There’s a lot of little Canadian hockey stories that float around during this time of year. Some don’t get past the lips of those who live through it. Some do. I think it’s important to truly understand every aspect of the game, right down to the people who flood the rinks. It’s also important to understand how they got there.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the people of the world were put through many twists and turns in their everyday lives. In between fighting two big wars in Europe, the world plunged into economic turmoil as the stock markets crashed. On that Black Tuesday in 1929, Canada and the rest of the world entered the Great Depression.
Out on the Eastern coast of the country Newfoundland was particularly hit the hardest. As they were still a Dominion of the British Empire and not a province of Canada just yet, the Depression drove in a nail to their deathbed having the challenging economy pile on top of reparations from World War I, construction of the Newfoundland railroad and the collapse of fisheries.
As violent protests and riots seemed the norm across the area, the people of Newfoundland found themselves suffering from malnutrition and diseases like tuberculosis began to spread. It’s hard to believe that something this bad was happening within Canada’s borders but, that’s history.
In June of 1933 in the Dominion of Newfoundland’s capital, St. John’s, Robert Cecil Cole was born into those trying times. However, the resilience of a Newfoundlander is tested many times through life and they will always prevail.
The man who came to be known in hockey households worldwide as Bob Cole, begin his broadcasting career as a 23 year old working for St. John’s AM radio station, “Voice Of the Common Man”. Started in a house by another St. John’s lad Walter Williams in 1936, the VOCM radio station gave Cole the chance to find his voice as an announcer and newsreader.
After gaining his bearings and some confidence under his belt Cole made his way inland to Toronto where he met up with legendary hockey announcer Foster Hewitt. Hewitt, who was then the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs, provided Cole with valuable advice. Cole managed to leave some of his demo tapes behind and well, the rest is history. I like to think that Hewitt’s famous Hockey Night in Canada sign on of “Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland”, was foreshadowing of a future Newfoundland takeover. (It wasn’t. Like I mentioned earlier, Newfoundland wasn’t apart of Canada when Hewitt wrote that line.)
Cole started off in 1969 with CBC Radio. A short four years later (and after calling Paul Henderson’s winning goal over the USSR in 1972), Cole transferred over to television for the newly expanded version of Hockey Night in Canada. Along with Danny Gallivan in Montreal, and Bill Hewitt (Foster’s son), the CBC had a very strong three punch announcing tandem. Upon Hewitt’s retirement, Cole became the voice of the Leafs. Cole also was the voice for many international and Olympic match ups. One of his most famous calls is my all time favourite:
Foster Hewitt was the voice of a generation. He was the hockey voice of my parents’ generation. However there is nothing more nostalgic then hearing Bob Cole and his color commentator Harry Neale call a hockey game. I’m instantly brought back to my cold Canadian winter childhoods of watching HNIC every Saturday night. Hell, even when they only started broadcasting the game at the second period.
There are a lot of hidden gems in hockey’s history. Thankfully this one didn’t stay hidden for long.