I was a pretty excited teenager when the Evening News arrived at our home in New Glasgow on Oct. 21, 1954.
Sixty-six years ago today.
I flipped to the sports section and there, in front of my eyes, was a story about a high school rugby game the previous day between New Glasgow and Stellarton. It was the byline that thrilled me — By Hugh Townsend.
It was my first-ever article in a real newspaper. I say “real” because I had been producing a family paper since I was 12.
Ricky Fraser, the newly-appointed 19-year-old sports editor at the News, hired me to write sports at New Glasgow High. Within the year, I was also covering senior hockey and senior softball.
I never forgot my first pay-day. The News paid 10 cents a column inch for stories. That first rugby article? The woman at the paper with the long metal ruler determined it was 19 and a half inches in length. There was no rounding out with her. I got $1.95. I didn’t mind not getting the extra nickle.
My career was launched.
I wrote for Ricky through my last two high school years and the three years I attended university. After studying journalism, I was hired by The Chronicle Herald, where I spent 48 and a half years. The final four years overlapped a return to the Evening News.
When the New Glasgow paper dropped my column in 2004, my weekly contributions shifted to The Advocate the very next week. I’m now halfway into my 17th year.
When I reflect on the 82 years I’ve been around, I realize I’ve been lucky. So lucky.
For 66 years, I’ve been doing what I wanted to do since I was 10.
I was eight when I started reading sports in the News and Herald. Two years later, I had my first subscription to The Hockey News. Even then I was dreaming of someday being a sportswriter.
There was another early incentive. Larry MacDorman, a Herald sportswriter, was my mother’s cousin and, to my delight, he often visited us in New Glasgow. Oh how I loved talking to him about his experiences!
Then I got a break.
Early in the 1953-54 hockey season, John (Brother) MacDonald asked me to cover a high school hockey game at the Stadium. The next morning, he read my story verbatim on the radio. Later that day he hired me to cover minor sports and, the following summer, I served as his statistician for Stellarton Albions broadcasts from around the Halifax and District League.
Working with Brother was where Ricky Fraser got to know me.
I won’t list the many world personalities I’ve met, or the major events I covered. I’ve done that enough already.
Instead, I’ll recall what Pictou County was like in 1954. It will illustrate how long ago it really was.
The hockey rinks in the county were Stellarton Memorial Rink, New Glasgow Stadium and the old Pictou rink, with its natural ice.
After school, we spent afternoons at McCarron’s, where we could get fries for a dime, soft drinks for a nickle. Across the street, at Royal Sweets, is where I could get the first editions of The Hockey News for 15 cents, and issues of the new Sports Illustrated for a quarter. We could go to movies at the Roseland or Academy for 25 cents.
It cost three cents to mail a letter, 18 cents for a loaf of bread, 40 cents for a half gallon of milk, and 50 cents for 10 pounds of potatoes.
The hourly wage was 75 cents, the annual average income $4,100. You could buy a new car for $1,500 or a house for $9,000. If you wanted to have a meal out, you had a choice of full course dinners for a buck at the Coffee Pot. It was almost impossible to get $3 worth of gas into a car.
My doctor’s office was in the Maritime Building, my hair was cut at Ralph Dempster’s across the street from the fire station. We shopped at Woolworths, the Met, Zellers and Goodmans. The county had a new radio station, CKEC.
Televisions had one channel, and were displayed in store windows, usually showing nothing more than a snowy mishmash. There were no computers, cell phones or shopping malls.
Sports were generating lots to see.
A month earlier, the Stellarton Albions, coached by Bill Brooks for the last time, had their three-year championship reign ended in the Halifax and District Baseball League by the Halifax Cardinals.
The APC Senior Hockey League had a first with the Halifax Wolverines becoming the league’s first team from the provincial capital. They joined New Glasgow Rangers, Pictou-Stellarton Royals, Truro Bearcats and St. FX X-Men.
With goalie Paul Leclerc as playing coach, the Rangers romped in the playoffs, with consecutive four-game sweeps against St. FX and Stellarton, then won another four straight to win the Nova Scotia crown against the Kentville Wildcats. New Glasgow leaders, besides Leclerc, included Nelson Wilson, Ducky MacLean, Leo Fahey, Gilles Matteau and Bernie Lamonde.
Senior softball was in its heyday with the Trenton Scotias in the early days of a building program that a few seasons later produced two Maritime championships, thanks to the likes of Jimmy MacNeil, Ralph Cameron, twins Barry and Brian Semple, and Doug Brown.
Frosting on the cake for sports followers was the fact boxing was in a great era, Stellarton and New Glasgow hosting cards featuring local fighters like Jackie Hayden, Doug Odo, Gary Simon, Babe Mason, Slug Turnbull and Bearcat Jackson.
Participating? You could bowl at the Vee-Eight Lanes above a car dealership, curl at the old Bluenose Curling Club on North Provost Street, or golf at the nine-hole Abercrombie course.
Yes, it was a wonderful period to be Pictonians.
And, for a young sportswriter, it was truly a wonderful time to begin a career right at home.