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   Thu, April 15, 2004



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CBC digs deep for cool clips
By GREG OLIVER -- SLAM! Wrestling


When one usually thinks of the CBC -- Canada's staid, professional, public broadcaster -- it's with thoughts of news, Hockey Night In Canada and so-so Canadian programming. But now, you have to add pro wrestling to the list, at least online.

The CBC Archives site has launched an incredibly fun collection of radio and TV clips that celebrate the grappling game across this great land. Called Cross Country Smackdown: Pro Wrestling in Canada, it's the brainchild of former SLAM! Wrestling writer John Molinaro.

Currently employed by the CBC, Molinaro saw that sports was under-represented on the CBC Archives site when he was there. As the author of The Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time and countless articles on SLAM!, he naturally pitched pro wrestling as one of the topics.

The goal of the CBC Archives, Molinaro said, it to "explore Canadian culture," so his idea was to search the massive archives to find clips to showcase each of the territories across Canada, from the Maritimes to British Columbia.

When Molinaro was transferred to the CBC Sports department, he handed the reigns of the project over to David Rider, who was somewhat of a newbie to wrestling.

"I inherited the topics that he had successfully pitched here at Archives. I'm afraid that I didn't know much about pro wrestling," Rider told SLAM! Wrestling. "Most of what I did know came from hanging out with my friend Dan Denton, who wrestled as Dirty Dan Denton in Vancouver, Manitoba, Mexico and other places. (We once worked together at the Brandon Sun.) While researching Cross Country Smackdown: Pro Wrestling in Canada, I quickly came to appreciate the sport itself, the passion of the participants and fans and our country's rich contribution to the world of wrestling. Working on it was a blast."

The topics will keep wrestling fans young and old entranced for far too long:

  • Gene Kiniski wows Peter Gzowski with a red suit that only pro wrestlers (and maybe pimps) could get away with wearing
  • Whipper Watson and Yvon Robert are profiled
  • The demise of Stampede Wrestling is explored, and the clip from Owen Hart's funeral bookends the Calgary days as well as a follow-up with Martha Hart
  • Mad Dog Vachon's recovery after losing a leg is another topic
  • Killer Kowalski pleads his case
  • Maritime legends Leo Burke and Sailor White are featured

Rider's favorite piece? Jeering Jessie McCall. "It's a 1983 TV news story about McCall, an elderly wrestling fan who was a fixture at Vancouver matches," explained Rider. "She stalks the outside of the ring like a grey-haired tiger, reaching in and slapping the mat and hurling abuse at the heels in a thick Scottish accent. She even spits at one wrestler! The reporter interviews McCall at home and, there, she's a completely different person. She insists the TV crew have tea and sandwiches. I love when she maternally scolds the off-camera soundman, 'C'mon Greg - get eatin'.' At the end of the piece is an interview in which Gene Kiniski speaks fondly of her. She blushes and accepts a kiss from the only heel she'll tolerate. I could watch that clip 100 times and still laugh at her antics and admire the life-loving spirit behind them. I have only one regret - I wasn't able to track down when she passed away. I tried our CBC library, the libraries at the Vancouver newspapers and even Kiniski himself, but could get no date. If anyone knows, I'd love to add it to the site."

While McCall was a highpoint, the realization of how many of the wrestlers in the clips had passed on was saddening. "Owen Hart, Dave 'The Canadian Wildman' McKigney, Danny 'Bullwhip' Johson, Diane 'Viviane' Vachon - you come to know and like them through the clips only to learn of the tragedies that befell them and so many others in the wrestling world," Rider said. "I'm glad, though, that fans are getting a chance to see and hear them again."

It took Rider about three weeks to put the topic together, and it will stay up on the CBC Archives site indefinitely. The biggest hassle was clearing copyright on a few clips. A short version of the process: The writers give keywords and a timeframe to the TV and radio archivists, who scan databases and tell them which past CBC stories could potentially fit into their focus.

"Frankly, I was surprised -- and pleased -- at the number and quality of CBC reports about professional wrestling," Rider said. "I reviewed roughly 60 clips, ranging from an Oct. 27, 1955, radio interview with Lord Athol Layton, a highly articulate gentleman grappler, to an Oct. 23, 2003, TV news story about the funeral of Stu Hart. I winnowed the list down to 13 main clips and six additionals (they don't appear on the main page) spanning 1959 to 1999. Then, I did more research (CBC reports, newspaper clippings, websites and books including The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians, The Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time and Stu Hart: Lord of the Ring) and wrote text to go with each clip. The final step - getting it on the web - is relatively easy because we have a standard format and automated database."

Plus, the CBC Archives' French-language sister site, Les Archives de Radio-Canada (http://archives.radio-canada.ca/index.asp?IDLan=0) will do its own wrestling topic one day, using clips from the Radio-Canada archives.

So whether you are a tax-paying, wrestling-loving Canadian, seeing this as a long overdue benefit to the excesses of the public purse or an outsider wanting to learn about the glory of Canadian pro wrestling, the site is definitely worth a visit.

"I think he did a terrific job. I think he found some incredible clips," concluded Molinaro, who's favourite clip is 'Big Thunder' Kiniski verbally dueling with Gzowski.

RELATED LINKS

  • The CBC Archives: Cross Country Smackdown: Pro Wrestling in Canada
  • The Canadian Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame

    Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in 1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. He is the author of the recently published book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians from ECW Press. Order it from the SLAM! Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at goliver845@gmail.com.