By Darren Lum
When the skies opened up showering rain down on Haliburton last Wednesday it captured the sombre mood in the hockey world as news spread of the passing of Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Gregory.
Haliburton will forever be indebted to the man who with Wren Blair co-founded the Pinestone Resort and Conference Centre and Haliburton Hockey Haven.
During its heyday Hockey Haven drew the who’s who of the NHL such as Bernie Parent and Bobby Orr both Hockey Hall of Famers. It became a mecca for young hockey players providing them hockey instruction and the unforgettable experience of rubbing shoulders with future NHL players immersed in the rugged beauty of the Highlands.
Scotty Morrison former NHL referee-in-chief and Haliburton booster was saddened by the death of his longtime friend who died at age 83 at his home in Toronto on Oct. 30.
“It’s a great great loss. There’s no question about that” he said while speaking on the phone from British Columbia.
Gregory who grew up in Dunnville was born in Port Colborne Ontario on Nov. 4 1935.
His loss goes beyond his building efforts for hockey and Haliburton.
He we will be missed by many including Morrison’s family.
After talking to his daughter Morrison was reminded how close the two families are.
“She said … ‘when Mom died I can remember how Jim just talked to us and did whatever he could and all the rest and any of the arrangements that we had to make.’ That was just part of him. I guess it came so easy for him to be friendly and to do whatever he could to help in stressful situations” he said.
Gregory’s involvement with hockey included being the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager from 1969 to 1979 – eight of those years the team made the playoffs; then serving in different executive roles for the NHL such as director of Central Scouting executive director of hockey operations and senior vice-president hockey operations and supervision for the NHL and was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2007. He was also the chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee from 1998 to 2014 and received the Order of Hockey in Canada in 2015.
Morrison wasn’t sure about why his friend was known as “Mr. Gregory” but said it was a fitting sign of respect and may be similar to how past NHL president Clarence Campbell was known as Mr. Campbell.
Back when Morrison was referee-in-chief for the NHL and Gregory was the general manager for the Maple Leafs he remembers a situation that left them both laughing.
“He was sitting in that box that [Maple Leafs owner] Harold Ballard and [former player and executive] King Clancy used to sit in. And Jim was sitting in that box with them and I was sitting in my two seats. You know this was in the old Maple Leaf Gardens. I was sitting in my two seats and Jim was trying to get my attention and he was unhappy with the refereeing. Joan my wife Joan said to me ‘Don’t look over there now Scotty but Jim is trying to get your attention’” he said. “… I finally looked over and I put my hands on my ears and then my eyes – like hear no evil see no evil speak no evil. And he just burst out laughing. We talked about it after … but I wasn’t going to look over … while he was trying to get my attention. We talked about it after and I said ‘Wait ‘til I get a hold of that wife of yours after and I’ll tell her.’”
Don Popple former owner of Curry Motors and now retired said he knew Gregory through Morrison. “He had a soft spot for Haliburton” he said.
Popple said Hockey Haven which Gregory started with Wren Blair was great for Haliburton drawing people from all over.
“It really put Haliburton on the map” he said.
Past Dysart et al mayor Murray Fearrey said Gregory was an important figure and should be remembered for his contributions to the community.
“This man had an important impact on the growth of Haliburton connections to Haliburton Hockey Haven Pinestone and delivering a taste of NHL hockey team to Haliburton resulting in NHL stars investing and living in our community. I think sometimes when we don’t know history we lose it” he wrote in an email.
Charlie Teljeur hockey fan and producer of the Haliburton hockey documentary There’s Something in the Water? was saddened to read the news about Gregory on Wednesday.
“He was one incredible human being” he wrote in an email. “Although he wasn’t from Haliburton originally he’s a lot like Walt McKechnie in that he adopted the Highlands as his home. Haliburton almost literally became his adopted family.”
Teljeur who interviewed Gregory for his hockey documentary said the Hall of Famer with his friend Wren Blair have an incredible Haliburton legacy.
“Think of how that decision – to open the Hockey Haven – has affected Haliburton in the most positive of ways. Think of how many people know this place and call it home because of the camp” he said.
He characterized Gregory as a “gentleman through and through.”
“He conducted his life and his business with pure class a man whose ethics were never compromised. As big as he got in the world of hockey he was always humble enough to remember where he comes from. He was never too busy to say ‘hi.’ He would stop me in the grocery store and do just that. It’s humbling considering his stature” he said.
“On a side note I’m very grateful I had the chance to help honour him in the film and the book and with the mural on [the] arena walls. I’m glad he was around long enough to see what he meant to this community” he said.