Howard Darwin founded Knights

JONATHAN SHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

The driving force behind the creation of the London Knights has died.

Howard Darwin, who in 1968 named the major junior hockey team and held a contest to create its signature colours of green and gold, died yesterday morning at age 78 in Ottawa's Civic Hospital Heart Institute from complications of surgery.

Darwin rose from a tough neighbourhood in Ottawa and the high school dropout used grit and savy to forge business and sports legacies not only in his hometown, but in London.

Darwin was six years old when his father died and soon found ways to make his own fortune, selling rags, then newspapers, later opening a jewelry shop that became the hub of a growing financial empire.

With that wealth Darwin partnered in 1968 with a former Ottawa mayor and provincial minister to buy for $500,000 what was then the London Nationals, the London Gardens and surrounding land south of Hwy 401.

NHL teams had given up sponsoring junior hockey teams and the Toronto Maple Leafs severed connections with the Nationals.

Darwin said goodbye to the blue and white sweaters, holding a contest and the winning entry was green and gold.

He would become the Knights' longest-serving owner, although some would lament the lack of local ownership.

Darwin ran the franchise from Ottawa -- where he also owned the 67's.

He was a gentleman with street smarts, said Helen Jenner, who as manager of the Gardens was his right-hand woman, running the daily affairs of the Knights.

Along the way Darwin survived a heart attack at age 48 that left him hospitalized for weeks and a clash with Alan Eagleson, who once called Darwin the most powerful operator in junior hockey.

"He did a lot for hockey. He didn't let anyone run him over," Jenner recalled.

The highlight of his tenure with the Knights was 1976-77, when the Knights went six games into the league final before bowing to his other team, the 67's.

Darwin sold the London arena and property in 1987 for about $2.1 million.

In Ottawa, Darwin also brought minor league baseball back, creating the now-defunct Lynx baseball franchise.

jonathan.sher@sunmedia.ca


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