When I first began writing sports in Pictou County 65 years ago, I discovered very quickly that there was a terrible lack of background information available on local athletes, local teams, local leagues, local organizations. In many cases, there was nothing.
All I could do — all anyone could do — was get out there and search for material wherever it could be located.
The situation didn’t improve significantly through the years. Sure, there have been excellent authors around — retired judge Clyde Macdonald is a splendid example — and they’ve done very worthwhile work compiling valuable facts and stories. Sports, however, never received much attention.
I vowed that someday, if I lived long enough, I would write a book on the county’s sports past. That way, at least some information could be preserved for future generations. If not, important segments of our sports history would be lost.
Stories of people like hockey stars Tic Williams and Mark Babineau; goaltending brothers Hughie and Sonny MacDonald; boxers from Doug Odo to brothers Art and Lawrence Hafey; multi-talented Leo Fahey and his sons Trevor and Gus; all-round athletes like Nelson Wilson, Ralph Cameron and Jim MacNeil would become virtually unknown in time.
That would be a shame.
In almost 50 years with The Chronicle Herald, I was too busy to consider a book. I put in full weekdays in the sports department, went to games and other events almost every evening and every weekend, including trips to Antigonish, Wolfville and other locations. Eighty-hour weeks were commonplace.
A book had to wait.
As time went by, it seemed more and more likely my debut as an author wouldn’t happen.
Finally, after retiring from the Herald in 2007, my commitments were limited to writing weekly columns for the Advocate, including numerous trips to the county for interviews and research.
Time for a book, I kept being told.
At one stage, I wrote a few chapters, but the effort kept being interrupted for various reasons. Tens of thousands of words were soon collecting dust on a bookshelf.
Then, in October 2014, life changed for me. After 48 years of marriage, I lost my beloved Jane to cancer. I was alone with our dogs George and Gracie.
Soon after that, I renewed my interest in a book. It would be my memoirs and I would dedicate it to Jane. That was the incentive I needed.
In late 2016, a 78-year-old sportswriter published “I’ve Lived My Dream.” The book was a bigger success than I expected, proceeds going to Woodlawn United Church in Dartmouth. That’s where Jane grew up, that’s where we married, that’s where we worshipped, that’s where we said our goodbyes. Book sales produced a TV monitor system within the church in her memory.
Mission accomplished? I thought so — at first.
Then the writing bug returned. As sure as I’ve been cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs for 100 years, a second book began dominating my life.
In 2017, a year after my initial book launch, “Remembering Pictou County” was published in Pictou. It was dedicated to our two sons and daughter. Almost 100 chapters were devoted to Pictou County sports personalities and sports history.
With assistance from Barry Trenholm, curator at the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame, the book sold out. A portion of sales went to the hall.
This two-time author turned 80 last May, a good excuse to rest on the two publications and concentrate on my column.
I wasn’t satisfied.
Contributing to the Advocate since 2004, I’ve written nearly 800 columns for this paper, including personal profiles on some 300 Pictonians. I hated to think many of those stories would eventually be lost, never to be retrieved.
A third book captured my attention.
I prepared to write 120 chapters. In other words, 120 profiles on 120 Pictou County sports people.
I explained my intentions to Barry. I’d write the book, get it published at Advocate Publishing — and turn over proceeds to the hall. Like the last book, Barry would supervise sales.
I began writing in mid-December — six to eight hours a day, seven days a week. I hardly had time left to watch the Maple Leafs on the home screen. That routine continued for three months.
By then, I had 57 chapters completed, amounting to 65,000 words. About half-way, I surmised.
Meanwhile, things were happening at the hall.
You’ll recall Barry became curator 11 years ago, upon the death of Billy Dee, the guy most responsible for the hall’s revival.
Barry and Billy had been pals growing up in Trenton. They had served together on town council, Barry as mayor, Billy as a councillor. Then the two were together in the sports environment.
The hall had come through early challenges. Its first home in Trenton was sold, artifacts and memorabilia went into storage. Finally, the present location was found in New Glasgow.
Now, a new twist.
Barry was considering retirement. Those 11 years, with many days by himself at the hall, were taking their toll. This Saturday, he’ll turn 77. Time for golf, time for relaxation, time for other things. Now it’s official: Retirement will come on Hallowe’en.
I stopped writing the book, wondering whether to proceed. It takes a lot of work, a lot of time — and, yes, a lot of money.
What if Barry’s replacement isn’t found quickly? What if someone else isn’t willing to sell the book? What if the hall closes, even temporarily? What if the artifacts and memorabilia go back into storage?
Too many questions, too many clouds hovering overhead.
Though the book could raise a few thousand dollars for the hall, I don’t envision anyone else doing the sales bit as willingly and efficiently as Barry did.
Also, I’m not getting any younger and perhaps, after a delay, I won’t be able to resume where I’ve stopped.
For now, at least, the book is on hold.