It’s an anniversary worth noting.
Thirty years ago this month, Billy Dee’s childhood dream was realized when this sports page headline appeared in The Evening News: “County Sports Hall of Fame set to go.”
For Billy, it was a long time coming.
“The Hall of Fame idea,” he once told me, “came up when I was a kid. I often said to myself, ‘Why don’t we have a hall of fame for our own athletes?’ If I ever got the chance to create a hall in Pictou County, I’ll do it.”
Imagine a youngster lying in bed at night, not reliving the hockey game he attended hours earlier, not recalling the softball games he watched back in the summer, but dreaming about a place to honour Pictou County’s elite athletes.
Yes, he sure had a dream.
He had grown up in Trenton, loving the town, loving sports, loving everything about the Steeltown.
Years later, after working in the States from 1965 to 1975, he came home, worked at the car plant, worked at Scott Paper, worked for the provincial government and, in 1988, became a member of Trenton’s town council.
He was a community guy.
There was another meaningful relationship — his long-time dear friend, Barry Trenholm, was the mayor.
Billy and Barry had both played hockey in town, both had played some softball, too. And they both had the same philosophy — anything that was good for Trenton was good with them.
Barry shared Billy’s dream.
That’s what led to the “set to go” decision at a 1989 general meeting in Trenton. It was Billy who announced that a building committee would be formed, that the hall would open within two years.
That’s all history now.
The hall opened in a building on Power Plant Road that was owned by the Town of Trenton. Billy spearheaded the organizational efforts, the collecting of artifacts, photos and other memorabilia.
The first induction ceremony was held a year later, in September 1990. Thirty-four individuals and one team were inducted. The event was dedicated to the memory of Charlie Stevens, the long-time sports editor at The Evening News.
Billy had a dynamic crew to guide the hall’s activities at the starting line.
It was go time.
The building in Trenton had so much memorabilia that it was difficult to find sufficient space. At times, it was difficult getting in the door.
Then came the first roadblock. The building was sold, forcing the hall to store the artifacts in a school. That problem was solved when the present site in New Glasgow became available.
When Barry stepped away from politics, he spent a lot of time helping his friend. “When Billy’s health got a little bad, he needn’t me.”
In 2008, Billy passed away, just three days shy of his 70th birthday. I was told that, in the two decades he captained the ship, he did it without receiving a cent.
Barry stepped up and became curator. Under him, the hall has continued to function and grow.
Now comes another crossroads.
Barry announced earlier this year that he’s stepping down. It’s understandable that he wants and needs a rest. He spent a great deal of his personal time on the hall.
There were rumours and concerns the hall might close, or go back into mothballs. A committee representing the county’s municipal governments was organized.
Anyone living in the county — or with connections to the area — knows how important the region’s history is. That message comes across loud and clear when you consider the number of museums functioning in the county, aimed at keeping local history alive.
There’s the Nova Scotia Museum of Industry. There’s the McCulloch House Museum and Genealogy Centre. There’s the Hector Heritage Quay. There’s the Northumberland Fisheries Museum. There’s Carmichael Stewart House Museum. There’s the Pictou County Military Heritage Museum.
Need I continue?
There were the authors, past and present, who have made wonderful contributions by keeping the county’s history alive in the printed word. When I entered this journalism world, Pictou’s Rollie Sherwood and New Glasgow’s Jim Cameron were researching and writing valuable books.
Most prolific of all, though, has been retired judge Clyde Macdonald. Imagine the contributions he’s made – 16 books at last count. That’s an enormous gift. And we mustn’t forget his other pet, the Pictou County Roots Society.
Now I’ll get to my point.
Imagine the uproar if any of those history-preserving foundations suddenly closed. True Pictonians would be screaming from the top of Green Hill or — in 21st century tradition — marching along every main street in the county.
By now, you must be asking yourself, why bring up all these matters while discussing the sports hall of fame? What do they have to do with hockey, baseball, curling and the other athletic activities?
Just as the many other museums do, the hall of fame has a priority role — to honour and remember those who excelled or participated in sporting circles.
It should be our duty to see that the sporting people of Pictou County — just like the miners, steelworkers, fishermen, military and others — aren’t forgotten.
I dread the thought that decisions — and non-decisions — in the weeks and months ahead could negatively affect the vast amount of work that’s already been done. Those efforts mustn’t be sacrificed.
It’s time local politicians — in the five towns and municipality — support the hall, financially if necessary, to ensure it never closes.
The county’s sports people — from the kids to the oldtimers — deserve no less.