to do, he would do; Dave could ask him for anything and Rolly would be there in a flash to do it for him,” said Johnson.
Originally from Angliers, Quebec, Rolly Duguay grew up in Newmarket, Ontario, and pursued car repair as a vocation. That led to a garage at Mutual and Dundas streets in downtown Toronto. One client was promoter Frank Tunney, who ran Maple Leaf Wrestling. Sweet Daddy Siki met Duguay at the garage through Tunney, and ended up doing commercials for him: “I always get my car fixed at Rolly’s Auto Repair.”
Around 1980, Duguay was visiting his brother in Chesley, Ontario, and went to a wrestling show in the small town since he knew a couple of the names from his shop in the city. It was there that he really met Dave McKigney, and Dave’s bear.
Born in Toronto, McKigney had a rough childhood. He found a life-long friend in Duguay. “Dave was pretty wild. He was a good guy, but he didn’t have a lot of friends. We were good friends,” explained Duguay in 2009.
Duguay loved to hang around with the wrestlers. He came in the possession of a big school bus, which was named “Sweet Nellie.” The bus became a common sight at Ontario wrestling shows in the 1980s. Some of the exploits from that era are documented in Jim Freedman’s great book, Drawing Heat, including Sweet Daddy Siki playing his guitar while the bus drove down the road.
“That bus was famous,” chuckled Johnson. “A lot of times, we’d be partying and no one would want to drive. So Rolly would load up the bus with all these hungover wrestlers and off to the next town we went.”
Sometimes the trip would be to Rolly’s home north of Toronto in Aurora, where he loved to host barbecues, and essentially took in strays. McKigney lived with him for a while, as did midget wrestler Little John. Bobo Brazil stayed at the house when in the province from his Michigan home.
Danny Duguay, recalling George Steele’s humour and Andre the Giant struggling to get onto the bus, said that the wrestlers were “just like brothers. My dad loved everybody.”
“One time, we were somewhere in Ontario, and someone threw a full pop can and hit me in the calf, and split my calf. Rolly and a couple of the other guys, they carried me out to the bus and put me on the bus. Then we drove back to Rolly’s place and parked the bus,” recalled Johnson. “Everybody stayed on the bus, drinking and laughing and partying. Then they all went in the house, and Rolly said, ‘Well, you may as well stay on the bus because you can’t walk!’ I had to, because I couldn’t get up and walk and nobody would help me, because they were all drunk. So I spent the whole night on the bus. Rolly, every now and then, he’d bring me out a beer.”
One season the bus broke down and Duguay realized that it wasn’t worth it to fix the vehicle. McKigney insisted that the bus was needed, and found the money to pay for the repairs—but it remained Duguay’s bus.
In the summer of 1988, with McKigney organizing a tour of Newfoundland and Labrador, it was Rolly who was left in charge of McKigney’s Aurora home. On July 4th, the van belonging to the Kelly Twins (Victor and William Arko) went off the side of the road and into a creek, killing Victor Arko, McKigney and former WWF star Adrian Adonis. William — known as Mike Kelly — survived the crash.
The tour was cancelled and it was Duguay who stepped up to take in Davey.
“Dave took him on the road that summer because he was eight years old at the time,” recalled Duguay in 2009. “He was still really close to me and Dave. He used to call me Dad and used to call Dave Dad. I said to Dave, ‘Maybe he should call me Uncle Rolly.’ He said, ‘No, no, that’s okay. I don’t mind. Leave it that way.’ So he’s always called me Dad, and the wife was Mom.”
Davey Jr.’s biological mother, Sandra Stevenson, was was around, but never really involved in Davey Jr.’s life. “She had a record and was still going to court for things. There was no way she was going to take him,” Duguay said in 2009. “She never wanted him in the first place.”
Nearly 20 years older than his adopted brother Davey, Danny Duguay followed in his father’s footsteps (not just as a mechanic) and stepped up when times got tough too. Rolly’s wife — Danny’s mother — didn’t want Davey to stay at the house.
“Let’s put it this way. She wanted to put young David in a foster home when Dave died, and my Dad said, ‘We adopted that child and he’s not going to no foster homes.’ That’s how Mom and Dad got separated,” said Danny Duguay. “She would not accept looking after David. So me and my wife took Dad in, and David in. We looked after my Dad until two years ago when he moved out of my place to move in with his new wife. My mother’s been mad at me ever since the day that I took my Dad in.”
Through the years, Duguay took great pride in the successes of Davey Jr., who lives in Calgary, where he can work as a contractor in the summer and teach skiing in the winter.
Duguay loved to keep in touch with old friends he made through wrestling, and his Aurora auto body shop was used as a set for some of the Wrestling With The Past episodes. Many fans through the years left his garage in awe of the stacks of old Bearman posters in Duguay’s possession.
“He cherished his friendships, and he kept in touch,” said photographer Roger Baker, who went out boating with Duguay a few times in recent years.
Aaron Weiss, a former promoter and TV producer, found the much older Duguay to be a great friend. “Rolly was a generous soul. When he met me and realized how much I loved old school wrestling, he brought the Wildman’s belt for me to see and hold onto for a bit. It meant a lot to me,” said Weiss. “That spirit of generosity has been felt by the wrestlers and their families.”
Johnson would get emails from Duguay even until the last couple of weeks, when the cancer took over and confined him to a hospital. “He would never say nothing about ‘I don’t feel well,’” said Johnson.
When he was diagnosed with leukemia a few years back, Duguay made a conscious decision to continue to live his life, even through chemotherapy. He remarried and moved in with Irene Forbes near Parry Sound, Ontario. He traveled, including out to Calgary for Davey’s wedding and then later to meet his new grandchild.
“At the end, he got to do what he wanted to do,” said Johnson.
Rolly Duguay is survived by his wife Irene Forbes and her family, and was father and grandfather to Danny (Kim) Chris, Vicky & Melissa; Rheal (Raquel) Jonathan, Sherilyn, Andrew & Stephanie; Helene Johnston (Paul) Amanda, Kelly & Lisa; David (Kendra) Kirra & Carter; Richard; Michael Nikki & Jordan Fournier, and many great grandchildren. Visitation will be held at the Roadhouse & Rose Funeral Home, 157 Main Street South, Newmarket, on Monday June 6, 2016 from 12 noon – 2 p.m. followed by a funeral service in the chapel. Online condolences may be made to roadhouseandrose.com.